Our big trip is today. Our bags are packed, jewelry locked away, cameras in hand luggage and Uber on the way. I will not lie when I say we are beyond excited for our first Island holiday.
Once at the airport, we checked our bags and then the wait began to board the flight. And did we wait! Next thing we heard, hours later might I say, there was a problem with the plane and we needed to go to another gate to board another plane, so we did. Yay we are going to Zanzibar! Or maybe not. Another delay on the cards so the airline could find another pilot… great. With moods flaring, a pilot was finally found and boarding began, This time we were really going to Zanzibar! Or maybe not. They now tell us there is a problem loading the luggage so we needed to get off the plane… This is no longer funny. What started as a day to remember, has turned into a day to remember, just not for the reasons we expected. Finally, after 6 hours of waiting we finally were back in our seats, buckled in and taxiing on the runway. Now it’s well and truly time to go to Zanzibar!
For real this time!
Getting near to our destination we heard the pilot on the intercom tell us Zanzibar is coming up on our left. Eagerly we stared out the window as the plane circled the island, we were finally there! The first thing we noticed getting out the plane was humid heat like I’ve never experienced before. Friendly faces guided us to the tiny terminal where all passengers filled in little questionnaires before we checked in by customs. Once we have our bags we exited the terminal to find us a taxi to take us to our final destination. On our way out we passed a small kiosk selling SIM cards. We decided to give it a pass and not buy any SIM cards as the hotel has free wifi. After all, paying $20 for a SIM card charged with $5 airtime was a bit heavy on the budget side. After we found our taxi to take us to the hotel, our excitement started to burst. Like little children we practically hung out the window of the taxi taking in the sights of the busy streets. The place looked rough and a bit scary but the natural beauty of the island was magical. The sun had already hit the horizon so it was getting very hard to see so we sat back and had a jolly chat with our driver until we finally got to the hotel. The hotel staff received us with welcome drinks and a small snack before showing us to our rooms. Sadly it was very dark outside and we could not see much so after a quick walk round the hotel, we settled down at the bar for a few much needed cocktails before hitting the sack for the night.
We woke up bright and early so we could maximize our first day. From the night before, we learned that wifi was not quite as useful as we expected. Also we realized that in order to move around, we were going to need SIM cards so we could call taxi’s and use internet when we moved around. So on the cards for today was hail a taxi then head to town to get a SIM card. But first, we had breakfast then went for a walk on the beach.
Our first day was awesome. We decided to take it slow and not really go anywhere except get the SIM card. We got the SIM card all right. Our taxi driver said he knew the best place to get the SIM card and exchange Rands for Dollars. Firstly, we stopped at the exchange where we got a good amount of moola exchanged. After that, our driver led us through a tight market on foot, the likes of which was scary for us South Africans who are not used to those confines. We got a $5 SIM card for $5. I have to add that this card with its $5 charge lasted a whole week with phone calls and WhatsApp with the odd Google as well without a single top up! What a bargain.
Today marks the start of the adventures we were going to take. The plan is to go to Stonetown and have us a good walkabout and soak in some sights. Of course, we have no idea what to expect nor how the heat would treat us so we would have to dress lightly and hope for the best. After a delicious breakfast, we hailed a taxi and sat at reception waiting for the driver to come.
The drive to town was an interesting experience. The structure we were used to seemed to give way to organized chaos. People on scooters and other cars were zig zaging all over the place. More than a few times I found myself grabbing the seat tightly expecting a crash but our driver seemed to know how things worked and each certain crash was avoided with the skill of a fighter pilot. Once the car finally comes to a rest, relief set in and we began our uncertain journey in Stonetown.
Our starting point was Forodhani Park near the Floating Restaurant. We had approximately 2 hours for this walk about. We headed toward the waters edge when Melissa saw a female cat with some kittens nearby under a tree. Without wasting time she went to pet the girl and her babies. It didn’t take me long to notice that she was the only person on the grass so I looked around to see why this was the case. I found a sign saying to keep of the grass so sadly, I had the separate the new acquaintances.
