Victor Schertzinger’s Road to Zanzibar (1941) is a 90-minute spoof in a “jungle and safari” genre, completely unpolitically correct. Of course, it conveys a really weird and inaccurate idea of Zanzibar, which is not at all like what you see in the film.
Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania, albeit semi autonomous. It is in the Indian Ocean, and is made up of several islands that form an archipelago that has a notable Arab and Persian influence. In the middle ages, it was a crossroads for merchants, Zanzibar hosted people from the Arab world, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. In 1698, the island became part of Oman and in the XIX century, the empire of Oman’s capital was transferred to Zanzibar where the Sultan made his home. Late in the XIX century, Zanzibar became a British protectorate. As a consequence of this strange and unusual history, Zanzibar is a melting pot of civilizations and has much more to offer than you would think from the cursory or humorous point of view of the film I mentioned above.
Enough history… on to the holiday.
In order to get to Zanzibar, you can fly directly into the island or, as we did, take the boat from Dar Es Salaam on the East coast of Tanzania. Dar Es Salaam is a bustling and exciting city, but is somewhat unsafe for the unprepared tourist – it’s worth being careful. I personally felt safer in Abidjan, which is not much of a compliment.
Once on the boat, there were fewer people and – interestingly enough – lots of Asian tourists from Japan and China. Once on the island, we boarded a taxi and crossed over to the East shore. The eastern shore of the island is a long beach called Paje, and as we made our way over, we saw fewer and fewer tourists. The only other tourists we met were a pair of South Africans, father and son, both very happy to be in Paje as well. It is rumored that the northern part of the island is filled with festive Italian beach goers but we did not meet any further south where we were.
I don’t know what your vision of paradise is, but after my experience of Zanzibar, I think it must be somewhat similar. Zanzibar is not only gorgeous, there was a sense that we were truly disconnected from our worldly concerns and that made it much easier to appreciate the present moment.
I’d like to tell you what the early morning is like in Paris, but I never get up early enough to find out. In Zanzibar, however, the orange and pink glow visible through the cracks in the curtains was enough to get me out of bed so that I could see the sun rising over the Indian Ocean as the local fishermen waded out for their morning’s work.
The colors don’t come across very well in the photographs – it’s difficult to describe just how wonderful the feeling of the sun on your skin, the sand between your toes, the warm sea breeze and the sound of the waves gently rolling up the beach was every morning of my time there.
… The fishermen go out in the early morning and again during the day depending on the tide, and since there are shallows for a really long way from the beach to a reef further out to sea, you can see them all standing in the water over a huge area, spreading their nets, baiting hooks and sailing small dhows to pick up crab pots and to get to and from the reef.
We saw them every day when we would go out for a morning walk or for an excursion – we saw many of them when we went swimming with dolphins (the subject of next week’s post).
We went fishing and this was the miraculous catch of the day. I’m neither experienced nor knowledgeable when it comes to fishing, although I have have fished once in the Pacific, but this was ridiculously easy. The fishermen would bait the line with a tiny worm, I’d throw it in the water, and mere moments later I could pull it out again with a fish dangling on the end of it. The fishermen were kind enough to gut and prepare the larger fish and then give them to our hotel where the kitchen fried them up for supper.
The plate in the far left with the fish is the product of one hour of fishing, and we returnedall the fish we did not intend to eat to the ocean. Given their very small size, they would not have been edible other than in a stew anyway. The very large fish surrounded by flowers was fished by the South African father-and-son who went deep sea fishing for the entire day.
We were extremely fortunate and had miles and miles of empty beaches all to ourselves.
We hardly saw another soul, other than the locals who work the restaurants and bars, and occasionally, a group walking by the beach in the scorching heat.
There were very beautiful and luxurious tourist facilities, but no tourists to be seen. Luckily for me! Also, it is easy to make friends : the children living in Zanzibar are very welcoming and cheerful. With the exception of the photo below, I don’t feel it’s right to publish any of the pictures I took of them, or of me with with, but you can believe me when I say that the kids there are very photogenic!
We were also very impressed with the boats; the dhows they are called. We love sailing so it was fun to see how such a light and primitive boat can in reality be graceful and efficient.
One day, we took a day trip to visit an island off Paje. We boarded this comfortable Dhow and off we were to wonderful sandbanks.
This island we toured is a very touristic place : there were restaurants and shops set up along the beach and many different groups sailed there for the day. Everything tastes good in paradise.
Though the island felt a bit like a tourist trap, I would highly recommend going there because the nature is very different from the main island’s. Below are some pictures taken there. Next week, I’ll tell you about the day we went swimming with dolphins and the snorkeling, when we met Nemo’s family.