We moved accommodations and location from Jambiani to Pongwe to get an upgrade in our room as well as a nicer beach (and of course to celebrate Sylvie’s birthday in a nicer setting). We learned through some research that the Pongwe Beach Hotel had everything we were looking for, especially the beach since the hotel sits in a protected bay where not nearly as much seaweed makes its way onshore. It did not disappoint.
Below: View from our deck
Below: Pongwe beach at low and high tide
We also arranged an excursion to Chumbe Island to get some snorkeling time in. Chumbe Island is 12 km south of Zanzibar Town and has exceptional shallow-water coral reef along its western shore. Its history started with Sibylle Riedmiller, a German conservationist who came to Chumbe looking for a coral reef to protect in the late 80s. After years of complex negotiations, Sibylle’s determination persevered and in 1994 Chumbe Island Coral Park became Tanzania’s first marine protected area. We had the privilege on our day to Chumbe to meet Sybille who happened to be on the boat with us for her annual visit to her dear coral park. She was very interesting to talk to.
As part of our day trip, we were given a nice bungalow to change and shower in as well as an excellent lunch. Snorkeling wise, we found the corals to be amazing but the fish life disappointing, we’ve seen better in Turks and Caicos and Tahiti. Of course, we did not share that feedback with Sybille.
Above: Arriving at Chumbe. Below: Sylvie with Sybille to her right.
Below: Lighthouse built by British in 1904.
Below: View of Chumbe from the top of the lighthouse
Above: Getting feet rinsed before lunch
The next day we rode bikes to the village of Pongwe and talked with some women who were gathering and drying seaweed that is ultimately sold to China. It looked like hard work.
Drying seaweed on the beach.
The next evening was Sylvie’s birthday! James had secretly arranged the hotel to make a cake and sing the traditional African birthday song for her. She was genuinely surprised when the lights were dimmed, the techno version of the song came over the speakers and the staff started singing “Jambo, Jambo, Happy Birthday”and parading around the tables, finally setting the cake in front of Sylvie. What made this very funny was that another gentleman was also celebrating his birthday that evening (Andrew), and the staff switched the cakes around. The manager noticed, mortified, and switched the cakes around. We got a good laugh out of the mix-up and shared the delicious cake with other guests. The bush babies also showed up to get their share (just kidding, the hotel does feed them bananas nightly though).
Above: Sylvie at dinner not suspecting anything. Below: Bush babies at feeding time.
Above: Happy Birthday, Jambo, Jambo!!
Africa wasn’t going to let us go without a good fight. Our otherwise dependable driver we had arranged to pick us up at our hotel to get us to the airport sent a buddy of his in his place. So not a big deal, right? Instead of our usual big van that smelled nice, we had a small sedan that stunk to high heaven! Our tummies were already tender coming off of a bout of African tourista, and we both came close to losing our breakfast on the way to the airport. Ahhh, but the tale is only half told. There had been police stops everywhere in Africa and we had not yet been a victim (until you’re trying to make your flight of course). Sure enough, we had to pull over and two police officers harassed the hell out of our young driver, trying to peal his permit off the window (telling him it wasn’t valid, but it was) and the three of them got into a heated argument for at least 20 minutes. The kid tried to pay them off (very common practice), but was handed back his apparently meager bribe. We were really starting to worry and we could see our driver was begging to get the police officers to let him go. He finally reached out in his van once again and added more money to the bribe which they seemed to accept this time, a total of 10,000 shillings for 2 officers, the equivalent of $6.50! Our driver got back in the car, on the verge of tears and we went on speeding our way to get to the airport on time. We arrived at the Zanzibar airport on time and felt bad for our driver so added the 10,000 shillings bribe to the cab fare so he could have a profit and a decent day. Getting out of Zanzibar airport was CHAOS but we finally made it out and flew to Doha where we had a long layover. What a nice contrast: back to civilization with signage, nice facilities and shops!