The year 2020 has just began and it already gifted me with the wonderful,magical, turquoise filled week in Zanzibar. Turned out celebrating New year in Moscow had many benefits besides spending time with my family, 9 hour direct flight to Zanzibar - new and off the beaten path location with white sand beaches and palm trees, what can be better? So when choosing where to start New Year it seemed like a no brainer.
Quick researched showed that we would not need any shots to visit Zanzibar. Now if you are traveling to or from mainland Tanzania, or crossing border to Tanzania from say Kenya you would be required to provide yellow fever vaccination certificate, but if you are going straight to Zanzibar, there won’t be any questions, also the last registered case for malaria was years ago, so most of the people opt out of taking malaria pills, since they can have side effects and overall take a toll on your health. With this sorted I grabbed my organic anti mosquito stick, ton of sunblock and started packing for the trip. Besides your usual swimwear, floppy hat and sunglasses, swimming shoes would make a valuable addition, since sea urchins are common and you wouldn’t want to step on one and ruin your trip. An important note for packing, on June 1st 2019 Tanzania banned plastic bags, more specifically it banned it's use, production, import and export, violators would face a fine of up to $ 2,000 or up to 2 years in prison, so no plastic bags while packing to Zanzibar.
The day has come and 9 hours later we swapped cold and somewhat grey Moscow skies to hot and bright Zanzibar. The adventure begins with crossing the border and I gotta tell you this was the first time when the plane I just stepped out of turned out to be bigger then the airport building… Immigration is relatively easy, you pay 50$ visa fee at the border and get a 90 day tourist visa, all seams pretty straight forward, but somehow crossing the border was kinda of a mayhem… People from the plane all rushing in at the same time, not knowing where to go and what to do and who to give forms too … The whole process seamed to be poorly organized, coupled with long trip, lack of AC and lingering dehydration it made the experience a little lacking… The good news is that this is the most stress you will ever face in Zanzibar, because after this it is all smiles, sun, palm trees and ocean so gentle, you think you are being hugged by your mother.
We opted out for staying in a small village of Bwejuu on a east coast of an island, quiet and somewhat secluded it was ideal option for us. There are plenty of hotels on a east coast and plenty of beautiful beaches, however the most popular beach is Nungwi, which located on a north of the island and is said to be least affected by tides. Keeping an eye on tides is really important, I have never seen anything like this in my life, the difference between low and high tides is drastic, water will go back for miles and miles, as fas as the eye can see, almost to the horizon - creating tide pools what you can explore, many people see colorful starfish and other marine life, sadly I wasn’t one of those people. High tide will give you the most beautiful scenery - shades of blue, turquoise and indigo, sky resting on a wide shoulders of the ocean, gentle waters embracing you, letting you know that you are where you need to be. Then the same exact spot during the low tide would be completely different, no more blue… no more water. You will see new landscape, boats are no longer floating but haphazardly “sitting" on a sand and even though the change is graduate it is so complete, that you would feel like you were moved to a different planet. Tides are controlled by the moon and would happen at the different time of the day, so the your best bet is to download the tides app on your phone, so you are always in the know, we arranged our whole schedule around tides, to make sure we get the best out of our vacation.
We didn’t want to be tired up to our hotel so we rented a scooter to explore beaches around us and venture out on a big road to get a taste of real deal, not just hotel grounds. Renting one out was relatively easy, once you show up on a beach you would be greeted by smiling locals, who would always ask you where are you from and then will say few things in your native language. These guys serve as tour guides, car rental dealers, fruit sellers, basically anything you can possibly need, they are there for you. They come by every day and always offer their services but never in an invasive way, which is really nice. You will need to bargain, it is almost expected of you. After some negotiation we settled on a 15$ a day for a scooter. To rent in Zanzibar you would need international drivers license and a special permit, that coast 10-15$, the last one is really important. The very first day we went to the neighboring Paje beach, which is much livelier than ours, it is know for kite surfing and is home to lots of kiting schools and laid-back beachfront cafes, perfect for lazy lunch. Few days later we decided to drive further away, hit the road and ventured out and hour and half away up north for a lunch at the small restaurant in Uroa. We drove by famous Jozani forest home to a Columbus monkeys and saw some real Zanzibar flair, some local shops, which are basically stalls by the side of a road, full of character. While in New York it’s not unusual to see a bodega cat leisurely stretch it’s body over the loath of bread, in Zanzibar the local shop clerk will play the role of said cat, curling up next to a pile of bananas and mangos. Driving around, peeking into day to day lives of people was an adventure in itself, but we also got a bit of excitement on a way back, we were stopped by local policemen, who got real upset once he saw, that we have all the paperwork straight, remember the special permit I told you about before, and had our helmets on, so he had no choice but to welcome us to Zanzibar and let us go on our merry way, so remember - helmet and permit and you’ll be fine.
