Waking before dawn (again) we said our last goodbye to the Brazilians Caroline and Marjorie, boarded a crowded local ferry for the 20 minute crossing to the main ferry port, then caught the fast boat ‘Kilimanjaro’ to the spice island of Zanzibar. The journey was spent watching an interesting National Geographic documentary on Zanzibar and freezing under the onslaught of a malfunctioning air conditioner.
With the rest of the group heading to the north of the island we’d opted to go independent for the next four days as it was cheaper, we wanted to support the local community over a beach resort and just incase we needed to escape a safari truck full of people we didn’t like (we assure you this wasn’t the case fellow overlanders…). Met by the Absolute Africa guide in Stone Town, we were shown to the local transport hub where we took a dhaladhala (minibus) a short hop to the market, before taking the 309 to the village of Jambiani. A covered truck bed with bench seating, we were barely able to sit upright as we squeezed in with the locals.
An hour later Chichi, a softly spoken dreadlocked local, greeted us at the gate, we were introduced to fellow AirBnb host Carolina from Spain and given a run through of potential activities Chichi could organise for us. With the beach the first thing on our minds, we headed to the shore front a short walk away. Zanzibar is actually a coral atoll and in Jambiani you’ll notice everything including roads, walls and houses are constructed from large chunks of broken coral. In search of food we stumbled upon Bob Marley decorated Kim’s Restaurant and Reggae Bar. Choosing the coconut crumbed fish served with mango chutney, rice and salad, we could see why this place now features in several guide books. The food was delicious and the beer was cold.
For dinner that evening Chichi and Carolina invited us to join them for a meal of fish with soup and banana in fresh herbs and spices. Their generous hospitality continued into breakfast consisting of papaya fresh from the garden, banana, fresh bread and homemade spiced chai tea served on the patio. Decided to spend the day exploring, we rented couple of pushbikes from Chichi and headed up the coast. It’s possible to ride along the sand and hitting the beach we dove straight in before making tracks.
In the small sandy town of Paje we passed kite surfers, stopped for a swim and a bought a bracelet off a couple of girlswho then proceeded to bury Sarah’s bike tires in sand. Having ridden 6km in softening sand, we headed to the inland tarmac where we came upon the Seaweed Centre. Local women handcraft soap from locally farmed seaweed along with coconut oil products and we were given a brief free tour before indulging in some shopping.
Roughly 15km of riding later, we made it to Machamvi and were dying for some shade, a swim and a beer. Struggling to find our way to the beach, we eventually dragged the bikes across soft flat sand and flopped into the water. There didn’t appear to be much going on here, which meant we had the beach mainly to ourselves, though we were disappointed to find the beach resorts charging USD$3 for a small beer. Heading back to Jambiani we were faced with a head wind and scorching sun, which quickly turned into a Doxycycline ‘increased sun sensitivity’ hell.
As soon as we were able we made our way back to the beachfront, where the shade of the palm trees, rustic beach bars and reasonably priced beers provided instant relief and we decided to do a beach-bike-bar crawl home. First stop was Twisted Palms were we enjoyed ice cold pints on sunbeds on the sand while chatting to a local Maasai guide with wicked hair, dreadlocked and decorated with silver combs and beads. He kept us entertained with stories of his tribe, how after 12 years of being a warrior a graduation ceremony of sorts takes place over five months, with animals slaughtered for feasts and he can finally cut his hair next year.
Our next stop was Crazy Swahili just up the beach, where driftwood, flotsam and empty wine and spirit bottles had been used to craft an eclectic beach bar complete with it’s own ‘Romantic Love Table’. Once again the beers were cheap and the serviced friendly but with the sun fading we rode further down the beach to Jambo Jambo bar. With music blaring we took a seat at the bar, struck up a conversation with some friendly Alaskans and enjoyed a couple of strong pina coladas. Taking the bikes back along the beach we passed a local beach football match, complete with Masai goalkeeper.
Not wanting to dodge coral and soft sand in the dark, we rode the 6kms from Paje along the main unlit road, dropped off the bikes and headed to another beach bar right by our accommodation. Taking a seat at the bar of a place whose name we don’t know, we joined a mohawked boardshorts wearing barman from Oman and his friend, whose names we also don’t know, sharing a shisha pipe whose name we do know, Blue Mist.
The next day saw us picked up at 8:30am for a Blue Safari Tour. Crossing through Jozani Forest, we’re treated to the site of a group of endangered red colobus monkeys jumping from the trees to run across the road right between the two
‘Slow – Red Colobus Monkey Crossing’
signs. In Unguja we boarded our dhow, a traditional Indian/Arabian wooden trading sail boat, along with 10 others and headed to Menai Bay Conservation Area. Our first stop was a slightly unimpressive mangrove swamp, though the beach we moored on would have made a mean pirate cove.
Our second stop was a much more impressive sandbank. Sadly we had to share it with about 15 other boats, though we managed to find an unoccupied corner where our crew set about serving up freshly cut pineapple, watermelon, banana and coconut. Lazing in the tropical waters was magical once you turned your back on the crowd. As the tide started to come in space became more limited and several boats set sail, taking their shade with them. With our crew deciding not to bother we were left to swelter while our perfectly good shelter sat in the boat bobbing 50m offshore.
After a brief snorkeling stop with not much to see, we beached on Kwale Island and were served lunch fit for Poseidon himself. Hot potato chips, rice and chapatis were swiftly followed by platters loaded with prawns, lobster, crab, fish and octopus. Suitably stuffed we found some shade and chilled on the beach while a squad of Hobie Cats resting on the shore were swiftly pushed back into the water, the race getting back underway.
