Strange Places, Abnormal Walks
Tanzania and Mauritius
About a kilometre south of the Jozani Forest Visitor Centre, the
boardwalk begins under the shade of an old tamarind tree. About half-way
along the horse-shoe shaped boardwalk, an extension crosses the creek and
leads to a rest area. Sit here and relax a while. At the end of the
boardwalk, you emerge in the thicket, a short walk from the tamarind tree
and the car park. Oops, sorry, you are in Zanzibar (or Unguja), a former
island nation off the Tanzanian coast merged into that country a long time
ago. The exact place: Jozani-Chwaka Bay Conservation Area, just another of
the strange places you must visit in a lifetime.
Keep your eyes open for small, angled holes in the ground. These are
the homes of Freshwater Crabs, among the more unusual denizens of this
magnificent forest. As well as being a forest, Jozani is a wetland. During
the long rains, it is transformed into a vast wooded freshwater lake,
merging into brackish swamp toward the sea. Jozani is the largest area of
mature forest left on the island. Seasonal flooding and a high water table
have made this a unique swamp forest inhabited by the Red Colobus and Sykes
monkeys. There are also 43 species of birds and over 50 species of
butterflies in Jozani which is about an hour’s drive from Stone Town or the
island’s main and only town! Take a guide, or you will get lost.
Even more unusual are the imposing aspects of Stone Town’s fascinating
architecture which are a hybrid synthesis of Arabic, Indian, European and
African characteristics. Stone Town has its name because this tiny town is entirely made
up limestone buildings. The Arabic buildings are often square, with two to
three storeys, and have rooms lining the outer walls, allowing space for an
inner courtyard and verandas. I stayed in a hotel built precisely this way
and which served breakfast in the courtyard (see factfile below). Indian
buildings generally include a shop on the ground floor and living quarters
above, with exposed and ornate facades decorated with railings and lacework
balconies. The ‘baraza’ – a stone bench facing into the street that serves as
a focal point around which Zanzibaris meet and chat – is common in many
A charming feature of Zanzibari architecture are the huge carved wooden
doors, some strangely older than the houses in which they are set. Unusual
places to visit are the House of Wonders (Beit el-Ajaib) built in 1883, the
Palace Museum (Beit al-Sahel) which was the Sultan’s residence until 1964
when the dynasty was overthrown. The Old Fort, a massive, bastioned
structure originally built around 1700 on the site of a Portuguese chapel by
Omani Arabs was a defence against the Portuguese.
Stone Town is strange in
more ways than one. From its fascinating labyrinth of narrow
streets, whitewashed coral-rag houses and quaint shops, you emerge suddenly
into beach areas where fast modern boats of every conceivable kind lay
anchored and waiting, if you can afford them in the first place.
My fascination for fast changing sceneries consigned to one small place
seemed to have been more than matched in Stone Town. Stone Town can fast
forward in minutes, literally from landscape to seascape. Check out the Old
Dispensary on Mizingani road near the port, built early last century by a
wealthy Indian merchant. The spires of St. Joseph’s
Roman Catholic Cathedral are one of the first sights you spot when arriving
by sea. Yet, the church is deceptively hard to find in the narrow confines
of the adjacent street. Simply follow the signs of Chit Chat restaurant
whose owner is an Indian you might want to chat up. But avoid touts in
Zanzibar or you will live to regret it.
The dramatic waterfall and curious coloured earth of Chamarel in
Mauritius are intriguing. The tourism authorities have cordoned off this
rather strange seven differently coloured layers of earth so that you view
the ripples of hardened earth as you walk around the fence or from an
observation post. Either way it is amazing. It is believed that the colour
bands are the result of uneven cooling of molten rock. Oddly, when the seven
different colours are mixed together in a test tube, they separate into
seven distinct colours again after several days. You can buy various
trinkets with test-tube creations of this at the entrance or in Port
Louis – the Mauritian capital – or in the nearby town of Curepipe.
The waterfall and unusual earth are 4 kms south of Chamarel village.
It’s best if you join a conducted tour to get to here and enjoy the steep
corkscrew road in beautiful country and English weather that leads you to
Chamarel. All major tour operators run excursions to Chamarel, usually
including it with Grand Bassin and Curepipe town. This is a town you are unlikely to leave without buying an affordable model
ship encased in a bottle or perhaps even a meter long ship costing Rs.
10,000 or variations costing from Rs. 1,000-10,000. The bigger super models
take artisans up to 400 hours to make and copy every infinitesimally small
detail of such magnificent ships as The Bounty, Victory, Endeavour,
Cutty Sark, Golden Hind and even the Titanic. The intricate miniature replicas truly deserve to fall in the category of strange and abnormal
Tanzania is East Africa’s largest country. The island of Zanzibar lies off its east
coast. Time to go: June to December.
Zanzibar is well connected with Nairobi/Mombasa by Kenya Airways. But you
ideally need a session with your travel agent to make it cheap and
To get to Zanzibar from Dar-es-Salaam, the Tanzanian capital,
take the regular hydrofoil boat service. Sea Star Services Limited is the
best (tel at Dar-es-Salaam 0812789393, 2139996). Cost $25-30 one way.
Others are Azam Marine, Flying Horse and Sea Express. Arrive at the tiny port of
Malindi and take a short cab ride to Stone Town or simply walk there if you
are not weighed down with luggage. The Zanzibar Tourist Corporation office
is next to the immigration office inside the port.
For tours of Zanzibar:
Fernandes Tours & Safaris
Tel. 255 (0) 54 230666, 255 (0) 747 413352
Tel/fax. 255 (0) 54 233102
Stone Town, tel 2233613.
Voilers de L’Ocean
Sir Winston Churchill St., Curepipe.
The director K. Singh is happy to take you around the workshop too without an obligation to buy.
Zone Industrielle de St. Antoine, Goodlands, north Mauritius
Tel (230) 283 9304, fax (230) 283 9204