Zanzibar Islands: 8 Sep 2006

8 09 2006

So two days in a row at the internet!  I bribed Andy with a hot dog.

We are REALLY enjoying Zanzibar!!  Today, we both agreed, was the best day so far of the entire vacation.  We started out early in the morning and were taken down to the dock to get fitted for snorkling gear.  That consisted of about 7 guys swapping around gear and trying to figure out what sizes we should wear, who takes us and other details.  It was all in Swahili, so I’m really not sure what was said, but the conversations were animated and funny to listen to.  Once that was arranged, Andy and I set sail on a “dhow” with two guys.  A dhow is a wooden boat made by hand here and commonly used to transport people and cargo.  Many use beautiful sails, but ours had a small motor.

I have never snorkled before and was expecting to like it about as much as I like skiing, but one of the guys explained how to do it and we got into the water.  I was surprised how easy it is and how amazing!!!  I’ve never seen a coral reef before in real life and these are beautiful and so alive.  So we island hopped all day, snorkling and checking out sights.  The first, Bawe Island, had the best reefs.  I wish we had spent more time here, but I didn’t realize that it was the most interesting of the islands.  We took the camera underwater, but of course the pics don’t look anywhere near as cool as the real thing.  The water is SO clear and that doesn’t come through in the pics, maybe because there were small air bubbles?  I don’t know.

We then went to Changuu Island, also called Prison Island.  A lot of the reef here was dead due to fishermen dragging nets over it.  It was good for both of us to see the impact.  Some of the reef was ok, and that was nice to experience.  We saw two giant clams here.  They were larger and more colorful than I expected-one bright blue and the other redish orange- and it was fun to watch them open and close.  We saw star fish, many bright colored fish and the moving reef (the parts that were alive, anyway).

After snorkling here, we went onto the island to see giant tortoises.  There is a large colony here with the oldest over 100 years old.  They are second in size to the Galapagos turtles.  We could walk amongst and touch them.  They weren’t shy!  There is also a rebuilt prison on the island.  It’s actually a prison that never was: The British built it, but instead of its intended purpose, it was used as a quarantine for patients with yellow fever.  Now it houses part of a restaurant with a bar, but the building is very interesting.  One cool part was the toilets: they were a wooden platform built over the ocean water…toilets that never need to be flushed or emptied!  I took a pic of what remains of them.  (Two pics of toilets…maybe I have a theme going here. 🙂 )

From Prison  Island we took the dhow to Chapwani Island, or Grave Island.  On it is a beatutiful (ie. expensive) resort, a large colony of large bats, and graves of various soldiers and sailors that have died in the area, especially in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

The rides on the dhow from island to island were so much fun!  The water is so choppy in places!  We both received an invigorating share of sunshine and it was refreshing to be active and wet for a day.  Also, I feel much more comfortable here than I did on the mainland.  People on the island are so much more welcoming and easy going. 

I had a good (authentic) conversation with the woman who works at our hotel last night.  She and I were talking about the differences between lifestyles on the mainland and here, women’s perceptions of tourists and how women in Zanzibar live.  I asked her how the conservative muslin women percieved us “free-spirited” tourists and our lifestyle.  She said it’s not really about lifestyle, but if there is any resentment, it’s about money and how westerners spend it so freely while women (in general) in Zanzibar do not have all that surplus money to throw around.  She said things are changing a bit recently, but before it was considered shameful for a woman to sell things in a shop, so there wasn’t any economic independence.  In addition, women who do work can have an entire family (mother, father, grandparents, kids) dependent on her (and maybe her husband’s) income, so there often isn’t a lot left over.

We are heading out to get dinner.  I’ll check in again when I can.  I hope everyone is doing well.  We both are missing our friends and family.  Andy’s even missing school and especially his friends. 
BUT, well, this IS a pretty cool experience that I wish didn’t have to end!