What a difference! Have we been transported back to Thailand or something? This place is really quite beautiful, and it has enough of that "not too discovered feeling" to make it both a great cultural experience, and a real get away. Zanzibar. The spice island.
With such a long a tumultuous history, it is a little hard to understand why Zanzibar didn't become a more popular destination - people had been coming here for ages for the spices and for the beautiful beaches. Arabic people were here for centuries interacting with indigenous Africans, and later, the Portuguese explorers came, and even Dr. David Livingstone used to base himself here for his many escapades into the rest of Africa. There is also a dark side to Zanzibar though, as this was also the centre of the East African slave trade, and the markets where slaves were bought and sold for India and Arab nations were all located in Zanzibar. Probably Zanzibar is not so visited simply because of how hard it is to get to for most.
Still, the island makes for an interesting mix of history, blended cultures, and absolutely stunningly beautiful beaches. Really, they are some of the best in the world, with blindingly white sand that only the best glasses will block the light from.
We landed in the main town after taking the ferry over from Dar es Salaam, one of the largest cities in Tanzania. They still stamp your passport, a holdover from the days back when the English were here and Zanzibar was a separate country from what was then Tanganyika. It took about an hour and a half to get to the island, and we spent the first day and night in the town. There is an old Portuguese fort, as well as British and Arabic influence here, so the food and architecture all have a blended feel. The town makes the most out of the fact that Freddy Mercury, the legendary lead singer of the band "Queen" was born here on Zanzibar, but he didn't live here for very long before his family moved to India. But that's how tourism works, right? Next there will be a Freddy Mercury theme park next to the Mercury restaurant out on the water.
After a day in town, we went up to the northern half of the island where we stayed in beach huts and just soaked up the atmosphere. On our way up, we stopped off at a spice farm and took a local tour to see how all of the spices are grown and cultivated on the island. Some things were very strange looking, like nutmeg, which is a sort of a brown nut covered in these weird red veins growing inside a flower on a tree. Weird eh? Bet you most of you out there didn't know that! Anyway, these days, a lot of islanders still make a living off of the various exotic spices that are grown here in a very non commercial way. There was even a natural orange lipstick that Kristine was of course first to try!
A lot of people went diving once at the beach, but Kristine and I just chilled and went swimming every couple of hours. It was our first real beach swimming since Vietnam! A lot of the places in Europe were just a bit too cold, but here the water was crystal clear, tropical, and warm. It was just great. The perfect break before heading off again into the interior and Malawi. We all opted to spend an extra day on Zanzibar instead of one of the inland stops on the way to Malawi, which I think was a great decision.