As we left for the airport in Ricky’s little truck to catch the midnight flight there was a lot on my mind. Firstly parting ways with Ricky for 2 months a daunting feat alone, secondly the long flight ahead of me, and thirdly ideas of Africa and what might await me.
As we boarded the plane I was hoping to sit with someone who I could chat to. Approaching my seat and watching a girl push her baggage into overhead luggage then trip into her seat, I knew I would be fine. About my age, she was flying home to Johannesburg and we were able to compare stories and rate the movies we caught. In my four hour layover in Joburg I again struck up conversation with an Australian and we whiled away the time chatting about everything and anything before we parted ways, me for dar es salaam and her, to Kenya. It was from her that I found out about the Malaysian airline aeroplane being shot down. My heart was in my mouth as David was flying Malaysian airlines and I had to ask to borrow a newspaper to find out which flight it was. On the next leg I had two South African men who we’re enjoying the airlines hospitality of rum but who we’re friendly and we passed through customs the other end together.
Dar was a concern of mine, I had booked a domestic flight to Zanzibar with 2 hours to spare from landing but the visa process went smoothly and my luggage had made it thus far so I joined the colossal queue to enter the airport. Inside was basic but I was through to the other side to sit in the departure lounge where our flight wasn’t on the board but we were reassured it was okay. Excitement kicked in knowing that within the hour three planes would land to reunite the family. The plane was about 50 seats and took 20 minutes over crystal clear waters.
Zanzibar airport left a lot to the imagination, a whole in the wall marked baggage collection. After an exciting reunion with dad, Jane, Bex and Daisy we waited for David to arrive from his multi leg adventure, and Bex and Daisy's bags which had continued to Pemba. All assembled we set off across the island. It was a lot less developed than I had expected, with little sign as we crossed inland of tourist impact. The settlements were lively with the sundown feed as most residents were following Ramadan, and it felt largely like what we had encountered in parts of Asia. Zanzibar is a semi autonomous state within the republic of Tanzania and the people speak Swahili.
We spent the morning moving between the pool and the beautiful beach onto which our hotel led. The partition between our beach and the public beach was lined with sellers and Masai warriors guarded the premises dressed in their traditional colourful attire.
At lunchtime the family arrived, auntie Fiona, uncle Richard, cousin Peter, cousin Chris and his girlfriend Lara.
We started the afternoon with a walk down the beach. Our stretch was quiet with only a few hotels opening out and spread out with local settlement of wooden huts. Often chickens or goats could be seen within their settlements, and little children playing or cycling up and down the beach shouting "Jambo."
Lara's birthday was an evening of celebration. Dinner was preceded by mojitos and followed up by a bottle of grey goose vodka. We made our way upstairs to the bar in high spirits where a dancing competition was just beginning. Everyone in the resort was Italian, including the staff so it wasn't immediately obvious what we had been included in, but Chris and Lara, and David and Bex (my brother and sister) were selected as dancing couples. There were four rounds and in every one the Italians performed beautifully, and David and Bex kept us rolling around laughing as they tried every unconventional dance move in the book, including galloping off and onto the stage.
Our hotel kept us entertained on our chilling out days with water polo, beach volleyball and endless games. The water polo games turned competitive when it became an us vs them scenario with the Italians.
In the evening we walked down the beach to try a new restaurant and the ambience was much quieter. We returned to the hotel to catch the tail end of the Masai warriors performing a dancing show and then holding souvenir stalls around the pool. Many of them remembered your name and were so friendly. The evening continued into an after dark game of water polo.
Zanzibar (or Unguja) developed fame from two main things, the spice trade and it's history as a slave trading port. We were picked up for a day exploring these things and our first stop was a spice plantation.
