We took the fast ferry to Zanzibar so the crossing took about 1 and 1/2 hours plus 30 mins customs and immigration etc.
The United Republic of Tanzania was formed in 1964 by the ‘merger’ of Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar following a revolution in which the Arab government was kicked out. Zanzibar however has its own flag and name – The Revolutionary Republic of Zanzibar requires all non-Tanzanians to undergo customs and immigration formalities and have their passports stamped. Moses and his wife Laura (of Masai Explorer’s Camp fame) had recommended a place to stay in Stone Town called Safari Lodge which we had subsequently booked.
We had been told that the touts (people there to get your business) were quite aggressive but if you know where you’re going it is easier to use them. Stone Town is like a rabbit warren with twists and turns so we took a taxi even although we knew Safari Lodge was close – it was about a 5 min walk when you know the way! It turned out to be a good place, owners were friendly and helpful and the room comfortable. We hadn’t had lunch so we set out in search of Mercury’s, a restaurant recommended by Safari Lodge.
We hadn’t made the connection with Freddy Mercury until we read the write up at the restaurant. He was born in Zanzibar and they are very proud of that fact. It’s situated right on the beach front with a view of the port and fishing boats. There we got a glimpse of life in Zanzibar as we saw tourists going out on boat trips following their guides through the working fishing boats. That was to be the pattern for the rest of our stay, working people right next door, in front of tourists relaxing in the sun!
We managed to get a road map of Stone Town and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around. That’s how we discovered how close we were staying to the port! Along the beach front there’s a plaza called Forodhani gardens and every evening there’s a food market where you can eat supper. It’s festive and everyone goes there including the locals. Most of the food stalls sell the same food so there’s a lot of touting for business.
The food is laid out on large tables and once your selection is made the vendors cook them for you. We got a meal of kebabs (meat, chicken and prawns) along with a range of local flat breads and were encouraged to a have the sugar cane juice that they make locally.
The sugar cane together a bit of ginger and lemon is squeezed though a hand mill much like a pizza dough press.
We made the mistake of sitting in front of another vendors stall, and he convinced us to have a Zanzibar pizza. It was really just a pancake+filling +pancake again. As we’d already eaten we had a banana ‘pizza’. It was a lovely experience.
Next morning we did some sightseeing. We started at the Palace Museum which was very interesting, giving us an idea of the history of Zanzibar as we were clueless. From there we were going to do a self-guided tour. Continually having to fight off would be guides we met Juma who had been watching as yet again we were offered a tour we didn’t want! He was an accredited tour guide, very well spoken with a very gentle manner who won us over!
We spent 2 hours with him as he showed us around and kept showing us where we were with reference to a map. It really was worthwhile as we saw all the different types of doors (something that Zanzibar is famous for), Freddy Mercury’s supposed birthplace, the markets, the old slave market which is an Anglican church and of course the history. We ended with a trip to the top of a local hotel where we got a great view over Stone Town. It’s called Stone Town because most of the buildings are made of coral stone- which has stopped being used now.
The next morning we caught a shuttle to the north of the Island to Kendwa where we stayed for 5 days. We’d booked into a place called Palumbo Kendwa which wasn’t on the beach front but a short walk away.
We discovered that we had entered Italian territory! The Kendwa beach extends a couple of kms and beach front bars/restaurants from each hotel line it accordingly.
There’s a few hotels that cater only for Italians so all the locals speak Italian too, and so is most of the cuisine. When we arrived at low tide, the locals were gathering mussels and such like from the rocks, not at all what we had pictured. Then as the tide came in the clarity of the water was amazing, coupled with the white sands and we had the pictures that Zanzibar is famous for.
Thus we spent 5 days lazing on the beach, eating, reading, swimming and watching the Italians play. We were assisted by lovely staff from the hotel for whom nothing was too much trouble when we asked.
The local stall holders on the beach (many of whom were Masai) are very skillful at chatting with people, inviting you into their shops only to be distraught when you didn’t buy anything. However we had a few really interesting conversations with them and realized again that there is a recurring theme in Africa with her peoples, lack of education coupled with lack of critical thought keeps people in grinding poverty. One of the contrasts most striking in Zanzibar is how wealthy tourists enjoy a great holiday amongst the poverty of her people. Juma had told us that 89% of Zanzibar’s’ revenue comes from tourism so they are happy to have the tourists. The hotel ‘restaurant’ – a large thatched lappa – was on the beach.
Coupled with the fact that the hotel was a 15 min walk or bumpy 10 min off-road drive in a shuttle that was permanently on call for the hotel guests, people tended to spend most of the day at the beach. We generally stayed to sip a cocktail whilst watching the stunning sunset over the Zanzibar channel before heading back to the hotel for a shower – only to be back in the shuttle for dinner at 8.
On the last evening Al and I had a wonderful seafood platter dinner on the beach. We’d asked Giuseppe (Joseph to the non-Italians!) from the hotel to organize it. When we arrived we were escorted out onto the beach, where they had laid a beautiful table for us, and make a cupid sign in the sand and added tea candles which they placed in holes in the sand. Our waiter then proceeded to station himself 3 m away so that he could give us anything we wished for. We were touched at the delight that they expressed at doing this for us. It made for a memorable evening.
The next morning we caught the taxi/shuttle back to the port, took the ferry back to Dar (a little nervous as before we’d even left they were handing out vomit bags as they were expecting a rough crossing!), took a tuk-tuk to the other ferry and arrived by tuk-tuk back at Mikadi beach camp and our faithful old vehicle/ home parked just where we had left her. (It’s amazing how attached you become to the vehicle that we have to depend upon for our transport, safety, accommodation and food!). Only people who have done this kind of trip would fully understand. Zanzibar had been a wonderful break.
We had cleaned out the fridge before leaving for Zanzibar so before we left Dar the next day we had to go shopping. Lucio, the owner of Mikadi beach told us where to go, so we left there at 10 am, caught the ferry and got to the shopping mall by 12pm (some 10 or 12 kms away). We shopped. Left the shopping center at 1.10pm found petrol and eventually headed out from Dar at 1.50pm. It seems nothing happens very quickly there. From Dar we were heading south to a park called Ruaha just outside Iringa. We left much later than anticipated and found the first 150km out of Dar to be terrible a road – the heat, combined with heavy traffic and an under-rated road combined to create a surface equal to a gravel road that has been churned up by vehicles during the rains and subsequently dried out.
The ruts throw the vehicle around so much you feel sea-sick. Add to that the number of heavy vehicles on both sides of the road, the progress was very slow and tiring! We found a lovely campsite just outside Morogoro called Mountain View where we had a magnificent view of the Ulunguru mountain range.
The 400km to Ruaha National Park via Iringa took us all of the next day, only arriving at our campsite after 5pm.