What a joy Zanzibar is!
Particularly after several weeks in this grimy city. Zanzibar – aka the Spice Islands – is a 2 hour boat ride away from Dar es Salaam, perfect for a long weekend.
The Zanzibar boat ticket business can be a bit of a pain. Admittedly I was trying to explain to a bunch of ticket touts, while they were busy jostling me and trying to get me into their ‘offices’, that my choice of boat was dependent upon two criteria. On the one hand I wanted to go on a slower boat than the Sea Bus which I had been told was really over-airconditioned and liable to catch ones death, erroneously as it turned out, but definitely not the slowest boat (the Flying Horse) as that takes for ever. On the other hand I wanted to go on a boat that was leaving soonish, which was the more essential criteria. Surprisingly I kind of got what I wanted – although on the return leg I reverted to the swish fast boat which I now officially recommend as by far the best way to go ( Sea Bus I and II, and the new MV Kilimanjaro – http://www.azam-marine.com/ ). The slower boats seem to have a lot of pushing and shoving going on – a bit like the maritime equivalent of a daladala. And Azam Marine has a very plush aircon ticket office/waiting room complete with pump-action-shotgun-toting security on the door, no touts, wide screen European footie, and occasionally free chips and ice cream (really!).
At least they have on the Dar side; in Zanzibar they have a perspex hole in a wall!
I did make a mental note that it’s best not to leave ticket buying to the last minute, particularly on the return trip, as you may well get on the boat but with considerably higher stress levels than you might experience otherwise, and probably very little choice of where to sit. In fact if you play your cards right you can smugly watch others get stressed out while you relax in the comfort of your seat on the shady side of the upper deck.
Another tip I discovered the hard way: Zanzibar is north of Dar so the POSH rule is reversed. (OK – brief etymological excursion for those whose first language is not English – and possibly then some: I’m told that the origin of the word ‘posh’ is that colonial british families used to travel to the various bits of the empire by boat, and that the most sought after cabins were on the port side on the outward journey heading south, and the starboard side on the northbound return leg, thereby avoiding the afternoon sun, hence ‘posh’- port out starboard home.
So to Zanzibar.
Got off the boat at Stone Town, evaded the hard-sell taxi drivers, and hit the first watering hole by the port – Mercury’s Bar – named after Freddie who was actually born in Zanzibar. (Remember that for the pub quiz).
Becky – a fellow Skillshare International volunteer of 2 years experience – had recommended a couple of hotels so I headed for the upmarket of the two – the Shangari – stopping to have a quick look through Zanzibar’s cutely named House of Wonders museum, which doubled as the colonial HQ under both the Brits and the Germans.
Then on into town, booking a morning minibus ride to the north of the island at one of the more authentic looking Tourist Informations on the way. Checked in to the hotel, shower, change then out to the fabulously colonial New Africa House Hotel sunset balcony bar.
Back to the seafront for some seafood – bit touristy but its gotta be done. The ‘Zanzibar pizza’ is a must.
Up to Kendwa next morning – really chilled out beach scene at the north of the island – gorgeous white sand beach, four poster carved Zanzibari beds, hammocks, string sunbeds, full moon parties, dive centre, pretty fishes, coral reefs.
And the swimming with dolphins. We’re coming back in the rib (inflatable boat with two 85hp outboards) from a very long dive (my 74th dive, 74 minutes) and we spotted a big pod of dolphins so we scooted over to them to have a closer look. The dive master said go for it – mask, fins, jump in – so we did. I reckon I got closest – to the point where I could see, underwater, four dolphins broadside-on, all in a diagonal synchronised pattern about ten metres away. We swam back to the boat and headed back to land when two of the dolphins joined us and surfed along at the front of the boat – hopping back and fore from one side of the bow to the other, obviously having great fun – just a few feet away. Anthropomorphism notwithstanding, I did get the feeling that there was at least a recognition of my cack-handed attempts to communicate (squeakily rubbing the side of the boat / making absurd chirping noises under the water).
‘Sunset cruise’ on a dhow. Very relaxing once you get used to the slow pace. And they provide a cool box with ice for your beers.
And all too soon its time to go home, and check the calendar for public holidays.