Zanzibar = Awesome/Beautiful Island
I must start by saying what an unbelievable place Zanzibar is...way too cool. Little kids playing soccer in the small alleyways that make up the streets and old men having coffee together on the curb...amazing.
So we left Chuo Kikoo Dar es Salaam (The University of Dar es Salaam) at around 10:30 Friday. We took a dolladolla to the Ubungoo bus depot where we got 2 taxis to take us to the harbor. Traffic is crazy at times especially in the downtown area. We took the 2 p.m. ferry across to Zanzibar. It was about a 2 hour trip, and ironically they played Deep Blue Sea (a movie about people eaten by sharks) on the way over. The ferry was nice. It is hectic when you get to Zanzibar Town and we managed to navigate thru customs, we are in the process of getting residence permits so things like the ferry will be cheaper and we wont have to go thru customs. Our hotel was not too far from the Ferry exit and we walked their in about 10 minutes. We had nice rooms at the Pyramid Hotel, complete with their own mosquito nets, so we did not have to bring our own. After we checked in, we went to have some Ice Cream at an Italian place and then on to the outdoor market/cookout place.
Their are a decent number of tourists on Zanzibar, which was kind of a nice change, because everywhere in Dar that we go, we are basically the only white people, and vendors try to rip us off. We finished ice cream and got some good pictures as the sun was setting over the Indian Ocean. The water looks a lot like the Carribean but maybe a little bit greener. All of the fisherman and vendors set up stands right next to the water in an open park like area and sell their days catch. I had Pueza (Octopus) and Barracuda. Both were very good, although Pueza is very chewy. It was very cool to mingle in a local tradition. We stayed there for a while and then went to an Indian restaurant for "The coldest beer in Zanzibar." That was their claim and I can vouch for the authenticity of it. The owner was and Indian man who had all kinds of great stories about Zanzibar and his life, very cool.
Saturday morning we got up at 8. Don't think I have stayed awake past midnight, or gotten up past 8:30 the whole time I have been here. We went to Chogwe Island, also known as Prisoner's Island, where unruly slaves were sent to be imprisoned by the Omani (middle eastern) rulers of Zanzibar from the 15th century. It is a beautiful island with a great beach, but the highlight is the giant land turtles that inhabit the island. Apparently they were brought there about 150 years ago, and now their is probably a couple hundred.
The turtles are in like a park/zoo, but unlike in the States you can get in with them and they wander around all over the place as they please. We fed them and I have some really cool pictures I hope to post whenever I figure out how. You cannot imagine how huge these turtles are. Some are over 200 years old and probably 6 feet long and hundreds of pounds. They are hilarious and let me pet their necks and heads. We did that for a while and then took are little boat with its 15HP motor back to the mainland. We went to Mercury's Restaurant which was definitely a tourist place. It was named for Queen singer Freddie Mercury who was born and lived for some time in Zanzibar Town.
Zanzibar is 95% Muslim and after shopping and bartering with vendors in Swahili(I got the numbers down so I am able to do this ok) we took a van to the very northern point of Zanzibar called Nungwi. The ride their was a humbling, or insightful trip. Along the way is mostly stone shacks and and little farms and lots of kids running around. Zanzibar is very impoverished, like much of Tanzania, but we definitely got to see that side of the Island on our trip north. The roads were good until the last 15 KM when they pretty much went to junk. Deep holes and strategic paths meant that sometimes we got to drive on the right side of the road. We arrived at our hotel in Nungwi as the sun was going down and were again pleased with our accomodations.
It is amazing how your standards for living can change so much in such a short time. A month ago, a hotel with necessary mosquito nets, no bathroom door, no toilet seat, no shower door, no hot water, no soap, and no blankets would have sounded horrible, but times have changed and it was just fine...it had toilet paper, so we were pleasantly suprised. We enjoyed our night in Nungwi with dinner right on the beach, fresh fish and rice and Safari Bia. We made plans to go out on a boat to see some large creatures and to do a tour of a Spice Farm the next day.