The beaches near the park were lined with tour boats. Crews and captains all calling for any tourists attention with each one offering better prices or a smoother ride than the competitor right next door. On the beach, we were approached by a chap offering some weed for us to enjoy. We passed up the opportunity so we could feel a bit safer of course.
With the day drawing to a close, we kicked off our shoes and walked on the pristine white beaches, Melissa picking up shells as we went. I would wade into the water to cool down even further but the water was so warm, it might as well have been a hot bath.
Our alarms woke us up very early before sunrise. I felt the need to try take landscape photos of the sunrise. With no experience and no working internet for guidance, I decided to wing it to see what I could come up with. The result was no big work of art but I was happy with the result none the less.
And thus begins our trip for the Safari Blue. A chance to snorkel amongst the corals of the Indian ocean. I have been looking forward to this moment forever! You can just see the excitement on our faces. After a long drive to the south western part of the island, our driver dropped us off and said “Walk in that direction. I will see you at 5 again.” I won’t be lying when I say we felt lost. There were no signs showing us where to go and only a few locals hanging round here and there. We walked through some ruins until we reached the beach. In the distance we could see some dhows and very few tourists. Were we really in the right place? After hanging round for an hour many more tourists started showing up and we started getting excited once again.
A guide came to round a few of us up. Melissa, Myself, a guy and his girlfriend from Belgium and an Italian. We are guided to a dhow about 100 meters offshore. The walk through the water was prickly and rough. Obviously I brought the wrong footwear, nevertheless, our excitement was more than enough to get us to the dhow.
Our first stop was a sandbank where we were served a fruit lunch. Rather than filling my stomach, I donned my new snorkel gear and headed for the water. I spent the better part of an hour swimming amongst tropical fish and taking in the underwater sights. After that, we were taken round the sand bank where all the tourists started snorkeling. There was a sort of pit under the water with an eel and many star fish. I tried going all the way down but my ears just couldn’t handle the water pressure.
Our time snorkeling eventually drew to a close and we were all asked to board the dhow again. By this point our European ship mates were turning very pink. I was glad I was not one of them at that point, not realizing that my turn was still coming. Our next stop on the safari was to Mangrove Island. On our way, a dolphin joined our fleet for a minute and swam alongside the dhow before disappearing among the waves. Once at Mangrove Island, we were taken into a small cove before heading to a nearby beach for a much needed lunch. Us guys were lucky as every tree counted toward being a toilet for a quick leak but poor Melissa had to face yet another hole in the ground.
Lining the beach on Mangrove Island was a small flea market where locals were proudly showing off their wares. We bought a few items while waiting four our lunch to be cooked. After that, we were led to a baobab tree that had fallen but still defied death.
To say our lunch was massive is an understatement. The plate was piled up with rice and 6 king prawns. On a second plate we each got one huge lobster and an equally large crayfish. I could only manage to fit less than half the food in my stomach.
We had a big day planned for Stonetown. The hotel had a number of guests all going on a tour to the market and a few other sites in Stonetown. We started with what felt like a long wait in reception. We passed the time playing with a small kitty in reception until the bus came to pick us up.
Our first stop was the market. It was really busy and as we entered the market, smelly too! The entrance we were brought into was for the fish and meat market. Lots of raw gutted fish everywhere with no air conditioning or refrigeration in sight. The smell was nauseating so we made our way through the hall as fast as possible.
The rest of the market was actually quite pleasant with foods and spices on offer wherever we went. The tropics have much to offer for fruit which is noticeable in the sheer size of some of the fresh produce on offer. Bananas almost 40cm long and brinjals as big as Melissa’s head.
The next stop was to the slave market. We were asked to pay entry fees over and above what we already paid for the tour. We felt that if all the stops were going to cost us a cover charge and be as underwhelming as the beginning of the tour, then we would just go do our own thing at our own time and have more fun doing it too. And so off we went, saying good bye to the rest of the tourists.
