“Floating on the water’s edge I gazed back to the speck of huts and ant-sized people going about their daily routines and was glad my afternoon involved nothing more than a relaxed ride as the surging tide steered my lime green lilo back to shore.”
Occasionally airline companies produce unbeatable deals offering the chance for the avid traveler to venture abroad, experience a different culture and have the adventure of a lifetime. When a well-phrased email caught my attention as I sifted through an otherwise cluttered and uninspiring inbox at work, I thought it would be rude to decline such a generous offer that would not eat into my retirement savings and quickly shifted any pending appointments to ensure nothing would jeopardise my much-needed getaway to the island paradise of Zanzibar. The picturesque turquoise seas and pristine postcard beaches are what draw many tourists to this destination. I was in search of all that, as well as a little more… a real connection with the island locals and a true appreciation for the simple life the island has to offer.
Arriving to the hustle and bustle of local taxi drivers jostling for business I wondered if I was actually where I wanted to be but bravely made my way to the closest vehicle and parted with US$30 in exchange for a trip to the southern side of the island. My driver seemed perplexed as many of his customers prefer to ride north and enjoy the popular luxuries Nungwi has to offer. I realised nothing had been lost in translation as our smiles reached an agreement and we started the bumpy journey down to Jambiani.
A true sense of serenity set in as I arrived in a rural paradise of coconut trees and blue seas lapping the doorstep of my room and dozed off under the semi-attached thatched lapa, which offered some protection from the searing midday heat. The beachfront is littered with small eateries, unique in character, yet all reliant on the resident skippers’ catch for the day. Ambling beyond the hotels and restaurants that make up the front line, I found a scattered assortment of concrete, tin-roofed structures that make it easy to imagine what life might have been like before the boom of the tourist trade. It was not long before I found myself indulging in local cuisine and welcoming conversations with the ‘restaurant’ owners and other patrons. With the moon glistening on the calm seas I sauntered back to my bungalow and crawled under the mosquito nets to listen to the seaside serenade.
Incredibly the morning brought about an entirely new landscape, as if my dreams had transported me to a new realm or someone had simply let out the bath plug. The waters which had lapped my doorstep were now a distant oasis. This new desert-like landscape fashioned by the changing tides left me intrigued and I set out to explore this new land. Armed with a lime green lilo, a wide-brimmed hat, a good book and a fresh layer of sun cream I traipsed towards the horizon. This part of the island has an abundance of seaweed farms that I pass. The low tide offers local woman the chance to harvest their crops, which are ultimately shipped to Europe and Asia for use in cosmetic products. Floating on the water’s edge I gazed back to the speck of huts and ant-sized people going about their daily routines and was glad my afternoon involved nothing more than a relaxed ride as the surging tide steered my lime green lilo back to shore.
It is noticeable how valuable tourism is as many of the locals have taken it upon themselves to ensure any visitors are well looked after. “Captain Fruits” announced himself as the man who could source any fresh fruit or bread. He introduces me to the many different tastes on the island. My favourite was a Jack fruit; a sticky and segmented fruit which has a mango or lychee flavour to it. However, it would be “Mosquito” who would be my inside lane to local knowledge. I was relieved that my initial skepticism of a man named after the world’s most annoying insect was proven unjustified, as he won over our loyalty and friendship by guiding us to the cheapest beer in the area and then to his house in the village to share a coconut and octopus curry prepared by his family. Sitting on the floor around this aromatic meal I felt privileged to be immersed in the local culture and was beginning to appreciate the magic of the slow pace of life around the village.
Zanzibar is a renowned kite-surfing destination. Paje with its white sandy beaches and crystal waters lies just around the corner and is a hive of activity when the wind blows. Kite shops offer lessons for beginners or rental equipment for those who, like me, opted not to lug their kit along from South Africa. Whilst the people of Paje are used to many kites flying around their beaches, I realised this was still a novelty in Jambiani as children of all ages flocked to the seashore to touch, feel and see this outlandish contraption they nicknamed “the pink flamingo”. As the village excitement began to calm I caught phrases like ‘jambo’ (hello), ‘hakuna matata’ (no worries), and ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly) from the local dialect of Swahili that all speak of the laid back style of life on the island and a real peace set in as the phases are chanted into my subconscious. Many of these phrases jog my memories to scenes from the Lion King, a movie I watched many moons ago. There is a unique peace and happiness that exists from the youngest of children; who play their own game of golf with a stick and bottle top, or plead for a ‘peniscule’ (pencil) to draw the humblest of pictures , to the oldest of elders who happily sit on the concrete stoeps and recount stories to whoever will listen.
Having not done much that required leaving the quaint village of Jambiani, I decided to catch a local ‘dala-dala’ ( less than comfortable local transport) to Stone Town to explore the oldest part of Zanzibar city. I spent the afternoon strolling the streets perfumed with locally produced spices and appreciating the history of a city rich in culture and architectural brilliance. As evening set in I stumbled upon Forodhani Gardens, an evening market with an incredible selection of local cuisine from Barracuda kebabs to freshly squeezed sugarcane and lime juice. Music and entertainment continued long into the night as locals and tourists alike united to enjoy the festivities.
Sadly I would miss what seems to be Jambiani’s nautical event of the year as dhow owners from the village take to the water to race their rice sack sail boats along the coastline on New Year’s Day. Mosquito took note of my disappointment and promptly invited me to join him on his own dhow. After a hearty fruit-basket breakfast I was taught the basics of how to handle a dhow on the open water and we set sail towards one of the island reefs. A quick snorkel uncovered the beauty of the coral life below, splashed with the colour of hundreds of species of tropical fish. The aquarium type feel evaporated when the dangers of jellyfish, urchins and eels passed by underneath. I decided to trade my snorkel and mask for a hand line and spent the rest of the day fishing and trading tales aboard the dhow.
As my time in Jambiani drew to a close I embraced the sleepy manner of this quintessential no-worries-no-rush island village and moseyed among the backstreets to say a slow farewell to all who had made my time there laidback, lekker and unforgettable.