The Island: Imaginary Vacation

I don’t write much about my old Africa trip on this blog because I feel like I exhausted the topic in the 400 paged, two volume compilation of my field journal, personal journal, and pictures that I put together a couple of summers after I returned from my trip. This entry will be different. Maybe it is because with the impending finale of the television series “Lost”, I can’t help but think about my favorite island. Maybe it is because I keep having dreams about the destruction of white sand beaches. Maybe it is because with the rapid approach of another long awaited vacation, I can’t help but rehash another vacation that I have been mentally planning since I left the place in 1998. For whatever reason, I am totally stuck on Zanzibar and all of the places where I want to stay when I do eventually get back there again.

In Stone Town, there is the Tembo House Hotel. Granted, it may not be as luxurious as the Zanzibar Serena Lodge where we took a 2:00 am swam with those celebratory Harvard MBA students that fell in love with Suzanne and I after one evening spent dancing at the Garage Club. However, the Tembo House Hotel was where my romantic notions of Zanzibar first took shape, as I was openly teased for discussing the possibility of romantic trysts on the balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean. These sentimental notions led me to skipping around Stonetown after two British university students, Johnny and Harry, flirting more than I ever did in my real non-Zanzibar life. That is what the Tembo did to me. As poor students, even the modestly priced Tembo was out of our price range, but some of our more gainfully employed travel companions were able to afford it enough to let us hang around every now and again. On the night that the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, Suz and I temporarily forgot our worries with a lovely dinner at the Tembo House Restaurant. And for all of those reasons, when I return to Zanzibar Stone Town I will stay in the Tembo House Hotel which will hopefully still look something like this:

Considering a beach retreat takes somewhat more deliberation. I know that now there is even a Fairmont resort that sits along the Zanzibar coastline with all of the new development that has taken shape since I visited. However, when I think about a place to sit on the beach, this is the picture that comes into my mind:

If I want that beach, only one place will do and that is Matemwe, where these pictures were taken. I don’t know if these days, it is as deserted as it was back then when I danced up its shores and wrote bold declarations in its sands. I do know that the Matemwe Bungalows existed back then, although now I think they are part of a larger development called the Matemwe Lodge Retreat. On the day that we visited Matemwe (we didn’t stay there), I remarked in my personal journal, “Off shore I could see Mnemba Island, home to the resort where I sure would want to spend some time with someone special.” Sure, that was an incredibly cheesy sentiment, but it still holds true that if I could plan a trip to Zanzibar right now, it would still include a few nights at the Mnemba Island Lodge (Where rates start at the oh so reasonable $1,100 per night. Clearly you can see why this did not fit into my poor student itinerary, but rather my romantic, dream vacation itinerary).

Here I am – full of my romantic intentions wading in the waters at Matemwe:

The reality of our beach getaway is that we spent a few days up at Nungwi on the North Shore of Zanzibar. Our guesthouse was clean, new, and cost all of $30 a night for three of us to split. The best part is that it was directly on the beach and faced the ocean. It looked something like this:
I spent most of the time alone in Nungwi, where I wrote in my journal, “I am just not so great being alone all of the time, because in order to ignore all of the people who stare at you, you have to be completely comfortable with yourself and convinced that nothing is wrong with you. And that is not an assumption that I can comfortably make.” Ah, sigh – introspective, self-pity was something that I did very well as a nineteen year old. I spent too much time listening to my mix tapes full of Billie Holiday’s haunting voice while there. Nungwi was beautiful, but perhaps this kind of self-indulgent, over-analytical babble is the reason why Nungwi does not make my imaginary return trip itinerary.

One place that I would like to go back, though, is the place where we spent most of our time when we were on the island of Zanzibar, and that is the village of Kizimkazi Dimbani where Suz and I worked for a time. From the pictures that I have seen online, it appears that it has changed dramatically. When we were there, it entirely lacked in tourist amenities save one beachside restaurant that catered to the tourists who came for day trips to see the dolphins that swim off shore (Kizimkazi is located on the southern tip of the island). Now it has several lodges that look like this one – the Karamba Resort. I would love to stay there and see the village again. It looks considerably more upscale than the place where Suz and I lived when we were in the village:


When we were staying in that house, we thought it was pretty fancy. Not only did it have a tin roof and western style toilet bathroom, but we had a TV that had grainy reception of CNN International. It made the house the village hotspot for the young children who wanted to watch TV, and it also served us well in informing us about the US embassy bombings that took place while we were there. Without it, we would have been completely clueless.

After some pretty rough conditions in other spots where we stayed, our lodgings in Zanzibar (the Haven Guesthouse in Stonetown with its delicious breakfasts, the Nungwi bungalow, and our house in Kizimkazi Dimbani) felt like downright luxurious. Here I am contemplating the quiet of having my own room under the mosquito net in the Dimbani house:

And yes, my childhood Curious George (as well as a pen and notebook) went everywhere I did when I was in Zanzibar. And chances are, those three items will make the return trip as well when my imaginary vacation finally becomes a reality.
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