TOURISM REPLACES SPICES IN ZANZIBAR

‘..Not a ray of optimism can be seen,’ concluded Amir.A.Moh’d writing painfully of Zanzibar twenty years on from the violent revolution in 1964 which killed an estimated 17,000 Arabs and Asians on the African ‘Spice Island.’

ZANZIBAR WAS ONCE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST PRODUCER OF CLOVES

Summoned to help in the aftermath, Eastern Block countries threw up drab housing estates and encouraged drastic nationalization measures. Food rationing was introduced in 1970 and Zanzibar’s woes were further compounded in the 1980s by a dramatic drop in the price of cloves. By 1997 income per capita was around $200 making Zanzibar one of the poorest places in the world.

Massive political corruption initially dissuaded investors, but Italian investment during the 1990s turned Zanzibar into one of the Indian Ocean’s most fashionable holiday resorts. Visitor arrivals are currently expected to reach 500,000 by 2020.

LATEEN RIG DHOW HEADING FOR PORT IN ZANZIBAR

Once only accessible by dhow, Ujunga (its local name) is now served by international airlines from Europe and the Gulf States while sleek hydrofoils skim across from Dar-es -Salaam in 60 minutes.

STONE TOWN, CAPITAL OF ZANZIBAR, WAS LISTED A WORLD HERITAGE SITE IN 2000

But while Zanzibar has become a tourist status symbol, at heart it remains an old world island struggling to reconcile its popularity with local poverty. With your hotel comes a whiff of drains and the odd rat scurrying through capital Stone Town is not uncommon.

Stone Town was designated a World Heritage site in 2000. Some 1,700 buildings are classified of architectural significance. Tall pink and umber coloured houses, three sometimes four storeys in height, line the narrow lanes. Some buildings have been restored. Without maintenance others are in an advanced state of disrepair. The first discotheque — in an old house near the Zanzibar National Bank —collapsed with the vibrations.

STONE TOWN BEACH WITH THE OLD BRITISH CONSULATE BUILDING, LEFT

The most elegant houses were built by wealthy Arab and Indian traders in the 19th century. Grand mansions along the waterfront, they include the large white coralstone palace, former residence of the Omani sultan’s of Zanzibar, now the National Palace Museum.

STATE ROOM IN THE SULTAN’S FORMER PALACE, NOW THE NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM

Of further interest is the House of Wonders a curious tiered edifice topped with a Victorian clock tower, at one time the tallest building on the Swahili coast of Africa.

HOUSE OF WONDERS WITH BLUES WATERFRONT RESTAURANT IN STONE TOWN

Stone Town’s must be explored on foot with a local guide to lead you to the best original doors for which Zanzibar has enjoyed a reputation since time immemorial. The size of the door, the number of brass studs and the intricacies of its decorated panels being a sign of the owner’s wealth.

ZANZIBAR’S CRAFTSMEN EXCEL AT WOOD CARVING

Stone Town’s notorious slave market was closed in 1873 by Sultan Barghash who consented to missionaries building a cathedral on the site provided it did not exceed the House of Wonders, at the time East Africa’s tallest building.

CHURCH OF CHRIST CATHEDRAL STANDS ON THE SITE OF THE OLD SLAVE MARKET

The Church of Christ Cathedral which held its first service on Christmas Day 1877 has a window dedicated to the great explorer and missionary David Livingstone. Livingstone, Burton, Stanley and Speke all planned their expeditions into the Dark Continent from Zanzibar which Livingstone called ‘Stinkibar’.

Zanzibar is only 85kms long by 30 kms wide, but unless you drive a four-wheel vehicle as do local politicians, the lack of infra-structure may mean even the shortest trip can take all day. Planning a quick visit to the East Coast, I was obliged to stay the night as the public dala-dala (mini-bus) went straight back to Stone Town and didn’t return until the following afternoon.

A SEAWEED FARM ON THE BEAUTIFUL EAST COAST OF ZANZIBAR

With long sandy beaches, swaying palms and a turquoise sea, the classically beautiful East Coast has attracted many hotel developers to the chagrin of local seaweed farmers who complain their plots are damaged by tourists wading out to swim.

FISHERMAN HOPING TO SELL HIS CATCH TO A TOURIST HOTEL AT RAS NUNGWI

Some of the biggest hotels are at Ras Nungwi on the north coast where the water is too deep for seaweed cultivation. Secluded here, the mainly Italian tourists, can behave as they like, being only asked to dress with some approbum when they go out.

