Having worked through our first weekend in Dodoma, we carved out some valuable down time and found the perfect spot for a bit of rest and relaxation – the spice island, Zanzibar.
Throughout the centuries of the colonial age, Zanzibar was claimed, conquered and held by Portugal, Oman and, most recently, Great Britain. The island gained its independence in 1963 and merged with Tanganyika to become Tanzania in 1964. It’s obvious that Zanzibar’s place in the Omani Empire has the strongest historical and cultural impact on the island, despite Britain’s close temporal tie. Over 95% of Zanzibar’s 1.3-plus million people are Muslim. The traditional dress – schoolgirls and women with covered heads – and minarets dominate the island. Calls to prayer can be heard all over the island as each mosque’s loud speakers reach out to their followers throughout the day. It’s a very strange juxtaposition with Zanzibar’s tourist economy and reputation as a popular beach vacation spot for the rest of the world.
Resorts filled with foreigners and wealthy Tanzanians riddle the island’s many beaches. The tunes playing over the speakers are largely from the Western world, and the numerous bars are graciously serving plenty of alcohol, despite the more conservative, Muslim culture of the island. At one such resort, we sat on the beach, enjoying a cold Safari Lager (the best Tanzanian beer in my humble opinion – some teammates disagree), surrounded by many other Westerners sunning themselves in bikinis and short shorts while listening to a call to prayer from the local mosque. I felt guilty just holding the bottle, but such is life on Zanzibar. Tourism is huge, and as the tourists wants and needs go, so, too, do service industry providers.
With of all that said, the island is beautiful and, like any tropical paradise, sun, surf and sand abound. With a safari through the Serengeti under our belts, we thought we should complete the safari experience and enjoy a “blue safari” while on the island. I’d never heard the term either, so don’t worry. A “blue safari” is a snorkel trip on a traditional dhow (envision a very, very small pirate ship) complete with a seafood feast on the beach. Without a doubt, this meal was one of the best we had in country. Fresh grilled fish, slipper lobster, ugali, two types of curries and more fresh fruit than anyone could ever hope for was the menu. After lunch, we climbed a 500-year-old baobab tree left from the time of Portuguese occupation – a full 260 years older than our country. Basically dragging us from the beach, the captain told us that our day trip was over, and it was time for our choppy, seasick-inducing trip back to shore. I won’t go into too much detail here- you’re welcome.
All said and done, Zanzibar was great. It’s picturesque and unquestionably exotic. The history is tangible. The culture is unique and deep-rooted. What more can you ask for?