“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” Lin Yutang
Zanzibar is a very old and historic island in Eastern Africa. The expansive island, with about 2614 square kilometres is 6 times the size of the beautiful island of Barbados. Hugely influenced and dominated by Islamic culture, tourists from all over the world are seen on this beautiful and serene island. You can either get there by air or water. I got my ferry tickets with Sada at Dar Es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania and off we sailed for a short vacation, a week before our much awaited graduation. Arriving just before sunset, we saw the beautiful view of the sun as it sets down far in the Indian Ocean. Once we made it out of the port, a swarm of taxi drivers bug you to advertise their transportation services. We shunned the taxi drivers as we were to be received by a humble AIESECer, Saeed.
We headed for his apartment to relax before the next day. The next day was all I craved for; a day out in Zanzibar. We started with the historic Stone Town built in the 18th Century which is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is still inhabited by Zanzibaris today. Stone Town is a small neighborhood embedded in Zanzibar, built in an olden day’s type of architecture. It is characterized by narrow cemented streets, tall shabby looking buildings and encompasses many historic places such as the Palace Museum, House of Wonders, Hamamni Baths and the Old Fort. For one reason I do not know, we really didn’t need a guide to navigate the many narrow streets and turns of Stone Town as we saw many tourists had one. It appeared simple as we went round twisting our necks in so many directions. Of particular interest among those places we visited is the House of Wonders, known in Swahili as Beit al-Ajaib.
The people of Zanzibar called it so because of the wonders it possessed, and which amazed them beyond comprehension. Zanzibaris have never seen electricity before the era of House of Wonders, in 1913. Talk less of an elevator. It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity and also an elevator. A tall clock tower rises from the House of Wonders and can be seen from a distance as you arrive Zanzibar on a ship. In most photos of Zanzibar you will come across, you will also notice the clock tower, as that location faces the seaport. It is the face of Zanzibar on most post cards and picture frames. Soon, we were done treading in and out of Stone Town after visiting the Old Fort which houses the amphitheatre, the Palace Museum that contains timelines and artifacts of the history of Zanzibar rulers, called sultans in Swahili. And the Persian Hamamni baths, designed by an Iranian architect. It comprises of a hexagonal pool and fountain, steam room, and hot and cold dips. It has distinct places for washing feet, taking baths, hanging clothes and keeping your shoes.
We finally started another journey on the island towards the beautiful beaches it possesses. We travelled for more than one hour, in a truck used for public transportation popularly called Dala Dala in Tanzania (Matatu in Kenya, Molue in Lagos, Nigeria and Fula fula in Congo). They are the cheapest form of transportation on the island. We spent 2, 000 Tanzanian Shillings ($1.25) each for the transport fare. We arrived Paje Beach with anticipation of just how beautiful it will look. And its looks were marvelous. Palm trees stand in rows along the long coastal line of the beach carpeted with beautiful white sand, and littered with sea shells. There were lots of tourists seen around, engaged with one water activity or the other. Our first meal on the beach side was definitely sea food. Italian pasta with sweet tomato sauce, served with mackerel. By the time we filled up our tanks, we continued another short journey to the next beach, Jambiani, where we had reserved half of the rooms of a beach resort.
As I lay on the upper deck of the resort in the night, the cool gentle Indian Sea breeze blew and caressed my body. The sound of the beach dominated the distant hearing. Closer to me, a cool music emanates from the stereo of the hotel’s chef. As I waited patiently for the chef to finish preparing my dinner, a shelf of books caught my eye on my way out of the hotel. I loved reading and I quickly skimmed through the 6 novels on the shelf. Of the 6, 2 were more fascinating to me. One was a travel guide for Zanzibar written by a couple bitten by the African bug. They were both non-Africans both could not help living outside Africa after their first experience.
The second, which I read for hours, was about maps. Simon Garfield’s On The Map: Why the world looks the way it does. I got captivated by the narration quickly as I read how the first maps were made, presumably correct, but concluded erroneous afterwards. Thanks to Christopher Columbus, who set out for a quest to ascertain the true shape of Earth. He decided to go round the Earth and thought at a time, his ship would fall into a deep hole, as earlier generations conceived and concluded that the earth is flat and not spherical. However, Pythagoras argued persuasively that the earth was spherical in shape. Another misjudgment, was Herodotus’ composition of the world; Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa) only. Simon Garfield has discussed extensively, the big deal about maps in that book, including famous map thieves. I recommend to lovers of history of the world and Geography.
That wasn’t the only book I found hard to drop in Zanzibar. While in the Palace Museum, I took 2 books from a shelf, which
were for sale and glanced through them as I chilled after going round the museum to acquaint myself with the history of Zanzibaris. In fact, I bought one of the books and Sada, bought the other. Tippu Tip: the story of his career in Zanzibar and Central Africa was the title of the book I acquired for 35, 000 Tanzanian Shillings. It hooked my attention when I read the synopsis. It narrated the surprising manner in which Tippu Tip became Sultan of Utetera. For your pleasure, I added the photo of the synopsis here to see if you will find it interesting. The second book was about Salme, the audacious princess of Zanzibar. It was an autobiography unlike Tippu Tip’s. Princess Salme, a Zanzibari was married to a German and lived most of her married life in Germany. She didn’t consider the cultural and religious background as a barrier to her social life. She eloped away from the island and made a new life there, but returned a year before she died.
Zanzibari is an Islamic dominated island with Arabian and Islamic culture, still evident today. Mosques are located everywhere and ladies still cover themselves with hijabs. During the night, both foreign and local people patronize the market that bubbles up at Forodhani Garden. When it is daytime at Forodhani, you did never imagine it to be filled with people, let alone turn into a market place. Neatly kept and scarcely populated. However, as the sun goes down, the night life comes up. Sea food sellers mostly dominate the markets. Others hawk ice cream and sugar cane juice. We had a taste of different sea foods, including an octopus, which I was having for the second time, after my first in Tokyo.
The next day, we walked to the famous Spice Bazaar (market) for some Zanzibari tea recipes. Tea masala, natural vanilla tea plant and cardamom. Tea masalas are very popular additives in tea. With that, the Zanzibari experience was paused. We boarded the Kilimanjaro Ferry back to Dar es Salaam. The ferries are very much comfortable compared to airplanes. Only that the seats don’t come with seat belts. The occasional galloping of the ferry across the sea tides can be fun as well as sickening, as I suffered motion sickness on my cruise back. After a cruise of one and a half hour, we were glad to alight from the ferry; thrilled and joyous.