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Entries about beaches

It's got two Zs in it!

Rachel - Zanzibar

Beyond Timbuktu, Outer Mongolia and The Land of Nod lies the magical kingdom of Zanzibar. Actually that’s not too far off because although Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania it has it’s own president and also it’s own bonus stamp in our passports, yay.

After a breezy ferry trip over with a bag of mangoes we stepped off into the large port with colossal container ships and then immediately out into the wide tree lined streets with old Indian and colonial style buildings. Next to the harbour is the old area called Stone Town with never ending, narrow, winding, balcony-adorned streets down which children played and women in Islamic dress disappeared round corners. We stepped into this world and fending off shop keepers and shaking off persistent touts we found our little hostel. This is one of the most touristy places I think we’ve been too and it was a bit of a shock to encounter the hussle quite so intensely but still it wasn’t as bad as, say, the street stalls of Paris.

We booked a place for dinner in a restaurant which is also a family home, stopped off some tourist information places to plan our next few days and, grabbed a sundowner on the balcony of a hotel and watched the sun set over the sea with the old Dhow ships sailing across our view. More about those later.

We stopped by our restaurant and found that there’d been a family problem and they were closed. Bummer :( so instead we headed to the sea front and found a lantern lit night market selling freshly caught fish of all kinds and in all sorts of preparations – mostly fish kebabs. I ordered a few kebabs and coconut bread and dave ordered the lobster…different classes eh. I should confess here to being terrible at haggling. In this case I totally forgot to haggle after all the deliberation over which fish to order and from which almost identical stall (baby shark and barracuda from Amos the fisherman, in case you’re interested). Dave was not impressed. But he was impressed with his dirt cheap lobster so he was appeased. We’d only bought tasters so we headed to the obviously named Mercury’s for a fish curry as well. *burp*.

Zanzibar is covered in coconut palms and has eastern influences because of ancient trade – it’s one of the original spice islands after all. So the Swahili food is spicy and coconutty. A real sensuous treat after the simplicity of Malawi. The history of the trade and resulting cultural influence is fascinating actually. Monsoon winds and sailing ships meant visiting traders needed to stay in port for 3 months or so while the winds changed direction back again for the return journey so their cultures had a chance to really take hold. Cool huh.

The next day we visited a spice plantation where our guide plucked spice after spice from the trees and shrubs. We each had a morsel to sample and added them to a growing nosegay fashioned out of a banana leaf, what a chai it would have made at the end of the day. We had: cinnamon (leaf bark and stick), nutmeg/mace, lemongrass, cardomon, vanilla, coconut, star fruit, jack fruit, nema (medicinal and bitter), cloves, cocoa, anato (for red colour) and curry leaf.

That evening Dave had a(nother) headache (which incidentally turned out to be a side effect to his malaria pills so he’s now switched to another type and is fine now). But it was bad enough to have to cancel the re-booked restaurant and for him to turn in to bed at 6pm. So I headed out on my own for an explore, bumped into a lovely interesting older Czech man I’d met briefly on the ferry over and had an hour or so philosophy debate before leaving to make the most of the evening sun to wander the streets and take some pictures, stopping to listen to the choir singing in the church – honestly every street you turn down in Zanzibar has something fascinating to see.

After checking on Dave I went back to the nice hotel balcony for a Dowa cocktail (gin, lime and honey…yum) sundowner with my book, chatted to some Irish filmmakers who were out filming about a marathon which is held to raise awareness about a preventable yet prevalent and painful eye condition. After we parted I went back to Mercurys for some dinner. I hadn’t been in there for two minutes before a slightly too friendly man started trying to get me to join his friends. I had to get proof from two members of staff but it turned out to be the owner and his friends were all lovely so we ended up bantering and dancing way past closing time – African lock in! I stumbled home with a pizza under my arm to find a better, hungry, and a little bit worried Dave.

The next day we hired a car to explore the interior of the island and visit some of the beaches on the east coast. We stopped to watch the Dhow builders who still make the old Arabic sail boats by hand. I’m not sure why they’re still making them here but they’re part of the island personality and so beautifully made. In the olden days they used to stitch them together with rope because of the flexibility that gave them in bad seas, but now they use nails. The interior was brimming with banana trees and coconut palms – totally tropical. Tropical like the white sand beaches which were like walking on powder paint it was so fine and soft – you couldn’t make out grains, the sand was like dust. The tide was out so we didn’t get the picture perfect beach views but instead we poked about the rock pools and bothered the hundreds of crabs that scuttled over the exposed craggy rocks.

That night we *finally* made it to the restaurant and enjoyed an authentic home cooked dinner in the back room of the cook’s house with 15 other people round two tables. Coconut tuna fish and home made lentil soups and chapattis were on the menu and it was certainly not a disappointment after our two failed attempts to get in.

We could have stayed another few days to go snorkeling and on a dhow cruise and hear some local music, but in the end we wandered the streets some more the next morning and reluctantly boarded the ferry – looking back to the island.

But anyway, next stop Uganda….this was always supposed to be a bonus stop – very glad we decided to make the detour.

Posted by rachndave 09:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged beaches islands food sunsets Comments (0)

Wet wet wet wet wet FISH wet

Rachel

Oh splashy wet cool water how we've missed you! We arrived in Aqaba in the far-too-early morning after a 6.30 bus from Wadi Rum and after a quick nap headed straight out into the sea, stopping only to pick up some flippers and a mask. The corals around Aqaba are relatively quiet and unspoiled although they're the book-end to the much more well known Eilat in Israel or similar sites in Egypt.