We were shown round with a guide to see lychees and red bananas, custard apples and paw paw growing to supply the local village and beyond. Nutmeg was cut open like a conker to reveal a beautiful red shell, and they carved cinnamon from the bark of a tree. One plant they crumbled to make a strong orange lipstick like substance with they used to paint our skin and lips. Our guides made us a pouch to collect the different smells in, from ginger to saffron, vanilla to coffee we experienced the tour with all senses. At the end of the tour we saw the coconut collection where a boy scaled the 40 metre tall tree, knife in hand while singing for us. He then presented us with the fresh coconut to drink out of and eat the flesh. They had made us hats and spice baskets from banana leaves to take home. Finally we were led to to the end to try the freshest and sweetest fruits, the lychees were delicious and the jackfruit despite its mushy texture won us over with its taste of banana and pineapple.
We drove on for an hour to stone town, the main hub of Zanzibar where we were shown to a boat which would take us across to prison island or Changuu. On the short crossing we passed through crystal clear waters to arrive on a stunning little beach, however this gorgeous place had a less than appetising history. Designed and built as a prison, the island was used as a quarantine to protect Zanzibar from many diseases brought in through its maritime activities. Many sufferers of yellow fever and tropical ailments were isolated here to prevent the spread, however the truth is they were brought here to protect the majority rather than nursing them back to health.
The island was home to the British regent and then later handed back to the Zanzibar government. In 1919 the Seychelles presented prison island with 4 giant turtles and despite some difficulties over the years, these protected animals are now flourishing on the island with some as old as 157 and many more new borns.
We returned in the boat to stone town starving and we're taken to a restaurant for a late lunch. 95% of Zanzibar's population are Muslim and we're observing Ramadan, including our two guides, so the only restaurants serving would serve you inside as to maintain respect. We washed the sand off our feet and sat on cushions on the floor in a decorative restaurant to feed up on curries and fish.
Around 4pm we emerged to visit stone town and were taken to the old fort the oldest structure in Zanzibar, built by convict labour. The structure shows the marks of the two dominant forces, started by the Portuguese and finished by the Arabs when they expelled the Portuguese in 1698 recognisable by a more decorative style. It served as a prison, a women's club and a place of execution. Now this holds markets, concerts and film festivals and is the heart of stone town.
Our tour continued through the winding alleyways which we shared with motorbikes, push bikes and market stalls and we stopped in a small courtyard with a telephone pole in the middle. The guide said this is the centre of stone town named Jaws corner and yet there was nothing more than a phone, not connected, declaring free international calls.
Freddy mercury was born in Zanzibar before moving to India aged 7. We passed by his house which is marked as a museum and memorial to the singer.
The alleys were full of marks from past influences, in particular the doors. The size of the door marks the status of the inhabitant and many heavy dark wooden doors mark the streets. The two main styles were Indian, marked by being square in shape and having an animal symbol sitting on top of the frame, and Arabic, dome in shape, arabic symbol on top of the frame and often decorated with chains.
We were led to the site of a slave market. Slaves were bought to the mainland from Central Africa. Once sold, about half would remain in Zanzibar, the rest sold to India, Persia or Arabia. The remaining building on the site held 2 cells where slaves were held before being taken to market. The cells consisted of a concrete bench and three slit windows (two which had been added later) and the twelve of us could just about fit. The guide told us how this would have held 75 slaves and the area by our feet would have been the toilet which would have been washed out by the sea at high tide. It was an emotional and confronting experience to imagine the fear and pain this place has caused. The site now hosts an Anglican Church and the slavery memorial which is a pit filled with concrete figurines, chained together. The memorial stands in front of a tree which was a tree used to whip people before auction to determine their price. If you were going to show weakness here is the place it would be tested. Dhows (boats) leaving Zanzibar were sometimes crowded with as many as 600 slaves.
Slavery was abolished in 1873 but in places took 25 years to achieve freedom for the slaves. It was largely the pressure of British administrators and missionaries such as John Kirk and David Livingstone that these markets were closed. Both are commemorated inside the Cathedral church of Christ which stands on the site of the old slave market.
