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  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Island of Zanzibar, Tanzania

I have visited Africa 5 times and will continue to go back as there is much to experience from the unbelievable beauty of the land, to the welcoming people to the culture (which is underrated by many people in the world).  Two places I would like to visit are in Tanzania: the Ngorongoro Crater and the island of Zanzibar.

Tanzania has some of the oldest settlements in the world and the area Olduvai Gorge is often called the “Cradle of Mankind”.  Some of the fossils found there are over 2 million years old.  The Laetoli footprints are thought to be as old as 3.6 million years old.  The Bantu-speaking people, who are the largest group in Tanzania, migrated to the area around 2000 years ago.  They adopted many of the customs of the local people.  The Bantu people brought ironworking skills and the Bantu language to the area. The first European explorers arrived in 1498 and were from Portugal and were led by Vasco da Gama.  Within a few years the Portuguese captured Zanzibar and ruled for about 200 years.  The Portuguese rule ended when Omani Sultan Seyyid Said established a stronghold on the island.  He moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar and made it the centre of the Arab slave trade.  Slavery was prohibited in 1875 and the British took control of Zanzibar in 1890.  The German occupation started in Tanzania in the 1880s and ended with the British invasion in the 1st World War.  In 1954 the teacher, Julius Nyerere, considered to be the father of modern Tanzania, helped to form the Tanganyila African National Union. He became Prime Minister in 1961 when Tanganyila gained independence.  He became President in 1962 under the country’s new republican constitution.  Zanzibar gained independence from Britain in 1963 and in 1964 the 2 countries became one country called the United Republic of Tanzania.  Zanzibar has retained a high degree of autonomy.  The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is located in northern Tanzania and is home to the world’s largest caldera, the Ngorongoro Crater, and the Olduvai Gorge.  Ngorongoro Crater got its name from the Maasai and it means “the black hole” and it is often called the “Eden of Africa”.  The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it is not a national park.  It is a conservation area which permits the local Maasai people the right to continue to live there.  The crater wall drops a sheer 610 metres and the crater encloses 260 square kilometres and is home to 250,000 animals.  The crater is home to forest, freshwater streams and even a saltwater lake.

Visitors to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area can see the annual Great Wildebeest Migration.  The wildebeest start their migration in October and November to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area from the Southern Serengeti’s vast grass plains which extend into Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  The wildebeest arrive in December to have their calves and the herds congregate around Lake Ndutu.  In March they start their migration back to the Serengeti.  You will also be able to see the “Big Five” animals which are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and the cape buffalo.  You will see black rhinoceroses, one of the most endangered animals in the world, as well as zebra, gazelle, eland, warthogs and hippos to name a few.  But you will not see giraffes down on the crater floor as the walls of the crater are too steep for them to climb. 

The crater draws approximately 400,000 visitors a year so the park authority has increased the fees to reduce the number of visitors.  Even with the large number of people it is one of the most unique areas to see. Places to stay: Ngorongoro Crater Lodge This lodge is called the game lodge on the top of the world.  Nomad Entamanu Camp and Kirurumu Ngorongoro Camp are 2 tented camps on the crater’s rim.  Zanzibar is an archipelago off the east coast of Africa.  The main island is called Unguja and is commonly called Zanzibar.  You get a mix of Swahili and Islamic influences including winding lanes, minarets, carved doorways, and a former sultan’s palace.  The villages of Nungwi and Kendwa have beautiful beaches. 

Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the older part of Zanzibar city. It is the heart of the island with its winding lanes and old Arabic-style buildings.  Why not have a something to eat at Forodhani Garden which has a food market which opens in the late afternoon.  You will find fresh local produce as well as freshly grilled fish, meat and vegetables.

  If eating at the market is not for you then try The Rock restaurant with views of the island as it sits on a rock.  The restaurant has some of the best seafood in Zanzibar.  You will need to make a reservation as there are only 12 tables and is usually booked - Check out the Palace Museum which is commonly known as Sultan’s Palace and located at the waterfront overlooking the ocean.  It was built in the 19th century for the Sultan and his family. It was taken over in 1964 by the new government after the revolution.  It was used as a government building before becoming a museum.