A POPULAR TEA STALL IN STONE TOWN

A shopping excursion in Stone Town and a tour of the legendary spice plantations are often the only time they leave the hotel complex. For the rest of their holiday they lie on the beach watched by Masai security guards from mainland Tanzania who find Zanzibar more lucrative than looking after cattle.

TOURISM HAS USURPED SPICES BUT A SPICE GARDEN TOUR IS A MUST WHEN IN ZANZIBAR

http://www.copix.co.uk  for further photographs of Zanzibar. All are copyright and available for purchase.

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GLIMPSES OF OLD QATAR

I first visited Qatar in 1975 when it was still a quiet backwater. This I understood was due to its old merchant families being unable to agree on who owned the prime real estate  in capital Doha. In June 1995 when Crown Prince Hamid al-Khalifa deposed his father in a bloodless coup, Doha stirred, then sprang to life. Today the flat, desert state still has no natural water—not even a stream—but vast reserves of oil and gas makes native Qataris the richest people per capita in the world. Where the highest point on the peninsula was once the top of Bedouin tent, today Qatar challenges Dubai with a plethora of stunning skyscrapers overlooking the Gulf. The following photographs taken on several visits during the 1970s-80s, are a record of Qatar’s not so distant past. I have not been back since then. The final photo by Global Insight shows how Doha looks today.

ARID LANDSCAPE IN CENTRAL QATAR MORPHS INTO TRUE DESERT IN THE SOUTH
RUINS OF AN EARLY COASTAL SETTLEMENT NEAR AL-ZUBARAH
ANCIENT WELL-HEAD NEAR AL-ZUBARAH TAPPED A SUBTERRANEAN SPRING
BEFORE OIL WAS DISCOVERED IN 1939, PEARLING WAS A SOURCE OF INCOME
FISHING DHOWS MOORED IN AL-RUWAIS 1976
BEDOUIN IN THE INTERIOR WERE STILL LIVING IN TENTS IN THE 1970s
THE WOMEN EXCELLED AT WEAVING, HERE A CAMEL SADDLE BLANKET
WASTE GAS FLARES FROM AN ONSHORE PROCESSING PLANT IN 1975
THE VAST OIL AND GAS PRODUCING FIELD OF AL-DUKHN IN WESTERN QATAR
OLD CORAL STONE HOUSES WERE BULLDOZED TO MAKE WAY FOR NEW ONES
DELICATE NAQSH PLASTER WORK IN A TRADITIONAL HOUSE
LAST OLD ‘GULF COAST’ STYLE MOSQUE ON THE NORTHERN TIP OF THE PENINSULA
HOUSE IN THE FORMER FISHING VILLAGE OF AL-WAKRAH DEMOLISHED IN 1976
AERIAL VIEW OF THE GULF COASTLINE SOUTH OF DOHA IN 1976

 

TYPICAL ARCHITECTURE IN CENTRAL DOHA
TRADER SORTS A GOOD CATCH IN DOHA’S FISH MARKET
A TRADER PUFFS ON A NARGILA IN SOUQ AL-WAQIF, CENTRAL DOHA
PROFESSIONAL SCRIBE TYPING DOCUMENTS FOR A MIGRANT WORKER, DOHA, 1975
SCENE IN THE VEGETABLE MARKET IN 1975, QATAR NOW GROWS ITS OWN PRODUCE
THE DOHA SHERATON, QATAR’S FIRST 5-STAR HOTEL OPENED IN 1979
2017, STUNNING SKYSCRAPERS LINE THE ONCE CONTESTED WATERFRONT IN DOHA

 

http://www.visitqatar.qa

 

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DON’T TAKE YOUR CAR TO THE KASBAH

“Even big trucks go through there!” said a small boy watching me try to reverse out of the kasbah in Nefta, the great date oasis in southern Tunisia.

I had long wanted to travel independently of a press group, and when the others left for London, I’d hired a car and headed inland. The coastal resorts were fine for a sun-and-sand type of holiday, but I wanted to see the djerid, the bizarre belt of oases and salt lakes strung along the roof of the Sahara.

Chott el-Djerid, south of Tozeur, is the largest salt pan in the Sahara

As a western woman, I felt it prudent to have a local with me and discreet enquiries in Tunis found an eighteen year old science student happy to come for his keep. He’d be useful in the event of a breakdown, I decided. Either the car, or my rusty French.