Sunset was approaching and preparations were being made for the feed which would take place shortly. We emerged near the town markets which were an assault on your nose. Our guide led us through the fish markets which were potent and back in amongst the winding alleys. We headed to a roof top bar to enjoy the sunset view and reflect on the interesting yet raw experiences of this port town.
On our way back to the car we passed through the evening food market a bustling place for sampling seafood and we picked up a local delicacy, sugar cane juice, a sweet drink mixed with ginger and mint.
After a long day exploring, a day at the beach was welcomed. The usual agenda of volleyball and tennis was rolled out. Peter lost his sunglasses in the sea and commissioned a whole team of locals to go "fishing" for them. It was interesting watching them sifting through seaweed, and even more so to watch the fascinated tourists marvel at what they were doing, puzzled.
In the afternoon we had a lesson on Swahili animals, learning dog, cat, mouse, zebra and shark to be well equipped in the local language.
An early start for scuba as we set off to explore the waters around the exclusive island of Mnemba. We kitted up at the dive shop and headed down a very basic and bumpy rode to the shores where we met our boat. With half diving and half snorkelling, we kitted up and went overboard. The first dive site of the aquarium boasted bright blue and red starfish, adorable pointy nosed trumpet fish and large groupers. It was nice to be back in the water. We emerged to showers on the surface and compared notes with the snorkellers who had seen dolphins out for a swim.
Our second dive site was a wall of coral with shoals of colourful fish lining beautiful depths of the East African waters. The boat ride back to land was very choppy and long, not much better than our travel by land. We were picked up and taken to the more developed shores of the north of the island.
After a very late but picturesque lunch we were taken out on a dhow sailing boat following the shore. The water was crystal clear turquoise set off by the slightly moody looking sky overhead. We could spot sea urchins and fish in the water below.
We disembarked at a turtle conservation site which was home to hawksbill and green turtles. Compared to the plodding tortoises we had seen previously, these creatures majestically passed through the water, emerging to gasp air. As we fed them seaweed they pushed the water through their nostrils.
On our final beach day we learnt the Swahili numbers and a few basic phrases. Because of the Italian dominated resort we would first recite the words in Italian, French, English and then Swahili making for a very multi cultural lesson.
Daisy, Bex and I got manicures some of the others got massages, and we easily whiled away the day.
The 5:30 wake up call came all too soon and we bundled ourselves into the car for a long drive to the south of the island. Arriving at 7:30 the air was chilly and as we splashed through the water to board little boats to see the dolphins, no one could imagine snorkelling would be much fun. We rode out about 5 minutes before the first sight of fins in the water and the adrenaline hit. The clothes were off, the flippers on and we sprang from the boat to see a pod of dolphins leaping through the water on their morning swim. Dolphins don't like the sun so the cool morning air is the best time to catch them. Much as we tried you can't keep up and we clambered aboard to follow them jumping overboard at every sighting, returning increasingly excited every time to the boat at what we had just seen. Despite the jellyfish out en masse and the exhaustion of leaping in and out of the boat, it was addictive and every time the driver said jump we sprang and leaped. Sometimes the dolphins would swim on the surface and leap from the water, sometimes preferring to play and dance in the depths of the water, either way it was magical to see, and hear their chirping. Noone doubted that the cold and tiredness was worth it.
Back on land, breakfast was a spread of chapaties and fruit, a feast which appeared out of nowhere. We made our way to a restaurant on a beach, aptly named the rock. As we arrived the tide was out and we walked
out to the restaurant perched on a rock with beautiful views of the turquoise waters. After a filling lunch, the sea had surrounded us and we got the boat back to shore.
The afternoon was spent, sleeping, reading and enjoying the last of the Zanzibar holiday. For our last supper we returned to the quieter restaurant down the beach for our final indulgence of seafood.
Next stop Botswana and Midikwe safari.
Over the next month I will be mostly bush camping with little access to wifi, so although I will be writing, I will be unable to post much until I am back in civilisation in Cape Town on 6th September. I will be spending my 23rd birthday in the desert somewhere in Zimbabwe or Botswana, I’m expecting a pretty unique one!