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15|04|14 +++ FBC ZANZIBAR - TRAVEL REPORT BY LYNN
The first thing you notice when you step off the plane at Zanzibar is the smell ... but please don't stop reading! I mean a wonderful tropical smell of coconut palms, humidity and exotic far-away places. Passing through customs you get your first idea of how money matters in Zanzibar when you pay your 50 US$ visa each to enter the country, but this is quite normal. What is not normal is what greets you next - the baggage handling system is one of the most entertaining spectacles I have ever seen at an airport and quite a boost after a 10 hour flight! We all stand patiently behind a row of wooden barriers while 6 baggage handlers wait for the vans with the cases to arrive. They then carry your bags out ... one by one ... and place them on the wooden boxes. Some are cheeky and ask you what colour and shape your case is, and then bring out a completely different colour and shaped case and ask "is this it?" When you respond with a no they look a little concerned and tell you they will go and look again, only to bring another wrong case and play the game all over again! The couple next to us were getting quite anxious as 5 or 6 wrong cases were presented to them ... but they were pretty happy when he finally brought their actual case over! They didn`t really get the game, but we totally enjoyed the show and appreciated the humour. Mind you I have no idea how chaotic that system becomes when more than one flight arrives close together ... I can only imagine its not as much fun!
The drive to Paje is about 1 hour and if you are not too tired this is where you get your first impressions of the island and people. The roads are in good condition and lined with lush green on either side. Villagers are going about their everyday business and you will see women carrying huge loads on their heads dressed in beautiful bright colours, hundreds of barefoot school children dressed in crisp white head dresses with big smiles on their faces, and roadside shops selling anything and everything you do or don`t need. There are a few stops on the way for police controls (which are only a concern for your driver), or cows goats and chickens leisurely crossing the road! In no time at all we arrive and check into our first accommodation 'Hakuna Shida' which is a small friendly clean guesthouse for kiters with a pool only a few steps from the beach. The people are so sweet and welcoming we have a quick welcome drink with them and head out to explore.
One of my fondest memories of Paje which will stay with me forever ... its sandy everywhere and you really don`t need shoes! For me this is ultimate freedom! Luckily I didn`t pack many pairs ... but that is one major daily decision less for us girls!! The layout at Paje is really simple and everything is within easy barefoot reach. Most of the accommodation lines the beaches but in a subtle way that retains the feel of paradise. There are also various places to eat and drink along the beach but expect similar prices to home. It`s a really special feeling ... sitting having a cold beer with the thud of coconuts dropping in the background as the locals easily climb the trees to collect the prize. The small village is behind the accommodation and the contrast is quite stark. Within a few steps you will find yourself in a traditional African village ... that is once you pass the small stalls selling clothes and trinkets. More Zanzibar humour is on show here with shop names such as Harrods and Ikea with the owners sitting outside saying JAMBO (hello) as you pass by. Another expression you will hear all of the time is HAKUNA MATATA which means no worries.
You can so easily lose time here ... another expression you will here very often is POLE POLE which means slowly slowly, but somehow you don`t need to be told, it just happens very naturally that you switch down a few gears sitting watching the world go by. Another very fond memory is the beach (of course!). A pure white sandy beach which feels like velvet under your feet ... fringed by palm trees and a stunning view to the sea. You can chill out on a sun bed in the shade and watch the tide come in and go out, only aware roughly of the time by the amount of palm shadow on the beach and the height of the tide. You donīt even need to move ... stunning photo opportunities are right in front of you and a truly amazing diversity of more photo opportunities pass by as regular as clockwork. The Masai in their beautiful red robes, fake sunglasses and all wearing the same white plastic shoes (must have been a job lot!) Are they real Masai warriors or are some dressed up for the tourists? Who cares, they look amazing. Proud locals riding their prize possession of a bicycle along the beach, or taking their monkey for a walk, or groups of children brightly dressed and singing happily ... while in the distance the Dhows return from their trips and the moon gently rises signalling its time to move and think about what to eat. Life is indeed tough!
We finally mustered up the energy to go and check out the center and spot. Unfortunately we were not so lucky with the wind, but no surprise really as we were there at the very end of the season and the guys at the center were pretty much packed up and ready to close for a 2 month break. Still we had an amazing afternoon SUP'ing out to the reef, catching some small waves out there, and paddling back as the sun was setting - awesome! Dim was the first kite center to open on Paje Beach 7 years ago and the center blends into the environment really well with a full wood construction, relaxed vibe and hammocks and bean bags sprinkled around in the shade of the palms. In front of you is a huge area of knee deep crystal clear water as far as the eye can see until the outer reef where there is a nice wave. Seaweed farming takes place on the east coast so sticks are exposed at low tide which is really the only time this is an issue. Otherwise you can kite over this area out to the reef with no problems ... of course you should always listen to the spot description and then you can`t go wrong. Itīs a perfect place for learning but experts will also have an amazing time ! We were in Paje at full moon, and at low tide the water goes way out to the reef ... so obviously no kiting for a couple of hours but it was incredible to walk so far out to sea and see the seaweed farms up close and amazing star fish!
