Having both travelled extensively around the world, it surprised me that neither myself nor my Dutch girlfriend had ever been to Africa. One call to Pure Zanzibar later and we were set for a luxury holiday, at a price which was lower than you would expect, if the hotels descriptions were to be believed.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and slight trepidation that we boarded the plane on our journey into unchartered territory. After landing at Dar El Salaam, we transferred to the small plane that would hop us on to Zanzibar. With just a soft holdall each and the very basic domestic air terminal (and ‘bus stop’ would give a better description than the rather grand use of the word terminal) where they wrote out our Passport numbers by hand, it became very clear that we were leaving behind a lot of the ridiculous gadgetry clutter and self importance of the world that we usually inhabited and heading for somewhere simpler and friendlier.
In Zanzibar our transfer was seamless, in fact the only hold ups on the entire trip were the M25 and Heathrow in equal measure... so much for ‘progress’...
Furthermore everyone we met was eager to help and smiling, even when they didn’t need to be.
Stonetown was a fascinating haphazard maze of old houses and shops and schools and small businesses – in fact it was often difficult to tell the difference. Every tourist gets lost in the unnamed unsigned streets but any local will happily point you in the right direction or walk with you and chatter away. We felt safe and relaxed. Yes a few budding entrepreneurs did try to sell us stuff but at no point was anybody too pushy. We walked to the sea front on our own at night, and in the day drank crushed sugar cane under the giant Banyan tree chatting to locals who stopped by. Our hotel was right in the heart of Stonetown and there could be no better way to soak up the atmosphere. I think day trippers might feel uneasy about suddenly being confronted by the rabbit warren like streets – but they need not worry, maybe you need to be there for a bit longer to realise how friendly and vibrant the area is.
We moved onto the Baraza Resort for a blissful and tranquil week on the beach. The calm that we felt as we walked into the reception area, the smiles and welcome of Jemima our villa hostess, the views of the ocean, the gentle breeze... I am sure these images will stay with us forever. The ocean front villa was not only pure luxury, but beautifully designed with day beds for reading and relaxing and plunge pool to cool down. Within a few paces we were on the white sandy beach and every afternoon when the tide came in we swam in the sea, which was like stepping into a warm bath! In the mornings when the tide went out we watched the fishermen casting their nets in the shallows. They would feed their families with their catch and bring back the empty shells to sell. They were also always happy to talk about their lives and their work. In the evenings we would eat expertly prepared unhurried meals in the cool and comfortable restaurant, or out under the stars, always with attentive and smiley service. All of the waiting staff well trained and perfectly polite – but no sense of stuffiness that can make you feel uncomfortable. This is the sort of relaxing that we didn’t want to end.
I mentioned earlier that we had travelled extensively, so it was very interesting to compare our Zanzibar experience. Obviously when you stay in Luxury Resorts and hotels the staff are usually very nice. Of course they are. But what we found in Zanzibar, and Jemima was a perfect example, were staff who loved their job and loved where they lived. It is often arrogantly assumed in the UK that people from less wealthy countries would all like to flock to our shores for our better way of life. This was the opposite of what we found in Zanzibar. People seemed genuinely content with their lot, proud of the islands friendliness and often went over and above what they needed to provide in the way of service. I’m sure lots of holiday resorts will claim this... but here it is actually true. And it makes all the difference.
We got engaged whilst on Zanzibar – it was that romantic and relaxed. I couldn’t think of a nicer place to have this memory.
Many thanks to Tarquin and Susie and the staff at Pure Zanzibar for making this happen. And the most often repeated quote that I read in the Baraza Guestbook I will repeat here, ‘We will be back. Thank you.’
Jerry & Marjolein