Friday, October 07, 2005

The Spiced Islands of Zanzibar

by Ian Williamson

The spice islands of Zanzibar refer to an archipelago of fifty or so islands with Unquia and Pemba being the largest. The main island is more commonly referred to simply as Zanzibar and to all intents and purposes Unquia is Zanzibar.

Stone Town is the capital, the port and entrance to this spiced island. Entering this small port by ferry from Dar es Salaam is certainly an unforgettable experience, never failing to make the most worn-out traveler eager to explore this ancient port.

As you step onto the wharf the smell of cloves is carried on the breeze to greet you; immediately you are aware Stone Town is out of the ordinary. Arab dhows white-sails shaped like the crescent moon, sail gently out of the harbor and pass along the miles of palm fringed beaches. Stone Town transports you into the past. The whole atmosphere is of medieval times, veiled women, their hands and feet hennaed with elaborate patterns, haggle in the markets and small shops which cluster the peripheries of the town.

Take time exploring the interweaving narrow streets, taking care not to become disorientated, passing intricately-carved wooden doors heavy with brass studs and beneath ornate balconies; allow the imagination to transport you back in time to the dark days of the lucrative slave trade and spice industry. Visit the immense House of Wonders and then the heartrending ruins of the Old Slave Market, which is dominated by the old church of Christ Anglican Cathedral, its altar on the site of the old whipping block.

Spice tours are a specialty of Zanzibar and best taken from Stone Town. On the Spice tour you will learn about fifty different spices and fruit that grow on the island, from cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, to jackfruit and sugarcane. The spices together with the Indian and Arabic influences have produced a unique 'Swahili' cuisine.

Zanzibar is a seafood lover's paradise. The freshest catch from game fish to giant lobster and crayfish are on offer. Dinner at the nightly fish market in the Forodhani Gardens on Stone Town's waterfront where a collection of stalls serve up freshly cooked seafood is not to be missed. It is a giant seafood barbeque where you can eat out in the open and mix and chat with the locals.

The rest of the island is characterized by beautiful sandy beaches, coral reefs, warm clear blue waters and idyllic islands. The reefs are excellent for snorkeling and diving and further out fantastic deep sea fishing is offered. There are many resorts on Zanzibar from budget beach huts to five-star resorts.

Many see the beaches around Zanzibar as split into the North and the East. This is a false dichotomy and there are excellent beaches on many areas of the Island. Tour operators have their favorite parts of the island and although many say one side is superior to the other this is not true.

Breezes Resort is on the east side of Zanzibar and is a wonderful romantic resort, especially suited to honeymooners. Matembe Bungalows in on the north-east side of the island is as first rate lodge perched on low cliffs and is close to the best diving areas. Some claim the beach here is the most beautiful and it is the most isolated beach. I normally settle in Nungwe Village on the northern most tip of the island - it is famed for its tradition of boat building and one of the most popular locations. The secret is in finding the right resort on the right beach for your particular needs; a resort for the family or maybe close to the best diving, or maybe a resort enjoying a vibrant night life; it all depends on what you prefer.

Religious and cultural traditions make the matter of dress code an important consideration. Men and women should dress appropriately when away from the beach, covering shoulders, women with sleeves preferably to the elbow and legs covered to below the knees. Try to wear loose-fitting, non-transparent clothing when in public. Zanzibar people are very warm, open and hospitable. It is considered polite and respectful to ask for permission before taking photographs or filming local people. You may see tourists dressed inappropriately in Stone Town and this can and does cause offence.

On the coast beachwear is fine, in the resort, however in the villages it is better to dress more modestly. When offering or accepting things, try and remember to offer and receive with your right hand. This is the hand which should also be used for eating.

Having said this Zanziabrian's are warm hospitable people. Enjoy this island and remember to venture out of your resort to do some exploring and make the most of your time on this very exotic island.

About the Author
For further information on Zanzibar and Tanzania see using tourism to fund community initiatives focused on the education of the young and the medical care for the whole family. Ensure your safari is using profits to help the community.


Post a Comment

<< Home