Zanzibar, Tanzania

February 7, 2008 - Zanzibar, Tanzania

Our last week in Africa was spent on the island of Zanzibar in the archipelago by the same name off the Eastern coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is a slightly touristy destination known for beaches and resorts. Terry and I arrived in Zanzibar a couple hours after Dave and Namita and they were nice enough to do all the leg work on the accommodations. We stayed at the Asmini Palace, a really nice hotel amongst the decrepit and crumbling buildings of Stone Town, historical Zanzibar. That night was Dave's birthday and we had some beers on our hotel roof top. I love drinking beer on roof tops because it reminds me of all the roof top beer gardens in Japan during the summer months. Afterwards we ate dinner at Mercury's, a tribute restaurant to Freddy Mercury from Queen, who was apparently born in Tanzania. We had a table by the water and there was a nice breeze. Again the weather has been great. Mercury's is very popular with the tourists. It must be for the location because both the food and the service were not so great.

For our departure from Stone Town we had the "Faustin" experience. Faustin is a hotel booking agent that Dave and Namita found to book our first night. This guy was a character. We loved the way he spoke, slow, methodically, and somehow it reminded me of Morpheus from Matrix. When he made phone calls to hotels for us with his cell phone, he would speak in English, not Swahili. I assume so we could understand the conversation and knew that the dealings were on the up and up. Our favorite was when he was getting us a discount for staying 4 nights instead of two, he motioned downward with his hand and said in a deep voice, "can you make the price MOOORE LOOOWER?" It was great and Terry and I still laugh about it.

For the next five nights, Terry and I stayed at 3 high-end resorts on the North East coast, Neptune Pwani Beach Resort, Fairmont Beach Resort, and Ocean Paradise Resort. We had initially decided on a place on the North West coast, Sunset, a backpackers resort on the beach, but when we arrived, there was no water. A water main broke and was being fixed. I was sweaty and not feeling well and I really needed a shower. Unknown to me at the time, I was getting a stomach flu. The morning after eating at Mercury's I was not feeling well. To make matters worse I ate there again for lunch the next day! I know fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. So we call Faustin on his cell phone and asked him to come back for us. He had left us at the backpackers place about 15 minutes prior and so had to turn back to pick us up. Our Canadian friends Dave and Namita told us about a popular TV show called, "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here", where celebrities are put in non-celebrity situations, like camping for a week, until they can't take it anymore. The last one not to cry, "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here" wins. Something like that. We felt like that bailing on the backpackers place, but in one fell swoop we had gone from a "$" backpackers lodge to deciding on a "$$$$" resort.

[Terry: Like Mark said, Faustin was great! Mark was not feeling well and I could tell he really needed a good shower so when the backpacker's place didn't have water, I was ready to bail. I thought the resort should have mentioned the water problem before we decided on the room. But I did feel kind of bad since we were not just bailing on the place, but bailing on Dave and Namita as well. I really wanted to try one of the resorts I saw in the magazine. Faustin's first recommendation was more than an hour away so once we got in the car, we asked him to call nearby resorts for availability. The Neptune resort was one of them. I will be the first one to agree that money can't buy true happiness, but it sure buys a better ocean view sometimes! This resort is worth the money and even though Mark was sick, he was all smiles. I whispered to Mark so other people couldn't hear, totally jokingly of course, "Do you know what I love most about this place?... We belong here." That made us both laugh and felt a little like spoiled brats. But we don't act like that often.]

With my stomach flu brewing inside me, by the time I arrived at the resort, just like Tokoriki in Fiji, I was sick. Upset stomach, fever, and very weak. I didn't eat much that night even though our meals were included. They had a Maasai dance near the pool. But it didn't compared with our private dance at the Maasai Village resort previously. Flashing back to our private dance at the Maasai Village resort; there were only 6 of us at the Maasai Village that night, us and one other Italian couple who didn't stay for the dance. So it was a very personal performance. And we had seen the Maasai dance, and Dave and I even danced with the villagers, at the Maasai village we visited during our safari. Anyway, the next morning I nibbled on a few things, had a Sprite for lunch, and stayed in bed all day. I would be burning up one minute, and freezing the next. Terry took good care of me and that night was the first time I ate well. Dinner was on the beach. All the tables and chair were moved to the sand for dinner. I was still weak so I crashed early.  

