Beach Hotel in Zanzibar

On his travels again, DonQui is doing some work in Zanzibar. This pleases him no end since he is more than a little bit fond of the place.

zan-1

And it is not hard to see why.

zan-2The historical and architectural attractions of Stone Town, wide sandy beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, spice plantations together with a mix of Arab, Indian, Tanzanian and English influences, make Zanzibar an intriguing and relaxing place to visit.

Apart from the few hustlers in Stone Town (who seem to grow in number every time DonQui visits) the locals are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming. The pace of life (apart from the chaotic traffic) is slow and laid back.

zan-3

DonQui is staying at the Z Ocean View hotel on the beach at Kihinani just beyond Bububu, about 10kms outside Stone Town. It is quiet, very quiet. Indeed there are only one or two other visitors despite the resort’s abundant capacity. Chatting to the manager, DonQui learns that the hotel gets most of its business from local conferences rather than international tourists.

zan 4.jpg

His room is spacious with a lovely view over the ocean. While comfortable (with fan, air-conditioning and decent hot water) it is not quite up to international standards for the $100 price-tag. A nice touch is the way the maids arrange a towel and flowers on the bed every time they make it. DonQui has encountered this at other places on Zanzibar before so he assumes it is some sort of tradition. The food in the open-air restaurant/bar is good but not outstanding. The staff are all very friendly and helpful.

zan 5.jpg

The Z Ocean View would not normally be DonQui’s first choice for solo-travel but it could well suit a couple who wanted to get away from everything to enjoy the wide sand beach by themselves. There is another Z Hotel at Nungwi further away on the north shore where DonQui stayed with Duchess quite a long time ago. The Nungwi version is much more of an up-market boutique hotel catering to foreign visitors rather than conferencing locals.

zan 6.jpg

A morning walk along the beach revealed no humans part from a lone woman checking the fish traps. He wonders that if westerners could learn to bend with such a straight back whether the incidence of back injuries would be lessened.

zan 8.jpg

In the early morning light the islands in the distance appear to be floating between sea and sky.

zan 7.jpg

The fishing fleet is stranded on the sand waiting for the tide to come back in.

zan 9.jpg

When it does, in the early evening, the locals come out to populate the shrunken beach and to enjoy the water as well as each others’ company.

Back in Dar Es Salaam

With less than 24 hours after returning from Italy, DonQui finds himself on his way to Tanzania. It is a county he loves and despite the short turn around, and the long flight via Amsterdam and Nairobi, he is very happy to be here.

dar1

On arrival in Dar es Salaam he immediately makes his way to his favourite watering hole – the Waterfront Restaurant on Oyster Bay. He is slightly disappointed to see that they no longer offer the goat curry which had inspired him to create his own version.

dar 3

They do, however, have roast goat on the menu and this is what DonQui goes for. Served with rice, plantain and a very spicy sauce on the side it is rather good, if not quite as good as DonQui’s own goat curry.

dar 2

But the view cannot be beat, nor can the genuine friendliness of the Tanzanians. DonQui hopes that he will have the opportunity to return many more times.

 

 

A Donkey’s View of Politics

Like most donkeys around the world, DonQui does not have a vote and he does not expect emancipation anytime soon. However he takes a great interest in politics and is never short of an opinion or two.

Donqui read 1

DonQui has, of late, been thinking about two recent election results: one in Tanzania and the other in Canada.

First to Tanzania.

john-magufuliIt is of some surprise to DonQui that the Tanzanians seem to want the same stallion ruling over their herd for more than half a century. Yet despite the fact that the recent election was the closest ever, this is what they have decided on.

How to understand it?

If in doubt ask a taxi driver and this is what DonQui did on election night — 25 October. Said taxi driver had voted for the incumbent CCM party. His reason was simple — expressed with the honesty and clarity for which taxi drivers are famous for the world over:

Most of Africa is torn by civil strife and conflict. Tanzania has so far escaped this African curse. Surrounded by conflict, DonQui’s taxi driver voted for stability.

