A Relaxing End to An African Adventure-Zanzibar

After our last night under canvas we were dropped off at Arusha airport for an afternoon flight to Zanzibar. We sat down to coffee, our luggage piled up in the departure lounge, and then found that you exited the building when you went to the toilet. Looking back, I’m sure it wasn’t as informal, relaxed and as disorganised as it seemed. Our luggage eventually disappeared, and we were called through security to another set of chairs near another coffee stall. Our flight was delayed, but observing the planes and their frantic manoeuvres created a distraction.

Although Arusha airport is small it caters for a steady flow of air traffic in a range of different sizes. The light aircraft that carry passengers from the parks and reserves look like toys next to the larger ones, including the Precision Air flight that was to take us to Zanzibar.

The aircraft in different colours and sizes, all facing us in the departure lounge until moving off or being pushed into position, were accompanied by shouts to passengers in lieu of an announcement to step on to the runway into this aerial crowd and find their plane. Two cats demonstrated how easy it was to scale the fencing between us and security, and those in search of the toilet walked along the runway and back into the airport.

After being delayed in Zanzibar our plane finally arrived, and there was a rush for the single seats on the right- hand side of the plane to secure the best views of Kilimanjaro; although as the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet or 5895 metres we were never going to miss it.

Our landing in Zanzibar was far smoother than that experienced by our luggage, which was unceremoniously dropped onto the runway from the plane for us to pick up. Foolishly pausing for a mere second we lost sight of our guide, only to spot him again in the stampede that appeared to be racing to the security checks. Apologising profusely, we moved up the field of travellers to catch him up as he shouted out instructions on how to negotiate the security and visa process. With one eye on his disappearing figure and the other on our documents we picked up the pace, cleared the car park too quickly for the offers of numerous would be porters and clambered into the waiting minibus. Was this how you handled every airport arrival in Africa?

We were heading for Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City, where we were to spend the night. Historically it was the centre of both the spice and slave trade, with Persian, Arab, Indian and European influences underlying the Swahili culture. When Tanganyika and Zanzibar formed the Republic of Tanzania in 1961, Zanzibar remained a semi-autonomous state with Stone Town as its local Government seat. Since 2000 Stone Town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As we drove to our hotel the views from the bus were those we had looked out on throughout our holiday, and not for the first time the complexity of the issues that face countries in Africa and the answers to them occupy your mind. I would not want anyone’s pity or to be patronised, and I know Britain faces problems not that different from those in Tanzania, and we struggle too with solutions in our politically divided but more affluent society. The world over instinct means we want the same things, and we cannot deny or ignore the role money plays in obtaining them. There is without question a moral obligation on more affluent countries to support less wealthy nations, and access to medicines and vaccines should not be determined by economics but by need. As a tourist, and that is what we are not matter how some deny it, we are a valuable source of income for these countries and it is important we spend our money wisely supporting local communities. What I saw from my bus seat was a great respect for education, manifested in the many groups of waving uniformed pupils, and an enterprising spirit in the never- ending road side businesses and hum of activity, but I also saw tired faces, lethargy and hopelessness. Tanzania is a young country built on the Socialist principles of its founder Julius Nyerere, which lacks the less friendly but more focused entrepreneurial drive of Kenya, but it has the solid foundations on which to grow. This is a paragraph that takes you round in circles and draws no conclusions; just like Africa.

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We stopped at the Abuso Inn in Stone Town close to the sea front; reached through narrow streets overflowing with people, and lined with old wooden fronted buildings and endless construction sites. The Abuso Inn faced a courtyard, and was an old building that had an instant calming effect as you stepped into its cool and dark interior from the chaos of the sun drenched noisy streets. Our room although spotlessly clean was old, but it was worn at the edges by time and well- cared for which was fitting and right for the building. We gathered in the reception on deep sofas, shaded from the sun by the muslin drapes at the windows, surrounded by dark wood and cool stone flooring. The staff moved effortlessly and silently around us; requests met with professionalism and immediate solutions.

The delayed flight had left us with just an evening and morning in Stone Town. Erellah warned us that regular power cuts in Stone Town made the narrow streets potentially dangerous after dark, and advised us either to not stay out late or go out in groups. The following morning, we could explore Stone town, visit nearby “Prison Island” or travel out for a spice tour on the island’s plantations.

The focus for that evening for most of the group was Freddie Mercury who was born in Zanzibar in 1955, and it is possible to visit his house, and “Mercury’s Restaurant” next to the port. Irrespective of the food quality all the restaurants and bars on the sea front are made perfect by their location; looking out on white sand, clear blue sky and a breath- taking sunset.

