Zanzibar: a name that instantly brings to mind the foreign; the exotic; the unknown. For us: a nice change of scene for the Christmas holidays.
Lying just off the coast of southern Tanzania, Zanzibar was once Africa’s connection with the influential ancient Arab world. Trade was brought to much of Africa through Zanzibar’s ports, and the island remains largely influenced by Islam both in its unique style, its architecture and of course its religion. Unfortunately, Zanzibar also has a dark history due to its major involvement in the African slave trade—a history that can still be seen in slave pens used during the export of captives and the enormous spice plantations that were once powered by slave labor. Despite its past, Zanzibar is now a lovely and atmospheric island perhaps more at home somewhere in the Caribbean than off the coast of Africa. We were glad to spend a few days exploring the narrow streets of Stone Town and all that the northern beaches had to offer.
- The Dhow revolutionized trade in the ancient world, allowing Arab traders to cross the Indian Ocean to reach the shores of Africa using the changing monsoon winds. Today, Dhows are still used in Zanzibar and along the eastern coast of the continent for trade and fishing.
Zanzibar’s population thrives off of the bounties of the productive Indian Ocean. This market in Stone Town transforms a sleepy piazza into a thriving, atmospheric night scene catering to both locals and tourists. All sorts of unique local food can be had, from fish and octopus to sweet potatoes and samosas.
A favorite at the night markets is freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, hand-pressed and strained with a hint of lemon and ginger.
The narrow, windy streets of Stone Town have a wholly traditional feel, with local markets, craft stores and shops crammed into impossible places. As we found out, there’s no logic to the layout, and a wander through the streets often leads to a long, confusing walk home.
Stone Town is home to windows and doors with tons of character.
While local men tend to do most of the fishing around the island, women wade through the shallows during low tide to collect shellfish and molluscs.
A man in a local dugout outrigger canoe paddles home in the evening, disturbing schools of sprats and causing them to jump from the water in alarm.