Robert Kass with the gorgeous Angelica Bridges, circa 1995.
Good morning Africa!!! It’s time to pack again; my friend Tina is coming back from Switzerland and meeting me at my hotel for lunch, after which we will drive to the north side of Zanzibar at a beach named Kendwa Beach, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world…they say. I’m going to miss this hotel; one last breakfast on the terrace and I’ll start packing. By now the whole staff of the hotel knows me by first name and I don’t even have to ask for anything…it’s already on its way! I will say once again how impresses I am with the friendliness and cheerfulness of the people of Tanzania. On-time as a Swiss Coo coo clock, Tina arrives at noon at the Park Hyatt, and after a quick visit around the property and lunch, a few Uuhh’s and ahhhhh’s and a few “Jambo” jokes, we jump into the waiting van with driver that Tina has arranged for us to get to our destination. It’s a 2-hour drive through a very congested and chaotic city, then through the colorful and chaotic suburbs, into the jungle and finally…PARADISE!!!! The moment you arrive at the hotel and look toward the beach, you are blinded by the colors in the horizon: the bluest waters I have ever seen and the whites sands I have ever seen. It’s hard to focus on the check-in process, all I can think is getting down to the water.
The pristine, white sand beaches
We were supposed to stay at this fabulous, brand new, super chic, 5 star resort that I arranged months ago from the US, but just a few days ago, I got an email form the Toko Toko Resort informing me that regrettably, the hotel burned down the night before and that all reservations, pre-paid I will add, are now cancelled…I will say this is a first for me! So now I’m in Tanzania, 2 days away from going to my fab resort and the damn thing just burned to the ground…that’s 3rd world for you! I call Tina in a panic, letting her know that we will end up sleeping on a beach in a tent and will be eaten by crawly critters if I don’t find a quick solution to our new problem. Burt no worries, Tina makes a few phone calls to her friends and before you know it, we are all set to stay in another resort named Kendwa Rocks…phew!!!
Since I didn’t arrange this place and didn’t have a chance to investigate it, as I always do with all hotels I stay in before choosing them; I’m a little concerned…but what the hell, can’t be that bad! The moment we arrive at the gates of this resort, I know we have a problem; it took just a few short minutes to realize that the hotel that Tina’s friend organized for us is, by far, the most horrific, hippy infested, filthy, pot smoking, drunken college kids infested, mosquito infested, unsanitary collection of decrepit wood shacks they call “Bungalows”, that I have ever set foot in. I looked at Tina and simply said: “Are you kidding me????? I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than stay in this dump”. We lasted a few hours, just enough time to get on my computer (Thank God for WIFI) and find a 5 star resort just next door to the “Crack House” with 1 room left at $400 a night…”I’ll take it!!!!”
Our beach resort from the ocean
Tina found her Cabana and isn’t moving.
Our amazing beach
More beach shoots
So before you know it, we are checking in, once again, at Gold Zanzibar Beach House & Spa; literally a spit away from where we were. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this place a “Real” 5 star hotel, in fact, it’s one of those “all inclusive”, high-end resorts that I avoid like the plague; but next to where we just escaped from, this is a 10 star in my book! It’s also full of Italians, which is always a good sign (they know their shit when it comes to travel). I’m dying to get my ass on that beach and into that water; after dropping off our luggage in our Alibaba-ish beachfront room, I am running to the water “á la” Bo Dereck, “sans” the “10” body or decorative beads. The pristine white sand is blinding to the eye from the reflection of the sun, but feels so soft and cool to the touch. The jaw dropping moment is reaching the intense aquamarine color, velvety water that changes color with the sun and the surreal purple sky; it’s like being on the set of a Sci-fi movie. The color and texture combination is just out if this world, not to mention, a welcome alternative to the sweltering heat and humidity.
Meet my new little friend…
Arabesque detail from the Beach Bar
After a good 2 hour session in the ocean it’s time for some sun action! On the way back to my chaise lounge, I run into 2 very young Maasai warriors patrolling the beach, with their beautiful red robes, super cool “Faux” Ray Ban’s and of course…the stick. This tribe is truly remarkable, such amazing history and tradition; not to mention, they can kill a lion with their bare hands…That is more than enough for me to be impressed!
Dusk at Kendwa Beach
Taking it all in
Sunset on Kendwa Beach
Palapa detail at our resort
The beautiful “Palapa” dining room at Gold Resort
Kendwa Rocks Hotel beach Bar
Another Bar on the beach
Not bad for this remote area: Papaya Martini
Arriving at Langilangi Beach Restaurant
The charming interior of Langilangi
View of the beach and ocean from our table
An street market open at 11pm, with a 5 year old boy angrily pointing his finger at me and telling me not to photograph him.
Back to our Gold Resort
My super kitch Alibaba tented bed
Well protected from the local venomous, flying critters.
And that amazing beach again…
Tina and myself ready for our foot massage.
No filter…just paradise!
My last moments in paradise
The rest of my time in Kendwa Beach is really all the same kind of bliss: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed. Repeat: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed! The real beauty of this place cannot be described, it can only be experienced; it’s off the beaten path and perhaps lacks some of the western necessities that some travelers might expect; for me, however, it is heaven; it’s beautiful in every way, it’s peaceful and it’s surprising. I’m so far from my comfort zone and yet so comfortable in such a deep level; I feel so connected to nature when I’m here and so free. I know this all sound a bit wacky and self-indulgent, but if you ever get the chance to visit this country, you will know what I mean. They have so little and yet they seem so richer than most people back home…food for thoughts! I am humbled by this experience and I leave a better person. This, my friends, is the reason I travel!!!
