Saturday, March 29, 2008

Zanzibar, Tanzania (March 24-27, 2008)

Situated in the warm Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar Island is the largest island in the Zanzibar Archipelago - also known as the Spice Islands. The archipelago has a rich history dating back to the beginning of the first millenium, when settlers from mainland Africa arrived. By the 1st century, Arabic traders had established settlements, and by the 8th century, Shirazi traders from Persia had also staked a claim to the land.

Because of its convenient location, the islands became a bustling trade center between Africa, India, Asia and the Middle East. After centuries of Portuguese, Omani and British control, Zanzibar declared independence in the 1960s and joined with the mainland country of Tanganyika to form what is today called Tanzania.

Stone Town, the historic old town in Zanzibar's main port, is a fascinating jumble of Arabic, Indian and African people, cultures and architectural styles. The dark maze of narrow streets bustles with activity and echoes with the sounds of prayers and bicycle horns. It's impossible not to get lost amongst the winding alleyways filled with mosques, craft vendors, men sipping tea, women selling fruit, and children playing.

In contrast, Zanzibar's beaches are as tranquil as Stone Town is lively: warm turquoise water gently laps against white powdery sand dotted with shells. Tropical fish, dolphins and sea turtles swim off the coast of nearby islands, and dhows (traditional boats) glide across the water with sails billowing.

Boats gather near the port at Stone Town
Bicycling bread vendors prepare for business at the massive Stone Town market
One of the many beautiful, intricately carved doors that can be found throughout Stone Town
Blue and green shutters open onto a narrow Stone Town alley
Zanzibar was the center of the East African slave trade, and this cramped cell once held up to 50 slaves at a time waiting to be sold

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