The House of Wonders is a stunning historic building that hosts an interesting exhibition which offers insight into Zanzibar and the Swahili culture.  It can’t be missed as it is the tallest building in Stone Town and is located on the seafront and in front of Forodhani Gardens.

If you love food why not do a spice tour.  Zanzibar is known for its spice trade which has brought wealth to Zanzibar.  There are a number of spice tours and the expert guides will inform you of the origin of the spice trade and tell you of the spices that are produced and traded in Zanzibar. Visit the Old Fort which is found at the seafront and was built in the 17th century.  It was built to defend the island from the Portuguese.  You can see the remains of the former fort and walk around the courtyard located in the centre.  There you will find stores selling local produce and art such as tingatinga paintings.  Most evenings there is live music and dance performed at the local amphitheater.

Unfortunately, approximately 50,000 enslaved people were brought each year to Zanzibar during the height of the slave trade in the 18th and 19th century.  The people were taken from their homes in West Africa to work on coconut and clove plantations in Zanzibar or sold to buyers from around the world.  An Anglican cathedral now stands on the site of the slave market and has exhibits of this dark, ugly, period in Zanzibar’s history.  You can visit the dim and suffocating underground chambers, of the slave market, to see where the people were bound and held in chains. A 30-minute boat ride from Zanzibar takes you to Changu Island which was also known as Prison Island.  The slaves were detained on this island.  When slavery was abolished it became a camp for people with deadly diseases.  Today the island is a nature reserve for giant tortoises.

For those wishing to spend time at the beach then go to Nungwi, a village, on Zanzibar’s north west tip.  It has some of Zanzibar’s top beaches. 

You can stay at Nungwi – The Ocean Suite -

If you would like to spend time in nature then go see the Jozani Forest which is the last indigenous forest in Zanzibar.  Found inland from Chwaka Bay this is a unique swamp forest as the area is often flooded.  Because of that there are many amazing looking trees and ferns.

A few places to stay: The Residence Zanzibar This property is located on a pristine mile long beach Park Hyatt Zanzibar - A beachfront hotel located in Stone Town. Kisiwa House - A blend for boutique sophistication and gracious Swahili hospitality. The Palms, Zanzibar - An exclusive, private resort with just 7 villas.

A receipt for a Zanzibar Pilau

Ingredients ½ tsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin) ½ tsp whole black peppercorns (or ground black pepper) 5 whole cloves (or ground cloves) 1 cinnamon stick (or a few pinches ground cinnamon) 3 cardamom pods (or a few pinches ground cardamom) oil for frying 3 garlic cloves 1 tsp fresh ginger, crushed 3 cups of rice, uncooked, cleaned and rinsed 3 onions, chopped 2 pounds meat (beef, chicken, mutton, fish, shrimp or pawns your choice) cut into bite-size pieces 3 tomatoes, chopped 3 potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters 1 apple, peeled and cut into slices (optional) ½ cup of raisins or sultanas (optional)

Instructions Combine cumin, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom in a teacup, cover with warm water, stir, and set aside (Cooking tip: The spices can be tied up in a small sack, like a tea bag, or can be put into a tea infuser before being placed in the warm water. This avoids having whole spices in the dish when it is served.) Pound the garlic and ginger together and set aside. Wash the rice, drain, and set aside. Heat oil in deep pot. Fry onions until clear. Stir. Add garlic and ginger. Continue stirring and frying until the flavours have mixed and have developed a nice aroma. Add the meat, stir and cook over high heat until meat is browned on the outside. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove the meat and most of the onions and set them aside. Add the rice and stir in thoroughly to coat each grain of rice with the oil. Add the spices and water. Stir. What 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for a few minutes. Stir occasionally Check every few minutes to see if more water is needed and add water (or broth) as necessary. Stir as liquid is added. After 10 minutes add the potatoes (and/or the optional apples or raisins) and the meat and onions. Keep covered, keep checking, add water if bottom of pot s dry. Continue cooking over low heat for 10 more minutes. Remove pot from stove, keep covered. Place entire pot in warm oven for an additional ten to 20 minutes. All moisture should be absorbed by the rice and potatoes should be tender. Serve hot.

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