Monday, January 4, 2016

Sunshine Paradise, Zanzibar

Today was scheduled as a down day for us with no tours planned.  We simply needed to be transported from Stone Town to Sunshine Paradise.  Well, this turned out to be more difficult than we thought it would be.  We were picked up at 9am after a nice breakfast in the Tea Room (always rough climbing those hot stairs to the top).   The hour drive turned out to be a full 2 hours as our driver took us to the wrong hotel.

Eric and I throughout this entire trip, being geospatial people, had maps loaded onto our iPhones and was tracking our movement via GPS tracks both to know where we were and to ensure our safety, etc.  When we took a right and started heading down a dirt road I looked at my GPS and thought it looked a bit wrong but I hadn’t marked the hotel so I wasn’t sure.  When we got to the Sunshine Hotel and was dropped off we quickly realized from the front desk we were at the wrong hotel.  We sprinted back to the van and caught our driver who checked with someone at the gate and said, “no worries, very close”.  ha!

Next thing we know we are traveling down what was clearly a 4x4 backroad only suitable for cattle and foot traffic.  We were crawling at about 5mph over huge rocks and up steep climbs.  I looked up the description of Sunshine Paradise (sister hotel of “Sunshine” he had brought us to) and it said it was directly opposite Mnemba Atoll which I could see on our map.  We were FAR AWAY, and at this rate I knew right away it would take easily another hour.  I tried to tell him it might be better to go back to the main road and try a different route but he didn’t understand me and we kept going.  

Finally, he relented his position that it was “very close” and he and I both kept an eye on my gps map and our progress.  When we finally made it to the hotel I urged him strongly to ask the staff what the best exit road was because he would be picking us up the next day for our tours and we didn’t want a 2+ hour bumpy commute.   Now, to his credit, unlike our guide the day before, this man, despite not understanding us well, showed incredible warmth and had a big smile every time he talked to us.  He very clearly felt bad about the mistake and his attitude was genuine.  Despite the mistake (we all make mistakes) he was kind and he got a good tip from us for showing that kindness.  

As usual, fresh juice was brought to us by the hotel staff.  It was 11:30am when we arrived and we knew we were early but it still took over 40 minutes for the staff to organize and show us to our rooms.  The whole time we were waiting we were listening to a couple checking out that clearly had been over-billed for what they got in food and drinks…. a sign?  We met the resort manager Eva and she showed us around the grounds.  Very nice.  The front desk clerk told us it was low tide but when we got to the dock it was definitely high tide…. hehe, no biggie.  

When we got to our room we realized there was no AC… no biggie as there would be “cool ocean breezes” as the resort put it and their “powerful fans” were in reality one Walmart-quality rotating fan for Emily and I and a ceiling fan over Eric that didn’t seem very efficient.  Whatever, we assumed it wold be breezy and cool at night so we headed down to the pool and bar to relax for the afternoon and sun bath with pina coladas.  Well, the $8 pina colada that was put in my hand and billed to our room was warm coconut water with a splash of rum.. and I’m not exaggerating.  

I understand that there isn’t much drinking in the Muslim culture of Zanzibar but at a fancy tourist resort like this with a full suite of liquor on hand and at $8 a pop I figured we’d have decent drinks.  Nope.  The staff also didn’t seem to commit themselves to their job.. much the same attitude as our Stone Town guide.  No personal interaction, no warmth, no kindness.  I then made the mistake of trying the Long Island Iced Tea… won’t even get into that.  

Instead Eric and I decided to get massages and was told by the manager that the woman was coming this afternoon and was already book and could only give us 30 minute massages.  Ok, half price, no biggie, great…. well, at around 3:30pm the manager came back and said the woman was there and ready for me.. way earlier than I thought so I ran around finding money for a tip for the woman then headed to the dive center where her private room was.  Arriving I think she wanted me to drop trow but I instead loosened my swim shorts for her and rolled up the thighs… 

I asked for the “deep tissue” hoping to help my chest/back pain which was clearly a mistake as most of the massage was painful.  Not only painful, but the masseuse looked absolutely miserable.  She seemed to absolutely hate her job, as usual for the island, no smile, no warmth but she did put in a solid 45 minutes rather than the 30 I was expecting.  Her attitude was insane to me as the average ANNUAL income on Zanzibar is $250 and we were getting charged  $35/30 min for the massage.  Unless this woman was getting absolutely shafted by the resort (possible I guess) she must have been making pretty darn good money… perhaps she was just having an “off” day.

After the massage Emily I headed down to the shoreline at low-tide to walk amongst the tide pools and check out all the critters around.  This was the most enjoyable part of the day for me, although the pool was pretty nice… We found a ton of common rock crabs and even a ghost crab that we missed a photo of.  We also saw mudskippers all over the rocks, which I like to think of as representing evolution.  I’m pretty sure I saw an octopus arm coming out of a rock as well.  We walked all the way down the shoreline to a beach with dhows tied offshore.   Eric caught up briefly after his much better “relaxed-type” massage.  On the way back to the resort we walked by a group of locals/staff that had brought a big speaker down to the rocks and were having a dance party!  

Being so far from anything on the north end of the island our dinner choice was limited to what the resort was offering, which of course happened to be horribly overpriced.  Eric made the mistake of ordering the pricey spiny lobster which was far overcooked and nearly impossible to eat as no shell crackers or utensils were provided to him to get the meat out.  Finally, I got up and asked and was given bamboo toothpicks.  The fish Emily and I had was ok.  The 4 medium prawn cocktail was $9 and the drinks were still $8… Made for a pricey dinner and of course we waited forever for the bill with the odd stray cat walking through the dining room until we got up to leave and of course staff rushed over.  

Emily and Eric after the shortened afternoon from the 2hr morning drive vetoed going to Jozani forest in the morning in favor of more time to relax by the pool and a morning to sleep in.  Knowing there was a dive center at the resort I thought maybe I could join in and get a dive in at Mnemba Atoll but, alas, the tides didn’t line up enough for me to make it back and still go to Cheetah’s rock in the afternoon which was the # 1 thing I was looking forward to on Zanzibar.  It took some phone calls from Emily from the front desk and some emails that thankfully got through the terrible resort wi-fi connection, but we were able to reach Robert at Eco & Culture tours to let him know we were skipping it.  We had seen plenty of wildlife and I we could live without seeing the red colobus monkeys that only live in Jozani Forest on Zanibar.  I was ok with it.

After dinner we relaxed a bit more and switched to more reliable beers rather than the poorly made mixed drinks.  I tried to get some night photography over the Indian Ocean before bed but the humidity was so thick it just turned out as thick clouds over everything, obscuring any stars.  Heading back to the room we found to our dismay that there was absolutely no breeze, despite a strong one at the dock where I was just shooting.  The only way to get any movement of air was to open the doors to our room wide open without much privacy.  It was uncomfortably hot and we basically had to sleep on top of the covers the entire night.. the whole time pouring sweat into them.  There were also biting red ants crawling up the walls so we had to keep the bug nets of the bed down which further kept any breeze off our bodies.  The fan on full speed did help but just a little.  

As you can tell, we weren’t overly blown away by our time on Zanzibar by this point.  Both with our guide experience, driving mistakes, and the fact that we were now at an extremely remote resort without anyway to sleep comfortably, all the while being forced to eat an extremely expensive restaurant with really poorly made expensive cocktails as well.  Hoping that our next few days would be better.

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