WHY ZANZIBAR?

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This is the first question everyone keeps asking me since I got back from Zanzibar.  Actually, the first is “where is Zanzibar?” and then the “why?” follows…  “Where?” is simple to answer, but “why?” is a bit more complicated.

The Zanzibar Archipelago is located off the eastern coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean.  Zanzibar technically consists of a few small islands and two large ones – Pemba further north, and Unguja, the largest and main island which is generally referred to as Zanzibar.  The islands are a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania and while you are given a Tanzanian visa upon entry to Zanzibar, traveling to the Tanzanian mainland requires an additional visa/entry-stamp for the mainland alone.

So why Zanzibar?  Well, why not Zanzibar?  

Everyone seems to be asking me about Malaria and yellow-fever.  No, I wasn’t worried.  Zanzibar has been out of the Malaria zone for years now and according to the WHO there was only a 1% infection rate in 2016.  To be honest, I was worried about hygiene and catching something from the water or food, simply because my stomach isn’t accustomed to African bacteria.  Turns out, considering the wild living conditions and lack of supplies, the level of hygiene is surprisingly pristine!  I see dirtier restrooms in Europe on a daily basis.  I’m one of those people who gets easily disgusted, and also one of those freaks who wipes their fork clean of waterspots at restaurants…so, trust me when I tell you the people of Zanzibar are so clean I joined them in eating with my fingers the entire time I was there.

People ask me if it’s safe there.  YES!  In fact, believe it or not, the police don’t carry weapons!  The only safety issue that was brought to our attention was to watch our bags when in Stone Town because it’s somewhat of a ghetto and there’s a risk of being robbed.  Same goes for the spice market in Stone Town because of the crazy mass of people.  Other than that, the locals are very honest people and will actually return your money if you give them more than what the exchange rate is. (We tested them on two occasions just for fun).

Stone Town is the historic center of the capital Zanzibar City, located in the middle of the western coast of the island.  Since it is the only town on the island, the people refer to it as just “Town.”  Stone Town is a beautiful little city famous for the intricately carved antique wooden doors which have become one of the symbols of Zanzibar.  According to legend (most historical data is ‘according to legend’ in this part of the world), the brass spikes that can be seen on some of the doors are there to protect from elephants (this came from India), however, according to legend, again, no elephant has ever been seen on the island…

The town is full of souvenir shops where you can purchase hand-carved rosewood, ebony, or mahogany masks symbolizing different important tribal figures.  What most people don’t know about Stone Town – it’s the birthplace of Freddy Mercury!  His childhood home is now marked as the Mercury House with photographs of the singer decorating the entrance.  Interestingly enough, though, the locals don’t like to mention him as they don’t approve of the lifestyle he had and don’t think very highly of him.

Once you’ve made your way through the literal maze of very narrow streets, and come to the main road that leads to other areas of the island, you will come across the Stone Town market and more importantly, the spice market!  This is where you can stock up on cinnamon, garam masala, cardamom, saffron, vanilla beans, and practically any other expensive spice you can think of for a fraction of the price.  You’ll also find mangos, passionfruit, pineapples, watermelon, coconuts, and a wide array of fruit you’ve never heard of or seen before.  Plastic bags were banned on the island years ago, so the trick is to be very nice to your seller and kindly ask if by chance she/he’s got something you can put your fruit in, and you’ll get a nice reusable bag for free to always remind you of the chaos of this market.  If you aren’t grossed out by the amount of flies present, try the freshly squeezed sugar cane juice that’s for sale in the middle of the spice section. If you try it, let me know how it tastes…

Once you’ve stocked up on fruits and spices, grab a bottle of cold water and get ready for a 2-hour drive back to the eastern coast where the breathtaking beaches are our next topic…

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