Updated: Dec 20, 2022
So far, Zanzibar has exceeded all of my expectations (except WIFI), with its colourful character, its cultural patchwork of history, its majestic doors and now... its idyllic beaches.
Idyllic doesn’t even seem the right word.
But seriously... How do you even begin to describe the pure imperial beauty of this seaside paradise?
I thought I was a sucker for monumentally sculptured doors, but I'm more of a sucker for powder white sandy beaches and pristine turquoise water. I can't get enough of them. I could perhaps do with less of the balmy weather, but one must make sacrifices.
I have managed to get in the water a few times, though it is difficult when you’re travelling alone. I have to first ensure it was safe to leave my possessions in a pile and then I have to keep a constant eye on who is headed my way. I find it's easiest to try & glob onto another group of beach users, pretending you're with them. The water is so incredibly lush... and I could honeslty bounce & bob in the rippling waves all day.
Each morning, I wake up in my hill house (to either no WIFI... or no power... or both, when the day really gets off on the right foot!) and I head down to the beach to just breathe in my surroundings, absolutely enraptured by the natural beauty...
... and then along come the beach boys...
The damn beach boys.
Apparently, it means "ticks", but I looked it up in Google Translate and the literal translation is "I don't care."
They are everywhere. Everywhere. They roam the beaches, seeking out the tourists and then they dive in like vultures. You have to hand it to them; they are persistent with their offers of tours, snorkeling, fishing, photos, shoes, bags, tattoos... and it goes on and on. Their first initial plan of attack is a very welcoming approach, as though they are really interested in getting to know you, but it's all riddled with ulterior motives. Their questions are well-rehearsed, monotonous... and relentless. The ones that don't necessarily have anything to offer in the way of tangible goods or activities, are driven only by any money they can extract from the vulnerable... and their prey?
RICH, single OLDER females, to be precise.
Just exactly like me... minus the rich... and quite obviously, the older.
In other words, they are essentially escorts. Modern day prostitutes with a twist, though, ironically, dressed in traditional Swahili tribal garb. I've also heard that some of them are drug addicts, desperate for money, and to exercise extreme caution when dealing with them. Eeek!
I bought a big floppy hat, so if I see one of them moving in for the kill, I can hide my face to either give the impression that I am either sleeping or so mesmerized with my own deep thoughts that I mustn't be disturbed. This plan only works if you’re sitting on the beach. If you’re walking, you’re fair game to them and they will block your path to talk to you. Once they have caught your attention, it is difficult to get rid of them, as they don't seem to have the capability of taking no for an answer and tend to invade your personal space to the point of utter harassment.
The Papasi take irritation to a whole new level. Without them... Zanzibar beaches would be nothing short of outstanding. An ideal tropical getaway. If you ever think the market vendors are bad with their constant beckonings, pleas and guilt trips... try the beach boys!
It's funny because I've never met so many people in my entire life, who enthusiastically and willingly describe themselves to you as having a great passion for to help people.
Give me a break.
The great passion is money.
Hands down. Admit it.
Even the young kids. I pulled some stickers out of my bag to give to some seemingly lovely children on the street the other day, and greedy guts almost ripped them from my hand before I’d even had a chance to remove them from my bag. It’s disillusioning, but it's the way of life here.
In Tanzania, the main language is Swahili.
I kick myself for not having put more effort into learning the basic fundamentals, and now I only have myself to blame for my blatant ignorance whenever someone is kind to me, or extends a simple courtesy. Everyone should have a little Swahili under their belt, right?
Don't get me wrong - naturally, I have picked up a few words to get by.
Please / Thank you / Hello / How are you? / Fine / No worries.
... but I'm ashamed to say that's the extent of my Swahili...
But get this -
Jambo means hello.
Mambo means how are you?
Jambo Mambo... Mambo Jambo... Mumbo Jumbo...
I had to look it up and see if Swahili was the basis of our confusing / meaningless language expression, 'mumbo jumbo' ... but unfortunately, the two do not correlate.
So basically, all day, I be-bop my way around Zanzibar, saying, "Jambo! Mambo!"
I can admit, I have definitely had my share of Hakuna Matata to last a few lifetimes. It is what the vendors use to try and lure you into their stalls. It's what the locals say as you walk through the town. It's also what is printed on most Zanzibar cheap swag and written on signs & menus & walls all over restaurants, hotels, local shops... etc.
