Zanzibar and Lake Malawi
After having a lovely time at Stone Town, as mentioned in my last post, I headed over to the East part of the island, known for its peaceful beaches in contrast with the northern towns of Kendwa and Nungwi.
Paje is known foremost as a kite surfer’s paradise, due to the very strong winds that are always present. Dozens of kites dotted the coast dipping in and out with the wind current. While I’m usually down to try just about any adventure activity at least once, kite surfing was a bit out of my budget, costing around $40/hour for a lesson. I was content however to just relax on the beach and read a book. The sands were bleach white, and the water was a beautiful turquoise, similar to Diani Beach in Kenya, situated a bit further north.
The place where I stayed for the two nights was called Jambo Beach Bungalows, situated right on the beach. They offered both private and dorm options, which made it affordable for me. Since I never left the beach over the course of the two days, it was very easy to rise to see the sunset both mornings. Delicious food options were also plentiful if you just walked up and down the beach, with many small cafes and restaurants offering a variety of seafood dishes.
The only thing I have to detract from the overall experience at Paje were the male Maasai prostitutes that roamed the beach, looking for solo women to try to sell themselves. I later saw them again up in Kendwa. Similar to how Thailand and some parts of Asia caters sex tourism to Western males, the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts offer Western women a chance for paid companionship. These Maasai men were dressed very flashily, decked out in the bright red Maasai blankets, and bracelets covering their arms. This caused them to stick out like sore thumbs on the beach. They also carried various trinkets that they tried to peddle to the male clientele. Luckily, they took the first “no” as an answer, and wouldn’t stick around to pester me, like what occurred in Kenya and were not able to dampen my mood.
My last three nights in Zanzibar were spent in Kendwa, on the north of the island. The north part of Zanzibar is known for its luxurious accommodations and party atmosphere. I had been recommended by many of my fellow volunteers from Arusha to stay at Kendwa Rocks, a resort-type place that also offered budget accommodation.
As it was only a few days until Christmas, I was a bit worried that it might be all booked up, as I had heard of its popularity. I was in luck, however, when I arrived and was told that I’d have the entire 7 bed dorm to myself!
Kendwa Rocks itself was beautiful. I had never been to a resort previously, and thus had nothing to compare it to, but it was nice to have a private beach complete with lounge chairs and umbrellas. The onsite restaurant also offered a tasty menu and several hammocks were hung up in the shade. I continued with the relaxation plans I had started in Paje, but did manage to go out on a sundowner cruise on a dhow, as well as another snorkeling trip to the nearby island of Mnemba.
The sundown cruise, turned out to be an incredible experience. The boats of Zanzibar, called dhows, hail from the Swahili culture. Built from wood by hand, complete with long thin hulls, and beautiful curved sails, they are an integral component of Zanzibari sea life. I was able to join a group of Norwegians as well as a few other people aboard the boat, yet we still had plenty of space. There was a small upper deck where I spent the duration of the cruise. After stocking up with booze (for it wouldn’t truly be a boat cruise without it), we sailed up and down the coast, admiring the beautiful beaches and beachfront properties. The hours sailed by, and I was able to witness another beautiful sunset disappearing over the sea.
I had only heard great things about Lake Malawi, how it was one of the largest freshwater lakes in Africa, and also home to over 1,000 different species of cichlids, many of which are endemic. Lake Malawi was the first main stop of my overland trip. I’ll put together a post later explaining overland trips in Africa and my personal experiences and opinions.
We spent two nights at a campsite on Lake Malawi, including Christmas. Since it was a holiday, the beach was crowded with local Malawians. Although I’m normally averse to large crowds, it was great to experience the day with the local people, many of whom were very friendly, eager to answer our questions and teach us more about their way of life. Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa”, and the locals we met surely upheld that notion.
We also went on a tour of the local village, which was very informative. The Canadian government had built wells in many of the villages to provide the Malawians with clean drinking water. We also toured the local elementary school, that serves multiple villages. This is one area where Malawi severely needs improvement, as class sizes hover around 100. There are also very few secondary schools available, and only students with the highest scores are allowed to matriculate.
The local clinic, which the community uses for mild illnesses, even housed a mother and newborn baby, only hours old. The new mother proudly showed off her healthy baby, all swaddled up to keep warm.
We were also invited to the local soccer league final, which was to be held later that afternoon. I eagerly jumped at the chance to go and was not let down. The game was very organized, complete with referees, uniforms, and about 500 spectators. The players were in their late teens/early 20’s and the style of play was very fast, due to the fact that the field was entirely dirt. It was another one of those experiences in which I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to travel and interact firsthand with the locals in their daily lives.
Snorkeling in Lake Malawi was my favorite freshwater snorkeling trip thus far. Even through the cichlids were quite small, they varied in color, from dark blues to bright yellows. They were very shy however, and would dart away if we were deemed to be too close. The small island which we snorkeled around had a 7-8 meter cliff that jutted out of the water, which was perfect for jumping.
Pretty soon, it was time to head towards our next main destination, Victoria Falls. Even though my time in Malawi was short, it was filled with great memories, which I will always look back fondly.