Simple, clear and understandable even to a foreigner.

DonQui sincerely hopes that his Tanzanian friends continue to enjoy the benefits of stability and that they find greater prosperity in the future and see a reduction in government corruption. He is more than a little concerned, however, that the Zanzibar result was annulled due to ‘irregularities’ or possibly because the opposition came out on top… sigh.

Canada is a very different beast. For many years a harsh, controlling, right wing government ruled over a country which usually prides itself on its open and moderate views. Canada’s traditional place is a bridge between America and Europe. Most Canadians hold liberal values in a continent dominated by an inherently conservative big bother to the south.

justintrudeauOn 19 October, Canadians elected Justin Trudeau, son of the internationally famous Pierre. Sweeping to victory he has promised a new government more in tune with typical Canadian values.

Last night DonQui spent many pleasant hours, and consumed more beer than was good for him, discussing politics with a friend — in particular the Tony Blair legacy in the UK.

His view (not entirely shared by his friend) is that if one can leave the disastrous invasion of Iraq to one side, Blair gave the UK the kind of social democratic government the country had been yearning for after two decades of Thatcherism and the seemingly harsh, uncaring politics of the greedy ‘80s. Now Canadians have elected a new government on similar hopes.
Tony-Blair-Arriving-At-10-001DonQui well remembers the euphoria of 1997 in Britain. He saw first hand how ministers in the early Blair government honestly did their best to try to make Britain a better, more egalitarian post-imperial country. He then saw how realpolitik replaced idealism in the Blairite-Brownite civil war and how the lessons of Bosnia and Kosovo were wrongly applied in Iraq.

Trudeaumania
Showing his age, Don Qui also remembers the excitement of the first wave of Trudeaumania in 1968 and, of course the more recent euphoria which greeted Obama’s election in the US.

The reality of politics inevitably results in disappointment replacing euphoria. For the moment, DonQui is happy to see the feeling of optimism engendered by the new Canadian government and he hopes it will last for just a little while longer.

On Safari

Before DonQui takes his blog out of  Tanzania he thinks he should say something about the wildlife.

Cape Buffalo

He did not have the chance to get to any of the parks on this most recent visit but he has in the past.

Grass fire on the Serengeti copy

It is hard to put into words just how magnificent the Serengeti is.

Wildebeast Migration 2It helped that DonQui managed to time his visit to coincide with the Wildebeest migration. This was good luck rather than good management as the migration started a few months earlier than expected due to early rains.

hyena

A night out on the plains under canvas with hyenas and leopards prowling around the campsite was an experience DonQui is not likely to forget in a hurry.

Zebra for Breakfast 1 copy

He felt more than a little uneasy early the next morning when he saw close up how one of his black and white stripy relatives had become breakfast for a pride of lions.

The Serengeti was simply magnificent. It is one of those incredible places that should be visited at least once in a lifetime.

KenyaTanzaniaAdventure29 copy

The Ngorongoro crater — the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera — is famous for its high density of wildlife. Despite the magnificent scenery and plentiful animals, it at times it seemed to DonQui that it was a bit like a trip to the zoo with an even higher density of people.

tourists
Guides radio each other as soon as some interesting animals are spotted and before you can blink the poor beasts are surrounded by dozens of vehicles filled with camera toting tourists.

If DonQui ever gets the chance to again go on safari in Tanzania he would like to try to make it to one of the lesser visited parks such as the Selous Game Reserve or Ruaha National Park for more of a wilderness experience. Maybe one day he might even make it to Gombe to see chimpanzees in the wild.

Old Boma

DonQui found himself in Mtwara a few months ago. Planned as a deep water port for disastrous Tanganyika groundnut scheme in the 1940s, the town is now rapidly becoming the oil and gas capital of Tanzania since the discovery of huge natural gas reserves off shore. Therefore it is not surprising that DonQui shared the Precision Air flight from Dar es Salaam with a load of British, Norwegian, Canadian, American and Chinese oil & gas boys.

