A few weeks ago, David brought home some sad news… he was being forced to take 5 days vacation and it had to happen soon. Oh the travesty of it all! Where were we to go in February for a week!?!? For two people who like to plan well in advance this threw us for a loop. But adventurous as we are, we dove right into a holiday that we’ve been thinking about for a while but assumed just wouldn’t happen this year.
The mission: learn how to kite board. Didn’t matter where (although terrorist threatened Kenya quickly went off our list). Of course, it had to be a hot place.
After some debate and a few hours of research, we decided on the idyllic, reef-surrounded island of Zanzibar in Tanzania. After some last minute vaccinations, a week-long package booking with Aquaholics, and the cheapest long distance airline tickets ever, thanks to Aeroplan points, we were boarding an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner to paradise within a few days. My 4th trip to Africa in less than 1 year!
Here are the 9 things we learned from traveling to Zanzibar
1. Wind is our new friend. The reason for this holiday was to learn how to kite board. Our package trip involved 9 hours of lessons that would get us standing on a board with the wind rushing through our ears. The only problem was the wind wasn’t howling like it should have been. We actually picked the worst week in the season for this trip. Every day we waited patiently, praying for more wind. And for two water-skiers, wind is usually enemy #1.
Luckily, there was just enough throughout the week to finish up our lessons and squeeze in an hour of kite rental where David and I set off on our own. Besides waiting on Paje Beach for the wind wasn’t so bad either… the beach was gorgeous. We’re kind of hooked now and currently rethinking the rest of our vacation plans to include some more kite boarding in the future.
2. What everyone said about Zanzibar is true. Idyllic. Paradise. Dreamy. Relaxing. True. True. True. Given the short planning time and lack of any research on Zanzibar itself, we had no idea what we were getting into. We found ourselves in paradise; one that comes pretty close to our unforgettable honeymoon in the Cook Islands.
Our accommodations at Coral Rock Hotel in Jambiani were great. Infinity pool. Views over the lagoon from our bedroom and restaurant. All the food we had was amazing (with one caveat I’ll detail later). People were friendly. Beach vendors were not too pushy. It was relaxed and super laid back. It did take some time for David and I to get in the groove.
Waiting 1.5 hours for our dinner isn’t exactly our idea of good service. But once we were given the tip to order ahead of time and then tell the restaurant when we wanted to eat, it worked like a charm.
You really do need to be in a relaxed, happy state of mind to laugh when your waiter comes to your table empty handed, proudly announcing: “You’re appetizer is ready.”
Hmmmm… I’ll take it now. Thank you.
3. They actually say Hakuna Matata. It’s not just a Disney phrase after all. We heard it everywhere. And it was pretty cool to say it to others without feeling like a young warthog. Jambo (meaning hello) is also by far the best greeting of all the languages we know.
4. Bring twice (or three times) as much sunscreen as you think you need. I’ll typically lather up the first day or two, then can get away with no or little sunscreen. But not in Zanzibar. The sun is super strong. We are sun lovers. And we were coating our bodies at least three times a day. We mainly sat under the shade, wore our hats and generally hid from the sun. Being in the water didn’t help and really drove home the need to take extra precaution. We used up our big bottle of 30 SPF and LUCKILY we found a bottle of 50 SPF that someone left behind. We used that constantly. I don’t think I’ve ever used SPF50. It’s not something to brag about and should be taken seriously.
More so here.
I still got a tan and a slight burn and loads of freckles.
5. Just because I Crossfit, doesn’t mean I’m a better surfer. Well I was way in over my head thinking that my stronger upper body would help with some real wave surfing. When the wind wasn’t blowing, our package included a ‘no-wind’ alternative: surfing beyond the reef. That also meant swimming on the board for 2 hours, non stop, since there was no beach to stand on and catch a breath. I was winded within the first 15 minutes and felt like I hadn’t moved anywhere, except backwards.
I’m embarrassed to say I latched on to my instructor’s leg while he towed me a few times over the waves. To my defense, it wasn’t exactly great for beginners.
Even if I live near a beach in the future, I don’t think surfing will be on my list of activities. I managed to stand up once, and surf on my knees multiple times. It’s just too exhausting. At least I felt like I earned my dinner that night.
6. Spices grow in super interesting ways. On another no-wind day, we took a trip into Zanzibar Town (also known as Stone Town) with a stop first at a spice farm for a tour. Our guide showed us how cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, cardamom, lemongrass as well as a variety of other fruits and spices grow on the island. I was amazed at what the spices I often use look like in the wild before they are harvested, dried and transported to my kitchen. We also saw how the locals climb up the coconut trees… a skill anyone deserted on a desert island would want to know.
Mega biceps required.
7. Stone Town warrants only a day visit. Granted we were only in town for 1 hour (since the wind picked up that afternoon, our tour organizer got us back to the beach for some kite lessons). From what we saw of this Unesco World Heritage site, I think a day would suffice. We wandered the narrow streets, took in the sights and smells, the charming architecture. But the coast line was littered and the water was not inviting.
For those visiting the island, I’d say stay on the east coast or elsewhere and then just visit Stone Town for the day. That being said, we didn’t get to experience the market, nor visit any of the monuments. I think a tour of the old Slave Market would have been very interesting.
We were there for beach, sun and kite surfing and happy to have left town to continue our mission.
8. The Dreamliner is really nice. I’m not into airplanes but I must say that the flying experience on the Dreamliner was great. Bathrooms were all touch sensor operated and spacious. The windows were bigger and didn’t have any blinds. Just some cool window pane that changed like transition lenses on demand. And the best part were the seats. They reclined (or at least felt like they reclined) more than on any other plane in Economy class.
It made the trip and my nervousness about flying Ethiopian Airlines much more pleasant.
9. Travel with a first aid kit. I swear the more we travel, the more rookie mistakes we made. Aside from not bringing the right plug adapters to charge our electronics, we also didn’t bring a medical kit. That should have been a no-brainer considering this was Africa and the nature of our activities. Luckily despite the sea urchins and broken class sometimes found in the waters, we came away unscathed.
But I’m blaming the tall, yummy glass of avocado juice for the most horrendous 20 hours of traveling I’ve ever had.
We stuck to bottled water and ate pretty much everything through the week, hakuna matata style… chicken, beef, seafood, even salads. The night before we were boarding the plane, my stomach issues started. Multiple trips to the bathroom and I was already dreading the one hour car ride to the airport and everything after. Friends we made at the hotel gave me some pills to ease it but what couldn’t go down, came up.
Throwing up in a garbage can at the entrance to the airport in 40C heat while two guys casually continued their conversation within a foot of me is a memory I’m already starting to laugh about. The nausea then gave way to the most intense, horrific heartburn I’ve ever felt.
I was so desperate. I was trying anything to ease the discomfort.
Club soda. Juice. Milk. MILK?!
Mixing is never a good idea. I felt sorry for the poor flight attendant that had to clean up the curdled vomit I left in the toilet bowl of the plane. The antacid pills from the airport nurse in Ethiopia and kind German doctored we met in the lounge during our layover didn’t help as must as I hoped.
I squirmed and ached for the whole 7 hour plane ride after that until I could sleep it off in my own bed.
All in all, it was a successful trip. You can’t ever complain when you get to spend a relaxing week in hot weather while it’s cold, and rainy where you live. We’re now IKO Level 3 trained. (That means I can get up and have some control. I won’t be doing flips, tricks and shit any time soon!)
Now we have a collection of great memories.
And a kick-ass video by David to boot.