In June this year, I turned 30. I had vowed I would pass this milestone sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, basking in the sun and drinking something that had a little umbrella in it. So, a week before D-day, we whisked off to the island of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania. We stayed in a little 2-star resort near Jambiani village on the south-eastern coast, and experienced a side of Africa we had never seen before.
Rumour has it that the famous phrase “Hakuna matata”, made popular by Disney’s The Lion King, originated from Zanzibar. It means no worries, relax, take it easy – and is an attitude that should be embraced if you don’t want to come back from your holiday more stressed out than when you left. Imagine being late because the road was blocked by a herd of cattle, who have right of way anywhere on the island. Or having to order your dinner two hours before you expect to eat it. Or not being able to shower before 11am, simply because the water pipes are also on Africa time early in the morning. All things that would drive me crazy back home, but while on holiday, are charming quirks and idiosyncrasies of the foreign country I now find myself in.
As a South African, what I enjoyed the most on this holiday was the complete sense of safety wherever I went. Never did I feel threatened, or uncomfortable (apart from the blistering heat in what should be their winter time), although my skin tone and the camera dangling from around my neck clearly marked me as a tourist. Apparently there is no violent crime on the island, which is a predominantly Muslim state, although we did see money pass between our driver and the traffic police at some of the routine inspection road blocks that pepper the way from Stone Town to Jambiani.
I will always remember the friendliness of the people. Driving past mud-brick houses where goats, chicken and children play by the side of the road, the brilliantly white smiles and the sounds of little voices shouting “Jambo” as they wave and try to keep up with the vehicle, truly made this experience special.
And of course, Zanzibar is all about the three S’s – sun, sand and sea – and there is plenty of it. We went on a lovely three-island snorkeling trip, wonderfully rounded off with a late lunch on the beach consisting of fresh fruit, potato chips and lobster. And as the sun rose on my birthday, we sailed out on a wooden dhow and had the experience of a lifetime, swimming with wild dolphins. The spice tour is not to be missed, a brilliantly entertaining and informative tour around a spice plantation that leaves your taste buds tantalised and wanting more. No trip to Zanzibar is complete without a visit to Stone Town, the capital city that you will either love or hate, but that will make you think twice about slavery and leave you with a newfound respect for human rights.
As the last day dawned on our stay in Zanzibar, I found myself paradoxically relieved to be on my way home, but at the same time unwilling to part with the island’s laid-back attitude. I will probably never return to its shores, but I will always remember it as one of the most interesting experiences of my life.
Have you been to Zanzibar? Do you find yourself daydreaming about returning? What is your favourite memory of the island?