My position here at SFCG has been keeping me very busy most days. I usually start work between 8 and 8:30 in the morning and, while my official work hours end at 5:00, I’m rarely out of the office before 6 and I have been there as late as 8. I’m often working either one or both days of the weekend as well, although it is usually only part of the day if I do have to work on the weekend. I love being busy and productive, and I’m certainly glad that I am getting so much out of this experience, however I sometimes feel that I have seen very little of this amazing island.
So, I decided to get a bicycle…
While I was nervous at first of the traffic and road hazards, the fact that people drive on the opposite side of the road and my lack of a helmet to wear, I very quickly discovered that riding a bicycle is not too difficult here once you learn the rules of the road. And having the bicycle had given me the opportunity to get out and see more of this incredible island.
My first bicycle excursion took me north of Stone Town to a town called Bububu. Along the way I was able to stop at some of the historical ruins that line the coast outside of the main city. The ruling Omani sultans built their palaces outside of town as a place for their families as well their many slaves to live. The famous figure, Princess Salme, a member of the Zanzibari royalty who eloped to Europe with a German trader, grew up at Mtoni palace. Maruhubi palace, the other ruin on the way to Bububu is surrounded by a lush forest of mango trees and was famous as the location of Sultan Bin Said’s harem of “secondary wives” and concubines. After arriving at both of these ruins, I was offered a small tour of the grounds by the attendants and a brief explanation of the historical significance of these two locations.
Heading inland from Bububu, I climbed up a heavily forested ridge to the highest point on Zanzibar, 128 meters (420 Feet) above sea level. This region has the greatest number of spice plantations on the island. The forest is a fragrant mix of clove trees, nutmeg, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon. At the very top of the hill is another ruins, that of the Kidichi baths, a bath house built for the second wife of Seyyid Saïd. There are 5 different toilets behind the bath house so that the Sultan and his wife would always have a fresh one to use. Riding along the ridge I passed through some of the most beautiful, lush countryside in Zanzibar. The jungle was laced with tiny villages where children excitedly shouted out “Mzungu” as I rode by, although that was unfortunately often followed with “pesa” (money). I ended the day by riding downhill back into the city and to my house before the sun set.
My second excursion was shorter, but took me south of the city through Mbweni, the site of another ruins from the 1800s that was a girl’s school and refuge for rescued female slaves in the final days of Zanzibar’s brutal slave trade and on to Chukwani, where I had an evening BBQ planned at a friend’s house. Before going to the BBQ I found a long stretch of dirt road leading to an isolated bay with a tiny fishing village.
My third and final excursion (so far) was done with a group of friends. We rode 20 kilometers south of Stone Town to a village called Fumba, another small and isolated fishing village. The road was mostly flat and went through lush forest and then coral scrub before reaching Fumba. As we approached the southern tip of the peninsula, there were an increasing number of enormous and spectacular Baobab trees, even though the overall vegetation was pretty scant. Baobabs are spectacular trees, the base of which are made up of an enormous, solid block of wood, topped by thinner branches of spectacular foliage. Our destination in Fumba was a small resort (with a Baobab tree house) that we spent a few hours relaxing at and getting ready for the 20-km return back to Stone Town in the brutal mid-day sun. Upon leaving the resort, one of our team noticed that he had punctured his tire. We walked our bikes into the village and met an incredibly friendly group of locals that helped us to fix the tire and helped us practice our Swahili.
I’m glad that I have been able to make it out on the bicycle and begin exploring more of this fantastic island. Hiking was one of my favorite activities back in the States and that isn’t really a possibility here, but being able to break away from the office and the narrow, cluttered and crowded maze of Stone Town’s streets for the fresh (but steamy) air and the beautiful, lush greenery of the countryside, helps me through the long weeks.