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Zanzibar: a dream of an island

Once an important Indian Ocean trading post, now a popular holiday destination: wild, tropical, exotic, exciting and breathtakingly beautiful – Zanzibar, island of dreams. “Karibu” – welcome!

Text:
Susanne von Meiss
Photos:
Erwin Windmüller
W

White sandy beaches and a turquoise sea.

The name alone – spoken in a soft whisper – evokes enchanting images of paradise. White sandy beaches, a turquoise sea, towering palm trees against a deep blue sky, and friendly people – it sounds too good to be true. But there is even more: Zanzibar City’s historic Stone Town, distinguished by UNESCO, is a small diamond in the raw with a fascinating Arabian, Indian, African and English history (it gained independence in 1963), exotic charm and hidden corners. The fragrance of cloves floats above the island like a cloud – after all, Zanzibar is famous for its spices such as pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and the best cloves in the world. Situated in the Indian Ocean north of Dar es Salaam, the island cluster made up of the main island (Unguja in Swahili, 2,650 square kilometres), Pemba Island and many smaller islets is a semi-autonomous territory of Tanzania in East Africa. In the past, visitors were few and consisted mainly of tourists seeking relaxation after safari adventures on the mainland, but today, the tropical island group has become a popular destination in its own right. Where else can you go surfing, kitesurfing, snorkelling, admire coral reefs and dolphins, visit local markets, go on a shopping spree in the Old Town, marvel at a palace that once housed a princess and visit a former slave market, all while staying in a beautiful luxury resort or a gorgeous villa all to yourself with views of the ocean and feasting on the finest regional delicacies? Always accompanied, of course, by the ever-present Swahili mottos “Hakuna matata” – no problem – and “Polepole” – gently, take it easy! 

Dining in and on the “rock” is pure adventure.
Sunrise overlooking the private pool in the Meliã’s beautiful villa “Pemba”.
Women returning home after gathering wood for the fire.
View from the terrace of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Stone Town.
‍‍The sun sets behind palm trees in the luxury villa resort The Residence, where dinner will soon be served at elegant tables on the beach …
‍‍Christian Vaterlaus from Zurich with his local project manager Okala – Mohammed Mrisho Haji – by the sea in Jambiani, where they are passionately engaged in marine conservation with their organisation marinecultures.org.

Mr Vaterlaus, you have been living and working on Zanzibar for eight years, supporting aquaculture development with your non-profit organisation and its ten employees. What do you want to achieve?

We have three goals: We want to educate the local population about the sustainable use of resources, for example preventing overfishing and looking after nature. With our sponge farming business, we hope to create jobs and fight poverty. We also want to restore coral reefs; half of the coral reefs in this area have died.

What does “overfishing” mean?

For example, we want to convince fishermen not to catch octopus for two months every year. After a closed season of two months, the catch doubles, the population is somewhat protected and the individual animals signifi­cantly increase their weight. It makes sense ecologically as well as economically.

How can we save the coral reefs?

By monitoring the local reefs and recognising signs of stress and epidemics; by raising awareness among divers and snorkellers and, to some extent, keeping them away from the reefs; and by revitalising dead reefs using reef balls – hollow, concrete half spheres with lots of holes.

How did Zanzibar come to be your new home?

For many years, I spent three months a year travelling and saw a lot of the world. My wife and I decided in favour of this island after coming here to visit my brother- in-law. We built our house ourselves – I enjoy being a handy­- man.

What is the most beautiful spot on the island?

That I won’t tell; but the second most beautiful place is our house and the surrounding garden.

Where do you like to eat when you don’t feel like cooking?

We love street food, so we might go to the Forodhani night market for a bowl of Urojo soup, a popular local soup inspired by Indian flavours; another favourite is coconut crushed fish at the romantic Okala’s Restaurant, run by my business partner Okala near the Jambiani hospital.

marinecultures.org

okala_6@hotmail.com 

In the small villages, people live simple, frugal lives.
She designs the island’s most exquisite fashion: Doreen Mashika sporting her own creations. 
Mnemba ahoy: en route to an exclusive private island resort.
‍Roger with his colleagues from “and beyond” on Mnemba.
Street market in the island’s interior.
Traditional handicraft: carving doors and bedsteads.
It doesn’t get more turquoise than this: Mnemba is a diving Mecca.
‍‍Stunningly beautiful: dhows on the white sandy beach of The Residence Hotel as the sun sets in the background.

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