When we arrived in Zanzibar, we always planned to get out of the main town and enjoy some of the tropical paradise of the East coast, a slightly stormy but incredibly gorgeous area backed up against the Indian Ocean. We chose Jambiani because it’s the spot my dad recommended before we left, and also because it’s the corner of the island where my sister got engaged a few years back. As it’s the Christmas season, we had a little trouble sorting accommodation (in all honesty, we think the hotel messed our reservation up, but what can you do), so we’ve stayed in two gorgeous beach front places. The first, called Casa Del Mar, is all straw houses, lounging patios and fits the exact image of a tropical paradise (and has a pool – massive bonus), while the second, Visitor Inn, is a little less flamboyant in its tropical style, but quite incredibly laid back and friendly, so it’s worked out as a wonderful compromise. It does mean that, by the time we complete our first night in Nairobi on New Year’s Eve, we won’t have stayed two consecutive nights in the same hotel for eleven nights in a row. Frantic.
Jambiani really is a snail’s pace kind of place, but not in the frustrating way of the service in some other parts of the country, more in the gorgeously sleepy manner of somewhere that’s almost a little too perfect to bother rushing around. Aside from a stroll to ice cream parlours and some fantastic seafood (including a coconut lobster curry full of local spices, and a fresh seafood platter) we’ve actually done extremely little that’s involved leaving the beach front. After the safari, it’s a much needed come down, and while Helena and I are both sunburnt to the unsubtle red crisp of the English/ Irish abroad, we’ve loved every second here. When you do head a few metres back from the beach, beyond the assorted hotels and restaurants that make up the front line, there’s scattered assortment of concrete, tin-roofed structures that make it easy to imagine what life might have been like here before the tourist industry took over.
If you’ve spent much time somewhere like this, you’ll probably have noted how difficult it is to drag yourself away from the seafront, beyond throwing yourself in the waves or lounging on the patio with a book, and actually do something. Our main activity for our two day stay was to take a ramshackle traditional dhow (dug out boat with catamaran style supports) with a hung over captain out to the edge of the lagoon, in amongst the tidal surf, and snorkel amongst the reef. The choppy water and heavy flow of the ride meant just staying in line with the boat was a bit of a challenge, but I soon got used to clearing the snorkel of water, and found that the reef was full of life – plenty of cartoon-colourful inhabitants as much as two foot long. The tiny little shoals of fish that live rubbing their flexible bodies off the coral, and a lone puffer fish hiding amongst the huge, bulbous, brain-like turrets of the stuff were the highlights. When we arrived, having walked perhaps four-hundred metres off the beach to hop into the dhow with the water just over knee deep, the tide was way out and the coral was so close to the surface that avoiding a kick of a flipper off the top was a struggle, but when we left it was untouchably deep, and with Helena captaining the boat back in to shore, what had been a four hundred metre walk ended with ramming the boat into the beach no more than twenty metres below our hotel patio.
One night a torrential thunder storm hit, and we sat eating dinner and then drinking a couple of bottles of wine, enjoying the cooling weather and watching absolute torrents of rain pour off the impressively water-proof straw thatching and make river ruts in the sand. The next morning, hundreds of stunning shells sat at the high tide line, and we grabbed them all up while strolling along the beach to check out some of the other idyllic but intensely quiet little hotels and restaurants. Another, Helena had both hands painted with ornate bamboo cane henna, a much deeper, blacker version than the Indian equivalent.
Sadly, we’ll miss what seems like Jambiani’s biggest day of the year, an annual New Year’s Eve dhow race and beach party, by a single day, but with the place so laid back that we’ve written a lot, read a lot, slept a lot and done very little else, it’s certainly served its purpose. I could get used to crashing only an hour or two after the sunset, getting up for a swim and spending hours chilling on the patio, but on the other hand, Jambiani’s so serene and toned-down it’s a wonder anything ever gets done at all here. All the menus in every restaurant are essentially subject to what the captain dragged in during the day (in fact, African menus in general typically have more than 50% of the options ‘not available’ at any one time), and the remarkably fresh local curries just seem to fit so fantastically well with everything.
Our hung over boat captain claimed he’s a champion dhow boat racer (having won his first in five attempts last year, or so he says), and that he’s going to claim the crown again this New Year. I hope he does – it must make a nice break from ferrying tourists a kilometre off-shore and watching them frolic for a few dollars an hour. I couldn’t live at such a sedate pace for long, but as a holiday experience, it’s only a touch short of my most impressive visual tropical experience yet (Koh Tao, Thailand, remains the clear winner for beauty), but without doubt one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been. Perfect.