Zanzibar - the "Spice Islands"


zanzibar-1If you're volunteering or simply traveling in Kenya or Tanzania, try to take the short trip to Zanzibar. You can get to the main island, Unguja, by boat from Dar-es-Salaam (the least expensive), or you can fly from Nairobi, Kilimanjaro, or Dar-es-Salaam. Why should you go? Zanzibar is an amazing convergence of cultures. Sometimes known as the "spice islands", Zanzibar has been on trade routes for well over a thousand years. Arab, Indian, African, and European traders have all left their mark on this archipelago. I guarantee that you will get lost walking the winding alleyways of Stone Town, the capital city, but you won't mind, because every turn brings a new sight, a new experience.

One place you see the melding of cultures is in the food: a little Indian, a little Arab, a little African. It's a treat for the senses. You'll also see it in the architecture, and of course in the faces of the people. Journey inland and you will see extreme poverty and a more realistic view of the life of the locals. Go across the island, and you will find the gated communities of European getaways. Divers and beach lovers flock to the coast. That's fine. I'll stick to Stone Town.

Of course you will see a few too many t-shirt shops, but there is so much more. This is not an artificial community. There are some interesting little museums along the waterfront as well as an old forteress. The Palace Museum is on the waterfront in what was one a sultan’s palace . The building is nice, and would be worth a quick look even without the exhibits. There are great views from the upper balconies. I’ve read reviews of the museum that are mostly unimpressed. There isn’t much in it compared to the museums we are accustomed to in the West. But sometimes even a small, threadbare museum can be a revelation. For me, it was the introduction to a fascinating time and place, 19th century Zanzibar, and an even more fascinating person, the princess Sayyida Salme who secretly learned to read and write when she was young, and eventually ran off to Europe with a German merchant when she became pregnant. She also wrote the earliest know autobiography by a Muslem women.

Check out her Wikipedia entry

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By Kevin O'Neill


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