30.06.2011 - 04.07.2011 30 °C
1st July 2011
Zanzibar is an archipelago off the east coast of Africa and part of Tanzania. It’s 60 miles long, 20 miles wide and 130m high at its tallest point. Lying on the Indian Ocean, it’s known for it's long white sandy beeches, soft shallow coral reefs and the World Heritage site that is Stone Town. It was also the centre of the slave trade in the 1700s and 1800s. At the height of the slave trade, around 10,000 slaves would pass through Zanzibar’s slave market every week on their way to the Ottoman empire.
William Wilberforce, a man from Hull and an independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire, led the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Over a period of 18 years, he introduced numerous antislavery motions in the House of Commons. In 1807, he finally succeeded, and slavery became illegal, but it was not until 1833 that it was finally abolished throughout the British Empire.
Down the eastern coast of Africa, however, the Arab led slave trade continued. Zanzibar had become the main gateway to and from Africa through which most slaves would pass. In the 1860's, David Livingstone, the explorer, discovered the slave markets in Stone Town and forced the British government to exchange land, take control of Zanibar, and close them down entirely.
As a girl from Hull, I've seen many references to Wilberforce and Livingstone in my own home town so it's fascinating to be here. We visit the church, which stands on the site of the old slave market, first. Inside, the alter marks the spot where the whipping post stood whilst pictures and plaques depict the slave trade beneath the vast stained glass windows. Along a narrow underground passage are the last few remaining slave chambers. Inside, there is barely room for us to stand, let alone fit our entire group of eighteen, and yet, these dingy underground caves would hold up to 100 slaves. The conditions would have been appalling. Rusty chains lay on the stone ledge as a poignant reminder. Outside, four stone statues are chained together: a symbolic monument in memory of all the slaves who passed through Stonetown. We walk around a little more, but by now we have seen most of what remains.
In the evening, we move onto the night market, which specialises in seafood and pizza. I select lobster, snapper and prawns, and watch them cook in front of me. The pizza is made from an extremely thin layer of dough wrapped around your selected toppings and mixed with a raw egg. Both are delicious and a welcome break from food on the truck.
Once we leave Stonetown, we travel up to Nungwi beech in the north of the island. Once we come off the paved road, we hit dirt tracks with enormous pot holes. It's a bumpy ride in the minibus. Our lodge in Nungwi, overlooks the crystal clear waters of the Indian ocean at one side, and a small white sandy beech at the other. Away from the guest house, it's far less pretty and a stern reminder that we are still in Africa. The roads are terrible, and the streets are littered with rubbish. The island is not as well set up for tourists as you might think, but in that, lies it's charm.
After two nights in Nungwi, Jess, Nicole and I take a taxi to Matemwe beach on the east coast of the island. Our official taxi is driven by two young guys. They put on some pop music for us, so we feel obliged to sing along as we drive. The CD has a habit of sticking. The driver hangs it out the window to cool down after telling us the CD player has overheated. When that doesn't work, they pour water on the CD before hanging it out again. We watch in disbelief. We do not have the heart to tell them that it's because of all the scratches on it.
Our next stop is Matemwe: an endless long white sandy beach, picture postcard Indian Ocean. As soon as we arrive, we order three Malibu and pineapples at the bar, before realising its only 10am. Ops! We wander down the beech and decide to go snorkeling. Two locals offer to take us out on a rickety dowa. The ride out to Mnembe Island is a bit scary and the thought of capsizing crosses our mind more than once. We snorkel for over an hour. The corals and abundance of fish are astounding.
The following morning, we watch the sun rise before heading back to Stone Town. Instead of a taxi we take the local matata, or bus. Anywhere else in the world (apart from perhaps Asia) this would seat eight people comfortably. We manage to squeeze in an additional twenty-seven people. For two hours, people sit on our laps or on crates in the middle of the floor.
Zanzibar was not at all what I expected. It is a beautiful island that has not yet been ruined by development or throngs of tourists and chains of hotels. It's fascinating, from the cobbled streets of Stone Town to the beaches of Matemwe as well as steeped in history and symbolically significant. It's yet another side of Africa that I've only just managed to scratch the surface of. It's also a welcome break from the truck and a little reminder of home.