We arrived in Dar after a long flight from Zurich at 1:30am. I had collected so many miles on Star Alliance from business travel that I was able to receive free of charge, two business class round-trip tickets from Athens to Dar Es Salaam. We went straight to the Southern Sun hotel, in downtown Dar, to get some sleep before the next morning flight To Zanzibar.
The flight to Zanzibar was about 30 min. A car was waiting for us at the airport to drive us to Pongwe, a distance of 37km that took about one hour. My first impressions were neutral, a typical tropical landscape with rich vegetation but not too dense, plantations and some fair quality asphalt road. We first realized that we are in Africa when we reached the town limits. Slums, people hanging out, obviously unemployed, women carrying heavy loads on the top of their head, children running barefoot on dirt roads. Later I realized that, although a tourist destination, Zanzibar is poorer than the mainland. It might have to do with the fact that the dominant religion here is Muslim, but then again that could be a stereotype linking Muslims to laziness or passive behavior. I am not sure what it is, but things here move very slowly.
As we got out of the town, the road quality deteriorated, narrow with bad asphalt and traffic conditions became a bit dangerous. There are villages along the main asphalt road, people are walking and riding bicycles, but the road barely accommodates two cars side by side. Therefore when cars cross in opposite direction, pedestrians and cyclers have to jump off the road to save their lives. The tourist crowds normally head to the north, to Nungwi, so the west is even more underdeveloped. This is good for the rest of us that want to avoid the crowds, but not so great for the local population that could earn a better living out of tourism. Pongwe beach is a beautiful stretch of sand, one of the best on the island. It is easily accessible only through Pongwe Beach hotel, so staying there is a must if you want to enjoy it. The rooms we nice and the service absolutely excellent.
We did not do much during the first day, as we were still tired from traveling. Hang out at the pool and the beach pretty much describes the day. The beach is quite long and the hotel fairly small, so we enjoyed full privacy. There is a coral reef that breaks the ocean waves so the sea is calm but very shallow. At low tide you can walk the 200m to the reef without getting wet from the waist up. Swimming is only possible at high tide and then again you need to be very careful with the sea urchins. The setup is fantastic, but you can be disappointed if your expectations included swimming in the ocean.
The next day we visited the village, only 10 minutes walk from the hotel, which gave us a better look on local life. People are really poor. The average house – it is really a hut – is about 30m² built from clay or from concrete blocks with a roof made of dried tree branches. Usually they are not paved, most do not have electricity or running water and no glass windows. The toilet in a separate structure just outside the main building. But we saw some with satellite dish! Usually there is a small fenced yard with some plants and animals used to fulfill the dietary needs of the family. There is a school and most of the kids attend it, only the very young ones were running freely in the village.
You can find seas shells every where, at a distance of more than 100m form the sea, a result of the 2004 Sumatran tsunami that hit the village. Next: Stone Town