We mentioned last week and in this week’s update that we spent an extended weekend in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is located in the Indian Ocean and is about 18 miles away from the coast of Tanzania. It is a semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar has its own president and two separate houses that control the government. Zanzibar has the power to make and enforce its own laws, but it must concede to overarching Tanzanian laws. It is still considered a part of Tanzania, but it is given more power because it was considered its own country when Tanzania was under British rule in the 1960’s.
Zanzibar has an estimated population of 1.2 million people. It is about 50 miles long and 15 miles wide. It is internationally known for its indigenous red colobus monkeys, wide variety of fruit, remarkable white sand beaches, and amazing spices. It is also known in history as a major point in the slave trade between Africa and Europe, India, and Australia. Luckily we were able to experience all of these things during our trip!
We arrived in Zanzibar’s international airport on Friday. From there we caught a cab directly to the beach! We were excited for some rest and relaxation on the world famous white sand beaches! We arrived at our hotel and immediately hit the water. On Saturday, we did much of the same.
Both days, we watched the local citizens of the area gather seaweed as the tide went out during the day. They sell dried seaweed to Japan for roughly $.25 a kilogram. It was interesting to see how the community uses its natural resources to make a living. By the end of Saturday, we set our schedule to tour Zanzibar and take a boat trip to swim with wild dolphins!
We woke up at 5:30 am to get to the dolphins early enough to spend some time swimming with them. We were not completely sure what we would see, because most trips that advertise swimming with dolphins involve either netting an area that holds the dolphins or keeping the dolphins captive in a large tank. We arrived at the location where we would get in a boat to see the dolphins and the men at the shore handed us some flippers and a snorkel mask. Another man swam out to sea to get our boat and rowed it to shore. With little explanation and no life jacket, we arrived at a pod of dolphins. The man driving the boat stopped the motor and told us to jump in and try to swim with them, so we did, and the day was amazing from that point on!
The dolphins come to this part of the island because the bay is sheltered in the night. They leave the bay in the day in search of food. It is a completely natural process and the only things that bothers the dolphins is a few people swimming with them once a day; no ropes, no tanks, no unhappy dolphins! Our boat would go in the direction the dolphins were swimming, get ahead of them, and shut off the motor. We would jump in the water, wait for the dolphins, and then try to keep up with them! They were so fast that we had to get back in the boat four times to keep up with them! It was so wonderful to see such a phenomenal creature in its natural environment.
After the dolphins made it out to sea, our boat turned around and headed back to shore. Below is a photo of the view of the beach from the boat. We made it back to the hotel by 9:00 am and ate our breakfast. After breakfast we decided we wanted to go to Stone Town, a city in Zanzibar known for its spices and the slave trade. We did not want an organized tour but we did want to see the city. Thanks to Melissa asking constant and continuous questions and John being over apologetic, at this point we were fairly close to the hotel owner and the staff. So, the hotel owner decided to take us to Stone Town, and around Zanzibar if we paid the minimal cab fee. Through this tour we saw several other beaches in Zanzibar and the red colobus monkey (see below for a picture), went to a place in the market that sells spices, drank coconut milk straight from the coconut, sampled several local delicacies such as a huge banana the locals call “elephant tusk banana,” and tried a meal cooked by the hotel owner’s wife.
Also during this amazing trip we visited Stone Town. Below is a photo of the town from the top of a historical museum.
We visited the site of the last open legal slave market in Zanzibar. The man leading our tour said that at one point in the 19th century over 50,000 slaves were moved through the Zanzibar slave auction per year. The tour led us to an underground slave holding chamber that was about 5 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. This was one of 8 locations where up to 50 men slaves (or 80 women and children) would be kept for 2-3 days before they were auctioned. While in these holding chambers they received no food and no water. There were two incredibly small windows that let in some oxygen. The 8 people participating in the tour could barely fit in this location comfortably. We could not imagine 50 people staying here for 2-3 days. It was a surreal experience to be in one of these rooms and to imagine the number of people that were traded as if they were livestock, sugar, or fruit. This point in time truly represents the worst of humanity. See below for a photo of the chamber.
On the ground above the auction block stood an old Episcopal Church (see photo below). The bishop that built the church was the main voice in England who spoke about the evils of slave trade, mostly because he was one of a few people who saw the horrors of slave trade first hand. The bishop was known to purchase slaves at the auction and set them free immediately. After slavery was abolished, the bishop came back to Zanzibar and built the church. The alter stands in the exact location where the slaves stood naked to be whipped so the bidders could see how strong they were to see what they were worth.
After our tour of Stone Town and Zanzibar we came back to our hotel on the beach. We relaxed for the next few days and enjoyed the amazing food that the hotel owner and his wife prepared for us. On our last full day in Zanzibar we walked to a secluded section of the beach and laid in the Indian Ocean. We pondered our experience in Tanzania, our experience in Zanzibar, and our next 6 months.
We are incredibly happy to have been able to visit Zanzibar and we are grateful for the staff and owners of White Sand Bungalows in Zanzibar. It was truly an unforgettable experience!