Another wonderful weekend in Zanzibar!
Hello everyone! I made it safely back from my weekend in Zanzibar and spent most of yesterday catching up on work- (so I apologize for the blog delay). Once again, I failed to properly post the link to the Zanzibar International Film Festival website, so (hopefully) here it is: http://www.ziff.or.tz/
So, for a recount of my most recent activities…
I knew it would be a great weekend when the ferry left a very uncharacteristic 5 minutes early…I pinched myself just to make sure I was still in Tanzania! The last time we took the ferry TO Zanzibar, everything was fine…but we sat on the roof just in case. As usual, the view was spectacular.
The ferry didn’t arrive in time for us to catch the token Zanzibar spice tour- (something EVERY visitor should do!), but we decided to pop into a travel agency anyway- just to get more details. The agent said, (and I quote) “dee bus eez down zee stleet!” (he was French, maybe). Greasy, sweaty, tired and still toting our luggage, we trotted back to the main road where a massive bus full of Europeans was waiting for us. Such luck! It felt a bit like a field trip, and it was a little strange to be around so many Caucasians.
We ventured into lush, beautiful rural Zanzibar where we saw 19th century Omani ruins, lots of wonderful fruits (including the spiky lichi fruit…which is SO good!), and every spice from pepper to nutmeg to cinnamon bark. Guess what, lemon grass is grass…that smells like lemon! Who knew… it’s used in citronella and the locals rub the oil on their skin as natural repellant. Haha the whole thing was very educational!
We wrapped up the tour with a little tasting session- I even tried the very strange, extremely enormous, bready banana-pineapple fruit. Then we sat down to a local lunch of aromatic spiced rice, fresh fish stewed in coconut, hot chapatti bread, and fresh fruit. (so, so, so delicious)
That evening we somehow managed to swing tickets to the invite-only opening ceremonies. This is the 9th year for the ZIFF- and thousands of artistically inclined individuals swept down upon Stone Town in a very colorful fervor. The ceremonies had singing, dancing, “dance theatre”- (which was a bizarre twist of strange props, interpretive dance, and high-speed tumbling), and speeches in Kiswahili. I met some wonderful new friends- 2 marines, 2 girls working at the embassy, and 1 recently barred lawyer working with USAID…they invited me to join them for an excursion to the alluringly named “Prison Island” the next morning, and I was only too happy to oblige.
Prison Island never actually held a prison- the British converted the island from a slave transit camp to a “prison” compound that actually only served as a yellow fever quarantine camp. Now, the ruins are occupied by a colony of peacocks and an out-of-commission hotel….there is also an incredible colony of over 100 giant tortoises which give the island its Kiswahili name: “Changuu Island”- (they were a gift from the Seychelles in 1919). It was such an awesome experience- we got there just in time to feed them their morning spinach. They were so enormous and full of personality- (I’ll post the pictures ASAP, so be sure to check them out!). One of them even attempted to eat Cyndee’s appetizingly green skirt, (he left a nice trail of smelly tortoise slobber). It was a wonderful bonding experience…
Afterwards, we got back on “The Titanic” (the extremely shady boat that putted us over from stone town)- and went out to do some snorkeling. I was so glad to get a little water time- Zanzibar truly has the most beautiful, crystal, aquamarine water I’ve ever seen. The snorkeling was pretty awesome- I saw one crazy deep purple starfish, and one crazy deep red spiky one- (though I still like scuba much better!).
I almost put my bum through the bow of the boat when I re-boarded- I guess the Titanic really was on its last legs. However, when we went back to Changuu for some beach time, another boat was hastily scooping water out with a bucket…so I guess we were the lucky ones!
I’m not even going to try and describe the beach, because no words could do it justice. I’m just going to post the pictures so that you may see for yourselves. It was absolutely incredible. Plus, I got a chance to talk at length with the lawyer about law school- she was brutally honest, which I found very refreshing. It’s amazing the variety of people I’ve met and the wonderful sorts of things I’ve learned from them.
We spent the rest of the time happily bumming around Stone Town- seeing films/cultural events, doing a little bargain-hard shopping, lazing on rooftop terraces, trying out the awesome restaurants. I even went back to Forodhani Gardens (twice!) to try the street seafood. I had shark the first time (and it was excellent!) and an enormous stone crab claw the second (also excellent!). Both cost me between $1-2. (so far, so good with the stomach/digestive tract…fingers crossed). We spent much of the evening dancing to a bizarre music mix- Tanzanian “Bongo Flava”, reggae, euro techno, country, disco and even soulful Kenny G! It was a blast!
We flew back this time- it is the same price as the ferry and only takes about 15 minutes- (and the view is breathtaking!!!). Of course, the planes are tiny and the security alarming…I definitely walked on board with a pocketknife in my purse. I think the security guard was too distracted with asking me: “are you married? Do you love me??” Luckily, my prohibited weapon and I made it safely to the ground, concluding a wonderful, relaxing, educational weekend in Zanzibar.