The East coast beaches of Zanzibar are renowned for being the best on the island. Whether it was friends, my guide book or a sun-faded posters with curling corners in Stone Town, everything and everyone said ‘Go East’. We had already been and explored Uroa on the east coast (and it was, indeed, spectacular) but not content with the thought of spending two weeks in one place we started making our way northwards up the eastern coast. Our next destination was Pongwe.
I had planned for us to go and stay at The Queen of Sheba resort. We jumped in a taxi and declared this is our destination and dumped up and down on the over-sprung back-seat and pot-holed roads up the coast to Pongwe. On arrival it instantly became apparent that the Queen of Sheba was still in the process of being built. Piles of rubble, dust and tools made for an interesting view, and excitement was replaced with momentary panic. A rotund gentleman slowly sauntered over to us (it’s the African way of life not to hurry) to explain the situation and to suggest we stay at the sister hotel next-door instead. For a planning control-freak this spontaneity and deviation from the accommodation itinerary was a step out of the comfort zone, and so too was our room…as you will find out.
On first impressions the sister ‘resort’ (I use that term in the loosest possible sense), Santa Maria Coral Park, were that it was perfect. Towering palms framed a small sandy clearing. Hammocks swung nonchalantly between thick tree trunks, the strings of shells of a Flinstones-esque outside shower gave a soundtrack of percussion whilst the individual lodges sat back in the shade. Practically on the beach, the ocean and its foamy surf could be seen lapping just metres away through the trees and a beach bar fashioned from an old dhow sailing boat played reggae tunes whilst its barman dozed on the counter.
The rooms were just as rustic and laid-back. With walls clad in deep ochre and earthy brown prints, rusting chicken-wire windows and strings of shells it was basic but had charm . Opening the avocado-coloured toilet to find it full of scurrying (and drowning) ants was perhaps not one of the room’s highlights, and likewise the complete lack of any form of door to bathroom was a slight surprise…
With reservations about toilet privacy temporarily quashed (or at least that is what I made out to be the case) it was time to really make the most of the best bits- the beach! Still yet to come to terms with the fact that we could pad from our room through the golden caster sugar sand spiny palms straight onto the stretch of beachy paradise, butterflies still quivered in my tummy and the shutter of my camera still flicked repeatedly in disbelief at the setting and the beauty of the place.
As our hot sun-pricked skin soaked up the afternoon sun and flirted with the possibility of turning to a golden brown we were distracted by two figures approaching. Edward and Luca introduced themselves as Masai Mara tribesmen. They explained that they were travellers too, but had made the trip from Kilimanjaro to Zanzibar in search of work for the season. Their profits would be used back home to buy more cows for their tribe and to trade with the Western world. Adorned with beads and swathes of cloth they brandished their knives, told tales of hunting lions and let us peek into their world, one which bore no resemblance to anything I knew.
They laughed at our small families, old parents and choice of football team before teaching us snippets of their language by drawing in the sand with their staffs. By the time we had finished comparing anecdotes of our respective lives a swollen globe of sunlight had started to sink as if melting towards the horizon casting a rosy stain to seep across the skyline. The place had a whole new lease of life as twilight came and as darkness fell. As cocktails were shaken, the reggae volume was cranked up and candles were lit. Having ordered our dinner 10hours previous (allowing plenty of time for the ingredients to be bought in fresh) our bellies grumbled in anticipation. And it was worth the wait. Out came our char-grilled octopus to beaming smiles on our tight sun-blushed faces. The best seafood I have ever tasted.
As we nursed over-filled tummies and revelled in the barmy night the barman lured a friendly bush-baby to the bar with a juicy piece of mango. The little fuzzy creature with flashing full-moon eyes sat and munched away in front of us, oblivious of its fascinated audience. Before the barman could even finish his sentence offering me the chance to feed the little fella myself I was by the bar with a handful of ripe fruit tempting the bush baby back down the bowed trunk of a tree. I had had my Really Wild Show moment, I played Doctor Doolittle and my debut encounter with the monkey-like ball of fur, his little velvet hands trying to rip the sticky sweet peel from my grasp.
As for the evening the memory of it will never fade, sheer happiness and not a care in the world, it is up there as one of the best.
Despite having slept in the most uncomfortable and back-crippling bed of my life and having awoken to discover that a pesky mosquito (surely of the beastly kind) had snuck through the gappy net and past my layers of repellant moisturiser to leave a sore ballooning bite on my ankle (or subsequent cankle) I was still reeling and giddy from the perfection of the night before. So if you want a piece of this magical place I would recommend booking a room which comes with a hammock (for a slither more nocturnal comfort) and ordering octopus….the rest?…you just need to see it and feel it for yourself!