Zanzibar: sights, sounds, and tastes
Pictured above: the island of Zanzibar from our flight to the island from Kilimanjaro airport.
Hello there, I hope that you’re still reading after my Kilimanjaro climb diary-style posts from the last two weeks. Looking back at how difficult it was, I am so glad that the three of us planned this beach excursion for immediately after the climb. We did miss out on the very last day of our REI trip - which would have taken us into the village of Moshi to try banana beer and shop with John, our local guide. But, we had a later flight, and Precision Air canceled it and rescheduled it for very early in the morning. I think it was at 8:30? So we had to be at the airport at 6:30 and it was 90 minutes to JRO (Kilimanjaro airport) from the coffee estate/Kaliwa Lodge. Please note that if you go to East Africa and fly Precision Air, you need to be very proactive about checking your flights. They change them on a whim and don’t notify you. They canceled and rebooked two of ours (out of three) and we only knew when we tried to check in and got an error message. Slightly unnerving, to say the least.
Anyway, we arrived on the west coast of the island of Zanzibar, which is a semi-autonomous region, near the capital and largest city, called Stone Town, and we had hired our hotel to pick us up. We had to complete separate customs forms and so I kind of question if this was like visiting another country and should I add one more to my list of countries? Anyway, we knew things on the island were kind of primitive, I don’t think we were quite prepared for what it actually would be. Zoe and I traveled with practically no cash, its just not my style and I know that isn’t always the smartest idea yet I continue to do it. Karlie had some US dollars to exchange and tried to do so at the tiny ZNZ airport and her one hundred dollar bill was crisp, new, and unfolded from her United States bank but it had one tiny corner of the bill missing and the exchange bureau would not take it and exchange it for Tanzanian Schillings. Zoe and I could not find an ATM at the airport at all. Then our driver told us that the only cash machines on the island were in Stone Town and he could stop at one if we wanted, but that we could also get cash from the hotel and put it on our bill. Since we had just spent a ton of time in that cinder block, open air, airport (it was quite the culture shock, even for me) we kind of just wanted to get to the hotel and then the beach, and decided upon the latter option.
The late morning drive to our hotel took us through Stone Town, then north, then across the island headed east, then north again and following the northwest coast for a bit. The roads on the island were old and some were dirt or gravel and even when they were paved, they were not smooth at all. More than one Tanzanian or Zanzibar resident called these rough roads the “African massage road.” I think we saw more people walking as their only means of transport in Zanzibar than anywhere else on this trip, and we saw a lot of people walking! As a North American, I never thought about how much people walk as an absolute necessity in other parts of the world. In Zanzibar, we also witnessed people riding or walking beside ox-drawn carts to transport things. It felt like we’d stepped back in time to another century.
Zanzibar has a very large Muslim population and thus we saw many women and children in very traditional Muslim dress. Mostly men that day though. The kids were in school and the women were probably at home doing chores. Before we left Stone Town, our driver, whose family was from Oman originally, asked us if we’d ever eaten jackfruit. None of us had ever had it straight off of the tree. So the very kind gentleman stopped the car at a stand selling it, drizzled some kind of oil on our hands and handed us a huge fruit to share and explained how to eat it. Zoe caught on very quickly and had a knack for getting the edible parts out and passing it to us in chunks. The driver told us we could just put the seeds on the floor, and that he’d clean it up later, but I had a plastic bag to dispose of all the garbage and we couldn’t even dream of tossing trash on the floor for him to clean up. I’m really glad I had it! I am also really glad that he introduced us to jackfruit, it was delicious! Not super sweet but also not sour or bitter. It had a meatyness to it considering it was a fruit but it was very filling. I encourage you to find some and eat it as intended first - a lot of places use it as a vegan meat substitute, and I’ve never had it that way.
We ate as he drove us around the island and pointed out landmarks, asked us where we were from, if we’d been on safari, etc. We told him we’d climbed Kilimanjaro and honestly, that seemed to shock him and everyone we met after that portion of the trip. East African locals climb it, but I wonder if most westerners that climb it don’t head to Zanzibar afterward? Or maybe they just do the climb and then go back home. We encountered several people who were surprised that we were still traveling after the fact. One of the many things he pointed out were the various spice farms. They were all over. You could visit them (we did not) and buy local spices and get a tour of the farms. On a trip back, I would. But our Zanzibar time was pure relaxation, and we knew we wanted to visit a turtle sanctuary - more on that later.
What struck me as interesting about the road situation was that they were not great and we passed by one area of road construction that didn’t look official. It looked like local men had taken matters in to their own hands and were laying pipe to transport water and then rebuilding the road over it. I could be wrong, but I didn’t ask because I didn’t know how and it seemed like a silly/rude question to ask. I know that Zanzibar is extremely poor and I read before going the most locals live on less than $250 USD per year. The average life expectancy is 57. I’ve been looking at volunteer trips to the island and hope to do that some day, sooner rather than later. Here’s more a of a lighthearted fact for you, Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town and his family fled the island during the Zanzibar Revolution. Before we left the States for this trip, Karlie and I had hoped we could visit some touristy bar in Stone Town that was a tribute to him, but after that long taxi ride we decided we were not going anywhere that we couldn’t walk to from the hotel. We did more worthy things that were nearby anyway.
We reached our beautiful hotel after polishing off that jackfruit, some car naps, and a police checkpoint stop. The police let us pass and when he saw that we were just a bunch of tourists. We then made the final drive on the bumpiest road to the Warere Beach Hotel and passed a lot of other beautiful properties on the way. We checked in to our gorgeous and spacious room for three people in the main building (they also had villas). We had a huge balcony, a queen bed, two twins, and a very large bathroom as well as tons of space for three people. I mention this because we later stayed in a 3 person hotel room in Nairobi that Zoe called our stateroom because we had to climb over one of the beds to move around the room. Upon checking in and changing into swimsuits and coverups. We grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant (outside, of course) and then hit the beach and the pool. Several umbrella drinks and Safari beers (a local one, same brewery as that Kilimanjaro beer) were had at the pool. We were the only Americans at the hotel and perhaps even at any of the neighboring hotels. The rest of the guests were Europeans. We spent the majority of that afternoon soaking up the sun, walking along the beach, talking to this local Welsh dude who told us it was “cold” for Zanzibar (I lol’d at the time because I knew it had snowed a few times in Chicago since we’d been gone), and then had a spa evening in the hotel room where we sat around in the hotel robes and put on sheet masks and relaxed, and then showered and put on the only cute dresses we’d packed for a delicious dinner at the hotel. It was in stark contrast to the rest of the trip so far and yet, equally as memorable. <3