Zanzibar. What can I say about Zanzibar? So much that I hardly feel I can do that beautiful island any justice in one simple blog post, but it’s a start.
I am slowly making my way through the documentation of our amazing trip to Africa. So far I have only covered our safaris in Lake Manyara National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater. We are going on two months since we landed back on U.S. soil and I keep asking myself what is taking me so long? I thought for certain that I would have more content than I knew what to do with upon our return, and I suppose the fact that I do is the problem. A trip like that deserves thought and a careful mapping of content, and I’ve been overwhelmed with where to start. Rather than torturing myself over doing it in chronological order (and thus forgetting the details the longer I wait), I decided that I would just write what I feel like writing about and it will all eventually come together.
That said, Zanzibar came toward the tail-end of our trip. We’d spent the first week and a half with our families in various parts of the Arusha region before making our way to Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar. We were torn over whether we would travel from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar by air or sea. A quick plane ride will get you there in 20 minutes and a boat will get you there in 2 hours. You’d think the obvious choice would be air, but so many friends and family members encouraged us to take the boat because of the experience.
And an experience it was. Seware does not travel well on boats, which surprised us both considering he usually has a stomach of steel. We opted for the VIP seats (why not, $10 more) to be closer to the front of the boat after many advised that the back would make us sick. Basically sea sickness was inevitable. I haven’t ever gotten sea sick, but I definitely got queasy on this ride. We were happy that we went for the seat upgrade because it was in fact a bit more smooth, and the seating was like sitting first class on an airplane. Huge reclining seats with foot rests, tray tables and an endless supply of movies to choose from. We didn’t do much watching on this ride though because the water was SUPER rough and fending off vomit required some shut-eye.
After a bumpy 2-hour ride to Zanzibar, we unloaded onto the bustling seaport dock to wait for our baggage. The moment we stepped off the ship to get on the dock, we were swarmed by porters asking if we needed help with our luggage. One thing that I will say about Tanzania is that its people HUSTLE, and hustle hard. It is all about negotiations and who can be the most aggressive in order to sell their products and services. Understandably so, given the low wages, but that’s another story.
Anyway, we were immediately surrounded by porters looking for the bite. After all, they rely on those tips. Fortunately, Seware is fluent in Swahili and a seasoned negotiator, so this was one of many occasions during which I just shrugged and said, “Hapana, asante” (“No thank you”) to everyone who tried to hustle the “Mzungu” (“white person” or “foreigner” – anyone who is not African, basically), and left it to him to decide who we were going to say yes to and how much we would offer.
It turns out that our hotel was just a few blocks away. Getting a taxi through traffic would have been a nightmare, so Seware managed to find a porter who offered to walk our bags all the way to the hotel on his cart. Super generous, super helpful. The walk took about 10-15 minutes and it was sweltering, but we could hardly complain given the fact that our porter was pushing 3 or 4 of our heavy suitcases on his cart. The architecture and scenery was also a welcome distraction.
The route we took brought us through some of the notorious winding alleyways of Stone Town, which is a UNESCO Heritage site. Brick and cobblestone roads nestled between buildings rich with history. We passed the House of Wonders (Baital Ajaib), the beautiful Forodhani Gardens and the historical Old Fort, made our way around the corner and up the road and found ourselves at the entry to the Park Hyatt Zanzibar.
The second we entered the lobby, we forgot about our sea sickness and sweat-soaked backs and transformed into bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tourists. Let me tell you, that hotel is breathtaking. Right on the water, the Park Hyatt overlooks the eastern coast of Zanzibar, teasing the eyes with views of the Pange, Murogo and Bawe Islands. The sea is speckled with fishing boats and the water is as crystal clear as you see in photos.
We were over the moon.
It was late afternoon by the time we were settled so we decided to enjoy the hotel and views from the outdoor restaurant rather than walking around aimlessly (though that is one of my favorite ways to see new places). The Park Hyatt was almost too nice to leave and we wanted to get our money’s worth, so to speak. But we also knew we had a busy couple of days ahead of us and wanted to take it easy for the activities to come.
It was time to recover from the travel and plan out what we were going to do with our short time in Zanzibar. We knew we wanted to go to the Darajani Market, the local food fair at the Forodhani Gardens, a spice farm, the ATV tour on the west side, and a Stone Town foot tour, likely on our own rather than spending money on a guide. We also really wanted to go to the famous beaches of Zanzibar but weren’t too heavily focused on that given the fact that we live on an island and time was short. Lots to see in so little time!