The Creatures of Zanzibar

I spoke to you recently of the reasons I think South Africans should visit Zanzibar, and today I thought I’d tell you a bit about their animal life. This is mostly because my Zanzibar photo folder is filled with a whole bunch of photographs that I need to use. Although now that I think of it… Possibly I need a bit more practice and the photographs aren’t that great… The animals, however, are.

When it comes to travel, or actually just life, one of my big draw cards is creatures, because creatures are awesome. A lot of tourism around the world featuring animals can be a little suspect though. I have indulged in “bad” animal tourism in the past, at the time not knowing any better. I like to think that I am getting wiser. I know better than to ride elephants now. I know that jumping into a swimming pool with dolphins is not cool. I know that paying someone to let me take a picture with their gibbon (seriously don’t do this!) or lemur or giant lizard is basically me just putting money into a system that causes pain for many animals, in some instances threatening their entire continued existence.

But there are some instances of animal tourism that I think are ok. I am, of course, open to correction, but I think a lot of Zanzibari animal attractions are kind of cool.

The Monkeys in the Jozani Forest

A nice little walk (with a guide) through the Jozani Forrest will have you meeting a troupe of Blue Sykes monkeys. These are the most chilled creatures you will ever meet. And cute as hell! Unfortunately they have pitch black faces so photographing them (for someone with as limited skill as I have) was kind of tricky. My pics make them look like dark spots with grey fuzz. Not a very good representation of their adorableness.

Zanzibar Butterfly Centre

I have a thing for butterfly farms. They always manage to draw me towards them. Often they’re a bit of a disappointment, but I adore butterflies so for me to be completely disillusioned with any sort of butterfly place there would have to be no butterflies at all. The Zanzibar Butterfly Centre is one of those butterfly farms that actually does manage to delight without disappointing. I love this project. I love that it’s filled with gorgeous butterflies, and I love that it is a sustainable project that has lead to the employment of islanders. I love that it’s a space that is cared for with love and enthusiasm.

 

The Feeshies

Snorkelling is one of my favourite pastimes and Zanzibar definitely does not disappoint on that front. I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to scuba diving, but my dad says he did some of his best scuba diving in Zanzibar as well. The waters are filled with gorgeous multi-coloured creatures, and because of their serious attempts at turtle conservation there is a higher than usual likelihood that you might get to see a turtle in the open ocean.

The Dolphins

If you chat to one of those tourist “helpers” who find you on the beach, you might be offered the opportunity to swim with the dolphins in the ocean. I know that for me this sounded a little dodgy, but I was curious as to what this was about. The thing is, this is a very big “maybe” but it’s a definite possibility that you might find yourself swimming briefly between some dolphins. Now to be honest: that sounds terrifying to me! But I know some people dig it. At first when I watched this dolphin thing in action I got a bit apprehensive. “Dolphins!” shouted one man on a small boat, and then a few kind of herded the dolphins toward the people snorkelling in the waters nearby. And those dolphins did go straight for the people (there’s plenty of space though that water is super deep – I imagine the dolphins just went straight under the people floating at the top) and then they seemed to do a bit of a circle and come back. My instinctive response was to be upset that the dolphins were being “chased”, but then I sort of realised that those dolphins have the whole ocean to play in. If these silly humans on boats were actually upsetting them they’d just go swim somewhere else. All they have to do is go down and they’re no longer accessible as an attraction. So yeah, I don’t know what you think. But it seems pretty harmless to me.

The Turtle Sanctuaries

Ok so I only spent 5 days in Zanzibar and I had flu that entire time so my exact details might be a little fuzzy. As far as I can tell there are quite a few turtle sanctuaries around the island where biologists basically “raise” turtles until they are big enough to be considered safe to return to the sea. It seems as though as a matter of conservation, these Zanzibari conservationists collect baby turtles before they reach the water. This sort of human interference might be met with scorn from some, I don’t know, but the idea is that when the turtles are tiny they are vulnerable to predators. We already know that very few babies from any given turtle nest actually survive, which contributes to why turtles are so endangered. In Zanzibar, these babies are collected to ensure a higher number of survival. Sick turtles are kept in isolation when needed, but mostly the turtles live in a sort of dam, the water of which is continually replenished by the incoming tides.

Do animals play a role in your touristing pleasures?

 

5 Reasons South Africans Should Visit Zanzibar

I haven’t spoken about Zanzibar nearly as much as I should have yet. After our trip in October I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed by it all. It’s kind of hard to write when you’re overwhelmed. You’ve got so much to say that you say nothing. But despite Zanzibar being a complete tourist mecca, I think visiting there might have been one of my more eye-opening experiences.

Yes, I travel because it is fun, but I also travel because I learn so much through it. It tickles my mind in a way that text books and documentary shows could never. It makes me a better person, I think. A more conscientious one, I hope.

Here are some of the reasons that I think you should make the effort to get yourself there:

1. The Flights are Cheap

If you don’t mind travelling with a notoriously unreliable airline, and you’re willing to be flexible with your dates, Fastjet will get you to Zanzibar from Johannesburg for less than four grand per person. And yes, the unreliable thing sounds bad, but if you can just count it as part of the experience and approach it all with a sense of humour you won’t be sorry.

2. Hotel Prices are Comparable

Ok, hotel prices in other places are cheaper. I know this because I spend my life on sites like Booking.com and AirBNB checking how much it costs to stay in cities all around the world. I have a budget (R500 per night) and I often find that I can come out WAY under that budget. So yes, you can stay in other places for cheaper than in Zanzibar. BUT: you can’t really stay in South Africa for cheaper than what it costs to stay in Zanzibar so it’s all good. Plus you’ve saved on airfare so you’ve come out ok.

3. The People

Guys… The people of Zanzibar are so friendly and kind. And every time you see a Zanzibarian you get to shout “Jambo!” which means hello and it’s awesome. And you get to say “hakuna matata” and no one thinks you’re just quoting a cartoon meercat.

4. The Beauty

You’ve seen the pictures. Those pictures aren’t lying to you. The island of Zanzibar really does have that blue water and it is beautiful. The snorkelling is lovely and it has that whole tropical island vibe that we all dream about when we think of exotic destinations.

5. The Africanness

The weirdest and most surprising thing about visiting Zanzibar as a South African is that it feels so familiar. Nothing about Zanzibar looks like home. At all. The Muslim culture is observed in Tanzania, so the women are all dressed in headscarves, even the children. Many of the women, if not all of them, wear saris. The whole place is very rural with bad roads. The vegetation is dense and tropical.

It doesn’t look like home at all.

But it feels like home.

I do very much love that this is not home at all feeling that you get from international travel. I crave it. It is addicting.

But finding that a completely strange place feels familiar? There’s something equally special about that. And I think what excites me the most is that I never considered that as Africans we might have an energy of sorts that connects us.

I do admit that this particular discovery makes the idea of xenophobia just that much more repulsive to me. If I can go to a country thousands of kilometres away from home and still feel like there is an element of belonging for me there, then I certainly hope that any African man or woman who graces our shores can feel the same.

I fear that might not be the case. But perhaps I can hope regardless.