Zanzibar – a spicy surprise

After four exhilarating days driving without end from Mwanza to Arusha,  we flew into Unguja or Zanzibar to take in the origins of Arab-African trade, spices and the serenity of Zanzi postcards. Engulfed by clear azure waters visible from the plane, we landed in Zanzibar City and drove through a swath of greenery to Breezes Beach Club in Bwejuu, the East Coast. Our recluse for the next few days. With no TV in the room and lobby-only wifi access, urgently brought to my attention by everyone in the group, we surrendered to “authentic” island life grooving on international buffet nights and cultural dance shows.

Before we set out to the Old city, we involuntarily stopped by a spice plantation only to get hassled by farmers selling their produce, marketing them with medical and cosmetic benefits, as a young Tarzan climbed up a coconut tree chirping in Swahili. Not only did the hassling do our heads in but we were hit with torrential rains and experienced the famous mud bath as opposed to the Kidichi Persian Baths a few kilometers away.

Our romantic perception of Zanzibar’s colorful and influential past slowly faded as we stepped into puddles and wandered through the narrow alleyways of Stone Town, the old City, an open air museum that explicitly exposed a conjunction of Arab, Indian, Persian and European influences. As a consequence of a series of events, Zanzibar’s melancholic history loomed over  like a dark cloud. Locals stared at us wherever we went which added to the brooding atmosphere. Previously a slave prison, our hearts sank for the slaves confined to chains that forced them to give up all hope for freedom. Nonetheless, stone town is a juxtaposition of luxury boutique hotels, derelict hoods, street markets, ghosts of the past  and NGO offices. Nothing seems to have changed, the densely populated capital felt cold, despite the hot and humid weather.

As for the calm after the storm (figuratively and literally), we were swept away by Indian and/or Omani wooden carved doors that decorated houses and buildings all over stone town. The sight and sound of children playing lightened the mood.

The day after, we lazed around the beach invaded by squillions of sea urchins that restricted entry into the most beautiful waters. No wonder handmade dhows were coming in and out to sea. While locals fished, I bummed on the beach for some African sun. I literally burnt my legs that looked like I survived a fire. I didn’t feel it at the time. It took two wince worthy months for my legs to look normal again.

Popular for everyday diving and fishing excursions, Zanzibar is a diving destination. Everyone makes too much of it because it sounds exotic. The greatest thing that ever came out of Zanzibar was Freddie Mercury. Besides, what’s a beach with sea urchins getting in the way. I’m surprised those tasty hedgehogs hadn’t made it to the national cuisine.

With restricted flights to Zanzibar, we spent 6 hours at Dar El Salam airport to catch our next flight back to Dubai. Believe me, you do not want to spend 6 hours at Dar El Salam airport.

Joie de Vivre!

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