After a lot of hard work we were looking forward to a holiday. And so, after crossing the country for my Employment permit we set off to a tropical island off the coast of Tanzania named Zanzibar.
I’m not a travel blogger. Far from it really. But Zanzibar is just one amazing place and it would be a shame if I wouldn’t tell you about it. So here is: 9 things I love about Zanzibar! (and a little education about plastic)
#1: The Ocean
I am a sucker for seas and oceans. Swimming, walks along the beach, just staring at the water feeling calmness take over, give me a sea or ocean and I'm entertained. During our time in Zanzibar we swam several times a day. The Indian ocean (the only ocean I had never swum in before) surrounding the island is stunning.
It is the bluest of bluest shades of blue I’ve ever seen in my life and the beaches are white. The water is so clear that even at a 10m depth the bottom is still visible. The reef where we went snorkelling was beautiful with many different corals and colourful fishies. In Nungwi, where we spent our first 2 nights, the ocean is the sort of blue that you just can’t believe. It’s the kind of beach that you can’t look at without sunglasses to protect your eyes from the brightness. The beaches of Paje and Jambiani, where we spent the rest of the week, are different. Because they are on the Eastern side where there is a reef near the coast, the tidal differences are huge. At low tide the ocean is about 2 km away, at high tide it almost bashes into the hotels and lodges on the coast. The transition from low to high tide is beautiful to watch as it brings about all kinds of colours and the tidal pools are awesome to investigate with many fishies, crabs, corals, starfish, snails and more.
So, Ocean: #1 love.
#2: Hakuna matata
Hakuna matata – No problem, no worries. I’m sure I have opened up yet another link in your brain to our all-time favourite movie The Lion King. But Hakuna matata actually means ‘no problem’ in Swahili and it’s the favourite phrase of many locals. The locals are super friendly and nice and they have stolen my heart a little bit. Whether they are explaining you where to go, or selling some fruit for a fair price, they are all smiles and waves and Hakuna matatas and helpful and friendly and they are also just beautiful.
I love food. It makes me happy.
Because the island of Zanzibar used to be and still is inhabited by many people from different cultures, there is so much variety in food! Whether you’re after curry, pasta, pizza, stir fry or coconut- (stuff), with prawns, calamari, fish, beef, chicken or just vegetables… It’s all there! It’s like getting the best of every world. Mind you, all these options can cause some serious choice-problems, especially if you already struggle with that in normal life (which I don't… Totally not… of course).
#4: Fresh fruit
Should probably be added to the previous item, but I think the Zanzibar fruit deserves its own mention. It’s fresh, it’s tropical, it’s local and it’s delicious. Plus: thanks to Daan’s excellent bargaining skills we bought enough fruit to be lunch for 3 days for less than 7 dollars. Pineapple, mango, lychees, banana, watermelon, all of my favourites. Of course fresh fruit juice is also available at every bar as well as the coconut JU-ÏCE (pronounce with that weird I for the right vibe) sold by guys walking by on the beach. The coconuts that the guys on the beach sell actually come from the lodges and resorts, to prevent them from falling out of the tree and potentially killing someone, the coconut ju-ïce men are asked to pick the ripe ones before they fall, which they then sell on the beach. It’s a good system.
#5: Fairly undiscovered
Yes, there are many people on this island’s beaches whose only concern is taking the perfect selfie, buuuuut it’s really not that bad compared to other holiday destinations. The most touristic part of the island is the North (Nungwi) where the ocean and beach are the most beautiful. But other parts of the coast (such as the East) are much more quiet and genuine. Here you can experience Zanzibar’s people, cultures, religion and beauty a bit more. In general I got the feeling that Zanzibar is still fairly undiscovered by the big crowds, although it probably won’t be long before that changes.
#6: Endless things to do
Snorkelling, diving, swimming, walking, boating, shell-searching, laying somewhere doing nothing, stone towning, spice touring or -marketing, kitesurfing, eating, drinking, chatting, chilling… So many things to do, so little time. And the best part? No phone or laptop required for any of these activities!
#7: Local crafts and art
There is a lot of crafts and a lot of people selling it. Even on Zanzibar many of those crafts turn out to come from China, but if you discover something that not everyone is selling then most likely you have found something genuine. My point is: it is not difficult to discover that. Leaving the beach sellers behind and going into the village will get you to the local sellers that mostly sell their own art and craft. Whether that’s made of fabric, wood or paint, it’s all beautiful.
What makes going to Zanzibar even better than the 7 reasons mentioned above? Seeing a very dear friend whom you've known for ten years! When we were planning our trip, January was perfect because it was one of the several months that Amber was there, working at a diving school to become a Dive Master and it was great to hang out so far from home, yet fairly close to my Zambia home.
#9: The use of paper bags
I haven’t seen any single-use plastic bags on the island. Things are carried in paper-bags and in more durable hard-plastic bags. Although I’m not sure whether that is a (government-implemented) preventative measure to limit environmental impact of single-use plastic, it is something that made me very happy.
Zanzibar is amazing and I will definitely visit again! If you're looking for a fairly cheap island getaway without the big crowds (avoid December and first half of January) then Zanzibar is your place to be!
Tapping into that last reason why Zanzibar is cool, there is one thing that is not so cool. There is a lot of plastic littering the beach and the ocean. Every time the tide rises, it brings along countless plastic bottles, flip-flops, nets, etc. Most of the washed up plastic is ‘local’, Zanzibar water bottles and tourists’ shoes. I think it is taken by the high tide into the ocean from resort- and hotel beaches and washes up a few kilometres down the coast. However, so much of that plastic doesn't get back to the beach and is blown out to the open sea to join the massive plastic soup that is killing our oceans.
And some of the plastic actually comes from far, such as this ice-tea bottle I found in Paje. It had been in the water for some time and the label says it was manufactured in Singapore, on the other side of the gigantic Indian ocean!
This is not just a problem on Zanzibar. Plastic is a global problem! It pollutes land and oceans and harms animals that eat it. But I don’t want to end this nice story about Zanzibar on a negative note. So here are some simple tips and tricks for YOU to help tackle the global plastic problem.
Reduce: Tell the waiter you don’t want a straw in your drink, use a reusable cup instead of plastic ones, food-containers instead of (Ziploc) bags, a shopper bag for groceries, a shampoo bar from Lush (in general, visit a Lush store, they are great), a bamboo toothbrush, etc. There's many ways of reducing!
Reuse: Easy! You can reuse Ziploc bags and plastic bottles as well as packaging. Here in camp we reuse all plastic containers of feta, yoghurt, etc. to keep dry goods such as rice and also as plant pots.
Recycle: Yes all of you in the western world. You can recycle plastic and you know it! If you don’t know how, I’m sure your municipality or google can answer that question.
Start with a few things, get excited and do more. And make sure you tell everyone. Brag about it, to your friends, on social media. Inspire other people to do the same. Remember that if you convince ten people to take action and those ten people then each convince ten, together you’ve influenced 100 people!