Travelling solo, Carmen Alexander heads is bewitched by this beautiful spice island
Last year I decided that I needed a holiday. Having taken a number of things into account, I booked a trip to Zanzibar in December, craving the hakuna matata life. Friends I had invited to join me could not, so I was doing this on my own. By the time I was to depart I was gripped by fear. I had travelled before, but never alone so this was new. But it was an experience I will cherish forever. Travelling solo pushes you out of all your comfort zones.
I flew to Zanzibar from Cape Town via Dar Es Salam. There is really nothing like Dar Es Salaam airport. The lack of air-conditioner at Julius Nyerere International Airport was remedied by plenty of free fast Wi-Fi at least. Moving through stuffy confusion, I cleared customs and waited for my flight. Travelling solo tests your boundaries and gives you time to think, to write and to clear your head.
In Zanzibar, I stayed at UROA BAY Beach Resort. Nothing could have prepared me for the absolute beauty I would see over the next few days on this island and yet I felt a sadness at the ruins of buildings, the lack of infrastructure and the poverty that some local people must endure. Still, the beaches were breathtaking, the water clear for kilometres leading into the bluest depths I had ever seen.
The first few days I lounged on the beach for most of the day. The hotel is a three-star resort – clean and hospitable. I would recommend the Safari Blue and Stone Town tours www.uroabay.com/tour.html. Islam is the prominent religion. With 99 per cent of the population Muslim, it is important to keep this in mind when dressing for visits to public places such as Stone Town. Having gained more confidence, I did tours with the ‘beach boys’ at half the cost. The Zanzibaris are friendly and knowledgeable, if you take the time to talk to them.
I watched a Maasai show, walked the streets of Stone Town, relaxed on amazing beaches, visited some of the more than 50 islands that make up Zanzibar, swam in natural lagoons and, of course, shopped in the markets. I snorkelled in the clearest waters, sailed on a dhow, tried coconut fruit and milk straight from a coconut tree (not my favourite), ate lobster (which I disliked but after pulling a face at the coconut I had to do something to redeem my picky eating).
Favourite memories include talking African politics with amazing tour guides, meeting people – South Africans, a German woman who insisted on seeing dolphins everywhere, a friendly Polish political science professor, a Kenyan army commander – all so interesting. I also loved watching the sunset at Nungwi Beach and dinner at a local restaurant there.
Let me encourage you to explore on your own. Do not be afraid to ask around. Push your personal boundaries. My trip reminded me that people are still good. The island mantra is hakuna matata. What a way to live! I dream of returning – to start a coffee bar and stay on the island. A girl can always dream right? Until the next adventure…