Peak tourist.

Reading this week:

  • An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (this one took a bit; it gets a little dry in the middle)

Since we’re halfway through our Peace Corps service, and to see more of Africa, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Zanzibar. Going to Zanzibar is a pretty standard vacation for Peace Corps Zambia volunteers because there is a train that goes to Dar Es Salaam, and between there and Zanzibar it is an easy ferry ride.

Taking the train to Dar Es Salaam was pretty interesting. The only bad part about it was that it wound up being about 30 hours behind schedule by the time we got to Dar. But taking a train any distance was a new experience for the both of us, and the country we were traveling through is very pretty. We passed through mountains on the train, and then as we descended towards sea level things got more tropical. I spent a lot of time staring out the window, just checking out people’s gardens by the side of the track and taking in the big mountains and waterfalls you could see from the train. At one point the
train passes through the Selous Game Reserve, and from the train we saw giraffe, wildebeest, and baboons, so that was really cool.

We arrived in Dar in the late afternoon and spent the night there so we could catch the ferry the next morning. Dar is a really impressive city coming from Zambia, and we ventured out to get some dinner after we had settled into the hotel. It was Ramadan when we were visiting, so after dark there was a lot of food and activity. The next morning we got on the ferry and that was a pretty smooth experience. The ferry ride takes about two hours to Zanzibar and I was having a grand ole’ time checking out all the dhows sailing around and just enjoying being on the ocean again. After arriving in Zanzibar we walked to our lodge and after settling in there we head out to explore Stone Town.

Stone Town is the big city on Zanzibar. I really enjoyed walking around there. It is a very old city, having been the main port of the major center of trade that was Zanzibar. It is comprised of a lot of
narrow, winding alleyways filled with shops. Most of the shops were pretty touristy, but I still enjoyed taking in all the sights. One of the things I liked the best about it was the (I spent some time trying to avoid a cliché here to no avail) contrast between old and new in the harbor. You had these modern port facilities with a container ship unloading and a high-speed ferry docking and in between them dhows zooming around. When I woke up early in the morning and looked into the harbor there were guys paddling canoes in between a barge and a luxury yacht. There were also a whole lot of cats.

As for sights in Stone Town, the only real like sights sights we went to were the Sultan’s Palace Museum and the Slave Museum. The Palace Museum was pretty neat. It has a small but nice array of artifacts from Zanzibar’s heyday as a center for global trade under a sultanate. That same sultanate lasted until the ’60s when it was overthrown by the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar which still rules, which I only mention because that is an awesome name for a government. The museum also had some sweet carved chairs I was really jealous of. Oh, unrelated, but kinda nearby is the site of the old British consulate where Livingstone’s body passed through after he died near the Bangwelu Swamps.

The Slave Museum is on the current site of an Anglican church but on the former site of one of Zanzibar’s slave yards. Zanzibar’s major export back in the 1800s were slaves. The museum has a very informative display about Zanzibar’s role in the East Africa slave trade. They captured slaves pretty far into Africa, including where I live now here in Zambia. Part of the reason the London Missionary Society was in the area was to help halt the slave trade. Besides the displays, at the museum you can visit the dungeon/holding cell where they kept slaves while they were waiting to be sold, and a monument to the slaves that worked on Zanzibar or passed through the slave markets.

Slave memorial.

After two full days in Stone Town, we took a taxi over to the other side of the island to a lodge in Bweju. This was the beach portion of the vacation. The area over on the east side of the island is really popular for kite surfing, and we kinda did our math wrong because kite surfing weather isn’t really beach bumming weather. But still we were at a great lodge and we largely had the beach to ourselves.

I was interested in driving through the island to check out everyone’s gardens. Zanzibar is a lot more tropical than Zambia, but there were still a lot of similarities. I saw a lot of cassava being grown and even one field of maize. We passed through a large number of rice fields, and there were cows everywhere. What I was most excited about was my latest obsession, cocoyam (aka taro). Cocoyam was pretty popular on the island, and commonly intercropped with banana, which is pretty much the definition of tropical paradise. Besides these, Zanzibar had many different kinds of fruit trees (mango, coconut, banana, oranges, guava, breadfruit, star fruit, and so many more) and of course spices.

Man climbing a tree to get us a coconut. He also sang.

The big touristy thing we did while we were over in Bweju was go on a spice tour. Besides its history with slaves, Zanzibar is also famous for its spices. The spice trade was a major driver of the slave trade, with slaves being used to harvest labor-intensive spices like cloves. The spice tour we went on was at one of many small spice farms that specialize in these sorts of tours, and we saw a large variety of spices being grown. We saw vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, uh, and such a bewildering array of other spices I can’t remember them all. This experience was kind of peak touristy, but we were into it. We saw the spices, a man climbed up a tree to get us a coconut, we were fed a variety of tropical fruits, and had the opportunity to buy spices to woo our friends and families. They also made us sweet hats.