We landed in Zanzibar and I made it into the small little terminal and a short while later our bags began to be carried in. I collected mine and headed outside to find my name on a sign held by the person who welcomed me to Zanzibar and gave me my itinerary for the next few days. They had me separate from the other six people that I had been traveling with, and I figured we would meet later, not realizing that I would not see them again, otherwise I would have said my goodbyes. They must have had another itinerary here on the island, and I can only hope that it’s been nice. I was actually thankful to finally have solitude, as it’s been a long time. I’m used to having a lot of personal time, and that just hasn’t existed for the last 8+ months, so a few days on my own on the beautiful island of Zanzibar was just about perfect.
My first stop was an overnight stay in Stone Town, at a funky little hotel right on the water, with the views being the best thing about it, as the rest was pretty sub-par, including the food, sadly. Thankfully it was just one night, and I made the most of it, enjoying the water views. The next morning I had a tour of Stone Town, learning of its history, including the role of Zanzibar in the East African slave trade, which was difficult to hear about, but important to acknowledge. The tight little alleyways of Stone Town reminded me of so many similar ones throughout Europe, with people mostly on foot, and the occasional moped zipping through the carless lanes. We walked through the market, from the fish market to produce, spices, and household items, passing vendors on bikes with huge baskets of bread fresh from local bakeries, ready to wrap in paper for local buyers. Zanzibar is part of a group of islands known as the spice islands of this part of the world, most notably for cloves, as well as nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. For the music fans out there, Freddie Mercury of Queen was born in Stone Town, here on Zanzibar. Random trivia. You’re welcome.
After the tour, a private taxi took me up the west side of the island to the area of Nungwi, about an hour drive from Stone Town. One of the first things that you notice about Zanzibar, especially this time of year after being on the mainland during the dry season, is how green and lush it is, which apparently is the case all year around. There are coconut and banana palms everywhere, and lush green grasses and plants coming up from the deep rich soil. The streets are lined with houses and small shops that sell everything from produce to clothes to furniture and housewares, with cattle grazing in the open lots and chickens running around everywhere. The island has a prominent Arabic history and present culture, which shows up in the culture, art, architecture, design, language, and of course, religion on the island.
I stayed at the amazing resort that is Hideaway of Nungwi, a beautiful piece of property on a sloped hillside all the way to the ocean, with impeccably manicured grounds, beautiful furnishings, and all the touches that make luxury resorts special. Even though it was pouring rain when I arrived, it quickly cleared, and the sky and ocean began their beautiful blue dance with each other into the evening. I stayed in one of the luxury junior suites with a view of the ocean, and it was divine. It was so lovely to have a bit of luxury after over eight months of mosquitoes and cockroaches as a daily part of life. The property has an infinity pool, ocean front bars, restaurants, and seating areas, and many different activities for everyone from the adrenaline junkies to the vacation sloths. It is the quintessential photo-come-to-life of turquoise blue waters and white sandy beaches, with dhow boats along the shoreline. Other than some iPhone photos, I didn’t photograph it, as wandering around with a camera in a place like this just doesn’t fit. Their web site had very good photos and video of the property, so it seemed redundant, as well.
I spent my days relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the place, the turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches, and it was paradise. The particular package I had was not all-inclusive, so I had just breakfast and dinner included, with all drinks being extra, even bottled water (uh, cheap move, fancy resort). I had lunch each day on the rooftop deck overlooking the ocean, and buffet-style breakfast and dinner at the restaurant that overlooks the beach. The buffets were nice, with many choices, the highlight in terms of presentation being the desserts, which were all works of art. The first night I was a bit disappointed to be surrounded by the not-so-great tourists that you wish you could just vote of the island. These were the scantily clad people that don’t have enough self-respect to dress appropriately for dinner in a conservative culture, the loud privileged kids running around, and just a general loud ambience. I sat in a quieter part of the restaurant after that and it was much better. But then I could hear the music. And jumping jesus on a pogo stick, it was a mind bend. Take pop and rock tunes from mostly the 80s and 90s and then have them sung by a jazz lounge singer and you about have it. First up was With or Without You by U2, and I didn’t really like it, but I also didn’t hate it. It was just odd. But then came Thriller by Michael Jackson, and that was just plain wrong. Same with Nothing Compares to You by Sinead O’Connor. And it just kept going, so I did my best to tune it out. Fail, people. Play Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday if you want a jazzy sound. Or go for local music to give people a taste of local culture. But please, dear sweet baby cheez-its, do not turn Thriller into a lounge tune. Thankfully this was the only real bad thing about the place, so otherwise they win.
One night they had a culture night, which I happened upon after dinner, with a bunch of Masai men all displaying artwork, crafts, and their intricate beadwork jewelry. Lucky for them they met an American (yay, they love us) that was sadly shopped out and not going to spend another cent (boo, that sucks). Several of them had bracelets on that they made themselves, usually with their names on them, and them some sort of decoration on either side, often their country flag. One of them, however, and the first one I met, had the American flag on both sides of his name, which he was proud to show me when he asked where I was from. He was also proud to tell me that he needs an American girlfriend, as he wants to go there. This would be a thing that I encountered more than once, in various forms (more on that in my next post). So I made the rounds to each person, exchanged greetings and handshakes, admired and complemented their work, or at least the work of someone, even if none of it was their own creation. It’s still fun to look.
I was on this magical island for the full moon, in its full glory on my last night there, and it was like whipped cream on top of the dessert of Zanzibar. A perfect end to a perfect stay. I snapped a couple of iPhone photos that didn’t turn out well, but their blurriness is sort of artsy in its own way.
Goodnight, Moon. It’s nice seeing the northern hemisphere side of you again.