Zanzibar Zen, Zanzibar, Tanzania
When you start traveling you begin to realize just how big the world is. At the rate we are going it will take several years to travel around the world!
Ol sent me a map that put the size of Africa into perspective. The entire United States, China, India, and several other large countries could all fit inside the continent of Africa.
Tanzania is considered the geographic half way point on the African continent. Arusha, in Tanzania, is the midway point between Cairo, Egypt and Cape Town, South Africa. Cairo is where we began our African adventure several months ago.
Our plans were to stay two weeks on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania and prepare for Ol’s hike of Mt. Kilimanjaro that will leave from Arusha. I on the other hand am an experienced hiker that knows I am not fit enough to enjoy the hike, let alone safely attempt it. I really think that I would hinder Ol’s chance of summiting. So while Ol is busy training in Zanzibar I will be sipping delicious coconut drinks on the beach, cheering him on!
However, all is not lost, I am excited that I will be going on my own adventure. While Ol is roughing it on the mountain I will be on a private safari to the Serengeti!
Yes, three months of safari was not enough. When I get home I may need to check in to AAA (African Animals Anonymous). I am completely addicted! I blame my love for the bush on growing up in the wilds of Montana and Idaho. It is in my blood.
In Johannesburg we started reading up on Zanzibar and decided to book a boutique hotel on the far north of the island. This is the quiet end of the island with beautiful beaches and great snorkeling just off shore.
The location must be good, as Bill Gate’s private island can be seen just a short distance offshore.
We booked our resort for a great deal, because we will be there on the shoulder season just before their tourist season is in full swing.
When we walked off of the airplane at the Zanzibar airport, the heat and humidity hit us. We were in the tropics! We have had perfect weather our entire trip and this made us feel like we were back home in Mississippi in the summer. It was perfect beach weather, but we were still wearing our safari gear.
Our driver met us at the airport and drove us the one and a half hours to the resort. He gave us a quick tour of Stone Town and the city center. Palms were everywhere. We passed rice fields, spice plantations, and beautiful beaches.
While our driver battled the road with motorcycles, donkey carts, and bicycles, we were busy removing our layers of clothing.
The roads were rough, but we didn’t care! Hakuna matata! We weren’t driving and I could tell Ol was glad. It was starting to feel like we were on a proper holiday.
By the time we arrived at our hotel, the afternoon trade winds kicked in and it didn’t take long for things to cool off. The hotel was new and charming! It was better than we expected after seeing the roads we traveled to get to the resort and the communities that lined the roads.
Our bags were unloaded and a staff of employees catered to our needs. We were offered drinks and were ushered into a wonderful beachfront room right off the pool.
As always, it didn’t take long for us to fall into a routine. We woke up, had a wonderful breakfast, and then took a really long walk on the beach before the sun became unbearable. When we returned to the resort, we would swim, grab a lounge chairs in the shadiest spot, and order cold refreshments. We caught up on our blog posts, swam, and read.
In the afternoon, Ol would walk again and then do laps in the pool as I tried to inspire him by sipping on a Kilimanjaro beer (delicious). We would then shower and change for wine and dinner. Next day repeat! A perfect holiday.
Every other day we would incorporate an activity into our routine, like a tour, the spa, or snorkeling.
We were at the resort for two weeks and there were never more than six guests at any one time. The staff easily outnumbered the guests. They were bored and eager to cater to our every need, just to have something to do. We enjoyed several days where we were the only guests at the entire resort. We felt like rock stars who had rented out the entire resort. We were completely spoiled.
It took us about two days, for the beach vendors to get to know us and for us to know them. Ol even got introduced to the village chief. When Ol asked the chief to pose for a portrait, the chief broke into a huge smile. When Ol showed him the portrait, the chief asked for a copy and then sent some young men away to fetch us fresh coconuts. The coconuts were opened for us and we were offered fresh coconut water, which was quite refreshing in the midday sun.
We also met several members of the famous Masai Tribe who are from the mainland. Beautiful tall, thin men, that are skilled craftsmen. On several nights they performed dances and songs after dinner at our resort. Several of these young men also became friends as we ran into them daily on our beach walks. We were so touched when our friend Joseph made us beautiful beaded bracelets with our names as a gift.
We also got to know and become friends with several of the local tour guides as they took us around the island on our little adventures. We loved our boat trips out of the coral bay over to the sandbars of Mnemba island; rumored to be owned by Bill Gates as a private getaway for the rich and famous. The water was at least ten different shades of beautiful blue and the coral reefs and fish were abundant and colorful. I couldn't believe that on our first dive we saw not one, but two deadly sea snakes!
After meeting so many children on our walks and hearing about their small school, one day we went back into Stone Town to buy bags of treats and more importantly school supplies. The little school needed everything from pens, pencils, and paper, to ink cartridges so that they could print study materials for the children. If you want to reach out and help this school you may reach them at Kigomanischool@yahoo.com.
Ol and I loved our visit to the school. It was fun seeing all of the smaller children, but we both enjoyed interacting with the sixth graders who were preparing to take their exams to find out who stayed at the local school and who got scholarships to continue their studies at the upper school in Stone Town.
I visited with the girls, while Ol visited with the boys. Everyone had fun practicing their English skills. The girls asked me all types of questions, trying to learn about my family and my country. I also enjoyed asking them questions.
The children’s text books are in English, so it was easy for us to understand their lessons. Unfortunately, for a school of 600 children, there was only one computer. When they do get the opportunity to use the computer it is only in groups because of the limited time available. It was impressive to see how much these children and their families value education.
We were surprised to find the locals speaking as many as four different languages. They spoke Arabic, English, French, and Swahili. Many also spoke German. Ol and I learned that after dinner in the evenings, the school opens up and gives free continuing education language lessons for adults in the community.
Everywhere we went, we were treated extremely well. Fisherman on the beach would show us their catch and visited with us while they mended their nets or seasoned their boats.
But, Zanzibar was one of the poorest communities we have ever visited. Jobs are scarce and money is tight. Most people appear to live off of the sea. It was impossible for them not to see us as wealthy tourists.
One of the friends we met was Ali a Zanzibar tour guide. He took us on several excursions. He really made us feel like a part of the community. Unfortunately, there are not very many resources available for him to reach tourists visiting the island. We decided to spend a few afternoon working with him using our computer to create his own business. We created an email account and uploaded his pictures.
By the time we left, Ali had a cell phone, a presence on Airbnb, and a bank account. It was such a feeling of accomplishment to be able to help someone who desperately wanted to help himself and his family. He was very appreciative and we had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. If you visit Zanzibar be sure to use Ali Zanzibar Tours (he is fully licensed).
When it was time to leave, we felt as though we had become a part of the community and we now have friends for life on this beautiful African paradise island.