The next day I felt like myself again. I ate a good breakfast and was ready to start enjoying the resort. Our room was a pool and ocean view with a beautiful balcony. We even had a security guard at the beach to keep non-guests and peddlers out of the resort. We started with a 3-hour couple massage. My favorite part was the hot stone massage. We returned later to use the facilities, dry and steam sauna, private spa pool, and jacuzzi. All the staff were amazingly friendly and very well trained. Because they were fully booked, we could only stay 3 nights. The staff helped us book 2 nights at the Fairmont Resort, transport, and even booked us an extra night back in Stone Town.

[Terry: On day two at Neptune Hotel, Mark was still sick all day. I checked email but only for 15 minutes since the resort was charging $8 per/hour. Mark was laughing at me since we are willing to spend so much money for a nice room but I get freaked out when it comes to high Internet service charges. Anyway, Mark's mom responded to my last email about how Mark only got sick that one time he ate the jerky and she was glad he wasn't sick since then. We had to chuckle. On day three, Mark was feeling much better so we splurged on a 3-hour couple massage. I looked over at Mark during the session and he looked like he was in heaven. He said it was the best massage he has ever had. First they soak and scrub your feet in a flower petaled water. Then we enjoyed a 90-minute massage, followed by a stone massage, and a 1-hour facial. Finally we soaked in an aromatic flower bath. All this in a place overlooking the ocean.]

We had a great time at Neptune and were sad to leave. The Fairmont was fairly close, about a 15-minute drive. And was almost twice as expensive as the Neptune. I mentioned this because based on the price Terry and I were psyched about staying there. Neptune was an incredibly beautiful resort and the Fairmont was an even more expensive place! "This is going to be great!" Unfortunately the only great thing about it was the great disappointment when we arrived. At Neptune our non-alcoholic drinks were included, at Fairmont they were not, and the drink prices were a bit inflated. At Neptune, lunch choices were reasonably priced, at Fairmont they were not, and the food was not any better. The room itself was nice but whereas at Neptune we had an ocean view, at Fairmont it was a garden view. And did I mention that the ocean was virtually unswimable due to being overrun with sea urchins? The hotel itself was not run very well. We never passed a single Neptune staff member that didn't great us with, "Jambo", ask us where we were from, or ask us if everything was ok. Whereas, at Fairmont, the staff never even made eye contact, except the bar/restaurant staff. The two pools were 1/2 the size of Neptune's. And this is the strangest... Housekeeping came to our room before dinner with a can of RAID and wanted to spray! She didn't speak English. She knocked on the door and when I opened it she said "Spray?". But after seeing my horrified expression, asked, "No spray?" Why would I want my room poisoned before going to bed? It was all very weird and we were paying almost twice what we did at Neptune. We never even got the turn down service we were suppose to. It was like a strange British comedy where the hotel manager had died the month prior and the staff was trying to cover it up and run the place on their own. Ok, in short, Neptune = very good, Fairmont = very bad!

So I went to reception and told them we were leaving the following day, only staying one night instead of two. Then I asked them to book us a room at the Ocean Paradise Resort for the following night and arrange transport. This time it was my turn to say, "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here!" Just as well, Terry wanted to see a few of the Zanzibar resorts anyway. We were not even asked why we wanted to cancel and get the following night's prepayment refunded. When we searched for hotels online we notice that Fairmont was a chain, apparently a Canadian chain. All the Fairmonts got great customer ratings except the Zanzibar Fairmont. With so many accommodation choices, I am happy to never give them a second chance. We spent the day reading, swimming, and we took a much needed nap. We met an interesting traveler, Angela about Terry's age. She is Canadian (Toronto) and doing one month in Africa as well. She is traveling alone and asked if she could join us for dinner. So the three of us had dinner and swapped a few travel stories. She is co-owns a TV production company (think that is right) and Terry actually used to watch one of her shows on the Home and Garden channel. The following morning we ate breakfast, packed up and checked out. It took then 30 minutes to check us out but we were credited the next night in the end. Even the resort taxi taking us to our next resort tried to rip us off. We paid about 10K TSh (Tanzanian Shillings) to get to Fairmont form Neptune. He wanted 40K to take us to Ocean Paradise which was on the same beach as Neptune. I told him I would give him 20K because I wasn't sure how much further it was and I know resort taxis are usually a bit more. He wanted 30K and I told him forget it I will call the taxi that dropped us off. Of course he agreed to 20K which was probably too much anyway. I made sure not to tip.

