Vacation in Unguja

On Thursday the 24th arrived back in Pemba after 4 amazing days in Unguja, the largest Island in the Zanzibar Archipelago. After finishing a rough draft of my thesis paper for my masters and working a couple days in Dar es Salaam, I was ready for a couple of days of being a tourist.

To my luck one of my brother’s close friends Lizzy has been living in Unguja for the last year and she had kindly offered to let me stay with her while I was on the Island. When I arrived, Lizzy came to pick me up with her friend Musa and I immediately felt at ease and was looking forward to the next couple of days. We didn’t  have a set program, but we knew that we wanted to do some touristy stuff, especially since neither of us had really embraced our inner-expat since our arrive on the Islands.

Sunset my first night in Unguja

On the first evening we walked around the city center of Stonetown and just before sunset we headed too a rooftop bar, which is located in one of the nicer hotels in the city to have a drink and watch the sunset. Not having seen a cocktail menu for the last 4 months, I couldn’t help but try something new, so I got the Dawa, which translates into Drug in English. It was an amazing drink made of muddled lime, local gin and honey from Pemba. It really was amazing….so amazing in fact that I had two! Right around 6:20pm and the sun was sinking behind the city landscape the various mosques in the area began to call the muslim community to prayer, and it really was a beautiful moment. Approximately 5 Muezzin were singing at the same time, but it some weird way they all fit together in harmony. It was a great chance for Lizzy and I to get to know one another and a great way to start our “vacation.”

On the second day we headed to the tourist office of a local tourism expert and friend of Lizzy’s. We decided that we wanted to check out the rain forest in the afternoon and then take a Spice Tour the following day. While Lizzy had heard that during rainy season you could take a canoe trip through the forest, we were told that the water levels were a little too low still. At 1pm were in the car heading for Jozani Forest. Just as we were approaching the main entrance of the forest Lizzy saw a sign that said “Canoe trips now available!” Excited by the possibility, we asked the driver to turn around so that we could check it out.

Lizzy in our expedition canoe

When we arrived at the reception, we saw that the prices for the various canoe expeditions were rather expensive, but thanks to Lizzy’s impeccable Kiswahili, she bargained for a two-hour trip through the mangroves for just 10,000 shillings each. The two of us along with a tour guide and navigator loaded into a canoe and we were off. Unfortunately, we go onto the water at about 2pm and it was incredibly hot. Although the water of the mangroves was shallow and rather stagnant, Lizzy and I decided anything would be better than roasting alive in the canoe, so we decided to jump in clothes and all. We had been told that there were no crocodiles or other dangerous animals, but to be honest, I didn’t believe them and was waiting for some type of man-eating fish to rip off one of my limbs.

The excursion was really great and on our way back the tour guide let us climb into the tree house of “the big boss,” who is apparently a Dutch national that spends his time in Unguja living in a tree house looking out onto the mangroves. Lizzy and I had decided either her really loves nature or absolutely hates people, but the tour guide told us that he just REALLY loves nature. On the way home we picked up fish, sweet potatoes, coconuts and jackfruit and made ourselves quite a feast that night.

Downtown Stonetown in the rain

The next day we headed out early in order to grab coffee before our group spice tour began at 9am. I have really missed Seattle’s coffee culture over the past year, so it was really nice to explore the little cafes that Stonetown has. The spice tour was an all day event which started with a tour of a spice farm where the guide explained the various spices grown in the archipelago and I learned a ton of cool things, including the fact that nutmeg and mace (used both as a spice and for pepper spray) come from the same plant and that vanilla vines along with pineapple and banana trees only produce fruit once a year.

The tour was followed by a lovely lunch of pilau, coconut curry sauce, mchicha (a spinach-like veggie) and Chapati (a local flat bread). In the afternoon it was off to the slave caves and the beach for a swim. The slave caves were really interesting and the guide explained that after the British had abolished the slave trade, it still continued in hiding for decades after. The salves would work during the day, but in the evening they were kept in the caves for hiding and then snuck out to arab boats that arrived to take the slaves and sell them abroad. While I’m sure their living conditions weren’t good at all, the guide did say that they were treated well and fed well, because much of their value was in their strength.

Lizzy at the roof top lounge

After that it was time to dive into the ocean and man did it feel great. Unfortunately the swim was cut a little short by thunder and heavy rain, but it was totally worth it. That evening we headed back into town to enjoy some local street food including Zanzibar pizza, which is basically a mix of ground beef, egg, onion and mayo wrapped in a thin dough and grilled, and a potato soup called Rojo. I’m pretty sure one of these items made me super sick starting on Friday, but it was just almost worth it.

Thanksgiving morning we had another lovely coffee shop breakfast complete with warm date scones and we did a little shopping even with the pouring rain. We decided to celebrate the day by splitting a pizza at a local restaurant and then it was time to head home, grab my bags and head to the airport.

While spending time with Lizzy was amazing and I am so grateful to her for welcoming me into her life in Zanzibar, we both knew we couldn’t hang out forever as we both have a lot of work to do. She’s working on an incredible film project and I was just one week away from submitting my final thesis for my Master’s. My rough draft has gotten good comments, but there was still some work to do.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Antonio T. Iannarone, Ph.D. on November 30, 2011 at 15:41

    Might that be the Phoenix, apparently sitting atop the sun??? So fortunate for you and Lizzie to have had the experience together. May your suns always set with such beauty in your lives.
    My thanks to Lizzie for her hospitality.


  2. Posted by Nancy Serino on December 1, 2011 at 17:21

    Hi Marissa,
    I love reading your updates; exciting stuff! Glad you had some fun R&R. The pictures were beautiful. Makes me want to go to a tropical resort! We are going to Phoenix on Friday AM 12/9 thru 12/12 to visit Robin & Neil. I’d rather be at a beach, but it will be fun to visit with them and enjoy the warmth & sun in AZ. Your Dad will be staying here with Titus and Sluggo. We had fun with Luca & Sara over Thanksgiving. Titus enthusiastically remembered Sara. They are such a nice, fun couple. Sara looked like she was going to have the baby any minute! She misses you and looks forward to your return to Seattle too. Hope your work is going well and you have time to relax a bit over the weekend. ciao4now 🙂


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