Zanzibar Part 1
Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
33Trip End Jul 22, 2009
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Where I stayed
The journey to the airport felt more than usually exciting for me: it was the first time that I'd been since arriving in Uganda! It was strange to see it from a different perspective: I remember arriving and feeling so scared and disorientated! It was nice to return for a much less fear-filled adventure!
I'm sure that most of you don't need much of an introduction to Zanzibar. It is a relatively small island off the coast of Tanzania and is famous for its beaches, spice trade and eclectic mix of cultures. By reputation it is very touristy and I have to say that although I was interested to see it, I was expecting it to be rather a spoilt place. Perhaps it is partly because we visited in the low season and partly because we didn't go to Nungwi which I've heard really is very touristy, that was not the impression that I left with.
We stopped in Stone town briefly to get some money and I had a fleeting glimpse of narrow winding streets, shuttered windows and beautiful carvings around every door. It actually reminded me of a town I visited one summer in the south of France! Then we were on the road to Jambiani beach which is on the east coast of the island. The journey took us through the heart of the island and Dawn and I scandalised our fellow travellers by remarking that we thought Zanzibar looked remarkably like England on a nice summers day. Aside from the palm trees that is!
Eventually we turned off the main road and started twisting through a village. It was at this point that I started to feel distinctly isolated; there wasn't another muzungu in sight! People came out of their houses to stare at us and with the light beginning to fade, there was that strange twilight sense of leaving civilisation. Arriving at the Shehe bungalows only served to exacerbate this: there was only 1 other family in the whole place and they were leaving the next day!
I was thrilled by our accommodation: it was right on the beach and I could hear the sound of the sea through our windows. In the fading light I had an impression of a long white sandy beach fringed by palm trees and turquoise waters stretching out to the horizon; it was like desert island paradises that I've seen in magazines but never thought I'd actually visit! The moment when I first dipped my feet into the Indian Ocean is one that I hope I'll never forget; that and coming out of the restaurant after dinner to a sky so filled with stars that my breath was literally taken away.
Our 3 days at the beach are crystallised into moments I tried to freeze into my memory: sitting on a dhow (sailing boat) on the Indian ocean, drinking coconut milk straight from the shell (whilst trying to avoid sticking the fibres up my nose!); snorkelling for the first time and, having worked out that you are actually supposed to put the mouthpiece in your mouth if you want to avoid breathing salt water, seeing a Finding Nemo vista spread out beneath me; watching palm trees silhouetted against a glittering sky; skinny dipping for the first time and then running up and down the beach naked trying to dry off; eating fish that had been caught that afternoon at a local man's house with fresh chappati and spiced rice (definitely beats local Ugandan food!) ... I could go on and on!
The local man who arranged our delicious fish dinner was called Mosquito. He also took us snorkelling and, on our second day at the beach, he offered to hire us out some bicycles and give us a tour up the coast to Page. His price was a better deal than that from the Shehe bungalows and having been given such a treat with the snorkelling and food, we consented to the idea.
When we were leaving his house after dinner the night before, I'd had a sudden whiff of stale alcohol. At the time I didn't think much of it; however with a second whiff of it the next day, I began to wonder whether Mosquito might be a Muslim bending the rules a little. I still didn't think much of it though: he wasn't overtly drunk. We started cycling and I soon forgot all worries as the thrill of independant travel with the wind in my hair enveloped me.
Page beach was beautiful. It was much more open than our own and the sand leading up to the beach was so white and soft that it could have been flour! Mosquito found us some sunbeds which we dragged beneath some palm trees and then left us to it.
Dawn was the first person to bring up the idea of a drunk Mosquito. "Have you seen his eyes?" she said. "He's got that red-eyed sleepy look."
Of course once the topic was opened, it turned out that all of us had experienced some inkling that alcohol was Mosquito's morning drink of choice. Unfortunately it turned out that it was also his afternoon drink of choice; he started to return to us at increasingly frequent intervals, each time distinctly more inebriated. Soon the inevitable amorous advances were in evidence. We decided that it was time to go.
Going proved to be rather trickier than coming. Mosquito was just about able to walk in a straight line; riding in a straight line was quite another matter. We watched him fall off once ... twice ... three times. Then came my all time favourite moment of the day (it even beats the moment when I wee-d in the sea!): Mosquito literally flying, cartoon style, off his bike and into the bushes. It was beginning to look like it was going to be a very long journey.
Around the time of Mosquito's flying adventure, several things happened that made things even slower: Dawn got a flat tyre and the wind picked up. Now I hope you won't think us completely heartless when I say that we left Mosquito to walk with the flat tyre bike whilst Dawn rode his own; I hope that you will concentrate your emotions on feeling pity for poor Dawn who was lumbered with a bike that was stuck in top gear, threatened to fall apart at any moment and had barely functioning brakes. The gears proved even more of an issue as the wind picked up speed so that I was reminded forcibly of riding through Liverpool a week before my half marathon in gale-force winds (mulaloo moment!)! On top of this all of us were beginning to experience severe cases of 'bicycle-bum'; very painful!
Needless to say we did arrive back safely and laughed about it most of the way too! Mosquito lived up to his name the following morning by coming to us and saying that we owed him money ... You can imagine the kind of response that he got to that!
On Thursday we left Jambiani beach to return to Stone town - Lindsey and Megan were leaving on Friday. You'll be pleased to know that our adventures with Mosquito did not taint those beach days one bit; in fact I wouldn't be without that cycling day for anything! If nothing else I will never forget watching Mosquito's head-first voyage ...