Zanzibar –2010


Still in awe of our experience with the gorillas Daley, Jess and I headed back to Kenya to head onto Zanzibar. First we had a 17 hour / 650 mile bus ride thankfully with a nights break in Kampala. The ride was long, arduous, dusty, bumpy, back breaking where we passed through so many towns names that were large on the map but were themselves small places with a few huts, streets and mildew covered round down shops that themselves were well past their sell by date let alone the products within them. We eventually made it to Nairobi for a couple of nights to set out bones back in place, eat proper food, wash and watch a movie and a few footie games.

Before long we were on a plane flying out of Kenya down the coast to Zanzibar, an island on the east coast of Tanzania. Even the island name sounds exotic and is famed for a number of reasons mainly as one of the main port for the east African slave market, beautiful coastline and beaches, great diving, leading producer of cloves but also for the birthplace of legendary Farrouk Bulsara (aka Freddie Mercury). We flew into the capital of Zanzibar, Stone Town and straight away noticed a cultural difference than the rest of Africa we had skimmed over. Zanzibar is 98% Muslim and therefore upholds strong values and principles. We took a short taxi ride to Stone Town and got settled into a small but tidy guesthouse.

Stone Town has a strong Portuguese influence dating back to the 15th Century which was was then overtaken by Arab rule in the 18th Century which gave rise to religious beliefs, increased clove production, a larger wealthy port and trading post. The growing slave industry working on the clove farms and helped increase the importance of Stone Town. Predictably the British arrived late on in the 19th Century and help govern Zanzibar but opposed the issue of slavery after recently ruling to ban it in mid 1850’s. Zanzibar gained independence in 1964 after a bloody rebellion expelling the ruling Arab sultan and gaining freedom from Tanzania. Today Zanzibar is a richly culturally diverse island with stunning beaches and a growing tourist industry.

We took a few days to explore the stone city which is myriad of narrow streets, stunning Arabian houses leaning into the narrow alleys ways mixed in Indian influenced balconies and houses and the odd occasional colonial building squashed in here and there. Around the promenade there were lively night markets where you can refresh yourself with a zingy palm sugar, ginger and lime squash and enjoy the many BBQ’s of kebabs and fish. We took time to wander around the slave markets on the edge of the city and learn about the appalling way men and women were rounded up from all over Eastern African by Arabs, Europeans and even African Chieftains and then sold in pits to the highest bidders.

Unfortunately Stone Town is not the safest places around mainly due to the fact that the city runs on generators after dark as the power has been out for a year or so. An ongoing dispute between the Government and the power companies mean that the dark maze of small alleyways become even more imposing at night and becomes a thieves perfect paradise . Luckily we survived and the following day headed up the coast to the north of the island and to a charming little seaside enclave of guesthouses and restaurants called Kendwa. Kendwa was one of the most beautiful beaches I have been on. The guesthouse is set back around 50m from the whitest beach I have been on and the most turquoise sea i have dipped my toe in. Daley and Jess were staying in one of the palm shaded bungalows and I had a whole dormitory to myself. The vibe and people in Kendwa were so laid back that it took at least an hour to make dinner and if anyone saw you walking fast they stopped you to ask what the emergency was!

Within the first couple of hours we were there we knew that this was a great place. We arranged met up with Johan (from the Safari) who had recently conquered Kilimanjaro (something I wasn’t going to do for $1000, just yet) and was found in a hammock enjoying a cold beer. And so the scene was set for the next week or so which involved sunbathing, swimming, chilling on the beach, chatting, reading, drinking beer and eating. Travelling ecstasy. For the entire time we were in Kendwa we probably moved around 100m each way from our digs as everything we needed was close at hand! We found the most amazing little restaurant (4 tables), which we filled (there was only 9 of us most nights) and dined on incredible fresh fish caught that day.

The only thing that got us to move from our sun loungers was to dive in Pemba! Daley, Jess, Johan and I all headed out for a day’s diving (2 dives) on the north side of the island. We hopped on an old fishing boat tanks and all and headed up to a small island in the Pemba straight. It was a must do whilst we were there as the sea was crystal clear and beautifully warm. The diving was great, beautiful corals, loads of schools of fish the odd moray eel and the brief glimpse of a turtle The only down side to the day was that our dive master seemed intent on trying to show us as much of the dive site as possible and lost half of us on both dives. All in all they were amazing dives set against white sand and the bluest sea I have seen in a long time. During our stay we met loads of fellow travellers which had the same problem as us, island glue. The stuff that makes it so hard to move and leave but at the same time makes you feel at home, safe and happy.

The week passed so quickly and it was soon time to say goodbye to new found friends – loads more Swedes (some of them knew Johan through friends from home) a few Brits, the best beach, our favourite restaurant manager and bar staff! I had to head back to Dar Es Salaam to catch a flight to South Africa to meet up with Mum and Dad, Daley and Jess trip was over and Johan had 10 days left to explore Uganda and the Gorillas (after we told him of our experience). It was a sad farewell but we would all meet up again sometime in the future, that I am sure of. I can highly recommend anyone thinking of going to Zanzibar to do so, not just for the relaxed atmosphere but for the beauty of the surrounding beaches and sea.

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