I told Melissa that we should forget about the map and just go in any direction and take pictures of whatever peeks our interest. So from alley to alley we took photos and soaked up all the little shops we otherwise would have missed. Amongst some of the places we visited was Memories of Zanzibar shop, the old castle, the docks and a lovely Japanese restaurant.
We started very early for one simple reason, the lilac breasted roller we kept passing every day. It was a long walk to the spot where we saw it a few times before. On our way, we came across a road kill. A giant cane rat that was the size of a dog the size of a Jack Russell. Knowing how the people drive in Zanzibar, it’s a miracle there isn’t more carnage in the road.
Once we reached our destination, I set out looking for the roller while Melissa spent her time following butterflies and chickens. After a lot of effort, I had nothing. They were extremely shy so getting close proved to be too much of a challenge.
As I got back to Melissa, we noticed a young man come out of the nearby building toward us. I thought we were in trouble. It turns out, he was the headmaster of the school we were hanging round the outside of. He told us about the schools development and how they are building homes for the teachers. We signed the guest book which made him excited as he barely comes across South Africans. After a few selfies, he led us to one of the classrooms where we were treated to a song sung by the children of the school. After that we got a small tour through the school grounds before having some final pictures taken with the children.
At around 11 AM we decided to go to the Jozani forest but not with a taxi. This time we wanted to travel using the Dala-Dala. We found one that took us a part of the way but dropped us in what looked like the middle of nowhere. From there on. It was only a few minutes and another one came along and took us onboard. Initially, things seemed dandy just like our first ride. But this Dala-Dala stopped a lot more frequently. Nobody got off but more kept getting on. We thought the truck was full but we came to learn a few minutes later that it was only half full! We were quite delighted when we reached our destination.
The forest tour was very nice. We saw few birds but heard many. There were many monkeys including the rare red colobus. We were guided to a mangrove forest and were shown some of the local fauna a flora. When it came time to go back to the hotel, we were miffed. We hitched a ride with a lovely girl from Israel where could finally kick off our shoes and enjoy some ice cold cocktails.
We started very early for one simple reason, the lilac breasted roller, we had to try again. This time, outside the school, we were greeted with friendly waves from the children and teachers. I got down to business right away looking for rollers and Melissa went chasing after butterflies again. It didn’t take long to find the rollers but getting close still was a challenge as they kept a good distance between us. Finally after an hour of trying, I managed to get one in flight.
On our way back to the hotel, a local came by on a fully loaded bicycle and offered us a lift to the hotel. I couldn’t see space for him to take my camera, never mind two adults. We also took some photos of some boys sitting next to the road.
Following the general plan for the day, we never strayed too far from the hotel, and took our last day quite easy. Some photos were taken with the Maasai guards and a lot of chilling the rest of the time.
We did go to one of the local shops in a nearby village to buy some goodies. We bought some coffee to take home, a jar of chocolate, some milk and a lot of sweeties. The shop owner was so happy with our bumper shopping spree, they gifted us a bottle of vanilla essence.
We wanted to eat out at a local beach restaurant that evening. We took the scenic route through the village to get there. That’s why we bought the sweets earlier, to give to the kids on our way to the restaurant. Oh what a mistake that turned out to be. What started with 5 or 6 children blew out of control with what seemed like a whole village of children and their mothers all clambering for a sweet.
From there, we entered the restaurant where I enjoyed some local beers and Melissa sampling some cocktails while we waited for our feast.
The Final Day
The dreaded final day 🙁 We didn’t want to go home. The hospitality, the company we kept, the fun we were having, all had to come to an end. We were in a somber mood packing our bags. We did a last walk round the hotel and took our last photos before waiting for the long trip home.
This turned out to be the best week of my life. I am so grateful for the love of my life that made this all possible and so worth it.