It means no worries, as we are all very well aware. Well, anyone that's seen the Lion King, anyway.
On one of my days in Kendwa, I decided to make the trek into Nungwi, the town at the very tip of Zanzibar. I didn't start out with the intention of heading that far, but my destination ended up not existing, so by that time, there was nothing to do but keep going. As I made my way through the impoverished area of Nungwi, I started to feel a little uneasy, and I knew it was a place I probably shouldn't be walking alone. I'm sure everyone I passed had the same thought, "Who is that and why is she alone, wandering through our neighbourhood?' I have to remember; I am not always a tourist. I am a stranger.
I didn't necessarily feel unsafe, but all at once, I became fully aware of my wardrobe. Although my knees were covered, my shoulders were bare and I was suddenly very cognizant of the fact that not only was I alone, but my appearance could be construed as highly disrespectful.
When I say that I was not worried for my safety, that is not entirely true. As much as I realize that I must be confident with every step I take, regardless of where I am, I am also fully aware that everything about me screams money. It's bizarre, but it's true. That is the most surreal thing about being in developing countries such as this. I know how little I have. Belive you me, I sure do know that. But they don't.
And it doesn't matter how little I have, to them, it’s a LOT.
Tanzania is one of the world's poorest economies and Zanzibar's population has a per capita income of less than TShs 12,988 per month.
That's less than $8 Canadian.
It was a long and dusty walk, and my knee suffered a bit. I have to be so careful, as I trod along on these dirt roads. Gravity is my worst enemy right now. Every once in a while, I step wrong and it's like the inner workings of my joints temporarily collapse. I've been lucky so far, but the jabs of pain are there to serve as a constant reminder of crumbling if I've done too much... or too little. Gauging is the hard part.
If only I had a pool bar to relax at...
My Hill House is nothing of the sort. No pool bar to be found.
For fear of sounding like a spoiled Westerner, I have actually grown to despise my current accommodations. Although, yes, it's definitely enriching being in a guesthouse meets homestay environment... there have been the occasional abnormalities and inconveniences.
There's one man... and about 3 women... are they his wives?
They all sit on the floor together all day long... and do absolutely nothing but stare.
The man is obviously trying to save money, as he unplugs the WIFI all the time, and more often than not, we are without power. His baby, and all the surrounding babies, scream constantly. I think they are harbouring fugatives, but I can't really wrap my head around the entire situation.
Besides all the other trivial annoyances and setbacks, it just got to the point where I felt uncomfortable. As kind as he was, the hotel & hospitality industry is not his calling.
One good thing did come out of my Beach House... and that was my new friend, Wolfgang, from Estonia. Wolfgang has an almost strictly regimented character and is very to-the-point, inquisitive and eager to understand different ways of life. He has been very accepting of the power outages and lack of WIFI... whereas my immediate impulse is to convulse. Due to his life in the Estonian military, he seems to possess a certain adaptability that I often lack right out of the gate.
People always ask me if Africa is expensive or cheap. That’s a difficult question to answer, as you can get a real steal of a deal... or you can get royally screwed. It all depends on the day, the moment, your location, who you're dealing with, your attention to detail, your attitude, who you're with... etc etc etc...
I bought a bottle of water on the beach yesterday for 1000 shillings (60¢). The very next day, I bought the same size bottle water, in the same location, from a different vendor for a mere 400 shillings (25¢).
My hill house cost me approximately $40US and had nothing to offer in the way of amenities, peace or regularly perceived guesthouse conveniences. A beachside boutique hotel can offer a $50US deal that includes breakfast, a pool and a complimentary spa treatment. Or you can pay up to $800US per night for real luxury!
I can dine at a restaurant & order a pizza or pasta for 20,000 shillings ($12)... or I can get some hummus & chipate in town at a local diner for 5000 ($3).
I spent $12 on the worst 5oz. glass of rosé I've ever tasted (probably corked) and then haggled over 2000 shilling ($1.20) for a $10 hat.
Taxi from Kendwa to Matemwe - 50,000 shillings ($30) / Bus to the same location ~ 2000 shillings ($1.20).
It's all about priorities, perspective and the work you're willing to put in.
You can do it cheaply, right in the middle or high-end posh.
It just basically comes down to where you are, who you're dealing with and what conveniences you're willing to sacrifice!
Some days, I'm watching every cent diligently. Starving myself to save money...
Other days... I get lazy and I'm makin' it rain with my hoards of money.
There is no in-between.