Life’s A Beach

6 02 2009


     “I know I left the beach here somewhere!”     (low-tide fishermen, Zanzibar)


According to the highest purveyor of all encompassing wisdom in the world – the internet – there are 356,000 kilometres of coastline in the world. And while not all of it may be fine white sand overhung with tropical palm trees and lapped by crystal clear blue waters, in the middle of winter when we’re digging out our driveway or trying to prevent heat-seeking ice-crystals from penetrating the ring-of-wool around our necks, almost any beach sounds pretty appetising.


Each year, millions of people around the world flee south – or north – away from inclement weather to drop and flop on a sun-soaked beach. Many want nothing more than the classic guzzle-and-tan holiday: a resort which offers all-you-can-eat food extravaganzas, unlimited umbrella-festooned drinks and afternoon karaoke by the pool. However, for someone who wants a bit more, there are still more than 300,000 kilometres of coastline to choose from.


Zanzibar is everyone’s idea of a tropical island. It sits off the coast of Tanzania in east Africa, surrounded by the deliciously warm and clear waters of the Indian Ocean and protected by coral reefs. It is an island rich with history and culture from Sultans and harems, to revolutions and intrigue. At one time it was the centre of the Arab slave trade. Later, it was the starting point for expeditions by legendary names like Stanley, Livingstone, Burton and Speke. Its capital city, Stone Town, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes inaccessible by vehicles and untouched by history. Although there are a few modern resorts at the island’s north, there are also small properties hidden along its pristine coastline.


After an hour’s drive through small villages, banana and coconut plantations and along a bumpy dirt track, we arrived at one such place perched on a cliff. The hotel offered a hand-full of cottages overlooking the sea and surrounded by flowering bushes and immaculate lawns. There was a small restaurant where the menu was dictated by the catch of the day and whatever was available in the local market and then prepared to your requirements. And that was all.


There was no sprawling buffet, no mega-bar, no afternoon Pilates class, no spa, no disco, no internet café and no television or minibar in the rooms. What there was was the song of birds, the crash of waves and not a single other soul in sight.


The beach stretched as far as a rocky outcrop in one direction and meandered away among palm trees in the other. Apart from a few hundred tiny crabs scampering towards the water, it was completely deserted. The water was warm, clear and flawless and the only other swimmers were schools of colourful fish.


At night we slept with the windows open serenaded by the crash of the waves, the gentle whirr of the ceiling fan and the strange sounds of frogs and nightlife. We would awake to find a breakfast tray outside our door and sit and watch the seaweed farmers tending their crops while the tide was still out. Days were spent swimming, reading, watching the occasional dhow sail past and eating the freshest calamari in the world. By evening it was the myriad stars overhead and dinner by flickering torchlight.


There are beaches and then there are beaches. Our little slice of paradise might have seemed to have offered considerably less than the resorts further up the coast, but it also cost considerably less. Sometimes, however, less is more and as we made our way back towards Stone Town and our flight home, we really wished we had spent more time on our private beach.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan



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