Zanzibar: community gardens Africa-style

Jamibiani Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania

So the bumming around continued into a new country – Tanzania! Tamara and I flew into Zanzibar and immediately drove to the east coast of this tiny island off the coast of the mainland of Tanzania.  During the drive, we passed through spice plantations, which is what Zanzibar is known for, and so much lushy greenery along the very well paved road.  After an hour long drive, we passed through the tiny village of Jambiani and finally to our hotel on the beach.

Jambiani Beach is gorgeous and so quiet – there’s about 5 other guests staying here – so there’s hardly anyone on the beach except for the occasional tout like the scarf man who displayed his wares like Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune.  The tide is quite amazing here because during low tide, the water recedes about 500m out so the sea bed is exposed until the reef wall.  The receded tide undercovers this huge comunity garden of seaweed.  Local women from the village farm seaweed to sell to Asian countries (I’m talking about the seaweed wrapped around your sushi).  They each have these small plots demarked by wooden stumps in the sand bed and every morning, they pick bags of seaweed from rows of neatly planted crops.  Then they walk it back to shore on their heads.  It’s so shallow that you can walk at least 200m out, all while dodging the spiky sea urchins that line the crevasses of sand in the shallow pools of water.  With the low tide, the boats that were previously anchored in the water teeter with their bottoms stuck in the sand.  It’s incredible to see, like uncovering the underwater sea life without having to done a snorkeling/scuba diving mask.  The local men’s livelihood also depends heavily on the water.  Every morning, the men go fishing together in a small wooden boat.  By noon, they come back with huge kingfish – some at least 50cm long! For dinner, we ate that kingfish and it was so fresh and tasty!

We also took a little tour of Jamibiani Village.  It was amazing to see local women playing with their children in rain puddles and school children reciting verses in the multiple schools we passed by.  We decided to walk along the shore back to our hotel which probably wasn’t a good idea because along the way, the tide came in so we were stuck climbing over rocks while the waves splashed against us.  We’ve also made new friends, no not with other tourists, but with 2 local dogs who followed us around the entire time we were in Jamibani.  They were so loyal that even when we were in our room, they would sit outside waiting!

The next morning, we met up with Captain Zappy who owns an old wooden sail boat to go snorkeling.  We had to walk out to the boat, which is the one of the only times I didn’t mind walking, since it was so cool to essentially be walking on the sea floor through the paths carved in sand by nature.  Capt. Zappy’s boat is big enough to just fit 4 people but kept afloat, even as we ran over rocks on the way out to deeper waters.  Along the way, we saw patches of coral and rocks below the crystal clear aquamarine waters.  There were also fishermen who were spearfishing with just a snorkeling mask, flippers and a long spear.  We also saw sand banks at a distance and people walking along the reef wall.  Once we were in deeper waters, we grabbed our gear and jumped right in! I had forgotten how amazing underwater life is since my last snorkeling trip was in the Maldives over 2 months ago.  We saw lots of bright tropical fish as well as coral, sea anemones, sea urchins, sea fire (which apparently hurts when you touch it), red and white starfish and eels.  We swam around for around 2 hours and was exhausted by the time we got back into the wooden boat.  Back on land, our unfit selves immediately feel asleep on the beach under a hut.  The only thing that woke us up was the tropical storm raging around us (I guess that beats an alarm clock anyday).  It was cool to see the pouring rain, palm trees swaying and boats violently bobbing in the water (I’m surprised none of them capsized!).  After the storm passes, a local woman painted henna on my ankle using a palm tree leaf broken into a thin sliver and paint made from local Zanzibari spices.  It’s very detailed and beautiful – I can’t stop looking at my foot and vowed (to Tamara’s disgust) not to wash my foot. 😛

After a few days of bumming around on the beach, we decided that we needed to get some exercise (walking up a flight of stairs for breakfast had now become our daily exercise) so we moved onto Stone Town which is on the west side of Zanzibar Island.  Stone Town reminded me a lot like Lamu, only bigger, and with more tourists.  We decided to do something educational since our minds were turning into mush from doing nothing for days so we visited the Palace Museum to learn about the Omani Sultanate in Zanzibar.  We also visited the old slave markets and pens where they held slaves to be sold.  It was so sad to see the 2 underground pens where I could barely stand up let alone a grown man.  There were 3 sliver openings to the outside but because of this, the pens often flooded and many died down there.  Once slavery was abolished, they built a memorial above it and a Catholic church nearby.  We caught the end of the church service and it was amazing to hear gospel music sung in Swahili by women all dolled up in their Sunday best.  We walked along Stone Town and saw all the old architecture and Swahili houses.  We took a nice break from the heat in Forodhani Gardens and listened to Top 40 music blaring from a guy’s cell phone.  I’ve been traveling for so long that I have no idea what those youngsters call “hip” and “cool” anymore :P.  It started pouring so Tamara and I did what we do best, went shopping! We ducked into small shops that sold beautiful kangas (cloth that women wrap around themselves), delicate jewelery and leather sandals galore! For dinner, we decided to treat ourselves to all-you-can-eat thali! It was definitely a mistake as we waddled back home in the dark, barely able to breathe from being so full.  The next day, we walked around some more and for dinner, we visited the Forodhani Gardens again to pick up street food.  Every night, they set up stalls upon stalls of food.  The chefs all wear chef hats and there’s stalls for everything: BBQ seafood (lobster, calamari, oysters, fish, octopus), chicken and beef kebabs, fried cassava, samosas, sugar cane juice and something they called Zanzibari pizza.  I finally decided on tandoori calamari with tamarind sauce and roti.  It was so good that I totally forgot that it had been prepared on small wooden BBQ in the middle of a park.

The next day, we took a ferry ride from Zanzibar to the mainland – Dar Es Salaam.  Along the way, we saw small and big islands, small fishermen in wooden canoes trying to brave the huge waves and large sailboats.  We arrived in Dar (that’s what the locals call it) only to realize that everything was closed for Easter.  So we ended watching hours of cheesy English-dubbed Spanish and Filipino soap operas.  They were actually very good and definitely better than the obscure German music videos or low budget Tanzanian religious shows that were on the other channels.  The next day, we wandered the city trying to find something that was open and little to my surprise, the only stores that were open were on India Street (which is like a Little India).  We ate great BBQ chicken and fries at a local place called Chef’s Pride (to Tamara’s enjoyment, chicken and fries are like Tanzanian’s national food and can be found everywhere).  We also found a great safari company and planned our next safari in the Ngorongoro Crater!

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