As my time in Arusha drew to a close, I lay in bed at night and imagined what Zanzibar, my next destination, might be like. I pictured it to epitomise the exotic: a land of fragrant spices, magic carpets and harem pants; a home to sultans, pirates, genies, shifting sands; abundant in sweet fruits, hookah pipes and gilt surfaces; bejewelled women and turbaned men; a labyrinth of candle-lit alleyways, whitewashed mosques, and crooked palms; a place to sip elixirs from conch shells and rub coconut balm into your skin... Somewhere you could watch purple sea horses bounce over sparkly water, and you might not be hallucinating.
I had clearly been sleepless in the ghetto a bit too much, as by contrast, the fantasy of Zanzibar really spiralled. Reminiscent of that scene in Hook where the Lost Boys teach Peter Pan how to make-believe his dinner (which he manages to do in the form of an extravagant feast followed by a neon food fight- all time), my mind ran wild. Yet in many ways, the island I had conjured-up did not disappoint. Acrobatic sea creatures aside, the natural beauty of Zanzibar is beyond the realms of the ordinary. Besides the boatload of photo opportunities and beatitude, there is excellent potential for tanning and becoming extremely chilled out. Dizzley heaven.
From the chorus of muezzins singing worship from their minarets in Stone Town, to rooftop savasanas after sunset yoga in Nungwi, to feasting on octopus cooked in fresh coconut water and spices in Paje, the kaleidoscope of Zanzibari sights and sounds lends the place an otherworldliness. Perched on a piece of driftwood (cum banana lounge) facing the palest aqua ocean, out of one eye you can be mesmerised by the butterflies of kite surfers in the skies, while out of the other, the seaweed farmers wade slowly through the shallows as they hand-harvest their crop. Kids with dark, twiggy legs run past pushing tyres along the sand with a stick, while Italian honeymooners are hoisted onto pimped out dhows for an afternoon cruise.
On a slow shutter speed you can really take in a very contrasting image, perhaps reflective of Zanzibar's fat history book of foreign influence and intrigue. For hundreds of years it was a lucrative trade centre for spices, ivory and slaves (and more recently the birthplace of Freddie Mercury), before slowly establishing a tourism industry post-independence in 1963. After a day of sun, swims and exploring, to plonk on the sand away from the hotels and turtle sanctuaries, and watch purple storm clouds roll in, you can feel very small and faraway. To dive back into reality, pulling up a pew at Gerry's Bar on the Nungwi beach and working your way through the cocktail list does the trick. What sort of tropical paradise is replete without a few tonics and Rastafari tunes... Ja man.