Thursday, February 9, 2012


It's been a while in coming, but I was finally off to experience the tropical paradise that is Zanzibar. The Spice Islands (there are two of them) lie just off the coast of Tanzania, a little north of Dar es Salaam. Becoming known as honeymoon hotspot, I was gong to be seeing what they had to offer on me tod. Perhaps the future Mrs McMullen will benefit from this scouting mission at some point, once I have met her obviously.

The ferry across set off with the dawn and only took 2 hours, so I arrived nice and early in the day and was able to take some time to get my bearings a bit. I found a map - possible the least useful map of any town anywhere - and sat in a cafe to try and make either head or tail of it. As I left the cafe, determined to go a-wandering, I was met by a local fella who first of all told me to "just relax, this is Zanzibar" before explaining he'd love to show me around, he didn't work for anyone and I could pay him what I wanted. Some of that was true anyway...

He was actually very interesting, clearly one of the opportunist tourist-botherers, but to be fair he didn't bother me at all. He was very friendly, very knowledgeable, and very relaxed. He showed me some parts of town a lot of tourists don't go to, and other parts they do, and it helped me get a little more familiar with the maze - quite literally - of streets that are Stone Town.

When I left him, I paid what I thought was fair, and asked if it was, and of course he asked for a little more, which I decided to give him because he seemed like a nice guy. He volunteered his services again, and I may take him up on it, in which case I won't pay so much. It'll balance out in the end.

I then met up with Nanda, who I'd originally met in Arusha, and her friend Diana, and we got in a dala-dala to go to the beach up the coast a bit. The dala-dalas are the local shuttle buses - they go often, from designated stands but stop anywhere pretty much and pick up far more people than can usually comfortably fit in them. It's a very similar system to the one in Cusco, so it was vaguely familiar at least. That didn't stop me inadvertently handing my bus fare to the wrong person, however, who then got off the bus and said it was his fee for holding some seats for us. A lesson learned, luckily very cheaply. Don't hand your money over until the 'conductor' asks for it!

The beach we went to had the rather pleasing name of Bububu, and was not a normal tourist place. There were very few beach side bars, and lots and lots of local families enjoying a Sunday of fun. We hung out on the sand enjoyed a swim, treated ourselves to just the one beer, and finally sat and watched a game of beach soccer, one of many that sprung up as the tide went out and the playing surface was revealed. This also coincided with the sunset, and gave the girls something to do while I retraced our steps looking for my lost sandal. I never found it, but no matter. On my walk I stopped and talked with a number of locals who seem only too happy and keen to chat. There is a definite Friendly with a capital F vibe about Zanzibar.

Back in Stone Town, we investigated the locals food market, deciding to avoid the more famous - and expensive, needless to say - tourist one. The food was more traditional and cost all of US75c, and was delicious. The atmosphere was once again very friendly with the locals seeming to be highly amused at the mzungus joining them at their rickety tables. The system seems to work like a big picnic, really, with the vendors bringing large containers of pre-cooked goodies which the dish out until they're used up. Simple, really. Some stalls were cooking as they went, others not. and all with a smile. It might have helped that Diana speaks pretty good Swahili, but my pitiful efforts at greetings seemed to be appreciated too. I had my first taste of Ugali, the local dietry staple of maize flour and water cooked into a thick dough state. You use your hands, take a golf ball sized piece of the bigger lump, shape it in your hand and use it as kind of scooper/blotter for the bean stew, fish curry and spinach that came with it. Very tasty, very filling.

After dinner we did go down to the Fourdhani Food Market to take a look, and I have to say it is quite a sight. Very picturesque, but a lot more mercenary, with so many vendors all trying to sell the same stuff. Lots of tourists and the more well off locals, though, being lured by skewers of fish, mini pizza-like things, fruit and sugar cane juice, freshly squeezed. I'd not had this since I was about 12 years old, on my first ever trip to NZ via Singapore. I seem to remember feeling pretty crook on the way out and having no appetite until we found this juice. I've seen it once or twice since but never had the time to buy any, and I nervously decided to get some. I had memories of it being amazing and was concerned I may have built it up in my mind to be better than it is. Happily, it was just as good, if not better, than I remembered - and flavoured with a bit of ginger too.

It was good first introduction to Zanzibar, and I was looking forward to going on a spice tour the next day. Until then, it was back to my hotel room and the large box-mosquito net around my double bed. I was going to have to enter a bout of UFC against the inevitable little buggers that sneak inside and then hide, waiting to attack when I am at my most vulnerable. Blood was about to be spilled, and I suspected it would be mine! (PS I will add photos when I have access to a better /cheaper internet source!)

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