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Published: August 25th 2012
Weird "Zanzibar" facts:
1. One of the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "road" movies had them taking a voyage with Dorothy Lamour to this mystical island.
2. Freddie Mercury, lead singer of "Queen", was born in its capital city, "Stone Town".
3. A skanky strip bar in downtown Toronto is called, "Club Zanzibar".
4. A flight on "Precision Air" gets you from the Tanzanian capital "Dar Es Salaam" in 30 minutes...15 minutes to get the passengers and the luggage loaded into the claustraphobic propeller plane and 15 minutes to actually fly to the island.
It was however, a most magnificent ending to my first "African" journey. A visit to Zanzibar is in many ways, a time travel back into the times of sultans, fine silks and aromatic spices. It is a predominantly Muslim island and while I was there I had the privelege of watching people celebrating the end of Ramadan in spontaneous gatherings on the beach, the women's scarves flapping in the wind and producing a brilliant kaleidoscope of colours, and children leaping and playing with their cousins and siblings in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
It was magical indeed.
A visit here demands you visit the World Heritage Site, "Stone Town", the main capital of the island. Streets all paved of stone with a myriad of alleyways and "mazes" taking you to a variety of shops scented with heady spices and tropical fruits I had never seen or sampled before. It reminded me of the medinas in Morocco where your journey would take you to a different location if you were to start off at the same point each morning. The main language of the island is Swahili and everywhere I went I kept seeing signs, slogans, t-shirts with that "Disney-ish" expression, "Hakuna Matata" which translated means, "no worries"...how wrong I am to let Disney have ownership....this has been the staple expression of the citizens of Zanzibar for centuries!!!
The people were incredibly friendly. Despite their desperate attempts to entice me into purchase their wares..."very special...one of a kind" they would proudly announce, they accepted my refusal politely. Indeed, this is a nation where the majority of people live with very little, and rely heavily on tourism as a means of putting food on the
table. My "white man's guilt" continued to fester during my time on this island but I did not let it diminish my experience. Zanzibar was a major slave trading post in the 1700's and under the direction of their sultan, thousands upon thousands of slaves from East Africa were brought to the tiny quarters, shacked by chains to their neck and feet and publicly whipped, as a means of measuring their strength and more importantly...their monetary value. Many of these slaves were later shipped to the Americas...and well, you know the rest of the story there.
The highlight of my time here involved a visit to a sandbar that was located in the middle of the ocean. The "island" was completely surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water. I spent my entire time diving and swimming about...my travel companions that day kept worrying about being in shade and avoiding sunburns!!! For me, it was one of those moments of "Paradise" and when the going gets tough back in my "real world", I hope to invoke the image of this magical place in my mind as a means of finding my inner "om".
Many of the fabrics, so rich and so colourful, worn by the camera-shy women have sayings on them. I was particularly affected by one that stated,
"Don't set sail, using somebody else's star."
So, Zanzibar will be for me, for the time being, my special "star". As the trip draws to a smashing conclusion, how blessed I have been not only to experience the beautiful creatures of Africa, the lovely and gentle personalities of so many of its citizens but also the exquisite and diverse "canvasses" of its landscape. Add Africa to your "bucket list" my friends...it is well worth the journey.
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