If you’re going to Zanzibar, La Gemma dell’ Est is definitely the place to be. If you like luxury, that is. Otherwise I’m sure there is a backpacker’s inn somewhere in Stone Town. Most of you who’ve been reading about our travels will know that we (and even more so our kids, I often think) are total snobs when it comes to hotels. That’s because we’ve been to Hawaii and more recently Mauritius (which I have yet to write about), and once you’ve been spoiled in such a paradise it is hard to ever go back to anything less exalted.
The service at La Gemma was outstanding. From the welcome drink…
…and room service.
As I’ve described elsewhere, every encounter with the friendly staff was accentuated with plenty of “Hakuna Matatas” and even though it was all-inclusive, meaning you never had any bills where you might have left a tip, the staff went out of their way to see if you needed anything around the clock.
One nice feature of La Gemma is its fairly wide sandy beach. It’s not actually that wide and pretty much disappears at high tide, but from what I hear, this is the best you will find in Zanzibar, which is not known for its wide beaches. And La Gemma has made the most of this by adding an artificial beach of sorts a bit higher up between the real beach and the pool, so that you have the feeling of sitting on the beach no matter where you are. You can face the pool in the morning and rotate your chair and gaze over the ocean in the afternoon, without ever having to move. Just make sure you don’t leave the chair selection too late in the morning – there are lots of European guests who have the habit of “marking” chairs with their towels before they go to breakfast, just to secure a good spot.
Overlooking the beautiful grounds of La Gemma
There was evidence of Europeans elsewhere. We guessed from a glimpse to the right that our neighbors must be German:
The food was good, but I wouldn’t say great. Once again, we’ve been spoiled, so it’s hard to please us, but for instance the dessert buffet had no one going back for seconds, which is pretty unusual in our family. They just didn’t quite know how to make cakes and chocolate mousse. The same goes for breakfast, which is my favorite meal, and I just love fresh bread and pastries with jam and butter together with a good cappuccino. Let’s just say the croissants weren’t anything close to real croissants, and most of the fruit was a bit unripe. However, there was definitely enough for everyone to find something they liked. I personally kept going back for the freshly grilled fish and vegetables at dinner time. Still, the food was the one area that might make me hesitate saying we’ll definitely go back a second time, though at the all-inclusive rate we got it was a fairly good deal.
A perfect spot for dinner on the beach
Regarding the weather, I’m not sure if it was just bad luck or if this is the pattern at this particular spot on Zanzibar: The days would start out beautiful, but very punctually at around 10:00, just as you were heading to the pool with your book, dark clouds would roll in. Glancing up it always looked like they should pass any minute, but a weird duo of an offshore and Southern wind somehow kept them firmly in place until about 3:00 in the afternoon, sometimes even subjecting you to a few brief showers. If you check out the beach picture above, you’ll see the cloud I’m talking about. I was never truly hot while on Zanzibar (except during our excursion to Stone Town, where we would have welcomed some clouds). In fact, I’ve never truly been hot since living in Africa, ironically enough. Everything turns cold here when the sun is gone, even in Zanzibar which supposedly is in the tropics.
See what I mean about that cloud? Still the brilliant white sand and crystal blue waters were stunning
The diving was good, so the boys say, and there were the usual watersports on offer as well. You could take out sea kayaks for free, rent a catamaran or Laser, or go waterskiing or parasailing. Back in the day, Noisette and I were pretty big into windsurfing (we spent our honeymoon with two weeks of windsurfing in Maui or should I say soaking in the hot tub to soothe our sore muscles), and for some odd reason I decided this vacation that it was time to step on a board again. I talked Jabulani into trying it, so together we rented two boards and proceeded to haul up those sails. An instructor helped us at first and had Jabulani’s board tied to a long rope which he could use to haul him back in, a great idea. But it would have probably been an even better idea to teach him how to turn. Instead, as he progressed getting his sail hauled up and upright and wind into it, the instructor turned him loose and when it was time to turn around, yelled “turn around” at him. Needless to say, that didn’t work so well. Still, we plowed on, and I had some great runs back and forth (though no one took a picture so I can’t share one with you) and memories of the olden days surging through me. There is no better feeling, in my mind, then shooting across the waves propelled by the sheer power of the wind, the sun glinting on the waves.
Alas, no windsurfing picture, but here is one of the many dhows sailing up and down the coast
They’ve made some changes to the boards from fifteen years ago, most notably that the bigger ones used for beginners are now as wide as a boat. This greatly helps stability when hauling up the sail, but it also makes them impossible to turn when you’re trying to tack. I didn’t want to try and jibe (turning away from the wind) either, as that wicked wind which was blowing along the shore when standing on the beach was completely offshore once outside in the bay. So the best option was to crash, swim the sail around, and start again. You can imagine my arms were jello after just half an hour. Which was just as well since by that time Jabulani had drifted farther and farther out and from his antics I could see he was extremely frustrated. I somehow manhandled my board back to the dock, swam out to where he was sitting on his board and showering me with the vilest accusations, and manged to sail both of us back to shore (full disclosure: we were actually “rescued” when the instructor came out and met us with his motorboat, which had me a bit miffed because by now I was on a perfect course back home, but still Jabulani hopped off and preferred to go with him). I’m not too concerned that he will never try again as Jabulani of all our kids tends to forgive and forget and bounce back with renewed vigor the next time, but I admit I could have picked a better day (and maybe a better place) for his first foray into windsurfing. Still, I’ve caught the bug again and will definitely plan for some windsurfing next time on a windy beach.
One of our favorite spots, after the daily afternoon family tennis match, was the sunset bar built on stilts right into the ocean:
We would sip our drinks and watch a beautiful sunset, or look down to see huge fish swarms swirling below.
And we would gaze out at the calm ocean, toast each other, and say Hakuna Matata!
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