Thick jungle scenery punctuated the morning. Women sauntered slowly down the dirt roads, huge baskets of fruit and spice wrapped onto their heads with the same wild fabrics used for their sarongs. I spied a woman enjoying the shade of her lanai. She rocked her dozing baby in a hand-tied sling beneath a frangipani tree. With a slow smile, she let me take her photo, but covered her angelic child as I moved closer.
Arrangements were made (Mohammed again) to move on to Zanzibar's stunning east coast. We would stay at an all-but-deserted beach, near a tiny village. Our bungalows at the Bwejuu Dere Guest House were tranquil, to say the least, with their whitest-white adobe walls and doorways of periwinkle, yellow, pink and coral. The bedrooms were simply furnished with bamboo-and-palm-leaf beds laden with cotton mattresses and crowned with the familiar mist of mosquito nets.
I wondered why the proprietor was moving so slowly when we arrived. But our own pace became as timeless as we slipped into swimsuits and crossed the 15 feet to the beach, pausing only to utter "lobster," our dinner request. Finally, we lay down in the sand, warm water licking our toes. Occasionally, a villager ambled by to offer a fresh-cut coconut or a sarongful of shells no more beautiful than the ones all around us.
One afternoon, I walked off alone to explore the village, wearing a swimsuit and sandals. Among the huts were small gatherings of women of varying ages, reclining on palm-shaded lanais. They were amicable, despite our language barrier, yet I could see that they were shocked at my bare legs.
At their invitation, I stopped to sit with one group, and struggled to communicate with my bare-bones Swahili. Chattering faintly, an old woman made her way over to me, untied one of two sarongs she wore, and wrapped it around my hips. The other women cooed their approval; with that, I knew I had been initiated. Each woman summoned her own children so that I could take their photos, and we prattled on through the afternoon, shelling coconuts.
Sailing away from Zanzibar a few days later was downright mournful. What was it that called us to that spice island? The architecture, the culture, the beaches? The rich traditions that prevail here are protected by the blessing of the island's geographic elusiveness. Zanzibar remains a seductive capsule of time that spans centuries and surpasses expectation. Praise be to Allah.
Getting there: To Dar es Salaam, British Airways flies via London; Swissair through Zurich, Air France through Paris. Round-trip fares start at about $3,420; Air Tanzania has flights daily except Monday and Friday from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar for about $86 round trip. Kenya Airways leaves from Nairobi for Zanzibar on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays for $220 round trip. Tours: SafariCentre (3201 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach, Calif. 90266; tel. 800-624-5342) and United Touring Co. (1 Bala Plaza, Suite 414, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., 19004; tel. 800-223-6486) are two tour companies that go to Zanzibar as a side trip from safari tours. Alternately, there are several overland expeditions that make the stop; the best, in my estimation, is Dragoman (Camp Green, Kenton, Debenham, Suffolk, IP14 6LA, England; tel. 011-44-728-861133). Dragoman's U.S. rep is Adventure Center Travel (1311 63rd St., Suite 200, Emeryville, Calif. 94608; tel. 800-227-8747). For a longer stint than by other methods. Dragoman's five-week "Africa East & South" trip winds through five countries from Nairobi, Kenya, to Harare, Zimbabwe, or vice versa. Rates for the journey range $1,570-$1,900, depending on the season and include all land costs.
Prerequisites: You must have a yellow fever vaccination to enter Zanzibar; antimalaria measures should be taken as well. Some authorities recommend tetanus, typhoid, gamma globulin and cholera vaccines. A Tanzanian visa is required and is easiest to procure from the Tanzanian Consulate.
Where to stay: High-end lodging in town includes the centrally located Emerson's House (1563 Mkunazini St., Zanzibar; tel. 011-255-54-32153), a renovated old mansion with a variety of eclectic rooms and rooftop dining with great views of the city; rates $40-$95 with kitchen. Less expensive is the popular Spice Inn (P.O. Box 1029, Zanzibar; tel. 011-255-54-30728), a refurbished spice factory in the center of town. Rooms are basic, spacious and clean; doubles start at $22. For budget travelers, the Malindi Guest House (Malindi Street at Funguni Bazaar; tel. 011-255-54-30165) is a good choice. Breakfast is complimentary with $6 and $7 rooms.
Where to eat: Great restaurants in Zanzibar town include the Spice Inn, near the market, and Camlurs Restaurant, opposite the Africa Hotel.
When to go: June through October is the best time to visit, when the weather stays relatively cool, bright and rainless. Year-round temperatures range 70-90 degrees and the trade wind breeze is ever-present.
For more information: Visit or call the Zanzibar Tourist Corp., on Creek Road between Parajani Street and Livingstone House on Malawi Road; tel. 011-255-54-32344. Or contact the Tanzania Mission to the United Nations, 205 E. 42nd St., Suite 1300, New York 10017; tel. (212) 972-9160.