I had a lot of eager, internal expectations for Zanzibar.
My lone reason for going was simply that it held a certain status of bygone, dark romance. It was tethered on my travel lists to places like Sumatra and Timbuktu, Bhutan and Borneo.
It was famously far off. I was finally close, thanks to a week-long job in Uganda. I hopped a 3 hour flight.
I arrived to find the spice markets of Stone Town a staggering disappointment. The piles of curry, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek and clove no longer waft from open barrels, but exist neatly sealed in shiny, plastic packets made for tourists.
Like many other exotic places, authentic moments of discovery and local artifacts have been replaced by dozens, if not hundreds, of stalls selling the same exact painting, executed factory-style curbside.
If it’s more of a challenge to find the true Stone Town, the beaches are the opposite.
It’s very easy to find a cheap slice of paradise in the down season, if you’re willing to battle the heat. Cab an hour east from Stone Town into sleepy Jambiani. It’s here that fishermen still head out daily with 20 men to a boat, dragging nets and lobbying for small lobster. The Dhows, with their patched, fraying sails, still skitter across the Indian Ocean, just as they’ve done for 1400 years or more.
The ocean rises only inches above the sea floor at high tide. More of a puddle, less of a sea. At low, the boats rest on their sides, useless but beautiful if you’ve got a camera.
If you do anything in Zanzibar, wake up early at Jambiani. Offer a fair price in Tanzanian shillings for a sunrise ride with the fishermen lounging around on the beach.
I waded out at exactly 6:09 a.m., returning around 7:30 a.m., and this is truly what it looked like. These images are unedited. The trip cost me roughly $10.
Dr. Livingstone is long gone from Zanzibar, and the spices now live in sanitary, plastic packets.
But in the first two hours of every day … it is exactly as gorgeous, remote, far-flung and beautiful as I’d imagined it.