Of course, I was in. After checking my timetables, realising I would be skipping the last week of term, which only consist of revision and useless seminars anyway, I booked my tickets as well. From the 29th we would embark on a journey from Luxembourg to Zanzibar, an island of the east African Tanzania, arriving back in Munich on the 6th of April, just about the right time to get working on my dissertation!
This is the story of two dudes that booked very cheap flights to an island, they only knew from looking it up on Google Maps — nothing more. We knew how it looked from above, and now we wanted to know how it looked from being right there. This holiday is unofficially sponsored by LuxAir or Oman Air, which made the sweet mistake of offering us an error fare and not cancelling it!
Our journey started in Luxembourg as we had to take on all flight legs of our bookings to not risk having the later parts cancelled. Therefore, we were basically forced to spent a day in Luxembourg — and I cannot complain!
On the 28th, we headed to my friends place to catch the train to Luxembourg at 3.50am in the morning from Augsburg to Saarbrücken, taking the bus there to Luxembourg. We arrived in Luxembourg with excellent weather and as we only had carry on bags, we just got two “velo” city bikes and made our way to our luxury hostel. We checked in, power napped and then started our city cruise on our 5€/24h bikes. We basically explored all there is of Luxembourg (there is not that much actually), all the bridges, all the valleys. It was obvious that money was not an issue for this small country. New and pretty buildings were being constructed or already ready to enjoy. Elderly homes were ridiculously beautiful. In the evening, we enjoyed delicious pizza with Luxembourgian beer, going to bed before midnight, because I only had had like three hours of sleep the night before.
After a decent breakfast at the hostel, we checked out, and enjoyed Kirchberg, where all the big companies and also the EU have offices, catches some sun rays and enjoyed a castle museum. We then dropped off our bikes, clocking in just below 24h hours and made our way to the Airport to our flight which would bring us back to where we just came from the day before: Munich.
The flight was less than half full and we arrived in Munich on time, making our way to my parents place to get some dinner before we would continue our flights at 9pm. This basically makes this the best layover ever as I got to take a shower at home and enjoy time with family. We got ready with some whiskey tasting and made our way to the airport. Because we only had carry on luggage and our tickets already printed, we never checked in with the airline and it turns out they wanted to see our passports. When we arrived, we apparently had already been called out over the PA six times which made us not particularly popular with the check in lady. Still, she gave us priority boarding (I don’t know why), so we got some nice seats. I had a whole four seater row for myself for this leg to Muscat in Oman and after watching La La Land basically slept all the way through.
After about 6 hours we arrived in Muscat where it was 6 in the morning, not 3am in the night as back home. Fortunately, there was free wifi so it was easy to bridge the hours of layover before we could board our flight to Zanzibar. After another 6 or so hours, we arrived in Zanzibar at 1pm. We left the airport and were immediately swamped by “official” airport personnel that tried to get us on all kinds of taxis. After getting some money from the ATM and shacking off all these really determined “agents” we decided to get a Jeep from Kibabu Cars which was the best choice for the whole trip. For 35$ a day, we had a drivable safe which could takes us across almost all terrain any time we wanted.
After getting some petrol and totally getting embarrassed by the petrol station manager that had to show us how to drive an automatic car, we made our way south towards the Uzi island. We got close, but it turns out that the street to Uzi gets flooded on high tide, so we had to reverse and route to an alternative beach.
We arrived there and had a nice swim to which about 10 teens joined us, seemingly making fun of us. They pretended not to know any English, but they did. We also got to eat our watermelon and then drove our way east in the sunset.
This night we stayed at Paje, at a very Western hostel called, new Teddy’s place. It had a bar and barracks with 8 beds each to sleep in. We got some very nice dinner, Seafood nasi goreng, for about 6$ and joined the people at the bar. There were plenty of Germans, but also Indians, Americans, Polish people; Cubans, Venezuelans and Lebanese. While my friend got an early sleep in, I joined the fun crowd for a long night of beach partying. I tried all the beers and also the famous “Konyagi” gin. After a midnight swim, we had a short football game and then went to the local Friday party night (“Jumbio?”) at the north part of Paje beach.
Someone managed to negotiate a half price entry and so we joined the people there, 50/50 local and Western people. It is hard to describe how ridiculously luxurious a party at the beach with the stars above and a bar next to it is. Long story short, we had a lot of fun and there was plenty of scandalous behaviour. Unfortunately, at the end of the night, about 4 in the morning, a local girl identified me as her former lover that “cut his hair just to hide” and would not let go of me. I literally had to run away to escape her while my friends enjoyed supporting her in her endeavour. Scratch marks were involved. As I later that week was told, this girl actually turned up at the hostel the next day to look for me, but luckily I was on a trip to the south at that point already.
