Zanzibar is a rare gem set in a turquoise ocean
Visit this island of palm-lined shores, white beaches and friendly people, suggests Corrin-Del Klopper
Zanzibar is a rare gem set in a turquoise ocean, an island of palm-lined shores, white beaches and friendly people.
We sought a place to catch our breath. We went to listen and to learn, and found one of the earth’s rarest gems – a precious blue stone scarcer than diamonds, tanzanite – the island of Zanzibar.
Zanzibar lies in the Indian Ocean, 35km off the coast of mainland Tanzania where the capital is Dar Es Salaam.
It is an exotic, enticing destination where 80% of the people follow the Muslim faith.
Zanzibar is an archipelago of islands made up of two main islands, Unguja and Pemba, dotted with a salt-and-pepper spicing of small islands, some just sandbanks that come and go with the tides.
We found coconut palm-lined shores and endless white beaches, coral reefs and warm, friendly, sincere people and the beat of the marimba band echoed throughout our visit.
We stayed on the eastern side of Unguja near the village of Uroa, an altogether quieter area compared to the busier and popular north with the bigger, fancy hotels.
The tide receded and so the beach was ever changing.
We were also closer to historic Stonetown and an easy drive to villages and trips to the more popular paragliding resorts we preferred to avoid.
Our resort allowed us to sit on the edge of the beach and watch another world go by. We watched young children from the village chatter and run to school along the shoreline. Next the fishermen would come out to clean the nets and hammer at their simple wooden boats before launching out to sea.
The beach would change as young mothers in bright flowing colours, carrying chubby babies and young children, took new steps.
We watched as the sun started to settle and the beach shifted from small, rustic shops and a bicycle track to a soccer field in an authentic and ever-changing kaleidoscope.
At night we slept guarded by tall Masai warriors standing firm and silent in traditional robes. We watched them dance and jump to great heights, a sight we thought we would never see.
Stonetown was a labyrinth of narrow and crooked alleys, palaces of times past, walls marked by wars and storms, and busy bazaars selling fresh catches from the turquoise sea and spices harvested from the island’s forests.
On Stonetown’s famous carved wooden doors each swirl had a story to tell.
Every corner we turned in the town’s maze was a reminder of a vibrant and decadent past. Its old fortresses, cathedrals and Persian baths are all worth a visit.
The streets are a cacophony of sights and sounds, an opulent past reflected in crumbling facades. Stonetown is a beguiling mixture of African, Persian and Indian cultures – Africa’s own Orient.We explored the old slave trading posts and learnt about a turbulent, brutal time. It is sad, and intriguing, but an integral part of Zanzibar’s story.We felt great heaviness of despair while visiting the dark, old dungeons with their oppressive wooden rafters and metal chains.We walked the old harbour quay and saw the sails of majestic, ethereal dhow boats on a silvery sea at sunset.
We were sure ghost stories must linger in the wooden knots of the old boats and in the many stitches in the heavy sails, an etching of remembrance of lives traded and lost.These are the boats that once carried the human trade in their bellies to foreign shores. Their withheld secrets are groaned only to the waves, in storms.We watched young men do acrobatic jumps into the sea off the end of the quay and came to realise this remained the social hub of the old city.Music was played and food was being cooked for the evening crowds that spilt onto the street.People and greed had washed over these islands in the ugly trade of human lives in the past, yet the people are friendly and warm, and tourism encouraged.Always do remember, though, you are a guest of the island. You will need to barter and choose with whom to do business.
On a spice tour we learnt that spices are found in roots, bark, leaves and seeds. Our tongues found new tastes, our fingers stained by turmeric.A small amount of vanilla had grown on the island but the farmers then learnt that vanilla must be grown in mixed cultures with other spices in order to thrive.Is this not reflective of life? Is there not a lesson for all of us to learn: that for us to thrive we, too, must embrace diversity.The food the Zanzibaris offered us were platters of fresh seafood, spicy and delicious. The beer was good and so was the local gin. The fruit we ate was sticky and sweet, the pineapples exquisite and large.We ate copious amounts of prawns, fish, crayfish and delicious curries, all spiced by the island’s green belt and salted by the Indian Ocean.We took a day’s adventurous journey in a dhow. It offered the chance to discover deserted beaches, nibble on platters of seafood, clink chilled Kilimanjaro beers, snack on sweet, homemade peanut brittle, snorkel and bask on white beaches, find exotic shells, and seek dolphins in the bay.Later we took a traditional daladala – a local taxi – through the sandy village with a laugh and a song, then walked through mangrove forests, losing our shoes in the silty sand.
We found the famous floating restaurant we had seen in brochures and it seemed surreal.
On the way back after a full day we sailed home on the creak of wood on wood, and the snap of canvas on rope, the heavy, once-white sails worn to grey.
We watched the burnt sienna sunset darken against the silhouette of a shore lined with palm trees tossing in the wind.
Are you looking for a destination with seas as blue as tanzanite, endless white beaches, fishing villages to embrace, an exotic history to discover, a warm wind to catch your breath, spiced seafood to feast on and tropical fruit to tantalise, coral reefs to explore and sea life to clown and entertain you, and finally to feel the exhilaration of being in a majestic boat as the mended old sail catches the wind?
Then come to Zanzibar: she has adventures waiting for you!
ZANZIBAR IN NUMBERS
Capital: Zanzibar City
Official languages: Swahili, Arabic, English
Ethnic groups: Arabs, Hadimu, Shirazi, Swahili, Tumbatu
Religion: Islam (99%) and Christianity (1%)