Most of the people speak english, at least in the touristy places, but you will undoubtedly hear few Swahili words. First of all “Jambo!” - a friendly greeting always followed by a big smile. Which I gather roughly means hello and how are you all at once. The other greeting you might hear is “Habari”, I only heard is once or twice tho … you could also hear a traditional muslim “Salaam Alaikum”, which is obviously not a swahili word,but is used as a greeting widely in Stone Town or city of Zanzibar. Circling back to swahili - the next important one - “Pole pole”, which means “slowly-slowly” it is principle that rules life in Zanzibar and celebrates slow passed life, savoring the moment, enjoying the now. “Pole - pole” means you should leave your jittery New Yorker behind, it means that a cup of coffee could take a half an hour to make, it means letting go. Next up is one of my favorites “Hakuna Matata” which we all know from Timon and Pumba “means no worries, for the rest of your life, it’s a problem free philosophy”. This is basically what was happening in my head every time I heard that phrase, nearly breaking into the Lion King dance/singalong.
The word that I used most often - “Asante” and “Asante Sana” which means "thank you” and “thank you very much”. It is the littlest thing, but every time people heard it, their faces would light up and I would hear back a beautiful melody of “Ka-Ri-Bu” - “you are welcome” back. So take it from me “Asante Sana” is your ticket.
I found that people in Zanzibar are filled with kindness, at least the once I have met, nowhere else in a world I smiled so much and so intensely to everyone around me, because when you are greeted with smile, you can’t help but smile back. People, who work in our hotel were the nicest ever, it felt like they genuinely wanted to make you feel welcome and comfortable, it felt like you are being greeted by distant family members, who haven’t seen you in a while, but so happy you finally made it. So even the power outages, spotty wi-fi, none existent water pressure - nothing tarnished our mood,we never called to complain about these things, well even if we wanted to, we couldn’t call, because the phone wasn’t working as well, but really we never wanted to, would you really complain to your family about slow wi-fi? I guess the hardest part was water shortage. In Africa you start to feel that the running water in fact is a miracle and you learn to treat it as such. I have been an ambassador for Georgie Badiel foundation for many years and know a lot about clean water access in african countries (Georgie is working on providing clean drinking water for people of Burkina Faso and you can lear more about her work here - https://www.georgiebadielfoundation.org/about-gbf/.
While there are many activities you can do in Zanzibar like visiting the Stone Town, which is listed as a UNESCO heritage site, going on a "Blue Safari” to explore the marine life, seeing dolphins, visiting spice farms (spices are one of the main exports of Zanzibar) we decided that we want to have a relaxing slow passed vacation so we only got around to taking one tour - the Prison Island, romantic, right? Now despite what the name suggests the Prison Island or Changuu Island - never held any prisoners on it, even tho it was built as such and the main reason to visit it is to see new inhabitants - giant tortoises from Seychelles, that were gifted years ago and been living on that island ever since. The oldest one I saw was 134 years old, but I have heard that there are 190+ years old ones somewhere out there. Meeting these giants was an incredible experience and for someone who is over hundred years old those guys moved pretty fast, especially when they wanted to munch on greens you get when you enter the tortoise part of the island.
To get to the Changuu Island you would need to take a boat from Stone Town. The thing to remember here is that Zanzibar is predominantly muslim and while hotel areas and beaches are not restricted or censored in what tourist would wear it is advisable to keep certain dress code in mind of you find yourself walking around in Stone Town, if you say decided to visit former flat of Freddy Mercury, before he was Freddy. Of course no one would cast a stone at you if you show up in booty shorts and tank top, but I think it is important to be respectful to people who’s home you are visiting and it wouldn’t kill you to cover up for a few hours, general idea is no open back, crop tops, tank tops, basically make sure that your knees, shoulders and belly are covered and you are good to go. We paid total of 70$ for 2 people for a private tour, which included the transfer from our hotel to Stone town and back (about hour and half by car one way), boat ride to and from the island, a tour guide and admission. All in all well worth the money.
One more touristy thing we did out there was getting lunch at the famous “The Rock” restaurant, perched atop of a rock on a Pingwe beach. During the low tide you can simply walk up to it, but during the high tide it becomes an island of its own and you will need to use a boat to get to it. The scenery changes with tide and guarantees a unique experience every time. The place is beautiful and otherworldly, but this is the only restaurant in Zanzibar, where “pole-pole” principle seemed to be missing, the food came out with lightning speed and unless you ordered lobster you were not guaranteed a smile. You could really feel that you were just a number at the table, the “noon” sitting, soon to be replaced by the "2 pm’ sitting. Food is what you would expect it to be at the "restaurant with the view” and the price tag comparable to New York restaurants, all priced listed in USD, having said all of that - the place itself is worth seeing and it is definitely an experience.