Mtwara

Just short of the Mozambique border, Mtwara is not on most visitors’ destination lists when they think of going to Tanzania. To be truthful DonQui cannot think of many reasons to visit other than to experience a part of the country that few tourists ever see.

The town itself has no attractions and there is tension between the locals and the government which has occasionally erupted into violence. A gas pipeline is being built from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam, causing disruption while the economic benefits will go to Dar, bypassing the locals.

Mtwara beach

The one decent hotel in Mtwara, the Naf Beach Hotel  is rather expensive for what it offers and is… well… a little naff. The view over the Indian Ocean is wonderful but the beach is for looking at rather than experiencing.

Just a little to the north of Mtwara, however, is Mikindani — an old port town that was once a major trade centre on the Swahili coast. Mikindani was the staging point of David Livingstone’s last African expedition and was an important port of German East Africa.

Mikandini

Today the town has shrunk to little more than a village but it retains some of the best Arab and European colonial architecture to be seen in Tanzania outside Zanzibar. A couple of buildings and the Arab cemetery date back to the 17th century.

IMG_3614 (1)

The jewel in Mikindani’s crown is surely the Old Boma (old fort). Once the centre of German East African administration in the region, later taken over by the British, it fell into neglect and ruin in post colonial years. At the turn of the millennium a UK charity —Trade Aid — lovingly restored it.

signs

The signs left by both European colonial occupiers are preserved in the tasteful restoration which has transformed the old fort into a hotel with the aim of teaching local youngsters the skills needed to find employment in Tanzania’s tourism sector.So now the grand Old Boma is both a boutique hotel and a training facility. Overseen by the ebullient Harry MacEwan, the staff learn the hospitality trade, improve their English language skills and many go on to find jobs which will take then from subsistence living to far greater opportunities.

DonQui stayed at the Old Boma for a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed himself. The building is utterly unique, the setting wonderful and although the service was at times erratic — a function of the fact that is a training establishment — he highly recommends spending a few days here if you have any sense of history and are looking for peaceful tranquility. The food is pretty good too and they even make their own honey on site — produced by tiny, stingless bees.

Old Boma 2

The Old Boma provides a number of excursions. DonQui took them up on an offer of a trip to the white sands and coral reef of Msimbati beach on the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve —very close to the Mozambique border.

Land Rover

Setting off in a rickety old land rover with two local boys and a packed lunch, the 35 mile trip took a couple of hours along a dirt road.

village

Passing through lush forest, rice paddies and several ramshackle villages the trip gave DonQui the opportunity to view rural Tanzania which is a world away from the bustle of Dar es Salaam. He was shocked to see that all the manual labour in the rice paddies and on road construction sites was almost universally done by women. Bowed low under their burdens they toiled in the sun while their men sat in the shade and apparently did very little. An urban Tanzanian friend later sorrowfully told him that the women would be expected to cook a meal for their idle menfolk on return from their labours.

chinese

Signs of the omnipresent Chinese investment to extract African natural resources were also plain to see when the forest suddenly gave way to an oil and gas facility.

IMG_3638 (1)

Msimbati was about a close to beach paradise as DonQui could ever hope to find. He had the fine sand beach entirely to himself. The day was cloudy and there was an easterly breeze which made the 35º heat rather pleasant.

beach 2

The water was warm and crystal clear with a teaming coral reef just off shore which made for a near perfect snorkelling destination. The two young men who accompanied him, set up a small table and sun shade where he could retreat from the noon day sun and enjoy the very good packed lunch which the Old Boma had provided. Spicy samosas, fresh salad, pineapple and mango seemed just about the perfect lunch on a hot afternoon.

children

On his return to Mikindani DonQui took a walk down the road, stopping several times to photograph the local children, all of whom insisted on seeing themselves on his camera. None of them spoke any English apart from the following words: “photo” and “Manchester United.” As a creature with no interest in football what so ever, DonQui despaired at what appears to have become Britain’s most popular export.

