Tag: zanzibar

Trapped in Paradise on Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar

kendwa beach dhow

One of the many attractions that Zanzibar is known for is its beaches. And, while Stone Town is a fascinating place on its own, my hubby and I found it a bit overwhelming. So when our group tour included a few days exploring Zanzibar’s north beaches, we were all in.

Mind you, we aren’t really “beach” folk. While we love the sand and sea, we get twitchy if there’s nothing to do but lie around on towels reading and slathering on sunscreen. But we’d heard great things about Zanzibar’s beaches. And after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, followed by safari tours and bustling cities, a quiet beach sounded divine.

A one hours’ drive north from Stone Town brought us to Sunset Kendwa. This was our beach hub for the next two nights.

As we all filed out of the bus, but before checking into our rooms, our tour guide, Clara gave us a warning.

“When you go down to the beach, keep an eye on your shoes. They have a tendency to go missing here.”

We all flashed each other some side-eye like wayward teenagers. “Yeah yeah,” we all agreed half-heartedly. We were just anxious to get checked in and hit the beach.

The hotel itself had a warm, Arabic flair. This was the inner courtyard:

sunset kendwa courtyard zanzibar

The rooms had a rustic, beach-chic vibe.

sunset kendwa room zanzibar

We especially liked the little balcony. I could picture myself sitting here in the morning, drinking spiced coffee and eating fresh fruit picked right off the trees:

sunset kendwa balcony zanzibar

The first night was pretty laid back. Mark and I walked down to the beach and marvelled at the powdery, white sand and crystal blue waters. It looked spectacular and full of promise:

zanzibar kendwa beach

Mark decided he wanted to go snorkelling with a few others from the tour in the morning. Since I’m not much into water sports, I decided I would hang back with the rest and just enjoy the sunshine. I had already spotted a little tent on the beach offering massages, mani-pedis and henna tattoos. It was like my day had magically planned itself.

That night, we had pizza and drinks with the gang before going to bed. Island life was feeling pretty good.

sunset on kendwa beach, zanzibar

The next morning, Mark headed off on his snorkelling adventure. I chose to lie in the sun, read, and generally bum around, just to see what it was like.

kendwa beach zanzibar

I soon came to regret my choice. In an attempt to go for a beach-side walk along the water, I was immediately approached by a man. More specifically, a salesman. Did I want to go snorkelling? Sailing? Maybe scuba diving? He could sell me a tour, cheap cheap cheap. No, I said politely, I did not. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Surely, that’s why I was here, to enjoy everything the ocean had to offer? So I said no again, more firmly this time. He persisted and walked alongside me, trying to sell me any and every ocean excursion you could dream of.

Annoyed, I spun on my heel and walked back in the opposite direction. I walked by our hotel and down the opposite side of the beach. Within seconds, another man approached me with the same unrelenting spiel. Hello, nice lady. Would you like to take a tour? Or go parasailing? A boat ride on a dhow perhaps?

dhow on kendwa beach

I harrumphed in displeasure and turned back around. It seemed the only place the salespeople weren’t allowed to go was on the beach immediately in front of the hotel.

All I wanted was to explore the area a little and see what I could find. Maybe a fun bar, some cute beachside shops…but all I got was frustrated and irritated. You kind of expect to get harassed by shopkeepers in the city, especially in the touristy marketplaces. But naively, I wasn’t expecting to be bombarded by salespeople on the beach. And they seemed to appear out of nowhere.

I felt trapped and disgusted, and it wasn’t even noon. Suddenly, paradise didn’t seem so idyllic.

Resigned to just hanging out on the hotel property, I found an empty lounge chair, spread out my towel, and proceeded to get comfy. Looking out at the gorgeous teal-tinted water was definitely relaxing.

kendwa beach boats zanzibar

I vaguely recalled our tour guide telling us to keep an eye on our shoes. With all the salesmen skulking around, I decided to tuck my cheap $10 flip-flops under the beach chair, but within quick reach. If they came around again, I wanted to make a quick getaway with all my belongings.

After about a half hour of flipping between reading and staring out at the ocean, I was bored. How do people just lie on the beach all day doing nothing?

I got up, collected my things, and almost immediately bumped into a couple of gals from the tour group. They had been talking about going to the spa tent, and it was starting to tempt me as well. One lady wanted to get a massage, and the other wanted to get a pedicure. I decided to go with them, though I didn’t know what sort of procedure I wanted. I mean, it sounds all luxurious to get a mani-pedi on the beach, but then you wonder how do they sanitize their equipment between customers? I’m not a germaphobe, but I’ve read enough stories about nail fungus to deter me from taking any chances.

