Stefje and I tried and tried and ultimately failed miserably to book a shared van out of Zanzibar's Stone Town, so we ended up speeding out of town towards the island's East coast in a taxi. Increasingly commonplace Tanzanian sights unfolded outside my window.
Crowded city streets gave way to crumbling apartment buildings. Suburbs faded away, disintegrating into tiny huts with tin roofs. Old men pedaled slowly along, hauling gas or groceries on creaky bicycles. Small shops sold chips, candy, soda and nothing more.
Eventually the wilderness began to appear. Pine groves, mango trees and palms lined our path, giving us a formal introduction to the island's lush interior. An hour an a half later we made it to the coast, speeding South towards our beachside destination of Jambiani.
Peering out the windshield of the taxi, a spectacle of incredible beauty appeared like a mirage on the horizon: these ocean views were too good to be true!
Deep turquoise waters confirmed our arrival in tropical paradise. Our room was cozily set within the confines of a collection of thatched-roof cottages and wooden lounge chairs, just 10 steps from the ocean. A restaurant and bar accompanied the premises, ensuring we were left wanting for absolutely nothing.
Before even taking a sip of my welcome cocktail I was neck deep in the salty waters, swimming against the current and basking in the afternoon sunshine that glinted across our view.
The rest of the day passed in a predictable fashion. Lounging with thick books. Long dips in the refreshing water. Ice cold beers during happy hour. With the sand sneaking in between my toes and a fresh breeze whipping clear air across the beach, all was right in the world.
That evening we got our first taste of Jambiani's intriguing tidal rhythms. As the sun slanted across the sky and the nearly full moon rose triumphantly in the East, the ocean slowly and imperceptibly retreated deep into itself. Whereas just a few hours before the waves had been lapping at the entrance to the hotel, the water was now so far back we couldn't see or hear it anymore. As Stefje and i stepped out onto the hard-packed sand late at night, we had the eerie sinking sensation that we had been transported into the opening scene of a horror movie.
By the time I awoke the next morning, beauty had returned in the form of a vibrant sunshine. One of my favorite rituals when beach bound is to go for a long morning walk on the sand. In normal conditions there are two options: left and right. Yet at Jambiani a third revealed itself: straight ahead.
Encouraged by the friendly Dutch owners of our establishment, I followed the tide deep out to sea, finding myself walking comfortably on a sand bar that hour later would be a few hundred yards away from the shoreline.
The views here were eerily peaceful. Local women harvested seaweed from designated farming points, hauling back canvas bags packed to the brim.
Shallow water produced a jutted collection of mini peaks and valleys, the water slowly slipping further out through a complex river network. The sand was slimy slipping into the crevices between my toes with a calming viscosity.
At the end of the san bar a fierce current threatened to pull me away, but I regaled in the adventurous prospect of swimming so far from shore. That afternoon nature's cycles brought a sight of unparalleled beauty. The tide began moving in, slowly at first and then in great big gusts. The shallow waters and bright midday sunlight created a kaleidoscope of colors.
Greens and blues crept closer to our villa's vantage point, awing us with their illumination at every twist and turn in the sand.
Eventually the water was deep enough for a few dhows, Zanzibari sailboats, to depart for an evening sailing trip, their bright white sails contrasting sharply against the emerald waters and powder blue skies.
I was officially at a loss for words. What more could enchant me in this slice of paradise?
The following day Stefje and I set off from some regional exploration. Wide open blue skies and a massive stretch of sand greeted us as the journey began during low tide, furthering our hypothesis that Jambiani is two different beaches depending on the time of day.
While I stared out at the long expanse of tidal pools and seaweed farms that stood between us and the ocean, Stefje couldn't help but stare at the monstrous crumbling resorts that occupied the beachfront property. Amidst a long chain of palm trees, we gazed in wonder at decrepit buildings with the roofs torn off and windows missing, a result of overzealous investment in a still nascent tourism industry.
Although Tanzania's average building seems to be constantly under some form of construction, many villas, hotels and bars here had been long abandoned.
As the tide continued to retreat, the beach opened up into a sight of surreal beauty. The sun beat down on our necks and our eyes panned in every direction, taking in the unique vantage points of this natural phenomena.
The walking continued for hours and hours, our calves and ankles beginning to ache under pressure and our brains rattling from the intense heat exposure. Eventually we veered towards the ocean, finding some water to relax our tired bodies before arriving in Paje, the largest of the East coast beach towns.
We veered off the sand and just one block behind the unbroken string of resorts we found ourselves in a tropical slum. Pungent smells of rotten faeces and boiling trash replaced the fresh salty breeze.
Unlike the wide and friendly streets of Jambiani, the tiny hovely and narrow alleys here had a sinister feel. Instead of merely yelling hello, the children here brought requests for food, water, pens or money. The whole experience, which most tourists avoid by taking private transportation straight to the beachfront hotels, contrasted sharply against the idyllic environment of the rest of the island.
For our final excursion on Zanzibar we took a day trip on a sailboat, exploring the exposed reef a few hundred yards from shore. Upon arrival we were told to hop off the boat, but the scene that greeted us seemed like a mine field. Everywhere we looked sea urchins lie in wait and every step held the risk of getting stabbed in the foot by one of their nasty tentacles.
This was just one display of the multitude of life forms which thrive in this unique shallow salt water ecosystem.
Next up, we uncovered a multitude of star fishes. Some of them were curiously attached to the back of rocks, while others featured spiky surfaces and dangerous colors to scare away even the fiercest predators.
We parked the boat and began exploring the coral reef from a new vantage point: under water. Outfitted with snorkel gear and flippers, a whole new underwater world was suddenly accessible. We gazed at clown fish cozily snuggled amongst the tentacles of sea anemones, tracked fish within the rocky coves, and surrounded ourselves by schools.
Yet the most priceless views remained above the surface, as the water here was that postcard perfect tropical blue. We couldn't help but spend plenty of time just gazing out at the sights, taking it all in.
24 additional hours of relaxation later we were on our way back to Amsterdam, already sorely missing Jambiani and plotting our return to this uniquely beautiful beach.