It was our fifth night of camping in Tanzania and we had just about recovered from the excitement of our first safari experience. I distinctly remember finding not one, not two, but three poor, dead mice in our campsite on this day and thinking it was the perfect metaphor for the circle of life we had just witnessed.
We were given our cleaning rotas and were told we would all be pitching in with the food preparation, the washing up, the loading and unloading of tents and bags, and the sweeping of the lando. This communal experience bonded the group quickly and gave us the sense that we were travelling as one big family. That night, we tasted our CEO Justus’s local cuisine, which was intended to be eaten with the hands. It comprised of managu (a leafy green vegetable resembling spinach) mixed with carrots and spices, guacamole, goat meat and ugali (almost like a solid porridge, which we were told was brought over by the Portuguese as a cheap food source for their slaves, but became a staple for the locals); it was delicious!
A 3:45am start the next day allowed us to “drive as far as possible, before the police wake up and unnecessarily fine anybody driving over 50kmph”. Stopping for breakfast at a quiet spot at the side of the road brought its own surprises, as there was a rather putrid smell in the air when we disembarked from our vehicle. Walking some distance away from the group in order to ‘bushy bushy’ (essentially go to the toilet in a bush!) revealed the mystery of the rancid odour; a dead, impaled dog lay rotting in a ditch (mother nature was being particularly cruel today). To top it off, those who had used nature’s lavatory found small spikes sticking out of them at every angle, due to an unfriendly crop in the surrounding bushland. So not the most popular of stop off points, but onwards and upwards; we re-boarded our lando and continued the 12+ hour journey.
Our campsite that night was a homely affair, with a swimming pool, fairy lights and even a sofa swing on the roof. Entitled ‘Firefly Bagamoyo’, we were told the latter word meant “take heart” in Swahili, as the neighbouring town of Bagamoyo was one of the most prominent slave trading ports along the East African coast and the name was urging the slaves to be brave, as they were being traded and treated like commodities.
The following day began with a comparably short drive to the ferry port in Dar es Salaam. The former capital, and most populous city in Tanzania was certainly bustling. We were surrounded by people hurrying in all directions; many with the ability to carry heavy-looking suitcases on their heads and still usher gaggles of children safely through the crowds. We stood out like sore thumbs and tried to keep up with our leaders. Several passport, ticket and yellow fever certificate checks later, we made it onto the ferry which would transport us safely to Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Two hours after boarding, and occupying my time on board the ferry watching a comical soap opera about a girl who was learning to be a boxer, we arrived into Stone Town to begin our Zanzibar excursion. A welcome break from camping saw us staying in a small resort in Nungwi Beach. Though Zanzibar is a conservative Muslim republic and tourists should cover themselves up out of respect, on the beach resort itself it was non-restrictive.
That night, the whole group opted to ride the sunset cruise. We drank in the sunshine, stopping to jump into the water from the top deck and enjoy the tranquillity of our surroundings.
Waking the subsequent morning and nursing our sore heads, we found the perfect hangover cure to be snorkelling! The fresh air and beautifully clear waters revealed dolphins, brightly coloured coral and exquisite tropical fish. Due to a faulty snorkel, I did manage to inhale more sea water than was optimum, but luckily the abundance of sea life made up for the tripling of my daily intake of salt! We stopped to enjoy the shallow waters and mini sand islands around us. The sea was a dazzling turquoise and the sky a bright blue and we ate sweet watermelon and chatted happily before embarking back to shore.
After what felt like a luxurious couple of days, we bid farewell to Nungwi Beach and instead spent the final day of our Zanzibar experience in the extremely cultural Stone Town. En route, we visited a spice plantation, smelling, sampling and learning the local uses of many fruits and spices. These included ginger, turmeric, pepper, robusta coffee, cardamom, aloe vera, jack fruit, pineapple, nutmeg, durian, lemon mint, vanilla, coconut, henna, cinnamon and ylang ylang. We witnessed a man nicknamed Butterfly slide up a tree effortlessly, singing and entertaining his audience while some of the plantation’s employees made us jewellery out of cassava and coconut leaves and deftly carved coconuts for us to drink.
Once we had eaten a spice-filled and delicious lunch at the plantation, we continued on to Stown Town and came across our first experience of the police looking for money wherever possible. They carry card machines and had stopped our vehicle for driving 52kmph in a zone with no speed limit signs!
Once we had checked in to our hotel, there was a variety of activities on offer. Along with two other members of my group, I opted to take the walking tour, where we learnt some interesting history about Stone Town. There were only 500 residents altogether and everybody else who worked there commuted in from the surrounding areas. Part of the reason for this was because the town was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many of its buildings were beyond repair, or residents were extremely limited with the changes they could make to their own houses. This did mean though, that a lot of Stone Town’s history was well-preserved and there was plenty of beauty to behold. We saw many grand doors dating back to the 1800s and were told that the bigger the door, the more wealthy its inhabitants had been.
Stone Town was predominantly Muslim, but there were also Hindus, Christians and Sikhs too and they all lived harmoniously together, including Sunni and Shia Muslims. The town had been under different rules throughout its history (including Arab, British and German) and therefore there was a real pastiche of influences present throughout. We were informed that Zanzibar was the first place in Africa to have lifts and the first in the world to have street lights. Our guide showed us the ‘House of Wonder’, which was the first building in East Africa to have electricity and the tallest building in the aforementioned region upon its opening.
We visited a Hindu Temple (from the outside, as only Hindus were allowed in); looked at a viewpoint over Stone Town; saw people playing a local game using stones, called Bao; visited the childhood home of Queen superstar, Freddie Mercury; went to the open theatre, where we witnessed some breakdancing; viewed the local art; went to the enormous and colourful food market, sampling some local cuisine; looked inside one of the two churches in Stone Town; saw the main railway station used in the 1800s, when Zanzibar was the first place in East Africa to introduce the steam locomotive; and walked around the Old Fort, erected in 1700 by the Omani Arabs and later used as barracks, a prison, and a repair shop for the Bububu railway, which was built in 1905 to connect Stone Town to Bububu, but has since closed down. The Old Fort is now used for activities such as girl guides and women’s tennis. Interestingly, our tour guide informed us that there is a varied scale of religion here, as some people will be devout Muslims in the day, praying and living modestly, but they will then go for a drink and a party at night time.
Finally, we went on a more harrowing visit to the East African Slave Trade Exhibition, even viewing the place they used to keep slaves in between purchase and learning about modern slavery. What struck me the most from the exhibition, was the fact that one woman took somebody to court for wrongly making her a slave, and when asked what the first thing she would do with her compensation was, she said she would buy her own slave; thus indicating how ingrained the slave culture in East Africa had sadly become.
Sampling the Zanzibar pizza from the night market, this brought an end to a busy, but fascinating day in Stone Town and it wasn’t long before we boarded the ferry back to Dar es Salaam to continue onward through East Africa.
Thank you for reading my journey through enchanting Zanzibar. Please keep your eyes peeled for my next blog post!