Recalling a memorable visit to the Spice Isles across Zanzibar Channel

Saturday October 09 2021
DAN PIC
By Danford Mpumilwa

Another unforgettable sojourn! It was in the early 1980s when I and the-then boss at the marketing department of the Tanzania Tourist Corporation (TTC), Amant Macha, received an Italian Travel Agent, Antonio, and his wife who was a professional photographer.

They were here on a mission to promote our tourist attractions at the invitation of the TTC.

They, naturally enough, visited our famous tourist attractions, including the famous wildlife national parks in the Northern Tourism Circuit (Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Mt Kilimanjaro, etc); Selous Game Reserve and the Ruaha and Mikumi National Parks in the south.

While having a sumptuous lunch of lobsters and king prawns at the Kunduchi Beach Hotel, the two expressed interest in Zanzibar’s tourism potential. To be precise, we were also a bit embarrassed that we had not included the Isles in their itinerary.

It was there and then that we contacted our sister company, the Seafaris, to arrange a quick visit to the famed Spice Islands across the Zanzibar Channel. We decided to fly there first, and return by a Seafaris boat therefrom.

Indeed, we flew there - and had an interesting and unforgettable experience of the Isles’ tourist attractions.

Advertisement

We first visited the historic Stone Town. First established by the Yemenis when the Islands became a base for traders voyaging between the African Great Lakes, the Somali Peninsula, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran and the Indian subcontinent. That was around the 14th century AD.

We had a tour of the Makusurani Graveyard where many of the Islands’ earlier Arab rulers are buried. This was followed by a tour of the House of Wonders, which was the first place on the archipelago with electric lighting. The Hamamni and Kidichi Persian Baths - which amplify the cosmopolitan nature of the Isles - were visited next.

It should be noted that, after the Yemenis, Zanzibar fell into the hands of the Portuguese following Vasco da Gama’s visit of the place in 1499. This marked the beginning of European influence in the Isles.

To be precise, in 1505, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire when Captain Ruy Lourenco Ravasco Marque demanded and received tribute from the Sultan in exchange for peace. Actually, Zanzibar remained a possession of Portugal for 200 years. But, that is a story for another day...

Back to our tour:.. We then went to the Chimbe Marine Park where dolphins, moral eels, lion fish, octopus and lobsters ‘received us.’ Our Italian guests were curious to know why the Isles are referred to as the ‘Spice Islands.’ So, our hosts took us to the spices localities where cloves, nutmegs, black pepper, vanilla and coriander are in abundance. Most of these are used to prepare food, cosmetics and medicine.

Last in the tour was the Jozan Forest, located in the central east region of Zanzibar and consisting of a large mangrove swamp. This is where we came across the rare red colobus monkey and several species of birds and butterflies.

No wonder when we left the Isles in our Seafaries luxury boat on a calm and sunny day, we were a jovial and delighted group. Our Captain, one Hamis, promised us a beautiful and memorable day as we sipped our cocktails.

However, that was not to be. Midway in the trip, the weather changed into a stormy nightmare. Heavy rains and scary waves pounded our small boat - and then, suddenly, the boat’s engine ceased. The captain did not help when he casually told us he had never experienced such deadly weather in the 15 years he had sailed the route.

The boat was tossed up and down for more than four hours as the rain drenched and almost drowned us. Eventually we were beached a few kilometres north of the Kunduch Beach Hotel. I still dread the thought of what could have happened that day - and I can’t swim!