Sunday morning awoke with the anticipation that we would be getting in the water and swimming with wild Whale Sharks, the biggest fish in the ocean, and more like a whale than a shark. We could see a large white tail fin a few miles from shore and took a small boat out to see. Whether lost in translation or simply false information it did not turn out to be a whale shark, from what I could tell. But we got to see a huge whale and its baby. I don't know if it was a Blue Whale or what, but it was gigantic and would be face down in the water with its tail sticking out for 5 minutes. It was really an impressive animal, the baby must have been 20 feet long at least. It was crazy, because we could see this huge whale from shore and got right up to it just a few miles from the shore. Unlike the US100 or whatever it costs to see a whale in Maine, like most things here, the cost was negligible, TSH 5000, about 4.65. After that, we laid on the beach for a bit and left to return south, stopping at a Spice Farm along the way.
Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island and that is what it needed so many slaves for in the 18th and 19th century. We went to a local farm and got a tour from very friendly and interesting locals. We saw starfruit plants, and lots of fruits and then cinnamon, nutmeg, hazelnut, and on and on, pretty much every spice, got to smell them and taste them and whatever. There was a wild plant that you crack open and crush up the red nuts and use it as natural lipstick/paint/food coloring, which is still on my hands, doesn't come off easily. We saw all kinds of things, I dont rememer all of their names, and at the end one of the guys climbed probably 60 feet up a coconut tree, cut the coconuts off and we had fresh coconut milk and meat. It was really good. He sang a song as he climbed, which they do to warn those on the ground that falling palm branches and coconuts are on the way. We then returned to Zanzibar, pasisng thru a town called BuBuBu, which is funny, even if your a college student.
Last night we again had ice cream and then some of met up with the students from Luther College and Norway who went to Zanzibar yesterday and are staying until Thursday. We went to an expat bar for a while and had a nice time. Zanzibar Town is tiny alley ways with 3-4 story buildings, most of which are about 150-250 years old. With people still residing in them. The old neighborhoods where we stayed are stronghold of the opposition party CUF and we saw many campaign signs for their candidate Malim Saif. He will not win, but for the first time we saw opposition party posters. Also on Sunday afternoon at the spice farm we saw maybe 50 trucks full of people going to a CCM rally, their colors are green and yellow, they are the ruling party and will certainly win the Oct. 30 election. They were cheering and singing and it was pretty cool. Came back to Dar this morning, definitely wanted to stay in Zanzibar longer, but I will definitely be going back for a weekend trip or two as the semester continues. It was an awesome place, very nice people and a unique blend of African/Arab/and Indian cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles.
Also, on Sunday we went to the Zanzibar Town Lutheran Church which is built on the site of the old slave market. In the mid 19th century upwards of 50,000 slaves past thru the market per year, headed for somewhere in Zanzibar or the middle east/gulf region. The church was built in 1875, 2 years after the slave trade was discontinued and the altar is located right where the slaves were chained and whipped to see how strong they were. The man who built the church is buried right behind the altar and the church is beautiful, with copper carvings of Saints and traditional religious figures all along the walls. We saw the slave quarters where up to 75 men were stored at one time, with little ventilation and 3 tiny windows. The rooms did not seem suited to hold any more than 12-15 people...uncomfortably. It was a pretty sobering place. This was the east Africa slave trade, so none of these slaves would have been bound for the Americas, but it is not common knowledge that the African people of the coastal regions were captured and sold in to slavery for work in Arabia.
All in all I had an incredible time in Zanzibar, cannot wait to go back and would reccomend in to anyone who will be in East Africa or is looking for an adventurous honeymoon/vacation getaway.
Also, the beaches were pristine, the sunsets gorgeous and the fish as fresh as you could possible eat.
Matt...back in Dar es Salaam