Before departing we took a short walk to a huge 700 year old boaboa tree which has fallen over but continues to grow. We headed back to the main island under sail as the crew sung a local Hakuna Matata song over and over and over, like a monkey with a miniature cymbal, leaving us wondering how many beers they had during lunch.
The next morning we waved goodbye to Chichi and Carolina as they helped us hitch a ride in the back of a truck to Paje where we’d catch a dhaldhala back to Stone Town. Or we would have it hadn’t of been Eid Festival. Zanzibar, like most of Tanzania, is Muslim, and Eid celebrates the end of Ramadan. It’s a day when people are NOT allowed to fast so instead they feast. An hour later we decide the dhaladhala drivers are all still feasting and bargain our way into a taxi for 40,000.
An hour after that we’re checked in on the south side of the old town of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s historical centre. Over thousands of years this trading port brought together people from the East African, Indian, Arab and European worlds, and it still retains a very Arab vibe with it’s twisting alleys and architecture. Winding our way through the narrow streets we find ourselves at Mashalla Café for lunch where the owner was friendly, the spiced chicken was delicious and the fresh guava/rosella juices were both to die for.
Being a holiday the locals were in their best attire and many people were playing music in the street. In need of some caffeine and WiFi to get our bearings, Zanzibar Coffee House ticked all the boxes, serving coffee grown on their own local estate, delicious cakes and great interior design to boot. Just keep on eye on your things if you take a table by an open window…one bloke stood for over 10 minutes scoping out our camera right in front of us.
With only one night left on Zanzibar, we headed to Maru Maru’s rooftop bar to watch the sun go down on and celebrate making it through 365 days of marriage (woo hoo!). The views over the old town and out to sea as the sunset and the dhow boats returned was great, as was the happy hour beer prices.
Passing by an old round tower we headed to the Forodhani Gardens where the evening seafood market was in full swing with locals celebrating the end of Ramadan by filling their paper plates. Joining in we were drawn to one stall holders friendly callings and ended up at Mr Zanzibar’s. Asking our names we played his game and introduced ourselves as Mr and Mrs Australia, before filling our own paper plate with fresh octopus and fish and joined some locals on a nearby gutter to dig in. Nearby Jahazi with it’s tables and chairs set out on the beach provided some post dinner drinks as we watched the locals play in the moonlit sea.
Our last day on Zanzibar we celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary by being unable to find anywhere open for breakfast. Msumbi Cafe near Zanzibar House happened to be the first place we could find and also happened to be a rip off, at least the coffee was good. Getting lost in the alleys we pass the old hammam (baths) before trying to find our way back for a refreshing juice at Mashalla Cafe.
Lucky for us we’d visited spice markets in the Middle East and Morocco before so we weren’t completely disappointed. Instead we hid out at a local restaurant on TV corner near our apartment, where locals used to gather to watch a communal TV, and ate a weird yet tasty soup concoction of potato, fresh cucumber, coleslaw and crunchy fried onions. With crazy eyes still on the loose we didn’t want to risk an altercation with all our gear so we grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal, met up with the rest of the gang and enjoyed Jurassic World on the ferry TV while a local woman spewed loudly behind us (does everybody get motion sickness in this part of the world??).
After spending our final night back on the beach in Dar es Salaam, our final day in Tanzania was spent on the truck…for 14 hours. Up at 4:30am we stopped at 9:30am for breakfast where locals tried to sell us a mixture of wooden spoons, spears and cashew nuts. We passed through Mikumi National Park seeing barely any wildlife, before coming upon the awesome Boaboa Valley, with it’s hundreds of creepy leafless gnarled trees spread through the winding mountainous roads. Excitements levels rise when we spot a truck jack-knifed on the edge of the road with all it’s rear wheels hanging off the edge, but quickly passes when we spot all the trucks coming downhill towards us.
We spend the night at Farmhouse Camp, owned by a friend the Kiwi’s on the truck. A cool little bar with mud brick rooms serves brownies and hot chocolate with amarula, a local liquer similar to Bailey’s made from fruit, while a round thatched TV room with a low entrance way was showing England beaten by Wales in the Rugby World Cup 26-23 and MCFC beaten by Tottenham 4-1. But the biggest excitement of the day was having our first hot shower in seven days. Bliss.
You can check out more pics of our time in Zanzibar and Tanzania on Flickr.
Tips for Zanzibar
- If taking the small local ferry in Dar es Salaam be aware photos are not allowed! Our guide told us about one tourist in a previous group who was caught taking photos and dragged to the police station where they demanded he pay a fine of USD$20 per photo.
- Our accommodation in Jambiani was via AirBnb with Carolina and Chichi. A warm welcome, excellent fresh breakfast and amazing spiced tea (Carolina is happy to share her recipe!). The only downside is you’re not right on the beach. Bicycle hire cost us USD$20 for two bikes for the whole day.
- A full day Blue Safari trip booked with a local should set you back no more that USD$50 per person, including snorkel gear, seafood lunch and fresh fruit on the sandbank (with shade!). Make sure you get snorkel gear included as a couple on our boat were sent without and the dhow will usually not provide it.
- Change money either in Dar or Stone Town before heading to Jambiani. If you’re stuck you can change money at the main store in Paje.
- In Stone Town we stayed here also via AirBnb, a huge double room in an excellent location close to the old town.
- Some people will warn you off the seafood market for health/hygiene reasons but we had no problems. Just buy at one of the busiest stalls.