A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about islands

It's got two Zs in it!

Rachel - Zanzibar

Beyond Timbuktu, Outer Mongolia and The Land of Nod lies the magical kingdom of Zanzibar. Actually that’s not too far off because although Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania it has it’s own president and also it’s own bonus stamp in our passports, yay.

After a breezy ferry trip over with a bag of mangoes we stepped off into the large port with colossal container ships and then immediately out into the wide tree lined streets with old Indian and colonial style buildings. Next to the harbour is the old area called Stone Town with never ending, narrow, winding, balcony-adorned streets down which children played and women in Islamic dress disappeared round corners. We stepped into this world and fending off shop keepers and shaking off persistent touts we found our little hostel. This is one of the most touristy places I think we’ve been too and it was a bit of a shock to encounter the hussle quite so intensely but still it wasn’t as bad as, say, the street stalls of Paris.

We booked a place for dinner in a restaurant which is also a family home, stopped off some tourist information places to plan our next few days and, grabbed a sundowner on the balcony of a hotel and watched the sun set over the sea with the old Dhow ships sailing across our view. More about those later.

We stopped by our restaurant and found that there’d been a family problem and they were closed. Bummer :( so instead we headed to the sea front and found a lantern lit night market selling freshly caught fish of all kinds and in all sorts of preparations – mostly fish kebabs. I ordered a few kebabs and coconut bread and dave ordered the lobster…different classes eh. I should confess here to being terrible at haggling. In this case I totally forgot to haggle after all the deliberation over which fish to order and from which almost identical stall (baby shark and barracuda from Amos the fisherman, in case you’re interested). Dave was not impressed. But he was impressed with his dirt cheap lobster so he was appeased. We’d only bought tasters so we headed to the obviously named Mercury’s for a fish curry as well. *burp*.

Zanzibar is covered in coconut palms and has eastern influences because of ancient trade – it’s one of the original spice islands after all. So the Swahili food is spicy and coconutty. A real sensuous treat after the simplicity of Malawi. The history of the trade and resulting cultural influence is fascinating actually. Monsoon winds and sailing ships meant visiting traders needed to stay in port for 3 months or so while the winds changed direction back again for the return journey so their cultures had a chance to really take hold. Cool huh.

The next day we visited a spice plantation where our guide plucked spice after spice from the trees and shrubs. We each had a morsel to sample and added them to a growing nosegay fashioned out of a banana leaf, what a chai it would have made at the end of the day. We had: cinnamon (leaf bark and stick), nutmeg/mace, lemongrass, cardomon, vanilla, coconut, star fruit, jack fruit, nema (medicinal and bitter), cloves, cocoa, anato (for red colour) and curry leaf.

That evening Dave had a(nother) headache (which incidentally turned out to be a side effect to his malaria pills so he’s now switched to another type and is fine now). But it was bad enough to have to cancel the re-booked restaurant and for him to turn in to bed at 6pm. So I headed out on my own for an explore, bumped into a lovely interesting older Czech man I’d met briefly on the ferry over and had an hour or so philosophy debate before leaving to make the most of the evening sun to wander the streets and take some pictures, stopping to listen to the choir singing in the church – honestly every street you turn down in Zanzibar has something fascinating to see.

After checking on Dave I went back to the nice hotel balcony for a Dowa cocktail (gin, lime and honey…yum) sundowner with my book, chatted to some Irish filmmakers who were out filming about a marathon which is held to raise awareness about a preventable yet prevalent and painful eye condition. After we parted I went back to Mercurys for some dinner. I hadn’t been in there for two minutes before a slightly too friendly man started trying to get me to join his friends. I had to get proof from two members of staff but it turned out to be the owner and his friends were all lovely so we ended up bantering and dancing way past closing time – African lock in! I stumbled home with a pizza under my arm to find a better, hungry, and a little bit worried Dave.

The next day we hired a car to explore the interior of the island and visit some of the beaches on the east coast. We stopped to watch the Dhow builders who still make the old Arabic sail boats by hand. I’m not sure why they’re still making them here but they’re part of the island personality and so beautifully made. In the olden days they used to stitch them together with rope because of the flexibility that gave them in bad seas, but now they use nails. The interior was brimming with banana trees and coconut palms – totally tropical. Tropical like the white sand beaches which were like walking on powder paint it was so fine and soft – you couldn’t make out grains, the sand was like dust. The tide was out so we didn’t get the picture perfect beach views but instead we poked about the rock pools and bothered the hundreds of crabs that scuttled over the exposed craggy rocks.

That night we *finally* made it to the restaurant and enjoyed an authentic home cooked dinner in the back room of the cook’s house with 15 other people round two tables. Coconut tuna fish and home made lentil soups and chapattis were on the menu and it was certainly not a disappointment after our two failed attempts to get in.

We could have stayed another few days to go snorkeling and on a dhow cruise and hear some local music, but in the end we wandered the streets some more the next morning and reluctantly boarded the ferry – looking back to the island.

But anyway, next stop Uganda….this was always supposed to be a bonus stop – very glad we decided to make the detour.

