Generally speaking, the food in Zanzibar sucks eggs. Considering the island is historically famed for spices and is now completely overrun with Italian all-inclusive resorts, there’s just no excuse. Stonetown has a couple decent places. We were tipped off to a good Chinese restaurant (Pagoda) and a great gelateria and pizza shop (Amore Mio). Good stuff – ate a lot of gelato here. But that’s two restuarants and it doesn’t matter because we’re staying over an hour away. The rest of the island seems to offer very few truly local restaurants and the hotel / resort establishments offer sub-mediocre fare.
But thinking ahead, we picked our hotel by stomach. Our bungalow complex is an Italian family run joint (Rosa dei Venti) and Francesco can cook. Dinner orders have to be in by lunchtime so he can pick everything up fresh daily. Did I mention neighboring Nungwi is a fishing village and we’ll see locals walking down the beach with 10-20 pound tuna?
Seafood, the saving grace of Zanzibari cuisine. The fish is good. The lobster yummy. The calamari is great, but the crab takes the cake. We have spent the last two weeks almost literally surviving on calamari and local mangrove crab. The crab claws are as big as Mary’s head. Really. I’m afraid to get back in the water. Francesco serves up a killer grilled crab plate and the chinese restaurant cooks them in a ginger/onion sauce to die for. I have eaten more crab in the last two weeks than in my entire life. Seriously.
Forget the white sand beaches lapped by warm waters and cooled by soft breezes. Nevermind the culture or fresh fruit. Ignore the diving. Come to Zanzibar for the crab.
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(not quite paradise with this kinda scene going on, eh?)
After two months on the happy bus and two weeks of fast paced safari driving in Kenya and Tanzania, it was time for a break. We’ve been settled in the remote beach town of Kendwa on the northwest coast of Zanzibar for the past couple weeks.Well, we found isolation. It takes us half an hour walking on a rocky dirt track to get to a bus stop to wait for a daladala (bus) that’ll take over an hour to get to the islands only real town (Stonetown) depending on how many cops the driver needs to bribe. But the powdery white sand beaches and relaxed atmosphere make up for any minor inconveniences. Best of all, there’s not much to do. Lots of sleeping or reading on the beach. A bit of scuba diving. Walking down the beach to the nearby village of Nungwi for skewers and fresh fruit. That’s a fine point missed in the travel literature: Kendwa is not so much a village as it is just 6 shacks on that rocky dirt track half an hour from the main road with absolutely no services. Have to walk to Nungwi for anything your hotel can’t provide. Of course, the beach path to Nungwi is covered in a foot of water crashing against the rocks around high tide.That’s ok because the beach moves around during the day. Zanzibar is a shallow island that very slowly rolls off into the ocean. On our west side, low tide can move the ocean out 20-100 feet. The east coast is much worse. We drove over for lunch one day and the water must have been a kilometer off the beach. Major bummer.Getting around the island is a bit crazy. It’s only 50 miles or so from top to bottom, but that’s a 2-3 hour drive in the rare rental car or maybe 4 or 5 hours if you tried to bus it. Driving the rental Isuzu 4×4 was a blast. Pavement is available for 25km out of Stonetown, but then it is pothole ridden dirt road and periodic unimproved rocky mess. Driving is a constant balance of hitting the potholes, pedestrians, bikers, cows, swerving cars, maniacal daladalas or chickens – or just driving off the road in disgust. Oddly, it’s actually not too bad as everyone except the potholes and cows seems to know how to get out of the way.But maneuvering the roads is necessary if you want to check out Stonetown, with it’s mix of old world Europe and Islam. It looks so cool in the brochures, but it’s so riddled with rundown buildings, masses of souvenir shops, tshirt salesmen and other annoyances that you’ve really got to work hard to see anything real. We’ll run into town for gelato and Chinese food, then head back to hide on the beach.We did get off our beach beds for a little diving. The visibility is low (15′-40′) but the reef life is good and makes diving worthwhile if you’re here, but you’d never come here just to dive. We played with a few turtles and saw some new fish species, but no big scary predators to keep Mary interested. Although we did run into absolutely the biggest puffer fish that we’ve ever seen. Must have been three feet, all covered in battle scars and with big buck teeth. I had the camera practically in it’s mouth and it didn’t budge. Just not afraid of anything. Tomorrow (1/20) we go to the nearby island of Pemba for some more diving. It sits in a deepwater channel and is surrounded by mangroves instead of beach. It’s supposed to be home to hammerheads, mantas and other biggies with teeth. Of course, by telling you that, I just jinxed our chances of seeing anything…
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One of the touristy side trips to do when going through the game parks is to visit a traditional Maasai village, called a boma. These are villages made of sticks, mud, dung, and hides with all the huts facing inward forming a protective circle. The Maasai take turns living there for 2yrs at a time to show tourists their culture while lighten their wallets. Our steadfast inclination was to avoid these genuine fake abodes, but in a moment of weakness mixed with mild curiosity and fear of missing out we held back our cynicism and found ourselves standing outside their thorny acacia lined fortification. A group of women and men came out to greet us chanting and parading as if we were coming back from a successful lion hunt we were told. Right, we just came from their hole of an outhouse. I suppose that’s adventure in itself. We follow them inside where the women are standing in an open area to the left and the men just opposite. Both groups take turns ceremoniously singing and jumping. Then the mzungus were invited to join in the exercise. Steve hops in and starts bouncing like a bean in a hot skillet, flashing a boyish grin on his face. I get my turn over as soon as possible. Then we are led into one of their chest height homes where our guide, the chief’s son, chats with us about their way of life, how to hunt a lion, and the many ways we could give him money. Yes, it was hokey but we were glad we did it because we learned interesting things about the Maasai that we wouldn’t otherwise have. For example Maasai warriors still hunt lions, their food staples are blood, milk, meat, and fat, and the women rebuild the homes every eight years.
And now the picture Mary didn’t want you to see
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We spent two weeks with my mom and brother John on safari in Kenya and Tanzania. We hit all the big parks, Ngorongoro, Maasai Mara, Serengeti and several of the lesser known ones. We saw all the big including lions, leopards, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, and a cheetah (from far far away). After a while the elephants, giraffes, hyenas, gazelles, impalas, jackals, baboons, wildebeest, and zebras got a little blasé. It’s amazing how close you can get to the animals. In fact we downright hunted them down in our 4x4s, going offroad to loom over lions that were trying to nap and leopards looking for a good tree to climb, at least until the rangers spot us then we had to hide. Yeah, you’re technically not supposed to harass the wildlife, but the drivers get bored and find ways to entertain themselves.
We got to stay in some cool safari camps where bats lived in our bathroom and rangers armed with bow and arrows escorted us back to our tent to protect us from curious predators. All good fun, but the animals we feared were the biting insects that feasted on us despite the DEET.
This was supposed to be dry season but all of East Africa had a late and extraordinarily heavy rainy season. The problem with rain is its affect on the otherwise crap dirt roads. Other than the typical spinning out and getting stuck in soggy mud so the Maasai had to push us off their farmland, we also waited 3hrs in a queue 30 cars long to be towed by a tractor across a road turned river where the water actually flowed into the cab when we crossed. That section of road was so notorious that government reps had flown out in helicopters to watch the full extent of carnage. Our night game drive at Serengeti stranded us in the exactly nowhere with nothing in site but the waning moon, lighted only by our headlamps in the pitch dark when our open top truck careened into a mud ditch after 11pm. At Ngorongoro we drove into mud that tilted the car 30 degrees to the left, stopping at the verge of tilting. Steve hopped out and pushed the left side of the LandCruiser up while our driver dared forward. We made it through but another after us actually fell over and had to abandon the vehicle. Good thing we carried a Steve with us.
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