Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Zanzibar and I

Dedicated to my Family

The last couple of days on this idyllic and decaying island have been superb.

I don't recall if I mentioned it here before, but the primary reason why I'm travelling across Africa now is to make it to this place. It's a pilgrimage that began five or six years ago, when working as the Curator of Stationary in nightfill of Big W (an Australian discount department store, and a convenient and popular student job). One night I found the word "Zanzibar" written in a silver font on a scrap of labelling cardboard. I thought it was an evocative word, being only vaguely aware of what it was, and I stuck it over my name badge since the relevant people there knew who I was anyway.

The name literally stuck for three years. New staff began calling me "Zan", interpeting my name from overheard conversations. I even replaced it a couple of times as it became tattered from wear. It wasn't until my very last evening that the Manager noticed and asked me to remove it.

In those days I had no immediate desire to reach this African island, because I was focussed on Uni and life in Canberra. I wasn't even until halfway through the Grand Tour that it dawned on me I could actually do it - so here I am now, somewhere distant and exotic.

There is actually one other island I now must visit one day - Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic. One of the most isolated spots on earth, and not much really going for it unlike Zanzibar. I imagine it as like a micro Scotland with lobsters and a volcano. It's appeal ties in to my Art History background and the life of Augustus Earle, but that's another story.

Yesterday was spent exploring the island with a tour organised by the truck mob. It focussed on the spice plantations, now more for tourists than export, and reminded me very much of that experienced in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the GT. Some of us stayed on to see the "slave caves" 20km north of Stonetown, which have a better documented history of use in the slave trade than the famous ordeal rooms near the Cathedral. The Cathedral is itself a fascinating place - a European room with few concessions to the locality, except the marble columns at the entrance that were installed upside-down by confused local builders.

The afternoon was spent much like the previous one - wandering, taking photos, and idly investigating prices for "stuff I want". I've not actually taken that many photos of Africa in general, but Zanzibar is up there with Damascus, Santorini, Naxos, Ghadarmes, Siena and Istanbul for photogenic opportunities.

Today is a chilled day for shopping and writing in Stonetown. There are a couple of museums to visit as well. Most of the truck mob has headed north to a beach, but I'm passing that up to go snorkelling around three reef islands tomorrow. The evenings have, and will continue to be, spent at local live music performances.

I'll try to write again at last once before I leave.


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