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Paradisiacal Heaven

TANZANIA | Thursday, 7 May 2009 | Views [672]

After a sad farewell to Maasailand and my amazing host family, i jumped on a plane headed to Zanzibar. The plane ride was more like a bus trip. The plane begins in Kisumu, in northern Kenya, and flies to Nairobi where it drops off a few people, picks up some more, then to Mombasa dropping off and picking up a few more before finally ending its route in Zanzibar. Because Zanzibar is in Tanzania, i figured i would have to pay money for a visa, but i had no idea how much. Probably should have looked into that. It turned out to be US$50. I had US$16. So he confiscated my passport and told me to go get the money and come back. The nearest ATM was an hour return trip. So i scrounged through my bags, and dug up all the Kenyan money i had left to exchange at the airport. I gave 3000ksh and got US$34 back. Perfect amount. So i paid my $50, got the stamp and on i went to Stone Town.

Words cannot explain the beauty of Stone Town. It is an old swahili trading port and recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Winding alleys, bustling bazaars, countless mosques and stunning Arab houses. It is a culture lovers dream, with Arab, Persian, Indian, European and African influneces all mixed together to form the hub of Zanzibar.

The first thing you notice is the grand architecture. A lot of the buildings were once homes owned by extremely wealthy Arab traders, and have since been turned into hotels, apartments, restaurants etc... The wealth of each owner was displayed by the door to their house. You could spend hours wandering the labrynth of alleys admiring the craftsmanship of the beautiful brass studded wooden doors.

The next thing you notice is the Muslim influence. There are over 1000 mosques on the tiny island. The women walk around covered head to toe in the finest fabrics which are available to purchase at almost ever bazaar. I am not very familiar with Muslim culture, but after Zanzibar I am extremely captivated by it. At first, the loud speaker singing echoing across town during the 5 daily prayer times annoyed me (especially at 5am). But after time it just adds to the uniqueness of Stone Town.

The 3rd thing you notice (if you didnt feel it the second you get off the plane) is the humidity. This place is hot! Maybe it was just the time of year i was there, but you would step outside and within a minute you would be sweating profusely. It was close to unbearable at times.

You could spend weeks in Stone Tone and not run out of things to do. There are dhow captains eager to take you on sunset cruises, prion island snorkel trips, fishing trips and so on. Then thers the spice tours which take you around to local restaurants tasting the flavoursome foods of Zanzibar. And if that don't interest you, there are a million shops and restaurants to visit and spend all your hard earned cash.

For me, the first task was to find and surprise Hana. I told a few white lies about being on a Safari in Serengeti and that a friend of mine was in Stone Town and wanted to meet her. So she told me the cafe she was at and i strolled down there to say hi. She almost fell off her chair when i walked around the corner.

We spent the first few days exploring Stone Town and getting lost walking through the labrynth of alleys and sampling some local foods, which were an explosion of flavour in your mouth. They don't call it the Spice Island for nothing!!

Spice Town is one of those places where you dont need to do anything to avoid boredom. The simplest things like watching the fishing boats coming in with the daily catch, or watching the locals play football on the beach, or gazing at the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen kept me content every day. At night there is plenty of bars to go and enjoy a drink (Kilimanjaro or Tusker is the beer of choice here). We went to an RnB club, Bwawanis, a couple times which is where i discovered white men can NOT dance! I used to think that working the 2 step with the occasionally fist pump and a hip shake was all you needed to blend in on a dance floor. Not here. Dancing is intimidating. But it is fun as long as you dont take yourself seriously. The locals can move their bodies in a way i thought impossible. Parties here are the best.

After a few nights we decided to head east, where the girls are free to swim without aggrevating the locals from the displays of bare skin. We jumped in a van which passed by towering mango trees with swinging monkeys and the famous Jozani forest on the way to Paje. Our hotel (or should i say resort) was stunning. Wooden beachside chalets sheltered by coconut trees next to a beautiful bar with the friendliest staff. The beach was the most beautiful I have ever set fot on. Beautiful calm turquoise waters which stretch as far as they eye can see interrupted only by the scatter of local fishing boats. This is paradise. This is heaven.

Our days in Paje were spent, well, doing nothing. Some swimming, some hammock lazing, some beach lazing, and a little more lazing in between the above activities. We met a couple local buys, who were fishing 'Captains' as they love to call themselves, who told us they have a local restaurant called Big Fire. They described it as a bonfire on the beach with a smorgasboard of seafood they caught fresh that day. Yes please. I bumped into Captain Haje later and told him we were in but because of the late notice, he said we would have to have it in his back yard. It was one of the funniest nights. There was 8 of us all sitting around a candle lit table, drinking warm beers and eating delicious octopus, squid and fish listening to Captain Haje telling stories of himself in a third person about his dog, his life and most of all, his ....ahem.... plantations. We loved him so much we decided to go snorkelling with him the next day. He took us out on his boat which he moves forward with a long stick he dips into the water and pushes off the ocean floor. He dropped us off in beautiful water no deeper than 3 metres where we swam around for a couple hours enjoying the stunning un discovered paradise which has not yet been destroyed by tourism. I dont think i will ever forget that day, especially the comical stylings of Captain Haje.

We didnt do too much in Paje besides relax, swim, snorkel. One day we rented some motorbikes and cruised along the beach for a couple hours during which we saw some of the most exotic hotels and houses i have ever seen, and passed by some beautiful secluded beaches. We also walked around the local village in Paje aswell. The people, as with most Africans i have met so far, are extremely friendly and hospitable. Always smiling, happy to wave and say hi and help point you in the direction of the fruit stand with the tastiest passion fruit in the world.

After 3 nights in heaven, we headed back to Stone Town to plan the next adventure. Whilst here, Hana took me to a nightly food market I had not yet seen. It instantly became my favourite food experience so far. Every night the locals line up tables along the ocean front and each set up their own stnd selling all types of food from fries to fish kebabs to full squid to local pizzas to seafood soup. You walk around and pick what you want and wash it all down with a refreshing cup of sugar cane juice. This is a great place to come and watch the sunset and enjoy some great local cuisine.

After almost 2 weeks in Zanzibar, we decided it's time to end the dream and set off inland to experience a different part of Africa. We boarded the ferry to Dar Es Salaam, spent the night before jumping on a 15 hour bus ride (the promised us it would only be 9 hours... africa time) to Mbeya on the west side of Tanzania. Beautiful bus ride passing through rolling hills and lush forests with wildlife sightings and cheap somsa stands along the way. Mbeya is not really a destination of choice, but more of a useful trasport hub for getting into Zambia and Malawi. We were heading to Malawi, and after almost punching a bus ticket scammer in the face for trying to rip us off, we boarded a dangerously quick local bus to the border around 6am the next day. This driver was insane. We are lucky we didn't drive off a cliff or hit every single pedestrian. But we got there safe, and after being mobbed by black market currency exchange guys, we trekked the last 2km to the border and left behind the last 2 weeks of paradise in exchange for the unknown ahead in what is described as one of Africa's poroest countries, Malawi.

Tags: beach, paje, tanzania, zanzibar

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