So this is Zanzibar. I imagine it is quite a bit different than it was 50 years ago when I first learned of its existence while I was collecting stamps. It has been on my list of places to visit since that time even though I had yet to develop a travel lust at the age of 9. But, here I am sitting on a beach that could well have been pictured on one of those stamps.
Zanzibar it quite a big island and it is able to maintain areas with distinctly different characters. We have stopped at one place so we can only talk first hand of it, Matemwe, but the reports of other areas come from fellow travelers and each sounds different.
Matemwe is a quiet east coast village with a reasonably nice beach. The beach is being more and more developed so I do not expect it will be quiet for long. The local folks fish a bit, farm seaweed, and work in the lodges. Everyone is friendly, both tourists and locals.
There are two main traffic thoroughfares here. There is a small dirt road that is dusty and because it is 50M from the water and sheltered from the sea breeze it is very hot to travel on. The other, the beach, is huge; I’m guessing it is 3km long and anywhere from 5M to 30M wide depending on the tide.
I have worn shoes only once, the day we walked along the dirt road and immediately removed them to walk the return route along the beach. It is the longest period of time in my life , I think, I have gone without something on my feet. Four days without donning footwear other than flip flops and I only wear those to walk on the gravelly roads and to get into or out of the water where there are rocks. Debbie and I walk the beach every day and we walk in bare feet. The sand is white, white and does not retain the heat so the walking is easy.
You can swim at high tide but it is a bit shallow at low tide and you have to be careful about stepping on a sea urchin.
Most of our last couple of days has been spent in our bathing suits with a t-shirt, then dress for dinner. Most restaurants here don’t really care and we are keeping our clean clothes for the city.
The big disadvantage to this place is the lack of snow which would preclude any chance of skiing.
We went diving yesterday and return to the underwater world today. The diving is good and we see a lot of different types of fish. Our first dive is at a spot called the aquarium and it is the first time Debbie and I see a frog fish. It never rains, it pours and the dive master finds 2, one green and one red. I guess it looks somewhat like I imagined after seeing some pictures in this book or that but they are so big. Debbie will say I am exaggerating but I think they are about 30cm across. They are so camouflaged, both are tucked up against coral and have all the same lumps and bumps of their inanimate hosts and the colour is an exact match. They do have eyes and fins which of course give them away but only when you know they are there.
The last two days we have been diving with an older French couple. Older than us if you can imagine that. They have lived up to the international reputation of French people and they are quite rude. Both have underwater cameras and when the dive master points out something of interest they literally use their elbows to get to the front of the line to see and take pictures. There are only 4 of us in the group so it would not take long to hang back and wait a turn. For the most part after visiting France I did not find the people to live up to their reputation. I think this is the case in most countries but it only takes a couple of incidents and a sweeping generalization can be established. Even if queuing was not their strong point they are quite nice and we did seem to meld into a good dive group after the first couple of dives.
There are people from all over the world staying in Zanzibar. On the dive boat today there are three ladies from Holland, two young people from South Africa, one from Australia, two Brits, two French folks, two from the U.S., and two from Canada. That seems to be the way everywhere we run into a group of tourists.
I do not know how the people choose to come here but I can see why one might come back. I do know how we chose to travel here. Some months ago Debbie asked me; “If we only had one other place to go and then we did not travel again where would it be?” Reflecting back to my stamp collecting days and remembering the exotic places that I learned about because of the philatelic activity I had a very strong desire to visit Zanzibar and here we are.