Ten Degrees South

Navigating his way through the local pint size paparazzi magnets, DonQui’s destination was Ten Degrees South.  Dive centre, bar, restaurant and simple hotel, Ten Degrees South is the antithesis of the relatively upmarket but quiet Old Boma. Gathered around the bar, overseen by an expat Canadian doctor, were a lively mix of oil boys on leave, NGO girls taking a break from doing good works, scuba divers returning from exploring the reefs and even a couple of locals.

It was the perfect place to sip on a beer or two and exchange gossip with the eclectic mix of multi-national customers

A Most Wonderful Meal

DonQui decides to try out the highly recommended Tea House Restaurant on the rooftop of the Emerson Spice hotel for dinner.

Emerson Spice

Being tucked down the back streets of Stone Town the Emerson Spice is a bit tricky to find.  Although he has a fairly good nose for direction DonQui eventually has to admit defeat and ask for directions — something he absolutely hates doing.

donqui spice

Up several flights of wooden stairs of the beautifully restored merchant’s house  and DonQui finds himself on the rooftop terrace. Dinner, a five course seafood tasting menu, starts at 7 and he was advised to arrive an hour earlier to watch the sunset over the town,

sunset

He is glad he did.

The restaurant is quite small, taking a maximum of 30 diners so booking is essential. They take a deposit on booking. Tonight there are about a dozen people dining and quite a few others come up for a drink to watch the sunset.

pinot noir

DonQui selects a South African pinot noir to drink. It is a light red, served chilled like the Alsacian pinot noir wines it reminds him of. He was quite glad of his choice as it went perfectly well with the citrus flavours of many of the dishes.

The fist course consists of three small dishes:

first courseSembe cake with fish paté. The fish is shredded rather than compressed in a paté. It is served under a parsley salad and on top of a small sembe cake, which reminds DobQui of a soft biscuit. The flavours are delicate, and deliciously enhanced with a light citrus dressing.

Chaza tomato. A luscious deep red ripe tomato stuffed with a mildly spiced mixture of rice and mince.

Passion fruit ceviche. A small thin fillet of white fish served on a shell with the most gorgeous, intense passion fruit. Marinade. The flavours all work beautifully together, leaving an exquisite lingering aftertaste in DonQui’s mouth from the spices in the tomato playing with the tartness of the ceviche.

tuna

Tuna timbale is the next course, served on a bed of parsley with garlic nyanya chungu (or African eggplant) and sautéed cherry tomatoes. The whole dish is infused with light citrus flavours and the tuna wrapped with fine slices of cucumber which gives a nice fresh counterpoint. Nyanya chungu is something new for DonQui. Seeming like a cross between a fruit and a vegetable, it is rather good.

lobster

Then comes lobster on a skewer, cooked with a hint of chilli and served with vanilla sauce on the side. It is accompanied by lightly roasted potatoes with fennel, and an aubergine salad. Now DonQui is not a great fan of fennel so he is pleased to find it a very subtle flavouring and actually rather good. He can say this for all the dishes. The spices and flavours blend together beautifully to create a balanced taste without any one ingredient overpowering. The lobster is succulent and the vanilla sauce an unusual addition which goes very well with it.

kingfish

King fish with ukwaju sauce, green beans and mbirimbi pickle is the next dish for DonQui to sample. He likes the meatiness of the fish and the ukwaju sauce (made from tamarind) is simply divine. Mbirimbi pickle from the cucumber tree (averhhoa bilimbi) is quite a taste sensation with an intense salty-sour-citrus taste which makes it a rather good accompaniment to the fish. DonQui’s only criticism of the entire meal is of the green beens. They were cold and crunchy and while DonQui hates overcooked vegetables the beans still had a green, raw taste that a couple more minutes of cooking could have improved.

desert

Desert was a trio of dishes like the first course:

Staffeli Saffron Givré which DonQui can only describe as similar to a sorbet but slightly different. The saffron flavouring was again very subtle and it was served in a lemon shell.

