In an air conditioned van, we hurdled down the long road that winds from the west of Zanzibar to the southeastern coast. As the journey progressed over an hour and a half, we watched as the raucous city life playing out just beyond 4 millimeters of glass faded into a world of pastoral requiescence. The roadside was alive with a rustic kind of life that I have never known. Underfed Brahman cows set against lush greenery created an implausible juxtaposition. Women in hijabs washed clothes in buckets filled with soapy water on their front lawns and men hitched wooden carts to tired looking animals with tired looking eyes. And everything, everything, everything but our speeding van was moving according to Zanzibari time: pole pole… slowly slowly.
We took a sharp left onto a cratered, dirt road and rolled slowly through a village of concrete shacks with tin roofs. Cutouts that were at first intended to be windows had become gaping yawns that allowed us a good look right into the homes’ dark bellies. Goats kicked rocks with their tiny hooves and a small child was gnawing with his soft baby teeth at a loose wire from a chain link fence
And then we rolled to a stop before tall wall that had just been painted a shocking shade of white. Uncomfortably clean in it’s home on that dirt lot. With the honk of a horn the too white, wooden partition split down the middle, revealing itself as a fortified gate. We inched forward into the newly revealed space little by little until we were smack in the middle of an unexpected oasis.
I stepped out from the car and stumbled awkwardly, shielding my eyes from the glaring sun.
“What the fuck? What is this, Narnia.” I mumbled less than gracefully, as I spun in circles, gaping with awe. One of my travel companions laughed beside me.
The gate closed behind us, closing us off from the real world and sealing us inside the kind of beautiful asylum that only ever exists on postcards and celebrity Instagram accounts. Palm trees and white sand and beautiful cottages with rosewood terraces where we were meant to drink wine glasses full of brilliantly yellow mango juice. They handed me a cold towel to wipe my face and I laughed in surprise.
I’m not the type of lady so used to traveling luxuriously… ($2 a night, dorm style hostels are usually more my speed.)
Now, I’m not even going to lie to you… I ate that shit up.
I laid with a fluffy pillow under my head and jazz in my ears as I soaked up the intense, African sun. I stood, neck deep in a warm, calm sea while the sun went down, turning the sky colors I have never seen, but written into the fairytales in my head, and I cried from happiness. I fell asleep on a swinging loveseat with a book in my hand and I let a wonderful woman named Salme talk me into a coconut oil massage. And from there you could see all the little stars in the sky for suns they truly are.
But all the while, the real Zanzibar, the one existing outside of that white gate, danced around in my daydreams.
And so the next day I was on my way back to the center of it all: Stone Town