Zanzibar | Life on Jambiani Beach
Zanzibar has long captured my attention. It has captivated and seduced vacationers and great explorers alike. Captain Sir Richard Burton said of the islands in 1856: “ earth, sea and sky, all seemed wrapped in a soft and sensuous repose […].” It’s difficult to not to get misty-eyed at the sight of tropical forests, white sands and glasslike seas in glistening shades of turquoise and indigo.
Our journey from the airport, skirting the capital of Zanzibar, takes us through jarring street scenes and chaotic traffic. The heat is unyielding. We drive through miles of thick, tangled forests of banana plantations and coconut palms in exuberant greens on both sides of the road–a mass of wild and cultivated foliage. Our destination: Jambiani.
Located on the southeastern coast of Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago, Jambiani attracts sun seekers and kite surfers. We arrive at the town on dusty dirt roads interjected with jagged coral, the village a mix of crumbling breeze block dwellings with corrugated roofs, pristine white lodges and tiny corrugated tin stores selling basic essentials.
Our room gives directly onto the powder white beach–basic yet spacious and comfortable–with the kite centre to our left. My husband is smiling from ear to ear! We’re the first to arrive for the kiting season, which is December through March, so he gets first dibs on all of the new season kite equipment.
The relatively small section of beach on which our hotel sits is isolated at high tide from the rest of its length by protruding rock ledges. The beach is a mosaic of vibrant colours and patterns. The locals’ whose lives seem shaped by this stretch of beach–a source of food, enterprise and recreation.
Each morning I’d wake early to the Muezzin’s call, get dressed and make my way to the beach strolling steadily to the sound of singing Whimbrel enjoying the moments of calm before the rhythms of the day gently unfold. A handful of children were already digging for clams and gathering seaweed.
Two worlds conjoin on Jambiani beach: the everyday lives of the womenfolk who wade through water at low tide gathering seaweed collected in rice sacks, which is apparently sold to the Japanese; chatty vendors wander the shoreline in search of tourists introducing themselves by their adopted European names; tall and sleek young Maasai men, who have ventured from mainland Tanzania, they lay out their red fabric on the sand welcoming everyone to their “supermarket;” and the tourists, here for the high winds, the sea and a heavy dose of sun.
Drifting through leisurely days delightfully uncluttered by the constraints of a schedule, I would often sit and chat with the Maasai. They are gentle, inquisitive and somewhat innocent in their manner, and I’m eager to learn about their culture. I read, I ate, and was gently swayed into a blissful sleep under the shade of rhododendron trees and the sound of the sea caressing the shore.
Jambiani beach seems more fully itself during the golden hours of early evening. The children, always happy and smiling, take turns to walk along the tightrope erected in front of the kite school. A few boys master impressive backflips off of the centre of the rope. The older boys gather religiously every evening on the beach to play soccer. The village women dig for clams in groups of two or more. The beach vendors make their way home during the final call to prayer of the daylight hours, as kiters fold away their gear in time for drinks before dinner.
On my last day, I walked from the shore out to sea along sandbanks as the tides began to recede. The sand was so fine it felt like China clay between my toes. As I walked, I felt a little hand slip into mine, I looked down as a bright young face beamed up at me. We walked and chatted in our own languages. I reclined in the bath-hot shallows and she splashing in the water in full hijab showing me her swimming skills. I praise her efforts as any mother-figure would. Precious.
There were so many beautiful, rich moments like these during my stay here.
Would I return to Zanzibar? Absolutely, but for longer and deeper next time.
We booked our trip through Kiteworldwide.com
Red Monkey Lodge