When travelling to Zanzibar on a kitesurf trip it's important to know that there are 2 wind seasons with different wind directions to take into account. The winds are called the Kusi and the Kaskasi. The Kusi blows from the south east, side-onshore from June until September. The Kaskasi starts to blow from mid December until February, also side onshore but from the north east. The best wind is therefore 15.6 until 30.9 & 15.12 until 28.2. In June and July there are some big wave days in Zanzibar and ideal conditions for experts! Normally the wind increases throughout the day and is strongest at the end of the day, just before the sunset - averaging around 16 knots. If you bring your own gear, always take a bigger kite around 12m, and a smaller kite around 9m, Also its good to take surf shoes and a lycra for the sun.
Dim will open 2 new centers at different locations on the island in 2014/2015. The first center will be based on the beach in Michamvi Village approx 6 km / 10 minutes drive north of Paje at the stunning location of The Rock Restaurant. Here you will find a flat water lagoon which is ideal for beginners and advanced kiters on an exclusive quiet beach. More info: ww.zanzibarkiteclub.com. The second location is in Waikiki in the north of the island. This location has a small teaching area for beginner lessons, but is not really suitable for private kiters or advanced levels. More info: www.kitezanzibar.com
It would be very easy to just hang out at the beach the whole time in Paje ... it really is another level of relaxation; but we love to see all sides of the destinations we visit in order to get a real idea of the place and the people. We hired a driver for the day and started off at Jozani Forest Reserve which is a forest where you can see the endangered red colobus monkey, amongst others. There is a short tour describing the forest and its plants and animals and in typical Zanzibar humour you are told stories of voodoo happenings, man eating snakes, poisonous plants and disappearing Italian tourists! At the end of the tour your guide says 'now you tip the guide and then you can leave' ... very subtle! From here we drove around the island passing by the rice fields, driving down bumpy tracks each time ending up on idyllic beaches, but also passing through villages and sampling some of the local yummy street food and giggling with the school children! There were fruit and vegetable markets along the beach and carpets of harvested seaweed drying in the sun. We also had the luck to fall upon a beach where the fishermen had returned and all the fresh fish was being sold in front of us ... lots of shouting and haggling and great fun to watch! The whole island of Zanzibar is of coral and all the houses are made from coral - you are literally holidaying on an exposed coral reef ... that`s special!
Our final destination of the day was Stone Town which is located in the middle of the west coast and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The pace of life seems much faster and the small streets are lined with shops selling everything you can imagine, and beautiful examples of doors are all around. This is certainly not a peaceful place ... you will be followed and hassled to buy things and look in all the shops. Sometimes haggling for prices works and sometimes not, but it is all a bit of a game so have fun with it! It`s a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European ... there is style and poverty all mixed together. As the sun sets the shops close and the Forodhani Gardens food market starts to come to life. Amazing displays of fish, shellfish and Zanzibar food cooked to order ... but take your time! Walk around and have a look at everything and don`t be harassed into buying until you are sure what you want and of course what the price will be before you eat it! Stone Town was the flourishing centre of the spice trade as well as the slave trade in the 19th century and a visit here is a must - thereīs lots to see and do.
For the last 2 days we switched accommodation and stayed at Cristal Beach in an eco bungalow, which is basically a wooden bungalow with modern but simple furnishings pretty much on the beach. It was so amazing to wake up in the morning and be looking directly to the sea and beach from bed! Later in the day we set off to go SUPīing in the Magroves - my favourite part of the whole trip! The tide needs to be at a certain height and there was a small swim to reach the area where the SUP`s are. Supping through the mangroves is a must! It`s so peaceful and beautiful listening to the unfamiliar bird noises and the gentle call to prayer in the distance ... just amazing. We finished off our last day chilling on the beach watching the moon rise with a cold Kilimanjaro Beer `If you canīt climb it, drink it` seems like a sensible slogan to me!
Be prepared to be approached often in Zanzibar, be it from locals trying to sell you tours or things from their shops or children asking for pens or sweets ... it happens often. However, if you politely say that you don't want to be bothered you will usually be left in peace. If not, eyes down and keep walking! The second `negative` is money ... itīs hard to get hold of cash and itīs hard to keep track of the local currency vs the dollar so pay attention - and as I said before always be clear about the price before you get your money out! Finally, anvery important to know ... you also need to pay to leave the country! So if you don`t want your trip to end on a negative note make sure each person has 50 US$ to get out ... and cash only of course!
You will fall under the spell of Zanzibar without a doubt! It is an island of stark contrasts between tourism and poverty, but once you are at peace with that it`s really very difficult to leave ... but not as difficult as wearing shoes again!
Travel Report by Lynn Pestka