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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar

DonQui is on his way to Zanzibar for the weekend.

He had a number of travel choices from Dar and has opted to fly rather than take the ferry. His main reason for doing so is to be able to get back to Dar es Salaam airport to connect with another flight on Sunday evening. If he took the ferry he would have to struggle through Dar traffic again and he would rather maximise his time on the beautiful island of Zanzibar.

He takes the evening Precision Air flight, the return portion being due to deliver him back to Dar 2hrs 30mins before his flight on Sunday.Precision Air

He hopes it will all work out as planned!

It was a bit of a struggle getting to the airport from Jangwani. Late Friday afternoon the roads are always clogged in Dar and his Tanzanian friends warned him of election rallies that were blocking the traffic and making the journey even more nightmarish than usual.road

Fortunately he had already struck an agreement with a local taxi driver who took him a circuitous route through markets and the down the dirt roads of the more ramshackle parts of Dar. Bypassing the stationary traffic on the main routes he got DonQui to the airport in plenty of time for $15 less than the official rate.Dan Air 2

Previously DonQui has taken the Dan Air flight to Zanzibar. Dan Air is a very small outfit flying very small planes.IMG_2375

The trip itself was great fun, flying low and slow over the Indian Ocean.

What DonQui did not know at the time was that Dan Air operates from a different domestic airport which is close to main terminal but far enough to make connections problematic. Precision Air, on the other hand, flies out of Julius Nyerere International.

Travellers Cafe

The hop over to Zanzibar takes only 20 minutes and before long DonQui is settled down at the very pleasant Traveller’s Café in Stone Town.Samosas

Here is sips a Serengeti, munches on some rather fine Samosas, listens to the sound of the waves and begins to feel quite relaxed.

DonQui recommends
Trust the taxi drivers in Tanzania. You need to agree prices in advance but they will always honour them. If you arrange a pick up at a certain time and place you can count on them being there. Completion is stiff and they will keep their part of the bargain to gain future custom. At the airport there is no room for bargaining — the rates are set, but if you make a private arrangement in advance you can lower the price considerably.

Make sure you have a plentiful supply of US dollars in relatively low denominations. Many places are cash only and many prices are set in dollars. Even hotels and airlines will at times take cash only and not credit cards.