In the end, I decided on a henna tattoo. I’d never had one before and it sounded like a nice little souvenir of the trip.

It was relaxing, for the five minutes it took my skilled henna tattooist to do her thing. But it also took a half hour to dry, so I sat in the tent with the gals as they continued to get rubbed, exfoliated, buffed and polished.

My henna tattoo came to 15,000 TSH (Tanzanian shillings), or roughly $10 CDN, and looked pretty fabulous, if I do say so myself.

henna tattoo zanzibar

About five minutes later, boredom was setting in again. Luckily it was getting close to lunchtime, so the ladies and I headed to the bar to grab some food. The fare was slim pickings here: primarily burgers and pizza, and not very tasty ones at that. But this was when I noticed another interesting trend – the staff’s lack of spare change. The evening prior when we had supper here, the wait staff had no spare change to give back. We had shrugged it off then.

But we quickly realized that this wasn’t a one-time thing. Once again, they seemed to have run out of small change. “We’ll bring it out to you later,” they assured us when we pressed the matter. They never did. Simple, yet effective. Who were we to belabor the point? Were we, the customers, going to insist they open the cash register to prove that they only had large bills? I’m sure most people didn’t quibble over the extra dollars, and that’s why the staff were able to get away with it time after time.

Not a half hour later, one of the ladies from our tour group came back from sunning herself on the beach. She ran up to where we were sitting and announced, “someone stole my shoes!” Apparently, she hadn’t heeded our tour guides’ warnings the day before. Luckily she had a spare pair. But everyone started to keep closer watch over their belongings.

Paradise, it seemed, was a relative term.

kendwa beach bikini bar sign

By the time my husband returned from his snorkelling excursion, another pair of sandals had gone missing. It was a curious thing. Nothing else was going missing; only shoes.

As we watched the sunset in the distance, my husband and I both noted that beach holidays weren’t for us. They’re nice for a day or two, but we were itching to get back to civilization, culture, and a wider variety of food options.

Kendwa beach sunset

The next morning, we headed back to the beach restaurant for breakfast. Oh, no change for large bills again? Lucky for us, we had exact change with us this time. It was a fool’s game, and a petty one at that, but one that we were determined to win at least once before we left.

As we ate, a few people from our tour group trickled in and joined us. A few had gone for a walk along the beach, farther than I had been willing to venture the day before. And you know what they discovered? Kiosks, selling all manner of shoes, sandals, and flip-flops! Almost new, barely worn, would you believe it? I asked, half-jokingly if there was an exact match to the pair that the lady who’d had her sandals stolen the day before had lost. No one knew for sure, but suddenly the Case of the Missing Shoes made sense. Someone would come along and steal unattended sandals/shoes/flip-flops, then re-sell them to the same people who were suddenly short a pair. It was a strange business venture, yet no doubt lucrative.

After breakfast, Mark and I decided to take one more stroll down to the beach. The sky was bright, the salesmen weren’t around, and we had a little section of white sandy beach to ourselves.

dhow off of kendwa beach zanzibar

Now this is what paradise should feel like.

beachcoming on north beach zanzibar

We strolled, hand in hand, wading in the warm water and chasing pure white sand crabs across the beach:

white sand crab zanzibar

Oddly, we were starting to wish we had one more day here. It was hard to believe, given our initiation and first impressions. But how could we harbour bad feelings about a place that offered views like this?

kendwa beach zanzibarIn the end, we left the north beaches of Zanzibar with mixed feelings. The weather and location were spectacular, but the salespeople and wait staff left us with a bad impression. But if you are planning a trip that includes Zanzibar, a day or two at the beach is worth adding to your itinerary. Just remember to bring a variety of small change for incidentals, and pack inexpensive clothing/shoes that you won’t feel bad about losing if they happen to go missing. And if something does go missing, just walk to the nearest beachside kiosk. I bet they have something in just your size.

The Dark History of Stone Town’s Anglican Christ Church Cathedral

memory for the slaves memorial stone town

Stone Town is located on the west coast of the Zanzibar Archipelago. Historically, its geographical location, natural harbour and temperate climate gave the town an economic advantage as a bustling trading center.

While Zanzibar is most well known for its spice trade, it once also played a large part in a darker, more disturbing business: slavery. Hang on tight, while I give you the Coles’ Notes version of Zanzibari history. It’s a lot to take in.

