A leisurely 20 minute stroll down the beach from our lodge, Jambiani is the idyllic East African fishing village of your dreams — where men still bring in the early morning catch by dugout canoe and children play soccer on the beach until the tide swallows up their playing field. Where houses are still constructed in the traditional ways with coral stone and thatch roofs and the locals still greet visitors with a friendly smile and gesture. Development and tourism done right would produce hundreds of villages just like Jambiani up and down the East Africa coastline, where folks would be able to continue their traditional livelihood, but also engage in, and benefit from, the tourist economy.
Lori and I spent two weeks on Zanzibar island as part of a four-month backpacking trip through Southern and Eastern Africa. We spent three days in Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town before heading to Mbuyuni Beach Village on the east coast. Zanzibar Stone Town I, II, and III cover our first few days on the island.
If I hadn’t already mentioned it before, I did get my beach pants back from Nordin in Stone Town and they are sweet! He did a fantastic job, though (as I suspected, despite my efforts to communicate the contrary) they ended up being a bit more fashionable (i.e. tight!) than I had hoped, but that’s the style, I guess. Now, instead of screaming “BACKPACKER MAZUNGO!” my clothes will scream “CRUNCHY MAZUNGO!”
Jambiani’s Seaweed Culture
In Zanzibar, seaweed culture has existed in some form for a long time, but in recent decades has become big business employing over 15,000 villagers on the island. Seaweed farmers (mostly women, as work in the intertidal zone has traditionally been performed by women) maintain over a thousand Cottonii and Eucheuma seaweed farms in the area, which are accessible at low tide. Algae is tied to lines and harvested after six weeks, when it has grown ten times is original size. After collection, the seaweed is laid out on palm leaves to dry in the sun for three days before it is sold to the Zanea Seaweeds Ltd. collection in the village, where it is packed and sent on to Dar Es Salaam and then France, Denmark, China and the U.S. for processing into Carrageenan, a vegetable alternative to gelatin used in a variety of foods and cosmetics. It’s a hard life, requiring 6-8 hours per day of salt water and sun exposure. Farmers get paid about 160 Tanzanian Shillings (7 U.S. cents) per kilo of dried seaweed. On a good day, one farmer can harvest 250kg of dried seaweed, earning US$17.50. Zanzibar produces about 11,000 tons of seaweed per year.
Zanzibar has arguably some of the most stunning coastline anywhere, and the stretch of coast between Jambiani and Paje is some of likely some of the best! Soft white sand beaches lined with coconut trees, clear, warm water and dramatic coral rock formations make for a beautiful back drop.
In November, we encountered very few other visitors and tourists. Locals outnumbered non-locals on the beach significantly, which is one of my personal criteria for the perfect beach location.
If you’re looking for something all-inclusive, trendy, stylish, or touristy, Jambiani will prove a big disappointment. But, if you’re looking for a more traditional beach location providing basic amenities to travelers without the crowds, Zanzibar’s southeast coast may be as close to paradise as it gets!
Bathroom with a view!
“Happy Hour” is popular in the area and most of the restaurants and bars along the beach offered one, including our own Mbuyuni Beach Village and the place next door. However, one of our favorite happy hour locations wasn’t on the beach, but rather out over the water:
In addition to having one of the more comprehensive cocktail menus in these parts, this place also had the best sunset view, given that it offered the only vantage point to look west (back toward the island).
We arrived in Jambiani planning to stay three nights and actually staying ten, and it still wasn’t enough! In all my African travels, Tanzania is the one place I feel truly optimistic about things. A fiercely independent and proud people, you get the sense traveling through Tanzania that Tanzanians are going to do things their way, and not just going to roll over for the West or Chinese. But they are also a peaceful, industrious and sensible people, who value community and cooperation. Granted, Tanzania has its share of challenges, but seems to be better positioned than most of its neighbors to weather the challenges with home-grown solutions, while maintaining much of its cultural heritage and warmth.
Like all good things, our time in Jambiani finally came to an end. With great hesitation and heavy hearts, we packed up our things, donned our packs and left behind our beloved Banda 1. A few hours later, we boarded an ATR-72 for the 20 minute flight back to Dar, watching the turquoise, palm dotted coastline disappear beneath the clouds of another gathering storm.