The winding alleyways are still there, and the carved doors. The east coast beaches are as lovely as ever. But, Zanzibar has changed. It’s due in part to the masses of visitors who descend on the island during the high season. In part, it’s due to the seemingly endless proliferation of new hotels, most built with apparently no thought for the surrounding community and ecosystems. Whatever the reason, the sense of stepping back in time, the island’s once-legendary ability to transport the visitor through centuries and cultures, is lesssened.
It’s not often that I feel the need to pick up a guide book, less often that I buy one. But when I saw a copy of the Lonely Planet lying around I thought I’d see what it had to say about Zanzibar. The introduction really hits the nail on the head. But there’s a certain irony to such a statement in a leading guidebook that is probably the major reason that so many people now flock to locations like this and inevitably ruin them. Such is the world we now live in.
Here is an impression of Stone town and Matemwe beach, the two locations I visited while on the Island. Neither suited to a budget traveller but a unique and pleasant experience all the same.
Luckily it’s now low season so it is possible to still find quiet back streets and get the Stone Town feeling among the alleys and shops. The locals are friendly and not too pushy about talking you into visiting their shop or taking a tour or taxi ride.
I often cringed at the price of a cup of coffee and cake in a back alley tourist café but I appreciated the chance to have a good cup of coffee and some chocolate cake all the same. This café was especially nice and had a great window into daily life.
Matenmwe on the North East coast is said to be one of the quietest beaches on the Island. Unfortunately the village has little to offer and the hotels on the beach are a great example of rich and poor so close together, just as I’ve seen so often in Africa and other tourist traps around the world. Tourists staying, eating and drinking in their $50-150 a night resorts owned and managed by foreigners while the locals eek out a living farming and collecting seaweed.
I made the effort the first day to find a locally owned restaurant in the village but the only place I found only did the standard Chips Mayai and it wasn’t a very good one either. I guess not enough tourists escape the big hotels to make it worth making a semi local-tourist restaurant in the village.
Matemwe is a great location to relax and I’m finding it a perfect place to start some serious work on my book, I may even get it finished before Christmas 2014.
So, another week living the life of luxury here then I’ll spend another six or so weeks cycling to and in Kenya and will be flying home early December. In a way its a shame to be leaving Africa but I’m also very excited about my next round of adventure in the New Year and enjoying reading up and gearing up for those.
But for now at least, this isn’t my last sunset over Africa :