The tiny suction cups were sticking to my tongue and cheeks, making chewing nearly impossible. When I got down to the chunk of shark, I had to plug my nose so that I could get it down. I’m not too adventurous when it comes to food (I don’t even like seafood), but there I was, timidly gnawing on a hot skewer of squid and shark meat, in the heart of Zanzibar.
Just a short flight from mainland Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar is home to cobblestone streets, gorgeous beaches, and some of the most exotic street food we’ve ever seen. I had been on the island of for a mere 12 hours, but already had adopted the “when in Rome” mentality to expand my horizons and challenge my taste buds. Just days before, I successfully had reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, so I was feeling invincible. That’s why, when a grinning toothless street food vendor asked me if I wanted to try his special seafood kebab, I had to say yes.
Zanzibar was the last stop on my month-long tour through Tanzania. It was my senior year of college and I was on this adventure with a dozen fellow students. Together we had spent the previous three weeks split between a Serengeti safari and our Kilimanjaro trek. The pristine beaches of Zanzibar seemed like the perfect way to cap our trip.
Nicknamed “Spice Island,” Zanzibar’s history is rooted in its cultivation of spices such as vanilla, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. The island’s spice plantations, coupled with its prime location on Indian Ocean trade routes, later birthed the island’s slave trade.
One of many food vendors at Forodhani Park
The epicenter of the island, Stone Town, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The clash of cultures from the trade route is ever-present in the town’s Indian-influenced architecture, muddled Swahili, and the Muslim call to prayer that rings through the town’s labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways.
At dusk, Forodhani Park is transformed into the illustrious night market where fisherman and local vendors sell piles of freshly caught lobster, giant crab claws, barracuda, and skewers of various meats. Gas lamps light the rows of tables laden with sweet treats, questionable meats, and freshly pressed juices.
Blissfully unaware of the risk of food-borne illness, I gave in to the hawkers’ shouts of “Rafiki, my friend. Please try my food” and decided that I would try a little bit of everything. If it looked interesting, I ordered it, regardless of how long it had been sitting out in the evening heat. I left feeling full of adventure and stuffed with food.
Our group awoke early the next morning to the call to prayer, a reminder that we were now in a predominantly Islamic region of Africa. We saddled up and traded the vibrant colors of Stone Town for the simplistic seclusion of Paje Beach.
A 45-minute car ride seemed to take us to an entirely different part of the world. The congested streets of Stone Town seemed far behind us. In its place were crystal clear waters, swaying palm trees, and pristine beaches.
Viewfinder Tip: When purchasing meat at the street market, be sure to have the vendor thoroughly cook it in front of you to avoid any future upset stomachs.
This was the very last stop on our trip and it was the perfect way to slow down, relax, and take in all that we had done over the last month. The shallow water was perfect for lounging, and the crystal blue hues connected with sand so soft and white that it resembled powdered sugar.
For three days I practically lived on the beach. My body recovered from the rigor of climbing Kilimanjaro and the weeks spent sleeping in a tent. I lazily lounged in the shallow water and watched kite boarders pass by. I was living the island life and on island time.
When it came time to leave Zanzibar, I felt rejuvenated. The only thing I was lacking was a souvenir from our trip. I scoured the island in search of the perfect token to remember this adventure, little did I know that the token actually had found me. Upon our return to the States, it became apparent that I had brought back a little friend in the form of a parasite that I undoubtedly obtained on my culinary adventurous night in Stone Town.
While my parasite (lovingly referred to as Biggie Smalls) might not have given me the souvenir I was looking for, it did produce a story that will live a lifetime.
How do you embrace adventure on your travels?