Food Feature: Sweet sensations

Soaking in the exotic and surreal on the beaches of Zanzibar

Zanzibar. The name alone is evocative of the remote and exotic, and the reality of this island paradise is not far off. Infamous as one of the last bastions of slave trading and now better known for its spices, Zanzibar sits off the coast of Tanzania, Africa, in the stunning waters of the Indian Ocean.
While Zanzibar is now part of Tanzania, it formerly was ruled by the Middle Eastern country of Oman. As a result, it is overwhelmingly Muslim and has a distinctly Arabic feel. Yet many of the Indian traders who sailed between India and Africa settled here permanently, and thus Zanzibar is home to a significant Indian community. This fascinating cultural blend helps give this African island an exotic feel.
We're now at Matemwe Beach, one of the most glorious beaches of the eastern coast. With cool breezes swaying the palm trees, a sandy white beach that stretches forever, water that is a surreal medley of blues and greens and not another tourist in sight, what's not to like?
But lazing on the beach, swimming in the bath-water warm ocean and gorging ourselves on fresh seafood can grow unfulfilling. This morning, as disturbing as it may sound, we shall subject ourselves to physical exertion: We shall bike the beach.
We head out early, just as the tide is at its lowest. Tidal variations in Zanzibar are enormous, facilitating seaweed farming, a principal means of income here on the coast. As we bike, we see scores of women and children (the men are out fishing ) gathering seaweed in the acres of "farms" that sit in the shallow waters and carrying it to the drying racks that line the beach.
Above us, the sun glares as sea birds gawk. Dhows, the traditional sailing vessel of Zanzibar, are everywhere. As we continue riding, locals on their bikes — often laden with fish or fruit — occasionally join us, just to be friendly and to practice English.
As we approach village after village, small children run from their palm-thatched homes, enthusiastically waving and yelling "Jambo" --which, in their native tongue of Swahili, means "hello." A group of young girls wearing the traditional hijabu, a hair- and neck-covering veil, walk along the beach to school. Some clutch a copy of the Islamic holy text, the Koran. All are smiling.
After three hours of lazily making our way down the beach, it's time for a dip. We choose a cove and park the bikes. As we gently float in the warmest, cleanest and most colorful water we've ever sampled, trying to find a cloud in the sky, we softly chant the name: Zanzibar, Zanzibar, Zanzibar.
Follow Rich and Kelly Willis' round-the-world adventures every month in Creative Loafing or visit their website at 2goglobal.com.

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