Zanzibar

In an earlier post, I already hinted at how perfect my weekend trip to Zanzibar was. I still have trouble believing that weekend really happened and, to me, it still seems like it was a beautiful dream, too good to be true.

After spending a little over a month in Dar es Salaam, I was well used to life in Africa. I was used to how buildings looked, how food tasted and what people were like.

Or so I thought.

This all changed drastically when I disembarked from the boat that took me to Stone Town. It was like I was in a totally different country, if not continent. The buildings had an Oriental touch. The rundown facades mixed with the lush plants and gorgeous architecture immediately took my breath away. I could not tear my eyes from the buildings, the doors, the intricate details on fences – I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of Stone Town.

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However, there’s more. The majority of the population is Muslim so there’s an entirely different atmosphere to the island. While the coastal regions of Tanzania are also more muslim than the north, for example, there’s still a very large percentage of Christians. In Stone Town, as we were told, there are about 49 mosques and only two churches. Plus, if you keep your eyes open, you can find a Hindu temple every so often.
This mix of cultures, even though it’s still so very shaped by the Islamic culture, makes for a very unique atmosphere.

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And then there’s the food. Let’s not forget about the food. Sadly, I only stayed for two nights so the possibilities to check out and try more food were limited. However, I don’t think travelers will have any troubles finding something they enjoy. Due to the various influences and the rich history of the island, it’s vastly different from the “usual” African food.

All in all, I cannot recommend a trip to Zanzibar enough. Maybe it was because I only spent such a short time filled with so many brilliant memories. Maybe it’s because I’m absolutely obsessed with interesting architecture, history, and food. Maybe it’s because I find only little more fascinating than the mix of different cultures. Maybe all of this together, but in the end, I don’t think it matters much. I had a gorgeous time I will never, ever forget.

Thank you, Isabel, for joining me on this trip and thank you, GK, for taking us. It was an incredible experience.

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Tips for when you go to Zanzibar

  • Take your passport.

Kind of a no-brainer, I suppose, but super important none the less as Zanzibar does have an immigration desk where you even have to fill out a form. Yes, it’s been part of Tanzania since the 60s but they still have a lot of autonomy. I’ve heard stories about people having trouble getting to Zanzibar due to what kind of visa they had. If you have an ordinary tourist visa and are there for touristic purposes you should have no problems, but still make sure that your visa is in order.

  • Take a reliable ferry.

If you’re going to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam, for example, there’s the Asam Fast Ferry. It’s a bit on the pricier side (for African standards at least) but it’s quite fast and safe. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell you to not take a dhow. I guess it’s pretty self-explanatory why going by one of the traditional sailing boats is not a good idea. When you’re near the ferry/speed boat station, people will harass you to no end, offering you the cheapest ticket to go to Zanzibar. If you want to avoid this, do your research before going there so you know where to go and what to buy. This way you can walk with determination and people might back off and leave you alone.

  • Book tours and guides only from sources/offices that seem trustworthy.

There are a bunch of people on the street that offer to take you to a spice tour and whatever else. Please do your research and only book these things with companies that seem trustworthy. These don’t necessarily have to be the big companies, as I’m also all for supporting small agencies, but keep your eyes open and ask a lot of questions before booking to get a feeling of how trustworthy they are. Otherwise you’re just going to be disappointed.

  • Keep your eyes open.

You might feel safer in Zanzibar because there are more tourists. For me, every time I saw other people with similar skin colour I instantly felt a lot safer. Stupid, I know. I tended to let my guard down and, let me tell you, that is not the smartest thing to do.
Yes, there are more tourists in Zanzibar than, let’s say, in Dar es Salaam, but locals know this as well. Take care and keep an eye on your belongings. Don’t take unnecessary risks. In short: don’t let the feeling of familiarity lull you into a false sense of security.

On a slightly different note: take care when eating seafood. I had more than one person fall sick because they ate seafood that wasn’t good anymore. It’s tempting, yes, but have a good look at the place you want to get food from. I usually go by this rule that if you find a lot of locals in a restaurant, bar or food stand, then the food is great. This is, as you should know, my own personal opinion and not at all applicable to every situation.

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[Five things to do in Zanzibar. Posts about my time in Tanzania can be found here.]

Please note the general disclaimer of my travel stories:

All opinions and recommendations on this blog, but especially concerning these travel stories, are solely based upon my own experiences and in no way imply that anyone else will have a similar experience. All travelers are encouraged to use good sense and to keep their eyes open whenever venturing forth into a new place. Please use your common sense and listen to your own instincts.  Each traveling experience is unique to the person having it and I hope you have many!

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3 weeks

After living in Africa for 3 weeks I finally feel like I truly arrived here. Today I had to run some errands, sat in a meeting and realised that I finally feel comfortable here. Shouts of “YOU! Come here!” and “Mzungu!” don’t bother me much anymore. Masses of people fascinate, rather than scare me. I walk with determination, I know where to go, where and what to pay and how to tell them that I know they’re trying to rip me off, just because I’m white.
I can navigate Dar es Salaam quite easily now, quickly find the right Dalla Dalla to our house and after 3 weeks I finally learned the exchange rate between Tanzanian Schillings and Euros.

After two weeks I felt a bit burned out. So many new experiences, so much information to soak up. Now I kind of recovered. I’m ready to learn more, ready to ask more questions. What kind of status do albinos have in society? How do Maasai men view their women (and how many cows do they usually pay for them?)? When do Chinese people pick their English name? There’s so much to learn still, still so many questions to be asked and I’m not afraid to do it anymore.

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If only to see the stars

After a 14h journey in total (including an 11h bus drive with only one stop to buy food and go to the washroom) I finally made it back to my home away from home, the intern house in Dar es Salaam.

How do I best describe the past week? So much has happened, so many memories were made.

I will write separate posts about each stop we made and each location we visited, but for now let me just sum it up:

I slept in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti, surrounded by Hyenas and other wildlife animals. I watched the stars at night, in completely in awe of how close, how big and how many they were. I drove a land rover in the Serengeti. I slept in a tent, wrapped up in 10 layers of clothes and two sleeping bags at the rim of Ngorongoro Crater and later discovered that there was a Buffalo standing right next to us. I hiked 8km up to Kilimanjaro and then back down. I had super interesting conversations with local people and Maasai, soaking up every information I could get my hands on.

All the early mornings, the countless hours spent on buses or in cars, everything was worth it in the end.

Everyone should go to Africa at least once in his life, if only to see the stars.

Talking helps

I know I’m not always the most communicative person, especially when meeting new people or talking to people I don’t know that well – but how can you get to know them better? You talk to them. It also opens doors to new, unique experiences.

This morning we went to Downtown Dar es Salaam to go to the supermarket but made a quick stop at a church. We only meant to have a quick look inside, but got talking to a guy who offered to take us up to the tower.
Breathtaking. View.

While we ended up not being too happy with our guide for various reasons, it was a great opportunity and I’m so glad we let ourself being drawn into a conversation with him.

A similar story happened tonight. We went to get dinner at the small street restaurant we eat at almost every day. When we paid we complimented him on the chapatis and he proudly told us that he made them himself.
Then my friend boldly asked if he could teach us how to make them. Now we’re having an appointment with him tomorrow afternoon to learn how to make them.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

So much goodness.

A glimpse

Some things I’ve heard or said here:

“We’re leaving in 15 minutes. 15 minutes European time, not African time, that means we’re leaving in 11 minutes!”

We never left the house at all that evening.

“I’ve never seen someone eat toast with chopsticks, but it’s actually happening right now!”

The wonders of sharing a house with about 20 other interns from China.