I admit to a mild sense of intrepidation as I boarded the ferry in Dar Es Salaam for Zanzibar. I still recall the 2011 disaster where it was initially reported over 2500 people were missing when a ferry sank between Zanzibar and Pemba! Reports still vary on this, but the latest ferry sinking was only a year ago! This was an ex Washington State ferry acquired by Tanzania in 2011 for the Zanzibar crossing, that sunk in rough seas in July 2012. It was allegedly overloaded!
I crossed in fair weather with plenty of empty seats. My return journey was a little different. There were no spare seats and it was rough. There was a lot of spewing going on all around me, people lying on the ground groaning and the crew busy leading green looking children and adults with plastic bags full of liquidy lumps up the stairs to the top deck for fresh air! Hah! I consider myself very lucky to have never experienced sea sickness.
Zanzibar, with its cool sounding name, is actually an archipelago of over 50 islands. The main island we all associate with the name is known locally as “Unguja” and lies 36 km off the east coast of mainland Tanzania and is 90km long and 30km wide. I stayed a night in Stone Town in the Dhou Palace after bargaining with the manager for a good price. Stone Town is a World Heritage Site and I enjoyed walking through the narrow streets with stone coral buildings and carved doors.
I learnt a lot about the history of the island from my taxi driver who also became my guide. Zanzibar has a population of 1 million from Arab, Persian, Indian and European decent. It was an important centre for both spices and slave trade. Spices are still grown there and Jamil, my guide, took me on a spice tour. My mothers would be ashamed of my total inability to identifying any of the spices! ….. Oops!
The second night I stayed in Kengwa, in the north of the island where I caught up with Estrelia and Matt who I had met in Uganda. On the way I saw school classes being held in the small villages. Zanzibar has a lot of top end hotels and resorts with 3 flights a week coming in direct from Milan, amongst others. Tourism is booming yet there is so much poverty! Schools are overcrowded and there are not enough classrooms. Even in the classrooms there are no desks or chairs. If you speak to a Zanzibarian they will tell you it is because they are part of Tanzania with all its corruption, and they long to be independent, as they once were for a very brief period of time. This is a typical class.
We had planned a snorkeling trip which turned into a complete disaster! After leaving shore in a rather crowded Dhow, a storm hit and the captain bluntly refused to turn back despite 30 passengers all yelling at him to do so. (He was worried he would not get paid). We spent over 2 hours in rough seas, drenching rain, and heavy wind, getting freezing cold before stopping on a remote beach for lunch. It was supposed to be a full day trip and the captain still insisted we could make it to the island, despite us all saying it was a pointless exercise because we would not be able to snorkel anyway, which was the whole purpose of the trip! Quite amusing looking back on it, but extremely frustrating at the time!! A few of us refused to get back in the boat for the return trip. We walked to a nearby fishing village and got a taxi back. What a waste of money that day was! Hah!
I had to laugh because at one stage I went up the front of the boat, leaving the people all huddled in the back make-shift shelter shouting at the captain, to sit with a young guy who was not taking part in the argument. He said to me “this is a normal summer’s day in Sweden!” – hah!
I had an enjoyable walk along the beach in the early morning and was accompanied by two masai who felt the need to be my protectors. In Tanzania the masai are used as guards and you see them outside hotels and restaurants and supermarkets, guarding people’s cars. These two could not speak English but interestingly could speak Italian.
When I returned to Stone Town to get the return ferry, Jamil took me on a walk around the markets and to the slave memorial.
TIP: It is better to hire a walking guide just to keep the others away, otherwise you never have any peace – especially if you are alone, as I was. I can recommend a young man named Jamil who was recommended to me. He is a reliable and trustworthy taxi driver with reasonable prices. You can also arrange tours with him at a good cost.
JAMIL: +255 777 910 291 (say Karen sent you)
ps- I am a bit out of order in my posts…. still catching up!