After packing and a quick breakfast, Tina’s driver is waiting for us outside to take us to the national airport in Dar es Salaam for my short 20 minutes flight to the mystical island of Zanzibar, an ancient and historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide white sand beaches lined with hotels; I’ll be staying there later in the week,
Driving on the main road to the airport, you can’t help noticing the incredible amount of construction going on in Dar es Salaam, hundreds and hundreds of new buildings and skyscrapers all mixed in with the old decrepit small business and what appear like mud homes where people live in; all lining the unpaved streets bustling with thousands of street vendors and activity. The paradox between old and new Africa seems to burst trough the seams. Once we arrive to the airport we are attacked by third party travel agents that wait for the “unaware” to pounce and sell you tickets to wherever you are going (It’s always better to buy your air tickets on line through proper travel websites) . Tina and I fall immediately into the trap, but once we realized what was going on, Ms. Thing pulled out that Swiss Airlines badge, like a DEA agent in the movies, stormed through security, barged into Coastal Aviation office (the main local airline) and demanded NOT to be messed with!!! I just stood by quietly with a grin of proudness on my face until she was done and I had a super cheep ticket to Zanzibar in just under one hour…”Not that’s how it’s done in Switzerland…bitches!!!”.
Of course there had to be the “Out of Africa Cafe” at the airport
Simple but effective…good cappuccino and grilled ham and cheese sandwich
Not much traffic today
Tina is not coming with me today, in fact, she has to fly back to Zurich for work but will be rejoining me in 3 days in Stone Town. So after a short wait at the “Out of Africa” Café (Imagine that…), it’s time to board this really scary, small, beaten-up bucket they call a plane! It’s a 10 seater Cessna and pretty much the only choice for traveling inside Tanzania, so I better get ahold of myself and squeeze myself through the inhumanly narrow isle to reach my inhumanly small seat behind the pilot…at least if we go down, I’ll have the best view! When you finally reach cruising altitude the fear of flying is replaced by the sheer beauty out the window of the Indian coast line, the turquoise waters and corral reefs…Just Amazing!!!
This is the flying bucket that will be taking me to Zanzibar
God help me…
Dar es Salaam’s coat and the deserted island I had lunch at yesterday
Corral reefs sufronding the island of Zanzibar
Before you know it we land in Zanzibar…Get me out of this plane already! Like all the other airports in Tanzania, this one too, is chaotic and no one quite knows what is gong on and where you are supposed to go, but eventually you work it out and reach the outside parking area where hundreds of drivers and Taxi men are fighting for you business. Through the mob I see a smiley, bright eyed, thin young man wearing a Moroccan white crisp clean tunic, holding a gold framed sign with “Mr. Kass” on it…a sign of relieve takes over me as I wave away: “here, here…” just like Meryl did on “Out of Africa”.
And here we are!
Where is mine???
When I was looking into which hotel to stay in Stone Town, I was reluctant to consider the newly finished and only proper 5 star hotel in the island: The Park Hyatt (www.zanzibar.park.hyatt.com). I usually try to pick local brads or independent hotels; I always feel you get a much better feel for the local culture and experience as you would by staying in the big, foreign chain. But the whole story I read about Park Hyatt buying a beachfront, 17th century mansion on the Indian ocean and restoring it to it’s formal glory in such great taste…I couldn’t resist! I picked The Park Hyatt and I’m on my way and I’m not apologetic…BTW, it’s always good to mix it up a little when you’re visiting 3rd world countries: doesn’t hurt to throw in a few “5 stars” moments in the mix, now and then. My love affair with the Park Hyatt Zanzibar starts at the entrance of the hotel…I just know! The architecture, the design and attention that went into re-storing this building is obvious the moment you arrive; beyond chic and so respectful of the integrity of the original building and it’s environment…well done! I spend the late afternoon exploring the many areas of this oceanfront stunner and even more time enjoying my brand new, super comfortable, colonial, four-post bed and all the many state of-the-art amenities this hotel offers. The temperature is stifling and probably 100% humidity, so I rather hang out in the infinity pool for the rest of the day and wait till sundown before venturing out in the small town.
The stunning 17th century building that is the new Park Hyatt Hotel
The elegant Arabic entrance of the Hyatt Hotel Zanzibar
My Ali Baba suite…so thrilled!
Now this is a bathroom
I’ll be sending lots of time here
View from my room
The hotel’s Bar
The amazing infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean
The Tanzanian classic fishing boat on the horizon
Sunset from my bedroom
The town of Stone Town is a very complicated grid of winding narrow streets, filled with shops, art galleries, hotels, cafés, minarets, stunning carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. It’s impossible to find your way in this maze but you can only end up in two places if you get lost…and you will: the ocean or the Daranjani Market square; from where you can find your way home. Tonight I’m going to have a quick walk around at the Forodhani Gardens, the town’s main square, in front of the Old Fort, where all the locals congregate after work to eat and hang out and where all the food vendors cook up a myriad of local delights, mostly from the ocean, that they sell in the dark square lit by hundreds of gas lights.
One of the many roof-top Cafés in Stone Town
Local children huddled around a few TV playing video games
Street vendors in the Gardens of Forodhani
The amazing food displays in the main square
The Floating Restaurant
One of the many Restaurants in Stone Town
There is something so magical about hanging out in this square on the Oceanside; the energy, the smells, the people, the colors, and the foods…it’s so intoxicating! There are hundreds of scrawny little cats everywhere; I wonder how many end up on the dining table. There are so many interesting looking foods displayed on portable tables, some of which I have never seen and no shortage of sales people calling you out to try their delights; I usually don’t have any problems eating food from street vendors in any country I visit, in fact, I love doing that…that’s how you really get to experience the local fare!!!! But tonight I decide to treat myself to a delicious dinner in my hotel, in that beautiful terrace overlooking the water, with a good glass of wine, proper china and white linens. Tomorrow I will properly explore the locals’ foods and customs…. I promise!
My King fish with Curry dinner is amazing and after a few glasses of South African wine by myself, it’s time for some of that amazing bathtub action before curling up in my 4-poster-bed for a movies and much needed rest.
“Kwaheri” everyone…or good night
Great end to a perfect day!