Last few things about our trip. There are many concerns surrounding trips to new, unknown locations, safety being the main. Here I would say the good rule would be - “Don’t be stupid” aka don’t flash your money around, don’t leave your stuff unattended, don’t walk around alone after dark ( the sun sets around 6.30 p.m and its pitch-black soon after), pretty much the same rules I listed for visiting Cape Town - here is the link if you want to read more about my trip there - http://www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/exploring-cape-town
Hygiene - water in your faucet is not suitable for drinking, even after boiling so always drink bottled water. Wash your hands often and carry around a sanitizer for those instances there is no running water, also bring along the tissues, because toilet paper is scares some places, bring along the mosquito repellant, there might be lots of them in the evening, I used an all natural, organic, herbal stick for kids and it seemed to do the trick.
Cash - change money at the airport, before your transfer to the hotel. Currency is Tanzanian shilling but often enough locals would list prices in USD and would gladly take them as well.
Sunblock - use sunblock, even though temperatures are really high the breeze from the ocean makes sure you are never uncomfortable or sweaty, my main concern, because I despise being hot to be honest. But even if you don’t feel like you are hot, the sun is really strong, so use sunblock, wear hat, seek shade and stay hydrated.
Keep and eye on tides, while water comes in gradually it comes in strong, so you might all of a sudden find yourself far out in sea.
Last advise - smile! You will get so much further ahead if you embrace the experience and smile.
Despite the fact that after I came back from Zanzibar my mum said to me the same thing she said, when she found out I went skydiving - “Okay, so you did that. It is done, you don’t have to do it again, right ?”
Despited the long way home, which included basically being 20 hours on a road, long delays and sweaty mess of an airport unable to fit in all the passengers Zanzibar was amazing! The most unexpected and thrilling adventure of 2020 (so far) with colors so vibrant - even I am still not sure they were real. Zanzibar was a dream! and I hope you will get to live it.
Happy "Hakuna Matata".
NYC and LA couldn't be more different and the debate which one is better an ongoing one. You see people constantly moving from one side to another, its like a wave that comes and goes.
Truthfully I don’t think that I can say something that haven’t been said before, but I was asked to weigh in and, well I listen to you guys and appreciate you taking time to make requests, so here it goes.
My first five years or so in NYC, that was It for me. NYC was one big, all consuming love and I didn’t want to even think of something else. It was “my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest”, leaving it was inconceivable, leaving it to go to LA, well that idea wouldn’t even pop into my mind. I was quite arrogantly “hating on” west coast, even without ever being there. Los Angeles? - no thanks… Looking back at my attitude now, I can only shake my head… so silly to judge something you have never been too…
But years went by and NYC love affair got too intense, the people, the rhythm, the constant chase and people one more time… Things that were firing me up before, started draining me… add long winters, grey days into the mix … I needed to escape, so I turned to the sun. Land of palm trees, beaches and sunshine. Unthinkable became a reality. California, here I come.
When I first came to NYC thing that struck me was that it looks exactly like in a movie. The New York you see in all of the many, many films is exactly the NY in real life. It is my personal believe that you can whip up a camera, start rolling and just end up with a movie. I love to walk around the city with headphones on - city comes to live and I make my own “movie” just for me.
LA was very different. Glitz and Glamour of Hollywood, I looked and I looked but I couldn’t find it… The “Walk of Fame” turned out to be a huge disappointment, dirty and busy, with Spiderman trying to hassle you into taking a photo with him, Oscar’s backdrop turned out to be a place, one must avoid at all cost … My guess would be that it is a Times Square equivalent, only somehow even worse.
LA is not a particularly beautiful city, there are certain areas and certain houses that are (Getty Center and Getty Villa for example), but as a whole it’s not very pretty and it doesn’t feel like a city. I can’t really grasp it as a whole, or think of it as a whole. It’s pretty big and spread out, so much so, that you can spend all day getting from one part of the city to another.
NYC on the other hand, at least to me is beautiful in every way and it’s extremely walkable, walking around in NYC is one of the joys that that city gives you and that is one of the things I miss when I am out here, on a west coast. People look at you funny, when you are walking down the street, they don’t know what to make of it.
In NYC you can walk outside your door and have an adventure, you might have the most amazing day, running into people you know, going places, meeting new people. Walking outside your door in LA you gotta have a purpose, point A, point B or else you dont go out you door. There’s no exciting drop inns, or “I was just in your neighborhood”, if you want to see people you need to make plans, and double check them or better yet triple check, because people are so flaky… You could be on your way and they would cancel last moment, people make “lose plans” to meet around 2-ish, 3-ish and all other kinds of “ish”… And I really don't think that it comes from a bad place, not at all, it just seems to me that people are generally super relaxed about there plans, time, life.
