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Destination: Tanzania (part 8)

April 13, 2010

Tanzania is a portmanteau formed from the names of the mainland of Tanganyika and the predominantly Muslim islands off the country’s eastern coast collectively called Zanzibar. While Tanganyika is teeming with big game and herds, Zanzibar is bursting with mopeds, bikes, buses and cars. Where Tanganyika offers safaris and big game, Zanzibar hosts Arab inspired alleyways that lead to lazy afternoons under shady cover. The mainland is mud daub and sticks; the islands are clay brick and white wash. Kangas are worn wrapped about the body in Tanganyika, but on Zanzibar the kanga wraps up to cover the head. The two once independent countries share seemingly little in common, except perhaps an uncomfortable dependency on generators.

We arrived on the island 3 weeks into an expected 8 week island-wide power outage blamed on aging wiring from the mainland, faulty construction and long manufacturing time for parts in Europe. A throaty, beating hum filled the winding streets of Stone Town as all manner and size of shop, restaurant and hotel operated emergency generators to support various forms of cooling. Every ferry poured out men and women lugging precious generators from the mainland along with their usual heaps of dry goods, thread and for at least one family, a crate of tomatoes the size of a smart car. Without continuous access to fans, air conditioning or refrigeration in the 90 degree days we stayed in the dusky shadows of buildings, winding our way from shop to mosque to market and back to the water.

Elaborate doors and locks are typical throughout Stone Town

Stone Town is rotting, but in a beautiful sort of way. It is ethnically diverse and remains religiously conservative, but seemingly tolerant. Sequins and eyeliner peek out from the black over-dresses of fully veiled women and all sizes, shapes, ages and sexes of Zanzibarian mix at the markets and seaside plazas. While unemployment is reportedly 40%, everyone seemed busy and entrepreneurial, always bringing a friend along to enjoy a potential monetary tip.

Without electricity the shops were dark, but here a kerosene lamp lights the wares

Overhead electrical lines twist with impotent gusto

Each day ended with sundowners at some lovely spot with a western view. The romanticism of dining by candlelight took on new gravity for us as a skilled waiter illuminated the menu as best as possible.

an urban mosque

An open air hotel opens to the water

Stone Town was our home base for much of our time on the island, but we also visited Paje on the east coast where the tide takes the shoreline out some 2 km and warms up the water to 85 degrees. We scuba dived with dolphins off the southern town of Kizimkazi and learned about the sad slave trading history of the island. We tasted raw spices at a spice plantation and were serenaded by a man who could (and did) climb a palm tree with bare hands and feet to retrieve us coconuts.  We welcomed the new year on the edge of the Indian Ocean with the gregarious staff of the Serena Inn and from Zanzibar we said farewell to Africa…for now.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Cathy Hall permalink
    April 13, 2010 1:29 pm

    you really are very gifted, H. you have to keep doing blogs because you have the eye for photography and brain for words~ its a rare combination.

  2. rapidblue permalink
    April 14, 2010 2:00 am

    Awesome pics of Zanzibar!! Hope you guys had a great stay 🙂

  3. April 14, 2010 9:08 am

    These pictures are stunning!

  4. April 14, 2010 8:22 pm

    thank you for this beautifully written blog and atmospheric images

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