Zanzibar: when the beach awakens

Jetlag is the Great Motivator for exercising. And so Andre goes for another early morning run, on the beach, before the village comes to life and the tourists, well-fed and lobster-red, begin to trickle onto the beach like the tentacles of a gigantic, flabby jelly fish.

The tide is low, fishermen are coming back with the catch of the night and the beach seems imbued with a quiet sense of purpose. 

There is nothing superficial about the beach at that time of the day when the workers of the sea have logged in another honest night’s work. Too busy or too tired to acknowledge the quiet runner in their midst.

Zanzibar: in the meantime…

While Andre went back in time during his brief visit to Hong Kong, Laura and the boys were resolutely moving into the future.

Both boys got certified as junior Open Water divers and spent the week exploring the depths of the Indian Ocean, seeing humpback whales, sea turtles, crocodile-fish amongst others.

And Laura was conversing in seemingly fluent Kiswahili (to my untrained ear, at least !) with the hotel staff !

Zanzibar: they did not only trade spices

Zanzibar was East Africa’s main slave entrepot port until 1873, when the British Parliament voted to abolish slavery and persuaded the Sultan to render it illegal on the island. A cathedral was built in 1874 to commemorate the abolishment of slavery in Zanzibar. Its crucifix is carved from a branch of the tree in Northern Rodhesia (now Zambia) under which the explorer and anti-slavery advocate  Dr. Livingstone’s heart is buried.

Anglican cathedral

We make a disturbing visit to the old slave market, now the site of Zanzibar’s Anglican cathedral. We visit a chamber, perhaps 300sqft in size, used to keep as many as 75 slaves for the night, until they are auctioned at the market. Slaves were whipped to determine their price. Those who would resist screaming the longest would fetch the highest price.

1894 memorial to Zanzibar’s slave trade

Zanzibar: Babel of East Africa

It is fascinating to get lost in the narrow, winding alleys of Stone Town. Not even Malacca gives us such a strong feeling of a cultural, ethnic and architectural kaleidoscope.

Boys in Stone Town
Schoolgirls heading home

Pretty veiled Swahili ladies, shuffling quietly through the streets. Boisterous uniformed school children dilly dallying on the way home. Shrewd Arab traders deep in negotiations under an archway. Elderly Farsi ladies shopping at a street market. 

Street scene from the Zanzibar Coffee House
Square in Stone Town

Mosques, Anglican church, Catholic Cathedral, Jain temple, Vedic temple, Pharsee temple all form an awe-inspiring interdenominational mosaic.

Darajani Bazaar

Zanzibar: kaleidoscope of cultures

Zanzibar is a fascinating mix of architectural styles and racial types. Mosques, churches, merchants’ villas, colonial administration buildings, old forts, sultans’ palaces form an eclectic real life museum of the island’s history.

Persians, Arabs, Indians, Eurasians, and native Africans of every shade come and go in the narrow winding streets of Stone Town.

That evening, we give in to our nostalgia for Chinese food and dine at the town’s only Chinese restaurant, the Pagoda, owned by one of only five Chinese-Zanzibari families. It is surprisingly good.

The House of Wonders, the old Sultan’s palace. The first building with an elevator in Africa!
Government House
The old Dispensary

Zanzibar: arrival

We fly from Campi Ya Kanzi to Zanzibar, now part of Tanzania, via Mombassa. After the bush, it feels good to be back to civilization in cospmopolitan Stone Town, Zanzibar’s old town.

Zanzibar is the archetypical “Spice Island”. Controlled over its 2000 year history by native tribes, Persians, Arabs, Portuguese, Germans, the British, it gained its independence from Britain in 1963 and subsequently merged with Tanganyika to form the Union of Tanzania.

A part of the Sultanate of Oman since the 1830’s and until 1964, Zanzibar’s tropical climate lends itself to the cultivation of all sorts of spices, which became its major source of wealth. Today, she remains the world’s largest exporter of clove.

Leaving Tsavo for Zanzibar