Zanzibar has always seemed like the ultimate exotic destination so we were very glad not to have missed it. Our passport problems could have meant days and days delay and we could easily have spent time cooling our heels in Nairobi instead of cooling ourselves in the Indian Ocean.
So armed with a replacement computer and camera, we headed for the ferry in Dar for the crossing to Stone Town, Zanzibar. Instead of the fast 2 hour catamaran, we were stuck with the slow boat which wallowed along for nearly 4 hours in a very choppy sea. It did give us plenty of time though to chat to a fellow traveller who was a UN worker in Tanzania. His insights into the region and the workings of the UN and other aid organisations in Africa was very interesting.
The resort - for such it was and not a campground - was at the very northern tip of the island, and we were driven through tropical rainforest, farmland with soaring coconut trees, past palm fringed beaches and, at the northern end, more sparsely vegetated areas. The resort was right on the beach with the restaurant and bar on poles above the crashing high tide and the fine sandy beach at low tide.
The small village of Nungwe was directly behind the resorts and friendly locals plyed their trade in hand made sandals, T-shirts, paintings and cold drinks in their small shops and on the beach. The local small primary school offered its quite well set up computer room as an internet cafe to raise money, though unfortunately there was first a blackout, then the network didn't work when we visited. The main business of the locals was fishing and boatbuilding, and we walked to the very northern tip of the island and watched as the traditional dhows were being repaired on the beach at low tide, and being built higher up on the dry sand. Colourfully dressed women congregated on the sand in a large group, each with two large plastic buckets, waiting for the fishermen to come in to shore with their catches. As the boats approached, the women would surge forward waist deep into the water to have their buckets filled to the brim with the tiniest whitebait fish, then haul the heavy buckets up the beach and disappear into the village. Whether the fish were for their own consumption or whether they were destined for the market, we could not ascertain.
Each night the rain poured down, but each day there were clear azure skies and the sun shone with a ferocity that affected us all the more because our Malaria medication has the side effect of greater sun sensitivity. The water was clear and warm and a brilliant turquoise; the sand was the finest white sand that has ever squeezed between our toes; the beachcombing was rewarding with shells, sea urchins, coral begging to be picked up.
No visit to Zanzibar is complete without a spice tour. We piled into a minibus to the large government-run spice farm in the middle of the island near a village with the wonderfully sonorous name of Bububu (emphasis on the middle syllable) . We walked around with a guide, a young man who had been trained as a chef but who had returned to the village of his birth within the farm. He showed us cardemom and cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, pepper and tamarind, tumeric and ylanglang. And much more as well. We were given the most flavoursome lunch sitting on a mat under some shelter of coconut leaves - rice flavoured with the local spices, coconut cream sauces, spiced tea and local tropical fruit. We even tried Coke into which was squeezed fresh lime juice - it actually makes Coke quite drinkable!
And on to Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, a maze of twisting alleyways not even wide enough for a handcart. It is an amalgam of Indian, Arab and African influences, an old slave centre as well the centre for spices in the Indian Ocean. We walked through the narrow passages, past the tourist shops, into the local fruit and vegetable market, on through the local market, past old British colonial buildings and Sultans' palaces and forts mostly now crumbling and along the waterfront to "Mercury's", a bar and restaurant right on the beach which is a memorial to Freddy Mercury of Queen who was born on Zanzibar. We sat on a deck overlooking the ocean and there we watched dhows sailing by as the sun set. Boys played soccer on the beach and swam in the warm water. When it got dark and the boys had gone, we noticed a small boat pulling in. We watched fascinated as contraband petrol was ferried ashore in plastic drums, and quickly and quietly raced up the sand to a waiting car.
Our small hotel was right in the middle of the maze of poorly lit alleys, but by carefully noting landmarks, a mosque to the right, a blue door to the left, we found our way back in the dark.
Zanzibar lived up to its reputation - it is indeed as exotic as you can imagine.