With Ali beside me, we set off for Dougga, the first destination on our 804 km (500 mile) round-trip of Tunisia. Fortunately Ali was not a chatterbox. On the twisting drive, he said little more than that he had six brothers and three sisters. And that none of them had ever been outside Tunis.

The soaring Capitol in the Roman city of Dougga dates from 166 CE

Ali found us a local hotel and I retired early to what would become a familiar chorus of barking dogs. My initial driving experience hadn’t been too frightening. Traffic was light although schoolchildren were a menace. When not straggling along the road, they were throwing stones across it.

From Dougga we crossed the tell, a barren region of undulating plains broken by further stunning Roman ruins in Sbeitla. I was relieved to find plenty of gas stations, but road-blocks were numerous and exceeding the 90kph speed limit in one spot, we were flagged down by police. My UK driving licence wasn’t valid because it didn’t have my photograph I was curtly informed.

Happily my Australian passport saved the situation but next time, said an officer, I would be fined four dinar ($10 at the time). And he waved us on our way.

We reached Nefta, a huge oasis sunk in a dung coloured crater studded with emerald date palms. Sounds drifted up —muezzins making the evening prayer call, dogs yapping, turkeys gobbling and a voice at my elbow urging me to take a picture of a desert fox.

The great date oasis of Nefta in southern Tunisia

When I did so for a small fee, other small boys appeared with more desert foxes and to avoid a confrontation, I drove into the kasbah.

Now this old, labyrinthine part of every Arab town is strictly for desultory strolls. At precisely ten minutes to sunset, I wedged the Renault in an alley wide enough only for a loaded donkey. I could go neither forward nor back and I did not appreciate a child’s assurance that “même les gros camions passent.”

Humiliated, I imagined spending the night outdoors, but Ali located a team of date pickers who lifted us bodily out and I drive to the ETAP, a big French-run tourist hotel overlooking the crater with a well stocked bar…

A farmer checking his date crop in Nefta oasis

Next morning we explored the oasis which counts some half million date palms. And to avoid tramping on the vegetable cultivation beneath the trees, we walked along shallow streams fed by hot and cold springs. At one point there was a fork where Ali turned left and I turned right and I came upon three Bedouin women lying in the warm waters with their black robes floating around them.

Leaving Nefta, we motored east across Chott Djerid, a huge salt lake on the edge of the Sahara whose eerie lunar-like landscape devoid of life was no place to break down.

A camel train heading home from Douz

Safely across, we reached Douz, a Beau Geste sort of town known for its weekly camel market. Judging from the lines of animals heading back to their desert camp-sites we must have just missed it. And I was amazed when Ali said it was the first time he had seen a camel, except on television.

Rugged road into Chenini, Berber village in the Tataouine district of Tunisia

Chenini, our final destination, deep in the heart of Tunisia, is inhabited by Berbers who live out of pace with the coastal towns: there is a school, yet camels still crush the olive harvest on ancient wooden presses as generations of camels have done before them.

A blindfolded camel pressing the olive harvest in Chenini

With Ali nervously cracking his knuckles, from Chenini I gunned the Renault over a rough track to Matmata, a rugged journey up to the roof of Tunisia and down again.

We found Matmata thronged with scantily clad tourists tramping being led through underground houses, past souvenir stands and its sub subterranean hotel and after a quick look we left them to it and headed north again.

Rather than repeat the coast road I had done with the press-group, I took the inland route via Zaghouan, a town set against grey crags whose freshwater springs once supplied Roman Carthage by way of an overhead aqueduct, 132 kms long (82 miles).

Ruins of a Roman aqueduct which once supplied spring water to Carthage

We had passed many hitch-hikers on our trip —farmers going to market and people waiting for a rural bus— however I had been reluctant to stop in case of an accident. Now something about an elderly Bedouin woman made me pull over.

Skirts rustling, silver bangles jangling and smelling of olives, she climbed into the back seat. She was going to Kairouan to sell her oil, she shouted at Ali in high-pitched Arabic. She had been waiting hours for a lift — God bless his wife for stopping.

Reaching Tunis again, the boy shot off leaving me wondering whether my driving had terrified him, but in London three months later, I received a Christmas card, written in wobbly English, thanking me for the best holiday of his life…

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