We made it to the Ocean Paradise Resort and checked in. As an experiment, I put down "Web Ad/Marketing" as my occupation on the guest registration form. Let me explain. Angela, the TV producer from the night before, naturally puts down "TV producer" as her occupation and she has been upgraded to suites at least twice this trip. And the last resort seemed to know her by name from a previous sister resort. So Terry and I joked about trying, "Journalist", "Hotel Reviewer", or something to that effect. In the end I guess I felt "Web Ad/Marketing" was less of a stretch given some of my future plans. Anyway we were surprised to find out we were upgraded to an ocean front room! Not sure if it was a coincidence or not but there is only one way to find out... Try again ;-)  We liked the Ocean Paradise as soon as we arrived. The staff were friendly. The room was a bit more rustic, but very original and we loved it. The room is round with 1/3 of the room windows looking out to the ocean.

The beaches on the North East side have low tides and high tides. During low tide, the village women come and cultivate a local variety of seaweed called "Mwani". They create a lattice from poles and string to wrap the young seaweed around. This allows they to create a garden that is not swept away during high and low tides. After 3 or 4 weeks the seaweed is removed and dried in the sun for 2 days. Then bagged and sold to someone in Stone Town for about 480 TSh per Kilo. That is about 41 US cents! I estimated that each garden produces about a Kilo and one women could probably work about 24 gardens. That is about US$10 per month. But they have no other work. The seaweed is sent to Europe and used somehow for cosmetics according to the local I talked to. The men sell paintings and wood crafts they either make themselves or they resell from other vendors. Once you leave the resort and step onto the beach, there seems to be a gift outlet right there. Like a mini village away from the main village. Except this one full of carvings, paintings, etc. I stepped out to take photos and the women asked for money for me to include them in my photos. Once I realized this was the game, I excluded them from my photos. But the I wanted to help out the guy who spent time answering my questions about the seaweed and so I bought some small carving from him.

So we enjoyed our last day of Zanzibar resorts swimming, walking on the beach, reading, and just relaxing. The next day we returned to Stone Town for two nights and stayed in the same hotel, the Asmini Palace. There we rejoined Dave and Namita. Our hotel is only a few minutes walk from what might be considered town center. But getting there is another story. Terry and I got lost coming and going. The tall stone buildings form a sort of labyrinth of narrow passages around the hotel. Fortunately we were able to follow the arrows on the paper signs taped to the walls reading, "Palace Internet Cafe", left, right, around the corner down small allies until we reached our hotel which was next door to the Internet Cafe. We parted with Dave and Namita. They continued on to India; we would return home via London. We also parted with our dilapidated
computer; we donated it to Dave and Namita hoping it would help them with their journal which we look forward to following. And sadly, we had to say our good-byes to Africa knowing we may never get the chance to return. From playing in the Dunes in Namibia, roughing it in the Okavango Delta and across Botswana, getting wet at Victoria Falls, walking with lions in Zimbabwe, our safari in Tanzania, to finally winding down in Zanzibar resorts, it has been a great 30 days in Africa.

Pictures

Our room at the Asmini Palace
Asmini Palace lobby
Stone Town at dusk
Children of Stone Town
 
 

4 Comments

Wendy:
February 8, 2008
Can't wait to see you both. Looks like another great trip! take care.
mom:
February 16, 2008
Welcome home.
Angela Jennings:
February 25, 2008
Yay, I finally have had the chance to check out your blog, it's great! I laughed out loud about your "experiment" and love that it worked at least once! Hope you're both well, it was terrific meeting you both in Zanzibar. I'm back in Toronto now and the rest of my trip through Africa was phenomenal, best trip of my life (so far!). Drop me a line and let me know how you both are when you get a chance.

cheers,
Angela
Mel & Jim:
February 27, 2008
Super pictures! Looked like you had a blast! Loved the animals & dunes. Are you getting married this summer? We'll let you know if we are coming out to Kauai.

Aloha,
The Susongs
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