The slave trade in this region reaches as far back as the 1st Century AD. Sailing vessels from the kingdom of Sheba (southern Arabia) brought beads and Chinese silks to Zanzibar, and took back gold, indigo, spices, ivory and slaves.

In 1498, Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama arrived in Zanzibar, which brought European influences to the region. Only a few short years later, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire. Gold, ivory, ebony and slaves from the interior were sent to Portuguese colonies, as well as to Portugal itself. Portuguese rule lasted about 200 years, but it wasn’t without turmoil.

There were numerous clashes between the Portuguese and Omani Arabs over the years as they struggled for power over the region. The Omani Arabs attacked Zanzibar Island in 1652, and by 1698, the island came under control of the Sultanate of Oman.

Meanwhile, the slave trade in Zanzibar continued to thrive. In 1811, Said bin Sultan opened a slave market in the Shangani region of Stone Town. Over the next 60 years, the market traded approximately one million lives.

Slaves taken from mainland East Africa were brought to Stone Town to be sold at the market. The journey from the mainland was so grueling that it’s believed that only one in five survived the trip. About one third of these slaves remained in Zanzibar to work in the plantations, while the rest were sent overseas to Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Clove production in Zanzibar, which began sometime between 1800-1828, further increased the need for slave labour. Cloves were a high maintenance crop, but also very lucrative. In fact, Said bin Sultan relocated his court from Muscat to Stone Town just to maintain his monopoly over the market.

In 1834, slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, followed by the French Dominions around 1848. Around the 1850s-60s, David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary who made several expeditions to Africa, denounced slavery in several speeches and in his written works. This brought more widespread attention to the inhumane practice.

Stone town’s slave market moved from its former location in Kelele Square, Shangani to its present location in the 1860s. In 1873, under pressure from the British, Sultan Barghash signed a decree to abolish the slave trade in all of his dominions, including Zanzibar. This move also signaled the closure of the slave markets. However, the slave trade still continued quietly for many years afterward.

Later that same year, the foundation stone was laid down for the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town. The church was built at the site of the old slave market (the second location, that is).

This is where my husband and I learned about the darker side of Stone Town’s history.

christ church exterior, stone town

As an aside, our visit to Zanzibar was in 2013. As you can see from the photo of the church exterior, it was in desperate need of a good cleaning and some preservation work. Many of the buildings in Stone Town, including Christ Church, were constructed from coral stone. Unfortunately it doesn’t hold up well, and therefore, many buildings in Stone Town are in great need of conservation. Since our visit, the World Monuments Fund undertook conservation efforts on the building, which were completed in October 2015. You can see more recent photos here. The difference is really astonishing.

Construction of the church began in 1873-4 and took about ten years to complete. It was based on designs by Edward Steere, the third Anglican bishop of Zanzibar. The church was built on the former site of the slave market to commemorate the end of slavery.

stone town anglican church former slave market sign

The first part of our tour took us down into the dimly lit basement of the adjacent hostel, St. Monica’s. There were two rooms, both with low ceilings and raised sections along the walls. We were told that this was where the slaves were chained up while awaiting auction. Men and women were separated, hence the two rooms. Our guide told us that at times, there were so many people chained up in these cramped conditions (sometimes 75 at a time) that they would suffocate from lack of air.

Room where slaves were kept before auction Christ Church stone town

The imagery was horrifying; the space cloying, hot, and oppressive.

basement under st. monica's in stone town


As I was conducting my research for this blog post, I came across some conflicting information. Some visitors had posted on other travel sites that these two rooms never actually held slaves. That, in fact they had been built long after the slave trade ended. The tour, and the stories, they said, were based on lies and fabrications. But were they?

slave chamber sign stone town

So I dug some more. Most internet resources were from other travellers, who referred to these rooms as legitimate slave storage rooms prior to going to market. Because that’s what they were told. Heck, that’s what we were told, and it was believable. Why would tour guides lie about such a horrible history?

I found nothing in reliable sources to discredit the belief that the rooms were once used to hold slaves.

I also found nothing in reliable sources to support it.

Eventually, 14 clicks-deep into Google, I came across a more reliable reference to the slave rooms. It’s from an unpublished paper written by Dr. Louise Rolingher, from the University of Alberta, of all places. The paper is on slavery and its contested history, and is well worth a read. In the paper, she refers to an article by historian Jan Georg Deutsch for the 2007 ZIFF Conference, which mentioned these specific chambers. Deutsch noted that the rooms were built long after abolition, and therefore never actually held slaves.

