In which I use some words, as well as some more pictures.
It feels like forever ago that we were in Zanzibar, but this post has been hanging around in draft, so I figured I'd finish it. Also, looking at the pictures makes me happy.
Our flight from Joburg to Zanzibar left at 7.45 on Saturday morning, which meant we were at the airport very early. For the first time, a tangible excitement stirred in my stomach as we made our way to the international departure gate - the same one we'd left through when we visited the USA. Once again, the flight had been full and we'd been split up, TSC in one row and me in another (this always seems to happen to us).
My seat was in the last row in the plane - my worst place to sit. It's stuffy and very noisy becuase you're right by the engines. If you look out the window, that's all you'll see. There was a group of men onboard, all heading to Zanzibar for the same period as us for a bachelor party. Some of the group had been separated and were sitting near the front of the plane. They agreed to swap seats with TSC and I, so we got to sit together after all, and we didn't have to put up with all the loud joking and general stag-party nonsense in the back of the plane.
By the time we landed, the bachelors had more than a few drinks in them and had started singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of their lungs - apt, seeing Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar.
Arriving in sunny, warm Zanzibar from freezing Johannesburg was like stepping into a hot bath - my senses seemed to come alive again and the excitement tingled in my fingertips. A sign planted in low-growing groundcover welcomed us - SMILE. U R IN ZANZIBAR!
The drive to the hotel was quiet - just TSC and I in the airconditioned old Toyota mini-bus that hummed along, hooting occasionally to warn intrepid cyclists travellign along the narrow roads with their businesses strapped to their bikes (from reams of fabric to bunches of fruit and even pieces of timber).
After making small talk with our driver, we lapsed into silence, taking in the saturated island colours. Everything seems richer - the greens greener, the bright patterns on the fabric almost luminous... it's like seeing in Technicolor.
There are palmtrees everywhere, interspersed with bananas, breadfruit and even cloves. The air is moist and fragrant.
Here and there you catch glimspes of sandy white beaches and azure seas before the dense tropical forests close in again, dotted with small stone houses and cows tethered to low bushes. Children race from the small local schools, scaring the long-legged chickens scrathing in the dirt on shaded verandas.
Dala-dalas (the local share taxis that consist of small trunks with a roof and seats in the loading area at the back) stop higgledy-piggledy along the roadsides and drivers hoot good-naturedly at each other as they pass by.
Photo: A dala-dala stops to drop off a passenger.
Later, at our beautiful hotel, Neptune Pwani, we are greeted by friendly staff with a nod and a "Jambo" as they pass. We make our way down to the beach and marvel at the fine sand - so different from the coarse sand of South Africa's East Coast beaches.
We bargain with the local "beach boys" who are friendly even if you make it clear you are not interested in their wares. Many speak snippets of English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and even Zulu as well as the national language, Swahili. It all depends which nations frequent the nearest hotels.
On the beach you can find all manners of services... You can organise a tour to snorkel, swim with dolphins, see the local monkeys, visit Stone Town or explore the local spice farm. You can buy handmade curios, some even customised with your name, or have a massage.
On the Monday, I had a beautiful henna artwork painted on my hand by a lady named Cassandra (below).
The henna painted on my hand:
At low tide, you can walk out for almost a kilometer into the ocean at some parts of the island. The water is lukewarm, very salty and incredibly clear.
The wind-made patterns on the sandbar an hour and a half's walk from our hotel.