I Should Be So Lucky Lucky, In Zanzibar

In Zanzibar the locals use Dala Dalas to commute around the island. A Dala Dala is basically a converted truck with two benches running along both sides of the back of the vehicle. So good they named it twice, on a Dala Dala there’s always room for one more person, 35 people I counted at one point, now I know what those slaves must’ve felt like whilst being shipped to Zanzibar.

Too close for comfort in a Dala Dala

The tiny village of Pongwe on the East Coast of Zanzibar is the place I’ve been looking for to get away from the crowds and do nothing for a few days. Only eating octopus, sitting in the sun and writing this godforsaken blog, life can be so cruel sometimes. 


In a place as remote and off the map as this, it’s the last place you’d expect to see a toon fan. Well in Pongwe, Yonson assures me he is Zanzibar’s biggest “Newcastle Team” fan. He knows what he’s wearing and hasn’t mistaken the famous black and white stripes for a Juventus shirt, which is a good start, but the fact he thought I was Fabricio Collocini when I showed him a picture of me in the St James’ Park changing rooms is making me think he may have just liked the colours. 


Pongwe is primarily a fishing village but a lot of the coastal dwellers make their income from seaweed farming. The seaweed grows at a rate of 7% per day, increasing tenfold from its original weight in a fortnight. Most of it is sent abroad and used for its main extract, carrageenan, a natural gelling agent used for cosmetics, toothpaste and medicine. The farmers earn on average $60-100 per month, what can easily be blown on a night out in the town at home. 


Nungwi on the Northern tip of Zanzibar is admittedly a nicer beach. Go there at sunset to see some local guys practicing capoeira.



Nungwi is a lot more touristy than Pongwe and probably everywhere else on the island. The beach is lined with expensive hotels catering for package holiday makers and restaurants selling pretty much the same food as the next one. The most annoying thing is the amount of hassle you get from the hoards of local beach boys selling snorkelling trips, bus tickets, boat trips, crappy souvenirs and anything else you can think of to make some money. Then there’s the fake Masai selling fake sunglasses and fake Masai art, and not to forget the gigalos selling themselves to the Western women who want a bit of fun in the sun. The tourists I can deal with, but when you can’t walk down the beach in peace for a few minutes without being fist pumped and followed by a so called Rasta selling crap African ganja then there’s something seriously wrong, and quite how you can be the ‘brother from another mother’ of a guy you’ve just met I’ll never know. 


So the bottom line is, Nungwi isn’t my favourite place and needs sorting out fast as the hawkers are giving it a bad reputation. The only reason we came here though was to dive one of Zanzibar’s most famous site, Mnemba island. 


The tiny coral atoll is home to many deep drop off walls and small colourful reefs. It’s was nice for its large schools of fish and many moray eels. I was really amazed to see a school of rare ‘lucky lucky’ fish, who approached me from behind sporting Bob Marley hats trying to sell me ‘I love Zanzibar’ t-shirts, it seems even underwater you can’t escape the touts! 




Categories: Diving, Tanzania, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Like a Rolling Stone

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state within the Republic of Tanzania, not an independent sovereign state. The islands have been in contact with Persia, Arabia and India along with the coast of East Africa for over two thousand years, while the rest of the African interior remained relatively unexplored. Serving as a major trading route to much of the East, it is seeped with deep and rich history.  

Arab traders originally named the East African coast ‘Zinj El Barr’ meaning ‘land of the black people’ for obvious reasons. Stonetown, the capital and largest settlement, situated on the East coast of Unguja island, was once the largest town in the whole of East Africa during the colonial period. There are many interesting colonial buildings in the town from the Omani, Portuguese and British occupation which are best seen on a guided tour. I prefer just taking in the town’s character and getting lost in its many winding alleyways. This is perfectly doable on your own if your’re prepared to deal with Stonetown’s many ‘Papaasi’ – bloodsucking pests. These hustlers will follow you around and will do anything to make a quick dollar or two from a tourist. I was pestered for a while by a papassi wearing a Celtic top, which was not the first time I’ve seen a Glaswegian stumbling around struggling to speak a word of English. 



Through the day when the men of Stonetown aren’t out fishing or hassling mzungu, you will find them sitting around doing nothing or playing board games on the street.


Thousand of slaves were brought to Zanzibar to be sold and then sent to work on the clove plantations or shipped further afield to Arabia or India. In the former slave market you can see the pits where the slaves were put on display and the dungeon where they were chained together and stacked up like packs of flour in Aldi. To get an idea of what it would be like being trapped in a horrible, depressing place in the height of the Zanzibari summer, I just had to go back to my hotel room. When the slave trade was abolished in 1873 an Anglican cathedral was erected. It’s said that the cathedral’s alter was once the spot of the slave markets whipping block, parts of the crucifix at the top of the spire are carved from the tree where David Livingstone’s heart was buried in Zambia. 


Tippu Tip was an Arab Slave trader who allegedly got his name from his blinking eyes that resembled a local bird by the same name. He personally owned more than 10,000 slaves on his plantations but incredibly justified his actions by claiming that Abraham and Jacob who appear in the Koran and the Bible respectively were slave owners themselves, I suppose he keeps telling himself that Joseph was really a wife beater too. You can view his house from the outside with its grant Zanzibari door, signifying his wealth. 


Prison island 6km away from Stonetown, was originally owned by a wealthy Arab trader as a detention centre for disobedient slaves but then was sold when Livingstone helped slavery become a thing of the past. A prison was built here but instead it was used as a quarantine island for all passengers arriving from India in the 1920’s. Today the island is home to a large creep of giant tortoises. 


You’re able to feed the tortoises and get close enough to hear the beasts grunting and farting. There’s an ok snorkelling spot on the way back to Stonetown, which sadly had to be cut short. Yesterday’s chicken arms didn’t agree with me and I’ve my own tortoises head popping out!  



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