Somewhere along the way, we all decided on the shuttle bus that we wanted to go to Prison Island for the second half of the day - for our free time. Our, “experience designer,” who I will now call the ED, made arrangements for us with a guide since the entire group was interested. Prior to venturing on this trip, Prison Island was on my mental list of things to see and do while in Zanzibar. It was nice to know that this was going to happen, with everyone, and so quickly. The filling lunch settling in our stomachs made for a quiet trip back to the hotel. By the time we arrived, everything was scheduled for the tour of Prison Island, and there was some time to spare. I went back to my room to readjust and revive myself. Not thinking anything about the state of my room when I entered, I was amused to see that there was an elephant waiting for me on my made bed. He was staring straight at me with his black dot eyes, and large floppy white ears, in the center of a circle of flower petals. I took a long inspection of this creature without touching him. Is the staff required to become experts in towel sculpture? Personally, I struggle with a simple double fold.
After a wee bit of dilly dallying, and counting my shillings and dollars, I headed to the lobby to meet the rest of my travel mates. Money is such a peculiar thing. When it comes down to it, no matter where you are in the world, it is a simple piece of paper with a person or object on it. Technically, I could create my own money based on this criteria and materials. But somehow that won’t work, and in the meantime, the access to, or lack thereof of the real stuff can make or break a person, a community, and a country. Our hired guide, Sherif, was waiting to take us on our way. His deep mahogany skin and dazzling smile was welcoming. The departure point was not that far from the hotel. The only way to Prison Island is by boat, and they were all docked at the edge of Forodhani Gardens, where we walked among the evening food vendors the night before. The large group followed our guide, as we made a “7” to the shoring area.
Water taxis were lined up, ready for the next set of tourists. Shape-wise, they didn’t look too different than the water taxis back in the states. They were fairly long, and had an equally long cover. Still, there seem to be the obvious differences; these are made out of wood, and the covers are all different, and seem to be repurposed from something that I still haven’t quite figured out. Some logos were clearly hand painted on, some were not. Some were placed with the writing fashioned vertically, and most likely from other companies.
We all climbed onto the boat, and found seats with our backs facing the water. The anchor was lifted from the bow as we made way to an unknown place beyond our current line of sight. By this time, we all were getting a better sense of our personalities, and were no longer complete strangers. The two threads of conversation were about astrological signs, and the history of Zanzibar. Both were very entertaining, as one travel mate (who will no be referred to as Signs) was well versed about the specific traits of the signs, serving as a healthy debate, and a great way to engage deeper with one another on a more personal level. For $2.00 more we could have gotten our biorhythms checked at Laytham’s Department Store (Darn Cosby-I miss that show). The history lesson on Zanzibar was lead by my Indiana travel mate whose curiosity was as endless as the ocean. We threw him into the metaphorical lion’s den when Sherif asked if anyone had questions - knowing that he would have all the questions we could have ever conceived, and more. By the time we reached Prison Island, the group was thoroughly impressed by both of our travel mate’s separate but equal retention of knowledge, and had learned quite a lot. Since I personally do not have my one travel mate’s ability to retain historical knowledge in depth, this is the history of Prison Island as defined by the entry in Wikipedia:
Prison Island (also known as Kibandiko, Changuu or Quarantine Island) is a small island 5.6 km north-west of Stone Town, Unguja, Zanzibar. The island is around 800m long and 230m wide at its broadest point. The island saw use as a prison for rebellious slaves in 1860s and also functioned as a coral mine. The British First Minister of Zanzibar, Lloyd Mathews, purchased the island in 1893 and constructed a prison complex there. No prisoners were ever housed on the island and instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. The station was only occupied for around half of the year and the rest of the time it was a popular holiday destination. More recently, the island has become a government-owned tourist resort and houses a collection of endangered Aldabra giant tortoises, which were originally a gift from the British governor of the Seychelles.
I do however recall Sherif pointing out two other islands along the way named Snake Island, and Grave Island. You can see why they would stick out in my mind. You would be correct to deduce the traits/characteristics of the island by its name. