The choice of Zanzibar was made thanks to my passport limitations again but oh I am not complaining. Owing to the reviews posted online , I reckoned Zanzibar to be a honeymooner’s paradise , which it sure is. I thus was a bit skeptical about how it would treat a solo traveler since it primarily was leaning towards a “touristy” side. I reasoned to myself the”extravagant” personal cottage as a dividend for the long travel (from Tblisi to Doha to Dar es salam to finally zanzibar) .
As there were no direct flights from Doha to Zanzibar then, I took a ferry from Dar es salam. As soon as I stepped out of the airport there were a slew of taxi drivers who like all other taxi drivers in the world would ably differentiate between a novice traveler to an adept one . I most certainly was the former. To my surprise there were agents asking arriving passengers if they would be going to Zanzibar and then leading them to the airline ticket counter ! What particularly caught my attention was the commendable marketing skills of one of the agents who influenced me to almost buy a ticket !
Nevertheless , I hailed a cab as I had already booked my ferry tickets and followed the guidance of past travellers. (The tip to escape from being ripped off is offering to pay the fare in Tanzanian Shillings instead of USD / EUR.)
The ride from DAR airport to the ferry terminal takes around 35-40 minutes depending upon the rush hour. As I reached the ferry station there was the familiar slew of taxi drivers again , waiting for novices. There are regular ferries plying to Zanzibar from 7 am to 4pm everyday. It takes 2 hours to reach the exotic island. As I was battered from my jet setting ways I slept for most part of the journey. Although I was woken up intermittently by the bounce of ferry on rough waters. Being a non swimmer the roller coaster ride made me look for the life jackets in panic . I was relieved to see them plastered on the roof by a net and fell into my slumber again. I was woken up by the happy cries (read noise) of excited travellers and cheerful locals as we had touched base ! My tiredness and annoyance was immediately washed ashore , pun unintended, as I set my sight on the beautiful blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
I was welcomed by the smooth breeze and sunny skies of Zanzibar. I could n’t wait to reach my this time hotel room and wash away my commute woes with a Long Island (I am on vacation !) I was greeted by the driver from Waikiki Resort with the broadest smile ever. The journey from Zanzibar ferry station to small village of Pwani Machgani took me almost an hour .The roads were flanked by tall palm trees instantly reminding me of Goa. It was incredible to see the skies changing moods that rapidly. We could see grey skies loom at large indicating an impending shower however after the 10 minute downpour , skies would turn back to blue !
Apart from the fickle weather , the journey was peppered with the regular curious questions regarding a solo female traveler and the driver sharing with me anecdotes of the local culture and superstitions (strange choice of subject , if you ask me ) . As I was slowly turning into a seasoned solo traveler , these questions had started making me less uncomfortable .
As we reached the Resort I discovered that it did overlook the vast blue ocean and I suddenly felt energetic again !
I was surprised to find out that the hotel at that moment had only 3 guests . During dinner ,I ran into the most romantic couple I had ever met Mark and Bianca and we three quickly formed a squad. The duration in which we got comfortable enough to share our personal lives and thoughts was almost unreal . They described their incredible volunteering experience in Kenya. Blame it on the balmy winds, perfect ambience , absence of alternate company , alcohol or plain like mindedness. I went to bed only to be woken up by a power cut in the middle of the night with ocean waves thrashing on the shore not very far away . I clambered out of my cottage in the pitch dark but soon decided to retreat and try falling back to sleep. It was quite a night !
The next day , I made way to the famous Prison island. As the name suggests Prison island was a quarantine zone for slaves back in the days . It’s recent and pleasant identity is the home of giant tortoises .The journey from Zanzibar to Prison island was on a motor boat with only me as the passenger .
It unfortunately lasted for only 15-20 mins.I enjoyed the vast expanse of green water as much as the slight wavy bumps on the way. Prison island is a major to do trip if you are in Zanzibar. Needless to say it is super touristy . There are snorkelling activities which could be combined with the tortoise tour and sum up as a great half day activity. I was in awe of the enormous sizes of the tortoises and their long lifespan. ( I saw one which was more than 100 years old ! ) The blue numbers written on their shells indicate the age.
You might also witness and hear tortoises procreating in the swamp. Apart from the giant tortoises you can also have a look at the colourfully painted jails making it hard to believe that the same imprisoned slaves years ago. The view of the ocean is incredible.
I was accompanied by my boat driver , a genuinely friendly bearded guy who walked me through the tortoise enclosure and was kind enough to click some pictures with a smile.
The second and another to do trip is to Stone Town . Stone Town is rightly conferred the title of UNESCO world heritage sight . It was the erstwhile coastal trading town in East Africa and constitutes of marvellous buildings , some of which have now been turned into beautiful hotels. The Stone Town depicts a startling fusion of Indian ,Arab , European and African elements . It is brimming with tourists and locals alike. It is home to various museums and the famous Old Fort .
My future days in Zanzibar comprised of having my first swimming lesson in the Indian Ocean ,where Mark would try to comfort me and encourage me to “relax” in the ocean by drawing an analogy between the ocean and a mother’s womb . I can almost hear the sounds of the ocean in my ears as I write this .From being a complete non swimmer to floating for the first time in the ocean was definitely a high point of my trip .
Do’s and Don’ts – Exercise common sense . Do not flash expensive jewellery or watches . A yellow fever certificate prior to landing in Tanzania is recommended or you might end up bribing the officials at the airport. Comfortable and closed shoes are a better choice for Prison Island.
Zanzibar is a paradise for all. Go to Tanzania to experience this jewel.
PS Mark , Bianca and me are still going strong 🙂 I met them a number of times over the years thanks to this trip .