Zanzibar! The name has always conjured up exotic images for me and it did not disappoint! Meaning the “City of Blacks”, this group of islands became a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in 1963 and I remember my Dad returning from a mission there (with the Canadian army) just around that time. He loved it and so did Tony and I.
We were fortunate to have taken a tour with a company called “Eco-Culture Tours” and they lived up to their name. We drove about an hour out of the city to Jozani Forest, a national reserve which includes areas of towering mahogany trees, lush mangrove swamps and local fruit and palm trees (providing plentiful food for the rare indigenous Red Colobus monkeys.
Mande, our guide, then took us to the east coast and his home village. On the way we stopped at an oceanside resort suggested by the Winnipegger who had organized the tour. The Rock was a restaurant built on a rock promontory only accessible by wading out to it. Owned by a European, the food looked delicious (with prices to match) but most of us opted to sit out on the terrace overlooking the water and have a cold beer ($5.50 – while one couple had their beer on land and paid $2.50!).
Mande’s village was charming – most homes were built of coral rock (the foundation of the island, so in plentiful supply) while a few seemed to have walls of straw mats. Almost all had thatched roofs. We had a demonstration of how they get the coconuts off the trees (shimmying up with only ropes on their feet) and a woman showed us how she grates the coconut and makes coconut milk (squeezing the flesh with a little bit of the coconut water before running it all through a sieve). And…as always, I couldn’t resist taking photos of the children who allowed me to do so. I brought pencils and stickers with me on the ship but kicked myself that I’d left them all on board.
A quick look at the ocean on the south side of the island with another beautiful beach and some lazy fishing boats, then we were off back to the main city of Unguja and it’s historic centre, Stone Town, a World Heritage site. Claimed to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa, it was once the hub of the slave trade, the market processing 60,000 slaves per year.
Tony and I opted to leave the tour at this point in order to wander the narrow, crooked streets on our own. They are clean and colourful with a lively atmosphere. Numerous shops with beautifully carved wooden doors punctuate white walls.
Who would have guessed that Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar? It was a surprise to us to stumble upon Mercury House – with his story and pictures on either side of the doorway.
We walked for an hour or so and then wandered back to the Nautica, our home away from home, via the beach (where children were having a ball in the water) and a night market with all sorts of yummy looking food (including Zanzibar pizza). Sadly I don’t think my stomach can take street food yet.
Tony and I left this island with regret – it is a fascinating mix of cultures and the general feeling is laid back, friendly and tidy. We just didn’t get enough of it.