I got the chance to discover Zanzibar in the fall of 2017 while I was working on the crew for a French-language Canadian reality TV series. Having few expectations for this place, I could only be extraordinarily surprised…
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My visit to Zanzibar
As assistant director and production coordinator of the travel team for the Occupation Double TV show, I had the chance to travel the globe during the shooting. I traveled to 9 countries on 4 continents in less than 3 months and literally went around the world.
Many places surprised, dazzled, and charmed me. But my favorite place was the final destination, Zanzibar, Tanzania.
I knew about Zanzibar because as an avid Queen fan, I knew it was the birthplace of singer Freddie Mercury — there is the Freddie Mercury Museum.
I knew that Zanzibar is an archipelago off the African continent, located in the Indian Ocean. And that’s about as much as I knew! There is a lot more to say about this place.
I and my colleagues Jérôme and Caroline landed in one of the most dilapidated airports I have ever visited. Broken tiles fall from the walls, luggage scales are antiques, and the fees to enter the country vary depending on the customs officer’s mood.
Welcome to Stone Town! A charming town, where tiny cobblestone streets wind through a worn metropolis, with a colonial feel that is scented with Indian spices and salty air.
The Africans sell us local handicrafts, colorful clothes, jewelry, paintings, and travel souvenirs. They always have that big beaming smile and regularly throw their now famous expression: Hakuna Matata! Which means exactly what we learned in The Lion King! “No problem, no worries” in Swahili.
Hakuna Matata is more than just a phrase; it’s a way of life. Over there, we feel that people don’t worry about the little things. You have to learn to live at the African rhythm. I would have liked not to be on the run, in work mode, to appreciate the richness of the Tanzanian people.
After a few days, we headed to another island, Pemba. Pemba is Paradise. Don’t look any further. It exists; only it is remote.
You must first fly to Zanzibar’s airport (ZNZ) to arrive in Zanzibar. Then you will have to fly to Pemba’s airport (PMA) in a small Cessna plane, possibly dating back to World War II, without air conditioning, where you will have the vague but unpleasant feeling of suffocating during the 30 minutes of flight.
Then you will have to drive on a dirt road for almost 2 hours through villages of children running behind the car shouting “Jambo” before arriving at The Manta Resort, which is located on the northwestern tip of the island.
The Manta Resort is a beautiful place. The cheerful, smiling staff is a big part of its charm, but the setting is really what makes the long drive there worth it. The rooms on the hillside overlook a white sand beach and an unreal, almost phosphorescent turquoise sea.
The Indian Ocean was one of those places I had always wanted to see, and it did not disappoint.
There is this famous underwater room where the show’s participants had the chance to sleep for 2 nights (it goes for US$1400/night if you are interested!).
We shot a whole afternoon in this floating room, or aquatic paradise, and then Jérôme and I had a delicious romantic dinner delivered to our room that night. One of the first and last in 9 weeks of shooting! Huge windows allowed us to admire the infinitely starry African sky from the comfort of our nest.
The next day, a trip on the water awaited us. Sitting on the edge of the boat with Caroline — the sound recordist — and Rachel, our “fixer” (our local ally for production), who were ecstatic, we only had eyes for the color of the water.
I’ve seen some heavenly places in my life; I’ve explored the Caribbean and the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, I’ve swum in the deserted waters of the Coron Islands in the Philippines, and I’ve admired all the shades of blue of the ocean. Or so I thought…
But that blue near the white sandbanks that only appear at low tide was so mesmerizing that I ended up jumping into the water while the boat was still running. I have never wanted to swim so much in my life!
Then we walked to the ephemeral beach, popped the sparkling wine, and toasted to this last day of shooting, after 9 weeks of living in planes, time differences on top of time differences, experiencing the whole range of emotions from the most pleasant to the most painful, it was magical to take these few minutes to live this moment.
We continued to sail, on the typical Zanzibar one-sail boat, the ngalawa, to contemplate the sunset that transformed the turquoise ocean into a burning pool of liquid fire.
The present moment, or impermanence in Buddhist philosophy, is a difficult concept to grasp, and what I love about traveling is that it allows you to assimilate it more.
I savored every second of these moments, stayed on the beach, returned from the ngalawa, and bathed until the fire died down. I thanked the creator for all these gifts, and today I wanted to share this discovery of Tanzania with you.
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I am not done with this country rich in smiles and happiness. I will come back there. And I sincerely wish you will go there too. Hakuna Matata!
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Featured image: Sailing boat in Zanzibar (photo credit: Jérôme Hof)
Original publication date: March 29, 2018