Looking Back: Zanzibar

So I’m back in the States, with a borrowed computer and a broken phone to hold me through til my paychecks start coming in. Tanzania was an incredible experience, full of kind people, beautiful landscapes, and incredible wildlife. Here’s a run-down of one of my favorite parts of the trip: our June visit to the island of Zanzibar.

Zanzibar: June 16th-19th
We arrived in Zanzibar off the ferry from Dar early on the morning of the 16th. We wound our way through the old stone streets, which felt almost surprisingly European in their layout. Our hotel was beautiful and atmospheric, with three to a room in huge four-posters draped in lush fabrics (and the obligatory mosquito nets). It’s common in Zanzibar for meals to be served on the very top floor of hotels and restaurants, on open patios constructed for that purpose. Elevators are uncommon, which can mean hundreds of stairs between you and your dinner – but the views completely make up for it.

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We took a tiny speedboat out to Prison Island for snorkeling. I snorkeled for the first time in May, during my brief trip to Cancun, but the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean and the enormous diversity of sea life made for an incomparable experience. Zanzibar’s terrestrial wildlife is equally amazing. The island is the only place in the world home to the red colobus monkey, which live in conservation areas across Zanzibar and play freely in front of visitors. Secluded from the mainland, Zanzibar was an independent country until it joined with post-colonial Tanganyika to form Tanzania in 1964. The island still enjoys a fair degree of autonomy and possesses its own government structure, although it relies on the mainland for economic support. Zanzibar is particularly notable for its conservation efforts: in addition to seeing the rare red colobus monkeys, we were able to feed and pet giant Aldabra tortoises at a government-run resort and sanctuary on Changuu Island.

Perhaps my favorite stop on our tour of Zanzibar was our visit to one of the island’s famous spice farms. Sitting on mats with the farmers, we enjoyed a delicious meal of pilau (heavily spiced rice with ground beef), fried kingfish, and flavorful curry. For dessert – slices of cucumber and a sweet pink grapefruit so massive and pithy that it looked like a pomelo. Following the hearty meal, we toured the spice farm. Our guide dug up pieces of whole turmeric and ginger for us to compare, pulled peppercorns off of trees and let us taste them (very spicy, would not recommend), and explained how each part of the cinnamon tree tastes different and has different medicinal properties. Chewing on pieces of cinnamon bark, we ended the tour with a show: a farm employee climbed a massive coconut tree using only a twisted piece of cloth for help, and threw down some coconuts for us all to enjoy. We had the chance to purchase spices and teas made on the farm, and I seized the opportunity to add cardamom and ginger teas to my collection – can’t wait to try them when DC’s heat becomes slightly less oppressive.

After touring the spice farm, we got to explore Stone Town, the most famous area of Zanzibar. We began at Christ Church, the Anglican cathedral located on top of the old slave market. Our guide walked us through the underground holding cells for slaves waiting to be sold, before taking us to the Forodhani Gardens across from the House of Wonders, formerly the sultan’s palace. During the day, the Gardens provide a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean, but at night – when we returned – they transform into the Forodhani Market, home to some of the best street food I’ve ever had. IMG_4197The vendors are friendly (sometimes, very friendly) and you can get a delicious meal, complete with kebabs, falafel, coconut bread, shawarma, and even a Nutella crepe for around TSH 15,000 ($7). Just watch out for the market’s impressive number of cats.

We continued our trip through Stone Town, exploring the beautiful architecture and even stumbling across the house where Freddie Mercury was born (wild). Stone Town is a bustling, vibrant place, with a dark legacy that has been preserved to prevent the world from forgetting. I loved the town, but after two and a half days there, it was time to move on to Nungwi.

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Nungwi is a large village on the northernmost tip of the island. We spent our last day in Zanzibar relaxing on its pristine beaches, gazing at the incredible fishing boats bobbing in the ocean, chatting with the local Masai people, and quietly rejecting offers of marijuana from opportunists who had noticed our large and touristy group. We returned to Dar on Monday’s last ferry, sat for three hours in traffic as we attempted to traverse the fifteen or so miles between the port and the university, and finally made it to our host family’s house at around ten in the evening. With class the next morning at eight, it was an exhausting weekend, but one of the best of my life.

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That was just over a month ago. Now I’m back in DC (to be precise, its Virginian suburbs) and trying to re-adjust to eating dairy, drinking non-powdered coffee, and driving on the right side of the road. Over the next few days, I’ll continue to chronicle my adventures in Tanzania (a safari! dinner with a billionaire! getting thrown into the ocean because the world isn’t feminist enough!), in addition to covering my most recent reading material and updating you on what’s happening in the nation’s capital. In the meantime, let me know – have you visited Zanzibar? What was your favorite experience?

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