"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time." -- T.S. Eliot
We were rather worried about Abdul’s choice for our beach stayover. For once we were concerned about the accommodation being too cheap as Union Beach Bungalows came in at only US$70 per day for an air conditioned “luxury”, en suite, double room on the beach. Abdul said he was perfectly prepared to take us elsewhere should we not be happy after inspection. We need not have worried. I did not want to spend my time at the beach in one of those self-contained resorts and instead wanted to visit various pubs and restaurants along this developed stretch of coast. With the New Year behind us, Abdul assured me we would find the area relatively quiet and peaceful. We can thoroughly recommend Union Bungalows. They have cheaper options suitable for backpackers, but ours was a newish unit of 6 rooms fitted out neatly. They have free decent wi fi accessible in the rooms. The beach was about 20m away although we only had an oblique view of the sea. Swimming in the warm turquoise ocean was fantastic. Wandering north and south along this endless stretch of snow white beach was great. Although laden with tourist accommodation there are plenty of locals, especially fishermen about. The beach boy touts are there but are not too much of a nuisance at all. On our first night we had drinks and supper at a nearby restaurant seated at a table right on the beach, our toes in the sand, Anne had tender calamari and I settled on a really good Goan fish curry.
The air conditioning in our room as well as the toilet and shower all functioned perfectly and the large Zanzibar-style 4 poster bed was very comfortable, a true bargain. This was far from the lap of luxury and the room could have been fitted with a few small conveniences but it was ideal for our purposes and it was just the good break at the beach that we wanted. The breakfast at an adjacent facility was just about good enough. I am very pleased we did not cough up more money for accommodation that could very easily have been up less comfortable or convenient. Anne even indulged herself with a head and neck massage. One does not need to stay at most establishments to use their bar and patio facilities or restaurant. So it was really fun each evening strolling the beach and stopping in at various pubs with their sea views and decks, having a beer, perhaps staying for supper or moving on to a place further along. Prices are reasonable, curried octopus was only US$6 for instance.
We spent our first full day relaxing in the sun, swimming, walking down the beach and thoroughly unwinding. The area is not as frantically busy as I feared it might be and there was certainly some very pleasant eye candy about. My dinner for our second night was seafood again, this time a fisherman’s Basket, various seafoods such as fish, calamari, octopus, crab and prawns all crumbed and deep fried with a variety of dipping sauces. This cost about US$8. Tomorrow, our last full day, we have booked a full day dhow trip to snorkel on the coral reefs of Mnemba Island. This comes in at US$20pp.
The departure time on the dhow to Mnemba Island depends on the tides, we left at 09H00. The dhow we were on had an appropriate name, Cuppachino, there were a number of Italians on board. Altogether there were about 20 passengers and about 5 crew, a mixed bunch from all over the world. The price includes bottled water, cold sodas and beer were for sale. Lunch was included and was 2 skipjack tuna cooked whole on an onboard charcoal brazier while we were snorkeling. This was served with chapatis and a salad. Pudding of course was a wide variety of the delicious local tropical fruit.
The going was a little rough as we were into the wind and swell and some passengers were a little green around the gills by the time we anchored off Mnemba Island about 2hr away. We had 3hr available to snorkel and the coral formations and fish were not too bad at all. It is very calm here and even beginners would enjoy it. On the way back we had the wind behind us and could set sail properly, in itself a worthwhile experience. This was money well spent.
We again had a few drinks at a few different beach bars that evening before choosing a place for supper. I settled on seafood again, this time three different fish varieties, each on a kebab. Life need not be tough in Africa. Altogether we had spent 6 nights on Zanzibar, enough we feel, any longer and things would have become a little monotonous. We had found time to do most of the tours we wanted to do, although there are at least half a dozen more that looked interesting. The inevitable comparison that kept coming up in conversation between Anne and I was with Madagascar. This is also a tropical island destination in a third world setting. We felt that Madagascar had more to offer even if only considering a stay on the coast. It is less touristy whilst still having good places to stay, less crowded and the food was just as interesting. The coast is more pristine and certainly the snorkeling is quite substantially better. Then of course it has the massive advantage of all its endemic wildlife inland, such as the lemurs and amazing birds. This comparison is of course not applicable to self-drive tours but if I was ever asked to choose between the 2 for a fly-in holiday, Madagascar it would be.
I think to visit East Africa and not spend some time on Zanzibar would be regrettable, it certainly has plenty to offer and really epitomizes the culture of the Swahili coast. However with Zanzibar under the belt we have the difficulty of choosing between Lamu, Pemba or Mafia Island for our next trip. Strange that I am already thinking this way is it not? Not sure if Anne will be keen for quite a while though, so will have to keep the planning undercover once home.
Speaking of home, it is really time that we headed seriously in that direction. We have for the first time ever had enough of exploring Africa, for now that is! Our plan is to pick up the vehicle at Peponi Beach Resort, spend the night there and then head home. We will mostly be overnighting at campsites already visited and reported on. This is testimony to the excellent guidance we received on planning this trip. I do not think there are many better places to stay along the way,although we will look around. My posts will therefore become all the briefer and will really only be reports of our progress and any new campsites with possibly very little new info. I hope in fact that the long trip home will not deliver too many twists and tales. We have given ourselves 22 days for the long drive home and will have a little spare time. I hope to visit Lake Nyasa before leaving Tanazania for Zambia. Otherwise there is very little left on our wish list not already covered. Northern Mozambique, Malawi and some parts of Zimbabwe will require a shorter visit in the next year or so, but don’t tell Anne just yet please!
Main. Great food on Zanzibar.
1. A photo of our section of Union Beach Bungalows. We were ground floor on the far left.
2. The beach view from the front of the property, unfortunately not quite from our verandah.
3. To put it in perspective, the decidedly third world Union Bungalows office.
4 - 8 . Some views along the beach at Nungwi.
9. Some of the day trips on offer.
10 - 14. Some sunset shots, these were beautiful from the west facing beaches.
15 – 17 . Lovely nights at beach restaurants.
18. A truly African beach scene.
19 - 21. Our dhow trip to Mnemba Island.