Travel: Tanzania Chapter Three: Zanzibar

This post is a continuation of my previously published blog posts on my trip to Tanzania: Read my Dar Es Salaam chapter here and my Bagamoyo chapter here.

No trip to Tanzania is complete without a jaunt to Zanzibar, also known as the Spice Islands.  We spent an incredible 3 days there, intentionally coinciding our trip with the Sauti Za Busara festival, a 3 day extravaganza that celebrates East African music. Zanzibar is remarkably different to the rest of Tanzania. There is a much bigger Indian and Arab influence here and you will see a majority of local women wearing the Muslim headscarf. And the food here is incredibly good. I didn’t have a single bad meal during my 3-4 day trip.

My trip in pictures:
From Dar, we took a small plane across to Z’bar. Quite possibly the tiniest plane I have ever been, seating only 12-14 people.

A little advice when choosing accommodation:****

We had a bit of a drama on our first night in Zanzibar. My friends and I booked our stay at a super cheap outfit in the heart of Stone Town, mainly cuz we were broke. Tanzania is surprisingly not easy on the wallet and by the end of our trip, we needed to save some serious moolah. Once check-in was complete, I was taken to my room, which I discovered to be immediately off the street…..in Zanzibar, that would read ‘cobbled alleyway’. With sounds of the street filtering in through very thin walls, the room itself was small, dingy….but it seemed clean and well, it had a fan. There were seemingly no windows whatsoever either. But I figured I’d probably be home late from the festival every night and heck, I’d be too tired to notice whether I was staying in a dump or not. More money to spend on nice restaurants.

As I freshened up to head out to explore the island, I suddenly heard a large gust of wind outside, and a chorus of people yelping and shouting. And then suddenly, the electricity  went. At this point, I was about to step into the shower, in my very tiny, very dark bathroom with no windows. I could hardly see where I’d put my change of clothes down. Stumbling about, I got dressed and went outside to ask what the hell? Turns out, a huge storm was on its way, and, hakuna matata, the electricity would be back on in no time.

It never came back.

That night, after a hot, tiring yet amazing evening listening to the performers at SZB, we fumbled our way down Stone Town’s tiny alleys, and somehow located our hotel in the pitch blackness. We collected candles from reception and entered the room. It was hot. There was no fan. There wasn’t even running water. We went out to complain. They were at that moment, carrying out a generator to get the electricity going somehow. I rejoiced. Yes, there is a generator. We will have electricity after all!

But no. Not when the generator is placed immediately outside your hotel room door. Not when the generator doesn’t really work either, so you are attempting to fall asleep to a rotation of VROOOOM VROOOOM VROOOOM generator attempting to start up, then a chorus of Swahili discussing and arguing about why the generator is mysteriously not running. A kick here, a swear word there.

1am. We are wandering the streets of Stone Town, desperately looking for a place to stay which has electricity, running water and a generator well out of sight and hearing. After an hour and a half of knocking on doors, we find a beautiful boutique hotel. A deal with the Masai night guard ensures us the best room in the house, for a reduced sum — but only if we get the hell outta there by 7am, before the hotel owner comes by. Did we agree? Hell yes. The room was exquisite. I shall not divulge the name of the hotel lest the Masai get into trouble.

The next day, in broad daylight, we moved into the Serena Hotel, one of the most expensive hotels on the island. Save money? I don’t think so. I like my sleep and sanity too. Serena Hotel turned out to be the best part of my trip. You know a hotel is good when you come home to the beds made, mosquito nets neatly drawn, the window shutters closed so you don’t have to, and a little floormat at the edge of your bed, to wipe the dust off your feet as you climb into bed. Because Africa is dusty. Now that’s what I call service. I’d go back to stay here anyday.This isn’t my room. (above) The view from my balcony (below).
delicious ‘Spice’ ice cream – Serena Hotel (I had this literally every single day)

I know they say Africa is hot, but I did not anticipate to what extent. I would not recommend walking about in the mid-afternoon sun. I learnt the hard way though, and luckily, managed to cool off with my first lunch in Zanzibar at the Passing Show Hotel restaurant.

Amazing mutton biryani and even more amazing, and much desperately needed — ice-cold, sweet Tamarind juice.  I had 3 glasses of these.

Perfectly cooked seafood at Archipelago, one of the best seafood joints on the island. I came back here twice in 3 days.Carrot, coconut and coriander soupPili pili perch, whole fish steamed with lime, garlic and chilli

Every evening was spent at the festival………..and dining at the festival market. I am not sure if this food market exists independently of the festival, it is situated next to the fort walls — but if it does, you must go.Mountains of BBQ’d seafood

and my favourite: Zanzibari pizza served with incredible mango pili pili sauceThe Zanzibari pizza is essentially a square prata-like dough stuffed with all kinds of decadence, including the little cheese La vache Quirit, mayonnaise, eggs, tomatoes, and chopped veg. Then fried on waaaay too much oil, and finally served with the most amazing mango pili pili sauce. This is the guy whose stall I went to every single night. He gets the pili pili sauce from some lady, and he can get you a bottle from her if you give him a day and ask nicely.We also went snorkelling at the north of Zanzibar around the exclusive Mnemba Island. You are allowed to snorkel in its it waters, but do not try to step onto this private island, where a night will set you back USD $1200. The sea is an incredible color of blue, although the coral wasn’t as stunning as expected. The Red Sea still trumps everything I’ve seen so far. Alot of Stone Town, unfortunately is in severe disrepair. Further away from the tourist epicentre, where all the buildings have been renovated anew and to shine, live the local Zanzibari’s. Be sure to walk to the spice and food market.mountains of nutmeg

A little note for anyone looking for ‘cooking lessons’ in Zanzibar: I did some online research and found the contact for this guy called Heelal. He is mentioned on this blog too:http://redheadedtravels.com/2010/spicy-cooking-secrets-zanzibar/

He was however, extremely difficult to get a hold of, not answering emails and only when I got his phone number from a hotel staff, did I manage to secure a meeting with him. Upon meeting, I asked him what the cooking lesson entailed, and asked if I could see a ‘menu’ of sorts, just so I could make a decision on whether there was anything on it worth learning to cook. He didn’t have a menu and he was also very vague about what items we’d be cooking. As there were only two of us, he also refused to take us on a taxi, and instead made us walk to a mini-bus station 15 minutes by foot. Upon arriving at the village home of the ‘chef’, I was handed the menu of items we’d be taught to cook and I was pretty disappointed to find that there were only very basic vegetarian curry items and some of the dishes were derived from the Indian influence on the the island……nothing new to learn for me! So I said my thank yous and goodbyes and left. I am not discouraging anyone else from doing this, as perhaps for you, it will be worth the experience travelling out to a local home, seeing how they live and learning to cook a few spicy dishes. Unfortunately for me, I was looking for a cooking lesson that was a bit more substantial.

**** If you are a princess like me.

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