Did you know that your passport gets stamped when you arrive on the Zanzibar archipelago, even if you’ve travelled there from mainland Tanzania? We didn’t either, until we took the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar City.
After landing in Zanzibar City, we hired a van to take us across the main island Unguja to the eastern town of Jambiani. On the way, we drove through the Jozani Chwaka National Park and Forest.
Zanzibar was meant to be a relaxing beach holiday for us on an otherwise quite challenging tour. We celebrated New Year’s on a Jambiani beach, with drinks served by a Rastafarian at a beach bar and a bonfire for fireworks. While we managed to pick up a few words in Swahili the staff at the restaurant where we had dinner did not speak English. Not that we assumed everyone would, but if you offer an English menu it does help to know what people are ordering. Our questions about “what is in the fish curry” were answered by the waiter saying “fish curry” and hurrying off to complete the order.
For two days we did nothing but soak up the sun in hammocks on the beach, play football on the beach with locals at low tide, browse the local arts and crafts market and take dhows out onto the Indian Ocean to swim and snorkel in crystal-clear waters. But we were all restless. Zanzibar has such an interesting cultural heritage and we wanted to learn more, so we decided to cut our beach holiday short (did I mention we were all more the adventurer type than beach bums?) and took up residence in the Karibu Inn in the heart of Stone Town.
Strolling across the Darajani Market in Stone Town, we found many fruits and vegetables we could barely identify but were intrigued to try anyway. The next day, we decided to hire a local guide and visit a spice plantation to learn more about the industry Zanzibar is famous for. Part of the tour included ruins of the Kidichi Persian Baths, a comprehensive explanation and tasting of local spice, fruits and vegetables and one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had with appetizers infused with all the different locally grown spices.
Back in Stone Town I went for a stroll. While the roads can be quite narrow, it is rather difficult to get completely lost. The Benjamin Mkapa Road serves as the boundary between the old town and new town. Despite the evident Arabic heritage and Muslim population, I was surprised to find St. Joseph’s Cathedral. One street over, I was offered a traditional henna tattoo and down yet another alley I sat down for a spicy tea at the appropriately named House of Spices.
Walking past the Old Dispensary (possibly Stone Town’s finest building – granddaughter of an architect, remember?), the House of Wonders, Forodhani Gardens and the Old Fort, I kept my camera at the ready. Secretly I was looking for Freddie Mercury’s house. The Queen frontman was born in Stone Town and while there is a Freddie Mercury Bar and a restaurant, the actual house his family lived in has long been converted into a business.
For our last night on Zanzibar, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner of the local cuisine at the famous ocean-front Tradewinds Restaurant. As it was still early, we followed it up with cocktails on the lounge deck of the Africa House Hotel, ending the night with one last Zanzibari spiced tea as the sun set over the Indian Ocean.