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Knights Off The Grid

Zanzibar: Enough Said

TANZANIA | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [726]

Welcome to Zanzibar, a place everyone’s heard of, several know where it’s located, and few know it’s details. I knew one out of those three.  

Let me say the name again: Zanzibar.  The name alone sounds incredibly exotic and makes you want to say it like this: “ZaaannnzzzziiiBaaarrrrr!” Talk about sensory overload - it's one of the Spice Islands so the smells overwhelm you; the local music and dialect is infectious; the seafood’s so fresh you’d swear it came from the sea seconds ago (and it did); ocean blues so magnificent nobody has thought to name the color yet and greens more vivid than a child’s imagination.*  

The island definitely lived up to it’s reputation as one of the most unique places on earth.  

Stonetown, the main port on the island, was a major hub for the spice, ivory and slave trade from the 15th through the 19th centuries.  It’s been claimed by at least 5 different countries - mainly the Portuguese, Arabs and British - and quite a few “engagements” have been fought for its control.  Each entity added their unique sound, cuisine, dialect and architectural look to the place.  With that rich history, you could spend weeks walking around the back alleys of the city without ever once becoming bored.

The last days of Ramadan were winding down during our first days on the island, which was unfortunate for the islands’ nearly 100% Muslim population because Emily and I were busy throwing back as much fresh pineapple, mango juice, papaya smoothies, orange whips, calamari, tuna, shrimp, lobster, kingfish, bananas and newly baked bread as we could get our infidel hands on.  

I fully realize we should have been more respectful to the muslim daylight fasting ritual, but that was simply impossible.

Ramadan, the holiest month in the muslim religion, ends once someone sees the new moon.  This year, 2009, everyone was supposed to start looking for it on Saturday evening.  I once asked the seemingly obvious question of what would happen if it was cloudy and was assured that they’d be notified of a sighting by cell phone from a clear spot not too far away.  

This begs the question: What, exactly, was protocol prior to phones? 

In fact, everyone did see the moon Saturday evening - sans phones - and suddenly it was like Mardi Gras, Jazzfest and Christmas all rolled into one.  All the kids get new clothes, the mosques blare the End of Ramadan Prayers - which sounded identical to the other 5 prayers blared through the sound system every day - and everyone hits the streets.  The celebration lasted 4 nights and Emily and I were more than welcome to join in.  

There’s not much alcohol in the public parties, although we did see several police officers confiscating contraband mango wine in the days prior to the festivities.  What we did see was tons of food, totally decked out children, lots of henna and the most outgoing atmosphere we’ve encountered during the entire trip.  It was an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Bracketing Ramadan, we rented a motorbike and checked out several of the islands beaches - the main ones being Kendwa in the Northwest, Matwme facing east and several unnamed beaches facing south/southwest.  At each  beach, the sand was unbelievably white with silica granules so small that Emily exfoliated herself every single day.  It was a much needed antithesis from the living in dirt and zero-running-water lifestyle of the Kilimanjaro and safari excursions.  And, Emily did her first dive and loved it!  We saw dolphins and a bunch of other stuff.  The neatest thing I saw was around 15 meters below the ocean surface: I looked over at Emily and gave her the “OK” sign and at that exact moment she had one side of her mask completely full of water and the other side half full.  Her face was twisted up and she was kind of winking at me.  She was most definitely not “OK”.  

4 weeks in Tanzania is enough to scratch the surface of this wonderful place but not nearly enough time to experience it all.  We’ll definitely be back.


* I totally stole that line from a 1980’s Kodak commercial.  

Tanzanian Fact:

Did you know there are 23 types of bananas in the country?  That was told to me by a Chagga Tribe guy with highly questionable English.  The internet here is too slow to fact check, but I like to think it’s true even though we only saw 3 types.

Tags: kendwa beach, matemwe beach, tanzania, zanzibar

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