The following morning, we decided to travel out to Changuu or Prison Island and then go snorkelling. We walked down to the sea front with our host to collect flippers and snorkels for our trip. The sea front was a hive of industry, and as we shouted out shoe sizes to the darkness where someone sorted through a bag we watched the crafts men at work. Next to us emerging from huge lumps of driftwood were dhows; the traditional one or two masted sailing vessels distinguishable by their slanting rectangular sails common to both the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. The unfinished dhow looked like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis; perfectly and beautifully formed. Such skilful work took our breath away, and our minds more suited to the speed of a mechanised world struggled with the time scale and economics of such a task. To our host it was nothing out of the ordinary, but he acknowledged our admiration with a smile.

The island was used as a prison for slaves in the 1860s, but ironically, after being purchased by the British in 1893 who built their own prison complex no further prisoners were ever housed there, and instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. It is now home to over one hundred Aldabra giant tortoises. The Aldabra giant tortoises are endemic to the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles and so are found nowhere else except Changuu Island. They came to be there because they were a gift in 1919 from the Seychelles Government to the British Resident in Zanzibar Major F.B Pearce. The tortoises struggling with the change in habitat and vulnerable to theft were moved out to the island, where the thefts continued until “The Tortoise Foundation” established secure housing to ensure their safety.

After visiting the island, we spent time diving into the clear turquoise waters before heading back to shore. It was a perfect visit with a perfect host; the epitome of Tanzanian manners, hospitality and informality. Nothing was too much trouble, although when we joked about taking the boat under a large rusting catamaran that stood in the harbour we never really meant it, but the captain did. Our laughter and cries of delight echoed around under the hull as we passed beneath it.

The last few days of our holiday were to be spent in Nungwi at the far North of Zanzibar staying at the Amaan Bungalows. Our minibus manoeuvred with care through the erratic roads of Nungwi, passing buildings that jutted dangerously into the road and forced pedestrians and cyclists into the path of the traffic. No obstacle appeared impassable, and no one seemed concerned about the continual near misses that walking, or cycling seemed to involve. Suddenly we turned off the road through guarded gates into a courtyard of pristine drives and pathways, bedecked with lawns and borders full and green. The gates closing behind us shut out the world we had just driven through, and the contrast was very striking; it was as if we had walked through “a wardrobe “into another world.

For the first time in days we had a solid roof over our head with an en-suite bathroom, rather than one reached by a night time walk lit by a head torch. From your bungalow you could walk through the resort by a swimming pool, its blue water rivalling the Indian Ocean in its vividness, and into a bar and restaurant area, with picture perfect views out to sea, that stood on stilts and rock under a symphonic sized wooden roof. The view is faultless, with the spotless finish of a just completed painting its colours vibrant and fresh. The ocean is impossibly blue, the sand impossibly white. Cut out white clouds break up the bright blue canvas of the sky, and boats motorised and masted float lazily near the shore or dot the horizon. You cannot look long enough to take it in; its perfection defies you and your camera lens.

From below voices and music travel up from the beach; it is a busy and lucrative spot with an endless stream of vendors moving up and down selling trips, trinkets and treats. Just as Exodus ensure the accommodation they choose supports the local community, Erellah points out that Nungwi is a public beach giving local people an opportunity to make a living beyond fishing and so benefit directly from the tourists. This contrasts with some resorts where hotels buy up beaches and deny local people access.

Our days in Nungwi were a perfect end to our holiday. On the evenings we dined on the beach with candles placed in the hollowed- out sand; its vivid whiteness enhancing their luminance. During the day you could dive, snorkel, be pampered and book excursions, or you could simply relax with a book and break up your day with walks on the beach or a drink at the bar. We woke early one morning and in the pink glow of the breaking day walked along the beach to the fish market to see the fishermen arrive back with their catch, but the weather meant they were still distant dots on the horizon, so we walked back for breakfast disappointed.

Such sanctioned idleness was wonderful, but it took some getting used too which sounds terribly ungrateful, but it did. The reason was that although we had been so wonderfully looked after during our safari our days had been rewarding but hard work. There had been early starts, long journeys and so much wildlife. Our evenings had been shortened by our tiredness, but also by the all-encompassing darkness that seemed to physically wrap around you and was barely touched by our head torches. Now bright lights lengthened the evening, and meals no longer taken by the fireside could be lingered over, and in the bars drinks could be served late into the night. We enjoyed our idleness, but we felt it too. Both parts of the holiday perfect, but by their differences awkward bed fellows.

On our last day we left Nungwi at three in the afternoon, and one bus drive, three flights, one car drive and twenty- five hours later we arrived home; our African adventure at an end.

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An African Adventure was based on the Kenya and Tanzania Adventure offered by Exodus Travels.

Missed any days?Read the adventure straight from the start:

An African Adventure Day 1

An African Adventure Day 2

An African Adventure Days 3 & 4

An African Adventure Day 5

An African Adventure Day 6

An African Adventure Day 7

An African Adventure Day 8

An African Adventure Day 9

Check out my other travel, history and nature articles.

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