This relaxed attitude is one of the good things out here - you feel less pressure, you take a breather, much needed one at times. Everyone says that the quality of life in LA is better and I think in many ways it is true. Being here makes you want to be kinder to your body, you find time to go on a hike, to exercise, you slow down and at times that what people need.
Hiking is a very big part of culture here, I think people are trying to squeeze in all the missed walking opportunities. The most popular hike of cause would be Runyon Canyon, due to its close proximity to Hollywood perhaps. also I think it might be the easiest one of all, but there are a number of beautiful hikes in Topanga and Malibu. Remember when I said that LA is not a beautiful city, it is not, but the nature here is. Drive down to Malibu and see for yourself, even the drive itself is pretty.
People here are generally friendlier and prone to loving hi fives, I have given so many, my hands hurt, friendly chit chat is a must, but sometimes that friendliness gets “aggressive” I remember when I got scolded in my building for not vocalizing my “hello”, I thought that “smile and nod” will do it, after all that was a neighbor from a rental apartment on the other side of my floor, but apparently that wasn’t enough. I feel like it’s kind of a case out here, outdoing it and taking things a bit far, like cafe Gratitude for example, which I am going to every time I am out here, because there food is really good and I am not even vegan, but ordering everything in a form of statement “I am cherished, bountiful, loved, sharing…”is simply too much. Most of the times for me end up being “I am annoyed”. One of the other examples that comes to mind when I think of LA extremes is when I offered a homeless guy at Venice Beach leftover sushi, that I was going to take home and he refused, because he was vegan, which left me confused and slightly ashamed of myself and smelling like weed, my homeless friend was puffing on a huge joint the whole time we talked…
They say NYC can be a very lonely city, it is the sentiment I’ve heard a lot and it's probably true at times, but LA is an isolated city. Think about it, you are at your home, then you get in your car, then you drive in your car, getting somewhere, running errands, working, then back to your can and home, if you live in the same neighborhood you might meet up with friends, if not that might not happen. It is a mystery to me how do people met in LA, most of your day spend in car, probably in traffic, short of rolling down the window and going “hey girl/boy” I don’t know what would people do. May be that’s why there so much catcalling in here … Like from the passing by car kind of catcalling. Side note: if any of the men are reading this, please stop, that is not an effective technique. I have never met a girl, who heard a car honking and thought - “ I must have you now”.
Turning back to good things. Despite feeling isolated at times, stuck in traffic, trapped in a banal chit chat with uber/lyft drivers along with endearment of smelly cars, somehow you wake up happy every day. The secret must me in a sun and blue skies and palm trees, those I am convinced are natural antidepressants, something about them, dangling in a skyline just makes me so happy, cue the dancing people from “LA LA land” singing “It’s another day of sun”.
There are many fun things around LA, like Universal Studios, Disney Land or Six Flags, huge parks that simply not possible to fit in NYC, the tiny hiccup you will need to drive there, it’s really hard to get around here without the car, stating the obvious, the public transportation is seemingly non existent, unlike in NYC, personally for me it is an issue, because I am a silly head, who doesn’t know how to drive. This parks are great tho, they make you feel like a kid again, so if you can make it out there, there’s point for LA right there.
Another point in LA's favor comes with a story. When I was living in Russia in many movies I watched, that were set in NYC or LA, whenever a take out food was involved, I always saw those white take out containers with a red pagoda on them. It is silly, I know, but in my mind it was engraved that that’s how food looks out there and that what people do, so when I got to NYC, about 8 years ago or so, I really wanted to get that red pagoda thing, I tried Chinese food and Thai and Vietnamese and fusion … the amount of rice I ate trying to “catch” that box… forget about Pokemon Go, that was my big obsession. Eight years in NYC and nothing, I wrote it off as a movie fiction and moved on, when randomly just last week my friend and I were ordering some Thai take out and it showed up, my long awaited red pagoda box! So point LA, it was here all along. These are the kind of trivial things that excite me, my dreams aren’t too big, but I think these tiny details that what makes live and I love to celebrate moments like these.
Despite being so different and having almost opposite energies at the end of the day both cities are filled with people chasing there dreams and you can feel it, I think that’s what I love about each of them. I appreciate them both:
LA for giving me time to breathe, for teaching how to slow down, how to take care of myself, for making me feel closer to nature. I am so grateful for the opportunity to spend time here, soaking up the sun, breathing salt water air, escaping cold winter.
and NYC? well NYC is home…
Happy coast to coast