Posted by rachndave 09:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged beaches islands food sunsets Comments (0)

Doctor Doctor, I think i'm a loaf of bread

Rachel - Likoma Island

The Ilala arrived predictably late due in part to slow running down to countrywide lack of fuel, and in part due to some long stops for loading. We were met at the port by one of the managers of the lodge and given a bumpy ride in the back of their pick up – a godsend because it’s a 45 minute walk and by now it was dark.

Mango Drift was a collection of bamboo and grass-roofed huts and a bar on the beach. The only frills were a resident dog, a well stocked bookcase and some toys to use on the lake. This was a place to completely relax and that we did. The dorm room had a door that opened straight onto the shore and so we started the day with a swim and settled down with the magazines.

Later on we made the long walk into town which was surprisingly extensive with a sandy main square, a market area and oddly one of the largest buildings in Malawi – a huge redbrick cathedral. We stopped for a while to watch a pretty thrilling netball game in the square before being shown to the cathedral by some kids who grabbed our hands and insisted on showing us the way. We managed to lose them when we snuck up some dark stairs into the clock tower!

After that we left the main town and headed to the outskirts to find out if we could make an appointment the village witch doctor mentioned in the guide. Dave was a bit more keen than me, partly because he had a genuine niggling back to present and partly because I wasn’t sure I could disguise any skepticism if he seemed to be a total quack. But in the end I was too curious to pass up the chance to meet him. When we arrived outside his compound the mood was solemn and serious. We were made to wait for a long while and then instructed with import to choose a stick from a pile with our *left* hands and then we could enter the gates where we were to place the stick in the circle on the ground and wait there. So we did, removed our shoes to enter, passed a monkey tied to a tree with a rope and passed lots of lounging people and told to wait seated there for 15minutes. After a time we were indicated to enter a large dark room with pigeons flying eerily around the eaves and in the corner in the dark was a man lying down – a scene straight out of Apocalypse now or something! The man hacked and groaned loudly and made some strange noises so dramatically that I thought it must have been an act to intimidate us. We were shown meekly and respectfully to a mat in front of his bed while he sat up. And what a surprise we had. This 60 year old but fit and cheeky man with dreadlocks was the height of politeness! Turns out he was feeling sick with a fever so we’d woken him up. He told us he was really happy to see us but he couldn’t “enjoy us properly”. He wanted to tell us all about the history of how he became a doctor and maybe sit in on a session so could we return tomorrow…with two bottles of Carlsberg ;) But first if we wanted we could take his picture so he posed with us both and his magic fly whisk! We left laughing and joking, promising to return while wishing him better.

The next day we spent the whole morning and well into the afternoon with him hearing about his methods and the types of people he treats, even meeting some of them as they entered the room waiting to see him. He has a partnership with the local hospital so that if something is medical case such as malaria or dehydration he sends them to the clinic saying “these are not problems of magic, this is not my job”. Somewhat surprisingly if the clinic has cases they cannot find a cause for, or people are not responding to treatment then they will send them to the witch doctor to find a magic cause. I think he was totally genuine in the sense that he believed that there were cures for magic diseases and we met plenty of people who claimed to be made better.

The methods of cure ranged from the benign “herbal teas” to the frankly bizarre. Such as one particularly difficult “mental disturbance” case which his guiding spirit told him, after an overnight drumming and chanting session, could only be cured by feeding the man with the meat of a dog as requested by the trouble causing spirit who currently resided inside this man as a way to release it. We met the man who had been cured who is now in training to be a doctor himself who swore it was indeed the case and now he says is fine. The causes for illnesses and the reasons for cures are up for debate of course but I have to say I found the healer totally charming and with a real concern for his patients and the community. In Mua at the museum the information about witch doctors did say that while some can perpetuate revenge attacks against perceived jealous spell casters or charge extortionate costs for repeat treatments, but that the good ones are aware of village politics and will often prescribe restoration of harmony and reconciliation and are therefore important maintainers of village cohesion.

I promised I would make an appeal for donors to build housing for patients in the compound – many people stay for days or weeks while they are receiving treatment. If anyone is interested in hearing more about his story and would like to help this unusual community project then contact me for details (promise fulfilled).

He made us some lunch, sent out for several more beers and seemed happy just to hang out with us. He was particularly chuffed to read about himself in the guide book and had someone copy it out for him. But eventually we headed back to camp for a lazy evening with a local musician and some star gazing. The island runs on a generator and so the electricity goes off at midnight and so the stars are super bright, we even saw some shooting stars.

We could have done with another day on the island just to enjoy the beach more and we had a pretty good extension because the Ilala ferry was about 10 hours late so instead of leaving at 3am we had a great morning lounging round the bar watching the horizon.

The ferry back to the mainland was just as initially chaotic then fun and relaxed as the way over and we managed to make better friends with one of the lovely families staying on the island who had just had a wedding-festival with guest appearance from the Bees (they live on the isle of wight and everyone seems to know everyone) and met some new people on the ferry who had been working at the Lake of Stars festival. All very rock and roll. Our time with the Ilala and the islands is sadly over. This has certainly been a great way to see the country. Don’t think i’ll be signing up for a cruise ship just yet mind :)

PS. A. Stop loafing around then

Posted by rachndave 23:32 Archived in Malawi Tagged islands culture Comments (0)

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