Exploring paradise in Zanzibar
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Where I stayed
We explained to the staff that we had in fact paid the 1st class fare they somewhat unbelievably gave us the benefit of the doubt and we were let through to the icy-cold air conditioned, top deck cabin
Once we docked into the port, the tourist bureau informed us that it would cost us an outrageous $70 for a taxi to our resort. We were certainly not in the mood to be ripped off twice in one day and managed to negotiate them down the 'standard' $40 fare! And so, with a Zanzibar entry stamp in our passports (it has semi autonomous status from the rest of Tanz), we climbed into our taxi with Said (our driver) and began our holiday away from our holiday.
After 30 minutes of Said's break-neck driving (which wouldn't have looked out of place on a stage of the world rally championship) he dropped us at our accommodation, Matemwe Beach village, where we were greeted by the resort's 'no shoes, no news' signpost. We knew instantly this was the place for us!
After checking into our gorgeous beach front room, we showered and went straight down to sample some of the resort's legendary cuisine. Good food and service were things that we take for granted at home and although we’d experienced it in Cape Town, we hadn’t really had it since, until now....the staff were magnificent and the food was spectacular. Bry reckons the bbq swordfish steaks were worthy of a Michelin star, and the chef even tailor-made a vegetarian meal on the spot for me. We were in heaven!
We spent the next day (Bryan’s official ‘second birthday’) relaxing and reading our books on the beach and by the pool, drinking cocktails and meeting fellow guests at the resort. I organised for Bryan to get a massage for an hour before we sat down to Matemwe's weekly 'curry night'. Everyone was seated at communal tables and it was a great chance to interact and socialise with the other guests, whilst sampling every imaginable type of curry accompanied by a favourite Tanzanian delicacy, chipati
The next morning we were up bright and early and boarded our dalla-dalla (a local open-back bus) for a bumpy ride to our awaiting dive boat at the northern tip of the island.
I had really wanted to take the PADI open water diving course while we were in Zanzibar, but the prohibitive, highly inflated Zanzibarian prices meant I would have to wait until Egypt where it is considerably more affordable. Any disappointment I harbored at not being able to dive disappeared when one of the dive masters spotted dolphins off the bow. The other snokellers and I quickly suited up and within minutes were splashing around in the 25 degree turquoise waters, surrounded by a beautiful pod of dolphins.
After our first dive/snorkel we were back on the boat refueling by munching down chipati's and fresh fruit while talking about the marine life we’d spotted that morning and what we’d hope to see later that afternoon for the second round
Our second session in the water proved more fruitful for Bry and he saw loads of turtles and morays nestled in between the techicoloured shoals of reef fish. He was in his element and I was really enjoying snorkelling with our fantastic guide pointing out things you would usually only see on a dive like moray eels and octopuses.
We had tried to extend our stay at Matemwe to a third night but it was to no avail, they were completely booked (and during low season too!) so we walked down the beach to Sele’s next door and got a cheap room for the night. Although that certainly didn’t stop us from hanging out at the Matemwe Beach Village pool for the whole day! At $50 per night including breaky Sele's was an excellent place to stay for a few days, but we knew we could only manage one night because we had to get Kwetu in for a service before the weekend. Bry reckons Sele's coconut prawn curry is the best curry he has ever eaten, not bad for $5!
The next morning we called Said, our rally/taxi driver who picked us up at Sele’s and took us on a complimentary tour of the stone town before catching our ferry
Our whistle stop tour of Stone Town was rounded off with a quick visit to the museum at the House of Wonders. We then headed back down to the port and boarded the correct ferry this time (ie the one which is actually fast) and were back on the seas heading towards Dar, with the joyful knowledge we would be spending the next few days looking for a reputable mechanic to give Kwetu a thorough service. Luckily Anna and Jereon had passed on the details of Nick, a Serbian mechanic with a kitted out workshop in Dar, who had done a great job on their Landy.
We had truly fallen in love with Zanzibar. The whole island looked like someone had tweaked the saturation levels in photoshop. Everything from the electric turquoise water to its lush green interior was brighter and more vivid than anywhere we had seen before. Zanzibar - we will miss you.
Once we had made it back to Dar, we tracked down our dodgy ferry tout and gave him the earful of expletives that he thoroughly deserved - not that we were ever going to get our money back, but just for our own peace of mind
After we had dropped Kwetu to Nick's garage we passed the time by tagging along with Jason, a Manchunian who runs the Tanzanian Football Academy, to a few training sessions at the Tanzania Football Federation headquarters, where we were lucky enough to catch the national team training before their local derby match with Zanzibar in the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup (one of the few tournaments Zanzibar can compete in, due to FIFA’s lack of recognition). It was amazing to see what happens when young, raw, African football talent is properly nurtured. None of Jason's kids would have looked out of place in plying their trade in the English Premier League.
Jason managed to convince us to hang around in Dar for an extra night so we could meet Simon Charlton (former Bolton and Norwich legend....Bolton’s 2002 player of the season no less!) who was out on a scouting mission to sign players up and then arrange loan deals to Middle eastern clubs, now seen as the gateway for African players to get top quality training facilities before stepping up to European football
Kwetu came back to us in A1 shape, with every squeak and kink ironed out. Nick and his boys had done a fantastic job, but the repairs had left us flat broke. Nick and Justin (a Northern Irish ex-pat from Helen's Bay - just down the road from Bry) took pity on us and treated us to dinner and drinks back at the Irish pub. Thanks a million for all your hospitality guys, you are true legends. We talked them through our onward travel plans and asked whether a 12-hour marathon drive to Arusha was realistic. Nick, Jason, Justin and Penny all replied that we couldn't drive past without stopping by Lushoto, deep in the Usambara mountains. We had never heard of it, but figured it was worth a shot.
The next day we said our goodbyes to our pals in Dar and hit the road. After a couple of hours you could see the landscape morphing into lush, green, mountainous terrain. Pole Pole (Swahili for slowly, slowly) was the highly appropriate bold print, stenciled onto the road, it was slow going. We climbed the narrow, one lane road, which perilously clings to the side of the mountains, hopeful we would not encounter any psychotic dalla dalla’s embracing the full effects of gravity on their way down the mountain. We were not only praying that Lushoto was worth the effort....we were praying we made it there alive.