Zanzibar: The Nungwi Beach Life

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Arriving in Nungwi at the northern tip of Zanzibar provided one of the truly ‘wow’ moments of the African leg of our travel thus far. With sand so blindingly white and crystal clear aquamarine waters, it is one of few places in the world that looks exactly as it does in glossy travel brochures. With a full two weeks to appreciate its beauty, we quickly settled into a proper holiday routine and found ourselves slowing down to sloth speed.

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Nungwi Guesthouse

Staying as the only guests at the little compound of Nungwi Guesthouse has been a real treat. It could be that the high season is yet to begin, or that they currently have no signage, either way I’m not complaining. Each morning we awake to the daycare-centre-like safari themed wall murals, before crossing the sandy courtyard for a breakfast of fresh tropical fruit, served up with a “Good morning sister, good morning brother!” from the sole staff member Mahmoud. As we exit the compound we cross the football pitch of the local school where there is always nearly double the regulation amount of players (43 yesterday!) kicking about in the sandy dust unshod. The games are often interrupted by the local cattle deciding the penalty box is a great place for a snooze, and one morning a couple of calves even walked straight into our compound to join us for breakfast. Within a hundred metres of our door we are already on the beach, with views like this:
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Breakfast, beach walk, swim, lunch, swim, nap/read, dinner, beer, beer, Konyagi, World Cup, beer, sleep. This has been our standard daily cycle, though any phase not named beer often involves beer, or can be replaced by beer at short notice. Especially on the few days where the gods have disallowed us access to sunshine. Walking along the beach has also revealed one of my new favourite hobbies, observing/harassing the local sealife. Chasing ghost crabs into each other’s territory so they fight like gladiators, flipping fist size shells to see what colour the hermit crab inside is, and generally poking and prodding all the bizarre creatures to see what they do. Laura has laughingly witnessed my evolution into an ultra-curious child. There is just so many weird things in the shallows here that I’ve never seen before. I’m careful not to harm anything, but I’m sure they all can’t wait until I leave and the waters are safe again.

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What is this?

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Crabs that I harassed

One of the only activities we have undertaken outside the above routine, were a couple of snorkeling trips on ramshackle local dhows. Sails full of holes, masts made of tree trunks that aren’t even straight, they are not particularly seaworthy. One trip we visited the Kendwa coral garden which was sadly very dead, but our second trip to Mnemba Island was some of the best snorkeling I’ve ever done. The whole island is encompassed by a thriving coral reef which supports thousands of weird and wonderful fish, starfish, anemones and other creatures I couldn’t even identify. My favourites were the blue starfish as big as my head, a black and white striped eel-snake and the many clown fish hiding amidst the anemones. The masses of coral in all the colours of the rainbow were worth the trip alone.

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Zanzibari Dhow

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Snorkeling

Whilst Nungwi is a foreign holidaymaker’s paradise, it is also very clearly still an African community plagued by endemic corruption. Directly behind the sprawling seafront resorts, people are living in shacks without running water or electricity. An unfortunate number of beach boys importunately try to sell crappy wooden trinkets, inflated price day trips and narcotics along many of the nicest stretches. Most so over-familiar, persistent and pursuant they drive tourists away from local stalls and back into the safety of their resorts. A South African couple told us how such touts had recently been banned in Mozambique, and I hope for Zanzibar’s sake they follow suit.

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Brilliant beach bars

For those that don’t leave the resorts here, you can bet they don’t even realise they are visiting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The mosque right by our guesthouse has made sure we are well aware though, with their constant loudspeaker preaching at all times of day and night. The call to prayer I usually learn to sleep through when visiting Muslim countries, but this week’s noise has been something else! It has also meant many of the backpacker-budget friendly local restaurants and shops are closed during daylight hours. Other than that you wouldn’t even know anything was different. Especially on the beach where scantily clad girls are laid out everywhere slowly turning to leather in the sun. Some also appear ecstatic to have finally mastered the art of jumping, as they accost their partners/carers into taking picture after picture of them in mid air so they can show their Facebook friends this newfound ability. Meanwhile as the sun sets, headscarved local women wade the shallows fishing with nets and collecting crabs for a fast-breaking meal.

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Setting sun with dhow

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Rasta silhouette

The sunsets here are truly spectacular. Often viewed from a candlelit table in the sand, metres from the tiny breaking waves, with a dinner of fresh barbecued fish. After finding the best and cheapest seafood restaurant I’ve been making my way down their menu. Marlin, kingfish, tuna, red snapper, dorado, barracuda, sea perch, octopus or squid, with vegetables, salad and rice or chips, for the grand cost of 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings (£3.50). A luxury which makes our 15p Vegemite sandwich lunches very worthwhile.

I’m going to miss this place, and I highly recommend it, just make sure you come before the seventh of July. The three largest Italian resorts open on that day each season, and if the early arrivals are anything to go by, peace goes out the window and the place gets a whole lot louder!

7 thoughts on “Zanzibar: The Nungwi Beach Life

  1. Nungwi is one of my all-time favorite beaches ever. Got up early one morning to witness the fish auction. (I have a cousin who used to live there, so got all the insider tips!) But, yeah, that WATER… And you guys had two weeks to spend there? Insane.ly. Jealous.

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