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Life goes slow on Zanzibar

Time moves slower in some places than it does in others I realise on my first night on the East African island of Zanzibar, where life is unhurried and time moves at a distinctly slower pace. After the tiresome process of travelling all day I am looking forward to an exotic meal – Zanzibar is, after all, an island famous for its spices. I am not disappointed at Sweet Eazy, a Thai/African style restaurant with beach sand underfoot, a starry sky up above and palm trees springing randomly up around the rustic wooden tables. Chilled reggae music coupled with the sound of waves breaking on the nearby shore soon lull me into believing that waiting over an hour for my prawn satays to arrive is quite acceptable. I am on African time now, and there is definitely no hurry in Africa.

Stone Town is a whirlwind of colour and noise, a clutter of crumbling eastern architecture and a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets. The next day, while eating breakfast in the rooftop restaurant of my hotel and seated high above the chaos of Zanzibar‘s capital, life seems deceivingly peaceful. Rows of Arab boys face east in a courtyard below, their young voices mingling with the wail of Islamic chants echoing around the town at daybreak. Later I wander down winding alleyways to the Old Slave Market, past ornate brass-studded doors and whitewashed coral houses. Women in veils share village gossip as they string washing from overhanging balconies and electrical wiring criss-crosses hazardously above the streets. A scooter zips past me on my right as a hand-cart trundles by on my left and an Arab man in a turban calls out the price of his paw-paws. I take refuge in a quaint little shop selling everything from cigarettes to cinnamon where a small Swahili girl appears and shyly offers me a hand-made pansy-shell necklace.

“How much?”

“5000 shillings” (the equivalent of about $10)

I bargain it down to 3000 shillings and leave the girl beaming at the small fortune she has just made. Outside, the street becomes a busy market area and friendly greetings of “mambo” and “jambo” from the locals follow me as I walk. It would be easy to become hopelessly lost in this place, I realise, as I meander around a faded colonial mansion. The scene that awaits me stops me in my tracks: A palm-fringed beach and miles of clear, turquoise ocean. I had almost forgotten that I was, in fact, on an idyllic tropical island and not in an ancient Arab market-place. The next day I bid farewell to the bustle of Stone Town, lured by the promise of beautiful unspoilt beaches and perfect diving conditions on the East Coast.

One resort diving course later and five minutes into my first sea-dive, I’m beginning to buy in to all the hype surrounding scuba-diving. I feel on top of the world actually, which is a bit ironic considering I’m at the bottom of the ocean – 15 metres underwater to be exact. The seawater is surprisingly warm and crystal clear, and I’ve finally got used to breathing through a respirator. The only thing I’m worried about is bumping into a Great White, but I’ve been assured that that’s very unlikely. Besides, shark sightings are considered some sort of privilege in these parts (not something I agree on). The intricate coral formations below me house thousands of multi-coloured fish and I watch, fascinated, as they dart back and forth about their daily lives. Blue and yellow-striped Angelfish glide past as I drift along, enthralled at the vast array of colour and life before me. Enjoying the amazing feeling of weightlessness, I roll over and admire a school of silvery Barracuda swimming far above me at the surface. The silence of the deep envelops me, broken only by the gentle gurgle of bubbles escaping as I slowly exhale.

The delights of tropical island living are endless, and I spend the next few days discovering them. I go swimming with wild dolphins off the southern tip of Kizimkazi, sailing around an exclusive miniature islet ringed by coral, and fishing off the back of a Catamaran. Simple pleasures exist in reeling in one of the plentiful fish from the aquamarine Indian Ocean and enjoying it freshly prepared an hour later for lunch. I wake early one morning to watch a glorious sunrise and then see the same sun set while paddle-surfing out on the reef. I watch with amazement as a young boy scampers up one of the island’s many tall palm trees in record-time, drops down a coconut, and then shows me how to eat the soft white flesh native-style with the juice running down my chin. I spend a carefree day snorkelling across a lagoon with the sun baking down on my back and inquisitive fish tickling my nose. Nights are spent around impromptu bonfires on the beach with the balmy evening breeze in my hair and platefuls of freshly barbequed seafood on my lap… And all the while time ticks slowly by.

On my last day in Zanzibar I go down to the furthest end of the beach where hammocks hang, secluded, amongst the palm trees. I spend most the day there, gazing blissfully up at a huge expanse of blue sky. Time ceases to exist as my normally pale skin turns increasingly darker shades of brown, and for one short moment I believe that this contentment is all there is to life. And then, all too soon, it is over. The next day I find myself on an aeroplane once again, heading swiftly back to the fast-paced world of reality. Time had not stopped after all, and although time moves slower in Zanzibar, it is not nearly slow enough.

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