We spent the next three days in the sea or by the little pool in our bargainous sea-view hotel (which was brand new and willing to give us a big discount for the business. A little bit of unexpected luxury after a week in camps or on hotel roofs).

We saw more colourful fish than you can shake a snorkel tube at and an octopus, and a huuuuuuge stingray, some unflappable puffer fish and played sheepdog with a shoal of thousands and thousands of small silvery fish - at one point being both surrounded by them all in a doughnut shape. We swam above some divers who were diving down to a wreck we were bobbing above and played with their bubbles which were lit up like millions of underwater diamonds by the sunlight which will always be a special memory for me.

I think the 3D freedom of the divers gave Dave the envy because he signed up for a introductory dive the next day and was taken down to swim round a sunken military tank of all things. I think he's got the bug now. I'd already done a padi course during an early adventure (hi Katie!) so I know how he feels, it's like a ticket to a different world.

Because it's still the Middle East, and Jordan is even more conservative than some countries, the beaches are full of families with half the living room brought along with them and women in the water fully clothed. A sight I will treasure will be four women in full burqas and veils, a few hairy men topless in shorts, all playing keepy uppy with a football up to their waists in the water. (burqas/veils arent the norm here by any means by the way which is why it was such a sight).

Also because it's the middle east everyone stays out on the streets, including the very young children, till past midnight. So after having one of the nicest meals we've had while we've been in this part of the world - a spiced rice and fish dish with a tahini sauce that i'll try and find the recipe for when i get back (one for you Auntie Alison) - we walked past the public beach and sat with our feet in the water listening to some young drummers behind, talking to some people curious to see the pictures we were taking and watching families with their shisha and barbeques having nighttime picnics. I was watching a girl who must have been about nine or ten, grinning, splashing and dancing freely to the drums in the water - shoulders a shimmying - to be told off (I think at least) by the older female family members. I couldnt really tell if she was upset after that because she was be told to reign it in or because they had to leave, as they did soon after, but she was so pleading and mournful, crouched low in the water, after that as if she wanted to melt into it or hold onto the seabed somehow. My heart went out to her. I hope she's a bit of a rebel as she grows up, she had such a spirit about her.

Had a lovely chat one night with a german guy we've seen in nearly every city we've visited but never had a chance to talk to. He said it's been the same for him and had spent time with the same four german PhD students we met in Wadi Rum everywhere as well and was pleased to hear about their engagment which hadnt happened when he saw them last. We talked technology pretty much all night because we all had the same sort of jobs and interests. It was a lovely change actually from talking about travelling. He's a TED fan, so for all you who know we had some good chat. Wish we'd crossed paths sooner. Hope his girlfriend has recovered from tummy toubles.

So at last we both have some sunburn :) We've been pretty covered up since we left because we've been out and about, and for decency's sake, or because the sun is just too strong to expose much to it. I have brown arms and face but that's it really. But now I also have red legs and so does Dave :)

Today we're back in Amman. After our last shisha, non-alcoholic beer and taste of arabic music (played by a man who reminded me of a portly Neil Diamond) last night we're turning our thoughts to phase 2: Africa. We fly to Lilongwe in Malawi this afternoon. Things might get a bit more patchy communication wise but the world is getting ever smaller so you never know. Will try and let you know we've arrived not-too-frazzled after our 16 hour, three plane journey at least.

Thinking of everyone at home all the time. Miss you. Speak to you from the next continent.

PS. It's not too late to buy Lake of Stars tickets you know...

Posted by rachndave 03:09 Archived in Jordan Tagged beaches lodging sae observations Comments (2)

What do you think this is: some kind of holiday??

Our last stop in Lebanon was Byblos and neither of us wanted to leave :(

Contender for one of the oldest inhabited towns in the world and seat of the written word you wouldn't really know it now because in the 60s Byblos was a hang out for the rich and famous who would come and party in the harbour. All because of a man who owned the super chilled "fishing club" bar/restaurant who was famous for "knowing how to throw a party". What a briliant thing to be remembered for. There are photos of him all over the walls with all the film stars of the day (bardot etc.) to royalty!

There are also sandy beaches, streets of bars, upmarket souks, some prehistoric and roman ruins, fish restaurants in the harbour and a little campsite just out of town where we had planned to camp but decided to upgrade to permanent tents/bungalows called tengalows which just 3 metres wide contain two beds and a little bathroom pod between them and nothing more but I would happily have moved in.

We had a view of the med and palm trees from the seats/table outside our little tengalow and access to a private entry to the water. Next door were Steve and his fiancee Sam from London who we had met briefly in a restaurant in Baalbeck (guess who has the same guide books ;)). Steve has just spent a year cycling round the world - through Iran and Afghanistan, Mongolia and all the stans...i can't even remember all the places. Very interesting and lovely people.

Nothing interesting to report really because we spent the whole time doing "holiday" things like blowing the budget a little on yummy fish platters and messing about in waves. We had meant to move on the next day but we were so relaxed here and the view was so amazing we decided to stay another day.

We had a great last night playing cards with Steve and Sam, talking travel, drinking arak and watching the moon turn orange as it set over the sea.

Could have stayed there for a week.

Posted by rachndave 08:50 Archived in Lebanon Tagged beaches sea ruins lodging Comments (0)

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