The flight into Zanzibar: thousands upon thousands of palm trees wave hello – Karibu! We stepped off the plane into this beautiful, enveloping heat and there’s this lightness of being that you feel in your stomach: We are here. After months of planning and talking and organising – we are here.
Our cab driver was enthusiastic in his broken and cheerful English. (A language taught to him by his son, he was somewhat of a rarity as we were soon to learn.) He made a number of stops, pointing out the most bizarre looking monkeys, ancient baobabs and the spice plants. Then there was a palm tree that grew into a knot. He tried selling us Spice tours, snorkelling, island excursions and fishing trips, but we all had one shared ambition – which made us the best travel partners imaginable – to do nothing, epitomised in the ‘Zanzibar Pose’ Drink in hand , on a lounger soaking up the sun. Being still.
The first place we stayed, The Coral Rock Hotel, was managed by South Africans – so the welcome was warm and homely and it didn’t take long for us to strip off the city, order the local beer and delight in our first slow wade into the warm Indian ocean.
Sitting upstairs in a Moroccan furnished bungalow, we watched the Springbok’s play Australia and received complimentary Springbok’s shooters. Covered in tabard and lazy from our first day of travel and sun. The Springbok’s lost – but it was okay – we had a week left in paradise…
I have always felt a modicum of guilt about the fact that I have been to Europe and the UK and yet never ventured beyond the boundaries of Cape Town, Joburg and Durban. This was East Africa – and it is a jewel of a coastline.
The first couple of days – the only real decision to make, was where to eat. Our first night – venturing far wasn’t an option and we ate curries and seafood at the hotel. The next night we walked along the Jambiani beach for miles and miles. Stopped at a little beach bar which had recently burnt down then rebuilt. Dulla Chozzi who refers to himself as the ‘Director’ of the establishment, related stories about the fire – laughing and throwing up his hands, to elaborate the futility of the situation. A raging fire, warm wind, everything flammable. “You can only stand back and watch!” He laughs. Little did I know how his words would later come back to haunt me. After an extravagant meal at a nearby hotel and a somewhat overdone tuna fillet, we walked back to the hotel singing every possible cheesy song that could come to mind.
I missed out on swimming with Dolphins at sunrise; I am pretty useless with sea sickness and fear it like the plague – but my holiday companions came back with an almost spiritual glow of being so close to the amazing creatures.
We hired a mini van and drove through to Stone Town – A world Heritage site. Rich in history and almost mysterious in culture. Also the hometown of Freddie Mercury. The drive alone was an adventure. Roads that unexpectedly become one ways, dodging all bizarre and fantastical modes of transport from donkeys, to bikes and the local taxi: the dalla-dalla: marked by colourful wallpaper and people spilling out the sides.
So many unusual sights and sounds, it was also the time of Ramadan and being a Muslim country we had to cover up. It wasn’t entirely welcomed, as by now we were well comfortable wearing as little as possible.( Defiant by nature; the idea of flashing a knee and whisking out my rosary snuck into mind.) We had lunch in this gorgeous Arabic hotel, The Dhow Palace; resplendent with mosaic, ornate spiral staircases, black and white tiled floors and painted pots. Ordered Naan bread, ice tea and cokes and sat on the carpeted floor. There was this Arabic lavishness that appeals to me greatly, I know my Mom would have felt the same.
At this point cocktails were definitely in order and we stopped at Paja by Night on our way back – A funky nightclub type venue. The margarita went down like a dream and it was amazingly awesome to remove my nun like attire and dive into their pool! It was a tough day.:)
The second place we stayed was Langi, langi beach resort in Nungwi village. More of a tourist destination. A vibey beachfront, overflowing with beach bars, restaurants, diving schools, little markets. There was also music and finally sunsets – sunsets of the most beautiful kind.
Each day – we took turns in sharing our best moment of the day, normally during dinner and there were some good ones! The one I remember the most – was being grateful our bungalows didn’t burn down on the day of the fire…but that is another story.
We had breakfast each morning on a wooden deck overlooking the ocean – and if the tide was in, dived off the deck and straight into the warmest and clearest waters I have ever had the pleasure of swimming in!
I couldn’t tell you day by day what we did – it has all merged into one rather delicious and exotic memory. What struck me more than anything was this newfound sense of rhythm. There is a pulse to life, that underlying, omnipresent buzzing that exists wherever you are. Matching our rhythm with the slow, steady pulse of the island – you realise there is something sexy in slow. A deep satisfying happiness with a slow beat.
As I sit here in this grey little place, with the dreary weather outside, wearing my black blazer, hair tied up in a bun – I so long to be that other person again. The girl in a bikini; no shoes, unmade face, unruly hair. Sun kissed and content. But summer will eventually, hopefully come to Cape Town and I’m sure it will be another good one.
Ahsante sana Zanzibar – it will not be forgotten.