Heading to Zanzibar
Arusha airport is probably typical of third-world smallish airports. Everything was open-air, You could walk pretty much wherever you wanted, and the facilities seemed to be patchworked together from bits and pieces from here and there. We checked in, and were charged extra with a badly-calibrated scale for our checked luggage. No conveyor belts here!!
Appropriately named plane
Our Precision Air ATR-42 came in on schedule, though, and soon I was back in the [now-strange] world of modern technology. As we climbed into the sky, I strained to get a view of Kilimanjaro to the north, but the midday clouds (typical) obscured everything.
The coast of Zanzibar
One hour later the plane descended towards Zanzibar; Looking down, I could see blue-green coral reefs and long stretches of beach. As we neared landing, I could see huge forests of tropical trees (coconut trees, I think). We were about to enter another interesting world. I stepped out into the humid tropical heat.
an island (actually, a group of islands) off of the coast of Tanzania,
in the Indian Ocean . The island is part of the country of Tanzania.
In fact, the name Tanzania is
a combination of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, a result of the
union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania.
It is tropical, with many beaches and coral reefs. Zanzibar has a rich
history as an ancient trading center of the Indian Ocean , and, as
a result, there is a rich mixture of cultures. Zanzibar is also well-known
for its spice farms, and was, at one time, the world's largest producer
Video: Travelling to Zanzibar
A short clip of our journey from Arusha to Zanzibar.
(Click on the black square to the right to start playing the movie)
I had been mulling over what spot to stay at in Zanzibar, and in the back of my mind I was drawn back to a recommendation I received on my "pre-Kili" web presentation. A Kili-climber from Montreal recommended a small beach villa called Imani, located north of the main town of Stone Town .
Location of Imani Beach Villa
I called the villa from the airport and was transferred to a guy speaking perfect English. In fact, he sounded American. Anyway, turns out he had enough space for all of us in a separate building from the main hotel that he called "the Annex". Cost was a (I thought) reasonable $35US per person per night, including breakfast. We were given directions and told to ask for Bruce.
We got a 7-person Toyota Minibus (what else?) taxi to take us from the airport to the Imani Beach Villa. The ride was quite interesting. We were again in an exotic place in an exotic country, and it was similar yet different than what we have seen so far on this trip. There was a slightly smoky air to the place, and different and interesting scents. The streets of the city were somewhat shabby, but also had a strangely nice feel to them. Everything was very shady - there were lots of trees. There was an Arabic or middle eastern feel to this place, also. Many people were wearing Arabic-style dress (Zanzibar 's population is a split between different cultures and religions, but there are more Muslims than any other group).
Main entrance, Imani Beach Villa.
The taxi drove us 10km north of the city centre, and then turned down a very undeveloped and bumpy alleyway between very rundown buildings. This was the way to a pleasant beach villa? As it turned out, yes. The alleyway continued for perhaps 500 metres before ending right on the beach and next to a palm tree-surrounded house (or so it looked like a house). A small square of beach chairs and thatched sunshades stood next to the beach. This was the Imani Beach Villa.
right there when we pulled up. He was definitely American, and very
congenial. He welcomed all of us and gave us the details on how to
get to "the Annex". All you had to do, he said, was walk about ½ km
up the beach, then enter a black and white metal door set into a black
and white metal fence. This 'annex' was pretty separate from the main
Heading to the Annex
Bruce arranged for our taxi driver to go back up to the road and around and down a separate alleyway with our bags. Some of us then chose to walk up the beach to the villa. Simply wonderful. It was a beautiful evening - sunny, over 30C, and the sand was clean and warm. The walk up the beach was such a contrast with the snow and harsh terrain of Kilimanjaro, with the endless plains of the Serengeti, and with the crowded streets of the towns we had been through. Tropical trees bent over us, ancient-looking fishing boats were anchored out in the crystal blue-green waters, and local boys played on the beach and in the water.
After walking for about 10 minutes, we arrived at a black-and-white solid steel fence, beside the crumbling ruins of a bygone sultan's palace. There was indeed a small door inlaid into this fence, and it was open. Inside was a delightful little tropical garden and a low, whitewashed, shaded building. Very Mediterranean!
Old Sultan's Palace
Imani Beach Villa 'Annex'
Imani Beach Villa 'annex'
This was the Annex, and it was indeed more of a house than a formal hotel. In fact, Bruce had come along and was explaining to us that he had recently bought it and that in fact it was a house (turns out that Bruce is the owner of the Imani Beach Villa!).
The Annex had a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, all in the normal layout. The dining room had some Hand-painted "Zanzibar" artwork on the walls. In the kitchen, a stocked fridge contained pop, beer, and water for the guests, along with a whiteboard for guests to record what they consumed (for later payment). All in all, this was turning out to be a very non-hotel type of hotel. In a word (or two), very easygoing. Bruce had arrived and was showing us around. There was no official check-in; in fact, even at the main hotel, there was no real front desk. Bruce's attitude was basically of the hey-pay-me-later-when-you-come-by mindset.
Living room of the 'annex'
Local fisherboats outside the 'annex'
Video: The Imani Beach Villa
A short video of the Imani Beach Villa and its wonderful Indian Ocean beachside setting.
(Click on the black square to the right to start playing the movie)
I had a quick swim in the very pleasant warm waters of the Indian Ocean before the sun set, and then we all set out along the beach, back to the main building of the beach villa, to have dinner. A wonderful and quaint spot, the main villa was. The main parlor of the villa looked like something out of an African adventure movie set, richly decorated and furnished but with lots of African cultural references. The restaurant was basically a hardwood platform covered by a sloping roof, low tables with cushions, and no walls. That, more than anything, underscored how consistently pleasant the climate must be in Zanzibar.
Beach villa had an Italian twist to it (more than just the name) - Apparently,
Bruce had taken it over from original owners who were Italian, and,
if my memory serves, co-operated (or was it co-owned) it still with
an Italian cook. I think, too, that Zanzibar must be a vacation destination
for Italians, because I was to see other subtle but noticeable signs
of Italian influence on Zanzibar. Molto interessante!
Waiting for dinner
I quickly sent out another dispatch on Bruce's internet connection before sitting (cross-legged) down to eat. Dinner was excellent, but service time was agonizingly slow. As it turns out, this is not really specific to the Imani Beach Villa's restaurant, but seemingly, in all restaurants on Zanzibar and in Tanzania and Kenya in general. I ordered a Swordfish dish with pasta (the restaurant's cuisine was Italian). Apparently, the fish that came served with my meal had been caught personally by Bruce earlier in the day in the nearby Ocean. The whole restaurant experience had a slightly surrealistic California-Africa fusion quality to it.
Moonset over Indian Ocean
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