Mtoto wa Jang’ombe — a coconut/chocolate creation wrapped in a thin pancake; and

Peanut Kashata — a very fine peanut brittle

chef

Chef Suliman Sadallia (right of photo) describes himself as a ‘creative chef’ and DonQui thinks this is a very apt description. His dishes are all creations in which the flavours come together to become something new and delicious. He uses fresh, local ingredients and draws on Zanzibar’s multi-ethnic heritage to create food which is traditional and very modern at the same time.

As for the cost? Well it is not cheap, but $40 for five delightful and imaginative courses in a wonderful setting seems to DonQui to be very reasonable indeed.

Zanzibar

What is there not to like about Zanzibar? DonQui thinks to himself.travellers (1)

He is at one of his favourite spots —  the Travellers’ Café in Stone Town, tucked down a small alley and overlooking the Indian Ocean. When he looks up from writing this post, he sees a dow sailing by in the mid distance.

It is true that there are problems here — political, religious and economic. Two years ago there was the horrific acid attack on a British tourist. Fortunately this seems to have been a one-off which filled the Zanzibarans with the same feelings of revulsion as it did for Brits.

The union of Zanzibar with Tanganyika, which created modern Tanzania, was never to be a marriage of eternal bliss and happiness. The problems and differences have exploded into violence during past elections and with polling day tomorrow (Sunday 25 October) the number of tourists are lower than usual.

election

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has won all of the previous elections but this time the expected outcome is too close to call. DonQui’s Tanzanian friends assured him that previous violence in Zanzibar is unlikely this year.

streets

As DonQui wanders around the back streets of Stone Town he does not feel any great tension. He has a good nose for such things and can usually sense trouble before it blows up . The parties have their flags flying but DonQui cannot smell any aggression.

Sultan's Palace Stone Town (1)

Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fascinating place to spend a couple of days. It’s wonderful mix of Arab and colonial architecture, the narrow winding streets, and the ever present influence of the Indian Ocean appeals to DonQui’s sense of history while also giving him the chance to relax in a beautiful setting. Zanzibar cuisine mixes Arab and Indian influences, drawing from the sea and the spices which are cultivated on the Island. He has had more than one or two excellent meals here.

boat

Many boat excursions are on offer to some of the outlying places such as Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach. Last year DonQui took a small boat to Prison Island (or Changuu). The island got its name from the fact that it was used in the 1860s to incarcerate rebellious slaves. During the British regime it was used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Now it is home to a giant turtle sanctuary.prison island

It also has a coral reef just off shore where there are excellent snorkelling opportunities.

nurses

It did DonQui’s ego no harm to be the stallion in a herd of Australian nurses, even if their interest in photography outweighed their interest in his wit and charm!

Nungui

There is far more to Zanzibar that Stone Town. A few years ago DonQui and Duchess spent a few blissful days at Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. They stayed at the Z hotel which was about as close to heaven as DonQui can imagine.

Z hotel

This wonderful small boutique hotel occupies a prime spot on the beach, has amazingly comfortable rooms and superb food. DonQui even took the opportunity for a rather excellent massage at their spa.

Fire Dancer

DonQui is not usually a great fan of in-house entertainment as he usually finds  such things rather kitch. However one night’s show at the Z Hotel was more than a little bit spectacular.

spice tour

Another popular thing to do on Zanzibar is to go on a spice tour to see how the many spices which grow here are cultivated and prepared. DonQui passed up the opportunity because he wanted to simply relax. However, Duchess, who was with him at the time, went on the tour and reported back in glowing terms.