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Zanzibar: A hidden paradise

June 27th, 2008 · No Comments

Relaxing beach holidays are boring so when I found out we were spending four days in Zanzibar I wasn’t particularly charged with enthusiasm.   The plan was to spend a couple of days in Stone Town and two days at the North Beach.  Wasting no time, I googled Stone Town and was relieved to find out that the place had an interesting history.

Stown Town did not disappoint.  Exploring the narrow and windy streets can often by a hazardous experience, especially when you have to force yourself against a wall to ensure that you don’t get side swiped by a passing vehicle.  Nevertheless Stown Town was a breath of fresh air filled with exotic food, trinkets, good coffee and the best coconut bread I have ever sampled.

It was a treat walking around the night markets, there were stalls and stalls of  mouthwatering food including an array of kebabs, fish, bread, chocolate and banana pancakes and exotic fruits.  When you travel around Africa you have to learn to lower your hygiene standards, Zanzibar was no exception.  Market sellers were  holding up fish with grotty and slimy hands whilst smoking.  You might prefer to call it multitasking? No matter, you can not expect to wonder around the night market without indulging your taste buds.    The chocolate and banana pancakes are highly recommended but I would watch out for the entrepreneurial sellers.

We decided to try some of the gourmet fish kebabs, the market seller avoided our question of ‘how much’ like the plague.  Instead he  talked about up-sizing our fish kebabs with a coconut drink and fried bananas.  Naturally I was curious and wanted to see where this scenario was going so we  sat down on the finest plastic chairs and tables and watched Mr Entrepreneur fuss around us.    We didn’t actually care about the cost but we thought it would be fun to ask him about the price again and this time he muttered something US$2.00 each.   There were a few more people on our table with confused faces, it seemed that everyone was paying a different price for the same meal.  I am not really sure what he based this criteria on but our $2.00 meal turned into a $10.00 meal and our coconut drink turned into a coke.  The bottle of coke arrived with its top loose so you can appreciate why we gave that one a miss.   I paused before I bit into my fish kebab but soon dismissed my thoughts, what’s a trip to Africa without the expectation of  food poisoning?  Happy to report the kebab was delicious and  there was no hint of food poisoning (on this occasion).

You can ‘feel’ the history when you walk through the streets of Zanzibar, its not hard  imagine the Arabs trading aromatic spices or the great Sultan leading an indulgent life with his harem. Despite years passing  there is an eerie sense of suffering as you tour the hub of the slave market.    You can’t help but wonder how much the slaves suffered in their cramped concrete holding bays.

The carved doors of Stone Town are fascinating, ornately decorated with intricate carvings they stand out amongst the cold stone houses.    I met an interesting character during my wonders through Stone Town – a ginger cat who enjoyed people watching from his prison like window bars.

Don’t expect to get a drink if you are visiting Zanzibar during New Year.  We went to a few bars on New Years Eve, at the first bar we waited half an hour at an empty bar while five staff all working furiously at cutting lemon slices.  At the second bar we waited patiently in line for a drink, after half an hour we turned it into a game to see how long it would take before we were served.  One and half hours later we reached the bar only to be told had they had run out of everything including warm beer. It was only 11pm.  No matter, we were sticking to our no fuss holiday rules.

What can I tell you about my two days on the North Beach in Zanzibar?  Well,  I was really sick on the first day with a high fever and temperature.  Malaria vaguely crossed my mind but I felt much better the next day so that was off the list of possible contagious diseases.   It was time to check out what all the fuss was about, how  nice can a tropical beach really be?  Warm Indian ocean, sinking toes into soft white sand and swimming in the stunning blue water. Who wants to relax  by the beach and do nothing on a holiday?

OK OK I admit, it was wonderful to spend a day on the the North Beach I hope you are you happy now!  However I do have my limits which is why I kept running away from the  women offering me massages.  It was nice to soak up the sun’s rays after roughing it in tents and spider infested A frame thatches.  Our Kilimanjaro climb was looming so it was a good idea to enjoy this while it lasted.

I was also tempted by the offer of seafood and luscious creamy pineapple drinks.  Dining was a real hoot for us.  Every time we ordered something off the menu we were told it wasn’t available.  We learnt very quickly to ask ‘do you have this’ instead of ‘can I please have’.

I could never spend two weeks relaxing on beach but spending a couple of days in North Beach Zanzibar hit the spot.

Tags: travel · zanzibar

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