Zanzibar

We delayed our honeymoon until we had been married for a few months. It gave us time to save up and plan. We decided on exotic Zanzibar, which had not yet become the popular holiday destination it is today.

Our trip started at the Mbweni Ruins, where we sipped Tamarind juice and swam through the mangroves. We dined on King prawn, followed by King fish, watching the sun set over the ocean. Two figures, silhouetted against the pink wash, poled their dhow across our horizon. Bats darted from trees into the blackness.

In Stone Town we sauntered through the narrow lanes looking at antique bazaars and mini shops. There were no sweets or crisps for sale, and no litter. The local people bore their poverty proudly, and we saw no beggars. In the fish market we watched as octopus were pounded on the muddy floor for traditional tenderising. The air was thick with flies. We saw strange exotic fruit and were offered tastes of Jack fruit and tiny pink bananas.

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We were glad we had pre-booked a guide for the week, as Iddy took us down narrow alleyways we wouldn’t have ventured into on our own. He showed us the local antique bazaars and mini shops displaying baskets of aromatic spices.

We walked around the Anglican cathedral, which was built on the old slave-trading ground, and we scrunched down to enter the dingy dungeon where the slaves were crammed together awaiting their fate. We learnt about the influence of the mixed cultures of Zanzibar, particularly the Arab style buildings, with their ornately carved wooden doors.

Iddy drove us to the Dhow shipyard, where huge wooden boats were being repaired, past the old Portuguese Port, and on to the ruins of the Sultan’s Palace, where vast mango trees once gave shelter to the ladies of the harem. A system of aqueducts was all that remained to show the sophistication of their architecture and engineering. At the highest point of the island were the remains of a steam bath built by the Sultan for his lady.

One cannot visit Zanzibar without doing a Spice tour, and ours took us through fields and farms in our unsuitable footwear. But we soon forgot our discomfort as we were shown the fascinating plant life on which these enterprising people have made their living for centuries. We tasted and touched cloves, cinnamon bark, turmeric and ginger until we smelt like Christmas puddings.

The villages we drove through consisted of little cottages with characteristic roofs in ‘makuti’ or interwoven palm leaves.

The second leg of our holiday was spent at Mapenzi. On our first evening there, while we were enjoying a wonderful candle-lit dinner, mysterious people had been into our bedroom and laid a heart of bougainvillea petals on the bed with a gift and a card wishing us a happy honeymoon. How could it be anything else in such a romantic setting?

Over the next few days we walked many miles along the shore. We snorkelled, we collected shells, we canoed. The whiteness of the palm-fringed beaches was dazzling as we rode bikes far along the hard compacted sand. We returned saddle-sore to paddle through the warm silent ocean, carefully avoiding the minefield of spiny sea urchins. The tide line was a necklace of beautiful shells.

Ras Nungwi is a fishing village located at the extreme northern point of the island. The beach is powdery white sand and the water is clear turquoise. We went there on a bright green bus. We passed baobabs that looked as if they had been planted upside-down, and villages with no plumbing or electricity. There were no dogs, nor any visible wild life. We took fins and snorkels and swam for many hours, just awed by the wonderful marine world. Dolphins performed for us in the distance.

Our five days on the island paradise went far too quickly, and before we knew it, our guide arrived to greet us ‘Habari za asubuhi’, and it was time to leave.

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