I had pancakes at 10am with whoever survived the night before and after a quick swim in the sea, we made our way south with a German friend we met the night before. We stopped at an abanded beach, got some shades under some rocks while discussing the political issues of Africa (these discussion are inevitable, but also never go anywhere really). At the most southern part, we had a walk in into the sea. These are the moments where you realise how valuable a Jeep (or a bike) is when backpacking as you can explore so many more places than just by public transport. Back at Paje, we dropped off our new friend and drove further north, deciding to get dinner at the famous restaurant “The Rock”. The only way to get there is by boat as it is literally a rock in the sea. We parked our jeep while all the other guests had to arrive by taxi. We definitely felt cool. We immediately got seats and ordered some cocktails and then food. It was amazing. We enjoyed the sunset while having some of the best African food one can imagine. Later we got some desserts, moved to some more comfortably beachy seats and enjoyed spicy tea until they kicked us out because they were closing.
Instead of getting a hostel, we decided to sleep on the beach in Paje tonight. So we drove back down there, parked our car next to the hostel, zipped up warm, got a bottle of water and our watermelon knife and then laid down on the stretches of a local resort for the night, burying the car keys in the sand next to an Umbrella. I did not sleep that night. Every know and then a dark figure would pass and because there had been robberies on the southern part of that beach before, I just could not go to sleep. Instead, I occasionally would take a walk along the beach and enjoy the stars until eventually the sun would rise.
We jumped into the water and when the sun had all risen, we got back to the car at like 6.30am and started our tour to get north to Nungwi, the northern most city on Zanzibar. On the way, we passed a local turtles conservatory which was way to expensive so we left. We also got a pineapple and ate it at the entrance of an extremely old and rusty resort near Chwaka. Further north, we passed a beach with plenty of resorts and just walked in. It was apparently solely filled with Italians and it felt really awful. We also observed the weird appearance of old Italian ladies walking around with local 20 year old guys. If anyone knows why exactly this is so, please let me know, we have some guesses, too.
Eventually, we ended up in front of a Villa complex at noon and had one of the most awful overheated power naps. We then walked onto a beach where someone offered us snorkelling near the Mnemba island. We did not plan to do snorkeling, but after some negotiating, we decided to go with it and it was a good choice. This was my first time proper snorkelling and it was very enjoyable. The riff did not look too exciting but it still was quite a lot of fun! After some payment issues, we headed up north in Nungwi, we got a totally overpriced room with Jumbo brothers and enjoyed a burger before we went to bed.
We got some omelettes at 10am, enjoyed the beautiful local beach for a bit, seeing all the resorts such as the Hilton Double Tree and then made our way back south. Immediately outside of Nungwi, we saw a little path which promised a cave and eventually went on a cave tour. Zanzibar has caves, who knew! They apparently were also used as hiding place during the revolution (or something). Right after, we had the best encounter with the corrupt police on Zanzibar of the whole trip.
We were going down into a small valley village, actually only driving about 30kmh as we were looking for a place to get lunch, when we were stopped by a police check point. I parked at the curb and a police man came up to the passenger window. “Do you know how fast you were going?” (with a broad African broken English accent) he asked. “maximum of 60kmh, because that is the limit here” I answered. He then said I was going to fast, and that I was going 52kmh in a 40kmh zone (these do not exist as far as I checked). He also said he had us on his radar machine and then asked me to park on the left and to get out of the car, which starts the most strange encounter I will have with police ever.
He then asked my to read out the licence plate number and also the name on my driving licence. My friend then asked if we actually could see the evidence and the police man assured us that we can do all that in just a minute. He then also gave me the road laws to read, so I could see that I was threatened with jail if I would not pay a fine of a minimum of 75$ dollars. After realising that all this seemed a bit fishy and knowing that I actually did not go above 40kmh and that the radar machine was actually never pointed at us, I tried my negational luck.
I asked him for evidence and then told him that I would need to call my lawyer (I was actually planning to use our rental guy as our “lawyer”). This already seemingly made him feel a bit awry. I then continued to tell him that I will have my lawyer come down here to validate the evidence (which obviously did not exist). After further chit chat he gave me a choice: either I would have to pay the fine or I would get a warning he would need to get from his supervisor which was 100 meter away. I asked him what that warning was, but he did not really answer clearly.
So I said “I rather want a warning than jail”. “Are you sure you want a warning?” he then asked me, “Do you even know what a warning is?” “It still sounds better than jail, so yes”. So he gave me a warning. Sounds like a joke, right? Well, it’s true. Obviously, everyone was “happy” and “laughing” at this point and he made my friend promise to check my speed when driving (this really must have been a joke). Ultimately, I asked for his name and he then asked for my name, which clearly shows that he could not care less, because he just had written it down on his paper. We shook hands and went each our own ways. The police, your friend and supporter, not in Zanzibar, though.