So why would they lie? One word: tourism. Actually two words: dark tourism. There’s a whole tourism genre that seeks out the creepy, seedy, unsavoury locations in the world. Tourism is Zanzibar’s second largest industry, and playing up these stories increases tourism revenues.

Unfortunately, the embellishments and exaggerations cheapen the true history that was once all too real. And I’m still torn as to what to believe, because it certainly seems plausible that these rooms were once used for such a nefarious reason. If anyone has more detailed evidence leaning one way or the other, please share!

After the slave chamber tour, we entered the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral itself.

interior of anglican christ church stone town

One little factoid about the church made me smile. While Edward Steere was overseeing construction of the church, he had columns brought in to represent the twelve apostles.

Unfortunately, they were installed upside down. He decided to leave them that way.

upside down columns interior of anglican christ church stone town

The altar is supposedly on the spot where the original whipping post was located. You can see a round tile on the floor in front of the altar marking the spot:

Anglican Christ Church stone town altar

The whipping post was used to test the strength of the slaves; those that took longer to cry out fetched a higher price. The red flooring around the circle symbolizes the blood that was shed.

Edward Steere, the designer of the church, is buried behind the altar. He died just two years before the church reached completion.

This crucifix was made out of wood from the tree that David Livingstone died under. He died in 1873, just a few months before the sultan signed the treaty abolishing slavery. Dr. Livingstone’s heart was buried beneath the tree, located in Zambia.

Livingstones cross anglican christ church stone town

Outside of the church is a memorial sculpture. Entitled “Memory for the Slaves,” the concrete figures are chained together using authentic slave shackles:

memory for the slaves memorial stone town

Along with the conservation efforts on the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, a new exhibit recently opened: a slave trade heritage center. It was created to commemorate the abolition of slavery and educate people about its history. Hopefully this new facility can tell the story of slavery in a sensitive, historically-based manner and separate facts from the growing fiction.

Spice Tour in Zanzibar

Tumeric field zanzibar

Do you know where black pepper comes from? Or what a vanilla plant looks like? How about nutmeg? We were lucky enough to take a tour of a spice plantation in Zanzibar, which answered a lot of these questions for us.

Zanzibar’s spice history goes back about 2000 years ago, when the Persian Zenj sultanate was established in 975 AD. The Zenj traded ivory, gold, spices and slaves with the Chinese merchants who sailed through India and Persia, bringing garlic and lemongrass to the island. As trade increased, Zanzibar received cinnamon and cardamom from Asia, while the Portuguese brought cacao and chilli from South America.

The plantation we visited was just a short drive outside of Stone Town. Below are vanilla beans before they are processed. Vanilla is part of the orchid family, if you can believe it!

Vanilla beans

One of the most common spices, of course, is pepper or peppercorns. Pepper grows as a flowering vine. So what’s the difference between black pepper, green pepper and white pepper? They all come from the same plant. Black pepper is the cooked and dried unripe fruit, while green pepper is the uncooked dried unripe fruit, and white pepper comes from the ripe fruit.

pepper plant pepper seeds

This is fresh turmeric. Isn’t the colour gorgeous? Turmeric is a member of the ginger family native to southwest India. It was once used as a dye, as well as for medicinal purposes.

TumericTumeric field

Speaking of dyes, this is how annatto grows, from a tree called anchiote:

anchiote tree

A close-up of the strange, fuzzy, heart-shaped seed pods:

Annatto seed

Annatto is used as a food colouring as well as in cosmetics. We were given the opportunity to try it ourselves straight from the source:

Annatto lipstick

annatto lipstick











I’m sure you’ve seen whole nutmeg seeds in grocery stores before. But have you ever seen the actual fruit the seeds come from?

Nutmeg seedThe shiny red coating around the nutmeg seed is where mace comes from!

After the main part of our spice plantation tour, we were treated to a lovely tea break.

tea break on spice tour

It included teas made of ingredients like lemongrass and ginger, before getting some slices of fresh fruit such as pineapple, papaya, starfruit and passionfruit, just to name a few:

passionfruit on spice tour

Afterward, we were treated to fresh coconut juice straight from the tree. Our guide climbed the tree all the way to the top, barefoot, to get the best coconuts for us. He made fast work of that knife too!

fresh coconut juice

opening the coconut














At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to purchase some of the amazing spices grown here. It was worth it for the labels alone!

Piripiri chilis from Zanzibar

My personal favourite:

nutmeg spice label