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 that 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.

About Travels with My Hat

Australian photojournalist and author. Used London as a base for nearly forty years while freelancing in the Middle East, Arabian peninsular, Africa and South Asia. Have written and illustrated more than a dozen books and travel guides. Operates a well regarded religious images stock photo library: www.worldreligions.co.uk. Live in Leura in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
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2 Responses to TOURISM REPLACES SPICES IN ZANZIBAR

  1. Desley Hardwick says:

    Fascinating article about little known Zanzibar. Great photographs. Who knew Stone Town was a World Heritage site?!

  2. Thanks Des. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to visit one day. I love East Africa/Indian ocean islands.

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