Anyway, we then drove to something called “state farm”, passing the Zanzibar sugar factory plant and then had a little power nap in a jungle behind a church. We wanted to catch the sunset on the west coast, so we drove there. But at all these dead end streets to the sea, we only saw hotel resorts. Eventually, we knocked on the door of one of them and asked if they served dinner, they actually let us in and so we just walked straight to the beach which had an amazing pier. We enjoyed the sunset there all the way to the end, then got some dinner from a street shop and then set up our jeep to sleep in front of another resort for the night. Which was a bad idea.
The jeep would heat up so fast and after trying all kind of methods, open windows etc. we settled on turning on the AC every two hours. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere. An observer would have seriously questioned their sanity if they saw a jeep turning on in the middle of the night, blasting the AC for minutes just to turn off again. But we survived, we were not robbed and we head of to Mangapwani beach at 5am (with basically no sleep).
When we arrived, we saw a weird happening taking place, where basically the whole village was streaming to the beach where about 10 fisher boats were unloading their catch from the night before. While they were selling their fish, we enjoyed the show with a breakfast water melon. Afterwards, we went a bit more north to see the former slave chambers, which unfortunately were closed. Walking down the close beach, we encountered a white girl practicing kick boxing with 5 local guys at 7am on the beach. Dead end’s never fail to surprise. At the other side of the beach, we spotted an abandoned cafe where we found a lonely guy. He did not stop talking Swahili to us and eventually got a friend who spoke English. We ordered tea with this random stranger and he actually got us some tea at 7.30am in the morning out of frickin nowhere.
This was our last day with the jeep and we drove it south to Zanzibar City where we would return it. Before, we toured some old World War 2 bunkers where we also encountered a stoned couple from Belarus. We checked into a place with really good internet in Stone town, dropped off the car, and as it did not stop raining we just stayed in that night, only going outside for dinner at Lukmaan, a really good restaurant with excellent smoothies.
We woke up at 11am, got breakfast, again at Lukmaan and took a boat tour to Prison Island, a place located about 3-4kms off the coast, which just really is not exciting. It was really disappointing, so we left back early. On the plus side, we bumped into our friends from our first night at Paje hostel and they had some more friends with them as well. We agreed to meet that night (and we actually eventually did). Back in Stone town, we visited the former slave market, a historically important part of Zanzibar with a proper museum. Back at dinner at Lukmaan, we bumped into the Paje crew again and some of them were couch surfing. With their host, we eventually ended up at a local bar called Tatu, where we enjoyed the last night before we headed to the airport at 3am in the morning. I got into a chat with a local prison guard who was one of the few genuinely nice Zanzibarians I met over the last days. He grew up near Stone town, became a certified carpenter and now has four kids. He agreed to drive us to the airport which was really nice. At the airport, we luckily got through security early and checked in early as well. I managed to buy the last bottle of Konyagi for friends back home and also was able to get it through security in Muscat which is not a certain thing!
We boarded our plane to Munich at about 1pm and safely arrived in Munich at about 7pm.
This was my second Africa experience. It was much different as I actually engaged with the local people. Overall, we were very lucky not to get robbed or involved in any bigger issues. The jeep was an amazing idea and I want to do more trips like these, maybe on a bike the next time. Zanzibar is a little island and one can feel that vibe. The biggest lesson we learned is that every dead end treasures a surprise. Without the jeep we would have missed so many great stories, but with the jeep we were able to explore so many places we would have not be able to got to otherwise. It certainly was not a cheap choice, but it was definitely effective! Unfortunately, as soon as people realise you have a car, they assume you have money to throw around and all. Having a car in Zanzibar means being rich, which is true, but it lets the people assume that they can ask you everything and anything.
Generally, the island has all the development issues many other African countries have as well. Education apart from a bit of English is lacking. Many people cannot count simple numbers in their head so they use their phone, sometimes the wrong way. It obviously is hard to maintain a living that way. Corruption is eminent. There is small corruption like the police story we lived through, but certainly there is also big corruption which is harder to see. People are also afraid to discuss it in public, which makes a democratic change even harder. On top of that, people are extremely poor.
Lastly, negotiating is essential with all interactions where they assume you have money. They will ALWAYS start with a ridiculous price, because they know that some people will just take it. Obviously, that is a smart thing to do, but when you know the real price and they do not want to accept the real market price, everyone is just wasting time. I understand long negotiation procedures when there is a public project or a joint venture, but for a bottle of water, negotiating for minutes is a waste of everyones time.
Overall, I recommend Zanzibar. It has great beaches. There are many ways to explore it, with a Jeep or by public transport or in a resort. But a resort would just be boring. Zanzibar only makes sense for a short times as well. It is an island and it is limited. I will not be coming back for a long time. I drove through all parts in less than six days. It’s cute but there is not an endless string of things to see. It ends, very soon.