Zanzibar by bike
There are so many mystical stories about Zanzibar. How is it there today? On the map the island appeared to be quite large, had roads, and seemed well suited for an exploration by bike. Let me share my experiences.
During my preparations, I noticed that the island was really as expensive as I had been told. By now you might have noticed that I’m quite stubborn. I really wanted to visit Zanzibar and somehow made it happen.
To get to the island there were already different price categories. There were two ferry companies: Kilimanjaro and Flying Horse. The first one had four crossings per day: 9:00, 11:30, 14:30, and 18:00. It took about 90 minutes, the price was USD 35, and there was an extra charge for the bike. If I remember correctly, about USD 15.
Flying Horse only had one trip daily at 12:00 noon and took three hours. This was Africa and it was therefore advised to add one hour. The price was only USD 20 and the bike was free.
Noon was convenient for me, I had enough time to pack, cycle to the harbor, and we should still reach Zanzibar well before nightfall.
When we got close to Zanzibar, I noticed that a very different Africa awaited me.
There were few times in Africa when I had been so thrilled to reach a new place. Even from far away the spice island looked fascinating.
As expected, we didn’t arrive at 15:00 but closer to 17:00. There was still enough time.
Once again, I was really fortunate about my accommodation. I had invitations from around the island. The first one was with Blue Bicycle, right in the center of Stone Town.
The alleys were so narrow that my GPS didn’t manage very well. It was like a labyrinth and reminded me of the medinas in Morocco.
Humud, one of Blue Bicycle’s tour guides, collected me and took me to the shop.
What luxury! I wasn’t only happy to arrive but also tired. It was already late and I wouldn’t have found the way on my own. Therefore, I preferred to stay put. There was enough time the next day to explore town.
Next day, I ventured out and took my time.
At the market one could buy different spices, nicely wrapped as presents.
The narrow alleys were more appealing without a bike.
I was very surprised that in most areas, cars were allowed.
Beautiful old houses with a lot of greenery.
It was worthwhile to walk around like Johnny Head-in-Air and I saw the sign for “Kawa Training Center” which was in the same building as Blue Bicycle. This way I had fewer problems to find my temporary accommodation.
I was tourist for a day and discovered the highlights on foot. Fortunately, they were next to each other. What I enjoyed most was simply to walk around and to discover interesting alleys and corners.
One day was sufficient and then I wanted to discover the island and especially its legendary beaches.
The neighbor’s boys were curious when I loaded my bike and got ready.
Thank you, Blue Bicycle.
After I had left the traffic of Stone Town behind me, I cycled on gorgeous tree-lined streets.
First, I wanted to go south, through the Jozani Forest. There appeared to be very strange animals in the forest.
Later on, there were more people about. An old man braided palm leaves by the roadside.
They were mainly used as roof coverings.
It seemed that Zanzibar would be a joyful cycle. The distances were short, there were beautiful beaches, and a lot of nature.
Kizimkazi is a small fishing village all the way in the south of the island.
Next to it were a few small lodges. It was very quiet.
I camped next to the Superadobe Earthbag domes that belonged to Laura.
Camping wasn’t allowed on Zanzibar and I hadn’t seen any campgrounds.
Next to the small functioning lodges there were several larger properties which seemed to be closed.
For example, the Dolphin View Paradise, beautifully landscaped, cottages, and a lot of money had been spent. It was beautiful but now it was in ruins.
It was a first sign for me that not everything was sunny.
A local couple, who were guards, showed us the place.
I hheard different explanations for the downturn: bad investments, disagreement between the owners, etc. There were many such cases.
For me it was easy to pick up my tent, and move on without a trace.
This was really pure joy for cycling: flat, good, and empty roads, nature, sunshine. Does one need anything else?
There were a lot of gorgeous beaches. The Indian Ocean had the right temperature. I only had to wait for high tide to be able to swim. It was easy for those who couldn’t swim because the water was so shallow. There were no crocodiles, sharks, jelly fish, or other unpleasant animals.
First came Makunduchi and then Jambiani. Not much was left of the fishing village and most of the hotels were vacant. There was a school for kite surfing which attracted quite a few tourists. There were even guests at a hostel.
I got information about Zanzibar at Roswitha’s Music Café. Tourists stayed away because it had gotten too expensive. Government charges very high taxes, especially on accommodation. Many locals had abandoned their fields to open restaurants or guesthouses. Now they were broke. Poverty and break-ins were frequent.
Camping in a private garden under a spectacular tree house
The Mwaka Kogwa Festival took place in Makunduchi
It was the Persian New Year celebration and a relic of Zanzibar’s history.
It was a strange thing for an outsider. Groups of men and women ran around in circles and screamed about things that had upset them the previous year. Some men dressed up as women.
Then the men started to beat each other up with long sticks. Now I understood why thie festival happened right behind the hospital.
At 14:00 it came to an end and was supposed to resume in the evening. Somehow, I was disappointed and had expected more culture. It was the first of three days. In the evening there was music and dance but with a lot of alcohol and possibly dangerous.
I preferred to continued my peaceful cycling along the east coast towards the north.
My next destination: Kiwengwa.
There were a few tourists.
Peter allowed me to stay overnight in his Sipano Beach Lodge.
Here it was very pleasant. Not too busy but also not too quiet.
Then I had to explore the north. On my way I went past a witness of Zanzibar’s history.
Maybe the most ugly building in Africa. A similar one stood in Makunduchi. These prefab buildings had been presents from East Germany. After its time as a British protectorate, Zanzibar had briefly been the Peoples Republic of Zanzibar before it joint Tanganjika and became TanZania. Today it’s virtually autonomous (as far as I know they share the military with the mainland).
All the way in the north is the main tourist resort, Nungwi.
The sign told a lot about the town. It wasn’t only to respect their culture that one shouldn’t walk around town in a bathing suit or men without shirts. It simply shouldn’t be done anywhere.
I wondered what all the Maasai were doing here. They were herdsmen and there were no cows.
I was told that in the past white female tourists wanted rasta men, now they preferred Maasai. It was sufficient if one of them had made money off a white woman, then hundreds followed with the hope to make money quickly. It was another one of Zanzibar’s problems.
There were a few cows on the beach.
Behind the sushi bars, fancy hotels, and casinos were the shacks of the locals who hadn’t made it.
As happens everywhere: money draws a lot of people who want a share. But only few make it and the majority remains behind. In the end, tourisms didn’t have benefits for a country.
The goats were happy for the heaps of garbage.
I left after 30 minutes, this place wasn’t for me.
I stayed another night at Sipano Beach Lodge.
Then I returned to Stone Town.
Before I took the ferry, I indulged in another helping of “Chipsies”.
I got on Flying Horse at 21:00 to return from Zanzibar to Dar-Es-Salaam. Maybe they weren’t allowed to stay overnight at the port, instead they spend the night at sea, and arrived in Dar-Es-Salaam at 6:00. For me it was convenient because I slept well onboard the ferry.
Zanzibar had been great for cycling and I can really recommend it. The only drawback: it was a bit expensive.
Here I could imagine for the first time to be a cycle guide. There were hardly any reasons why guests would be unhappy. Empty, good roads, short distances to the next nice accommodation, good food, gorgeous beaches. What else does one need? If anyone needs a guide, please get in touch.
The continuation about me trip on the mainland, comes in the next blog.