I’ll be leaving for Switzerland in a few days and then back to LA to start working on hotel #2. I will re-connect with you then! In the meantime, I send you all positive energy from “Mother Africa”.
“Assante” Africa…I will be back!
It’s really hard to get out of my very comfortable bed today, but I must! It’s going to be a long day of discovery, adventure, incredible heat and humidity and tasting of new foods with the hopes I will not get food poisoning. After a lovely breakfast on the terrace, I venture out the busy, narrow streets of Stone Town; they are lined with shops selling everything from tourist crap to bad African arts & craft, to colorful fine art and just abut anything else you can imagine. The merchants are quite aggressive and don’t shy away from calling you out loud to sell you their trinkets; One local kid looks at me and calls me out loudly: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”. Immediately I think he’s calling me Jumbo because of my “slightly” over weight condition; not even a few minutes after, another one addresses me as “Jumbo”. That continued throughout the day to the point where I became really annoyed at the “cheek” of these people to make fun of my weight so shamelessly…how rude!!!! It was only later that evening when I was telling my friend Tina the story that she burst out in hysterical laughter and informed me that “Jumbo” means “Hello” in Swahili. I never felt so stupid; I gave every one who called me “Jumbo” the dirtiest looks all day long when In fact, they were just being kind and welcoming…such a Meryl Streep moment in “Out of Africa”!!!
Arriving at the historic Emerson Spice Hotel
Entrance of the Emerson Spice Hotel
The amazing carved wood terraces
Walking around these narrow streets, you get a sense of claustrophobia after a while and you never really know where you are; but it doesn’t matter, there is so much to see: the amazing 18-19 century colonial architecture that still remains, though in much need of restoration; the well-known, finely decorated wooden doors, with rich carvings and bas-reliefs, sometimes with big brass studs of Indian tradition . Stone Town’s architecture has a number of distinctive features, as a result of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions mixing together. The name “Stone Town” comes from the ubiquitous use of coral stone as the main construction material; this stone gives the town a characteristic, reddish warm colour. Another Stone Town famous feature, is its rooftop lifestyle: cafés, restaurants and lounges are often on the top floor or the rooftop of their 4-5-6 story buildings, where you can escape the sweltering heat from below, while enjoying the breeze, the amazing views of the town’s roofs and the ocean. The Arabian, Persian, Indian style is evident in most of the interiors around here; you really feel like you’re on the set of “Alibaba” or that Rita Hayworth will pop out any minute now, wrapped in silk, ready to enchant you with her “Seven veils dance”.
Zanzibar’s famous carved wood doors
“I beg to differ…”
After what seems like hours walking around in circles, I stumble into the Coffee House Café, which I read about on the Internet; apparently it’s the most famous Café in Zanzibar and a favorite of the international tourism, an immediate “red flag” for me! However, since I am there, I might as well check it out. As expected it’s full of tourist and besides the fabulous local ladies behind the counter with their classic African turbans on their heads, it’s not for me, so off I go searching for the town’s main market: Darajani Market. This is the heart of the town and it’s bustling with activity; there is no better place to get the pulse of the people and a view in their way of life and what they eat than a visit to their main market. Once there, it’s a violent stimulations of the senses and It’s not for the faint hearted, in fact, some areas of the market are really hard to be in because of the foul smell of some of their foods; but most of it is filled with spices, plenty of exotic fruits and a real delight to shop around. Being the “Gourmand” that I am, I can’t resist buying al sorts of local Curries, Masalas, hot chilies and the best Vanilla beans in the world…I hope they won’t take them at the US customs.
The famous Zanzibar Coffee House
Interior of The Coffee House
Interior of The Coffee House
Arriving at the Darajani Market
Dried octopus and other oddities (really smelly too)
The narrow passages at the market
Stone Town’s famous spices
One of the thousand beautiful displays at the market
By far my favorite photo of the month
I think I’m done with culture for the day, I got mud all over my feet from the muddy, unpaved streets and it appears I have some new friends following me…cats! Must be the smells of flesh I picked up while visiting the meat market. I’m feeling a little light-headed from the heat and I hate to say, but that infinity pool back at the Park Hyatt, is looking mighty fine now! I’m ready to go back to my comfort zone! On the way back I make a few mandatory stops at The “House of wonders”, formally the Sultan’s residence, built in 1883; It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity as well as the first building in East Africa to have an elevator…how about that? I also visit to the Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress that was built in the 17th century by the Omanis to protect the city from European invasions; the internal courtyard is now a cultural centre with shops, workshops, and a small arena where live dance and music shows are held daily.
It’s sad to see how many of their heritage monuments are literally falling apart due to the paralyzing poverty that plagues this continent. With regard to Tanzania, perhaps thing are looking up and maybe the near future will bring some much-needed help to provide a better life for its citizens and much needed funds to restore their beautiful monuments.
An old photo of the House of Wonders
A new photo of The House of Wonders
The building is sadly falling apart
House of Wonders
Another fabulous Colonial building typical of Zanzibar
The Old Fort of Stone Town
Kids playing football in from of my hotel at dusk
Once again, I will spend I quiet evening on my own at the hotel in preparation for tomorrow departure, with my friend Tina, to the other side of the island of Zanzibar, in an area called: Kendwa Beach, that apparently has the most amazing, pristine, white sand beaches in the world…I’ll be a judge of that!
Goodnight Possums: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”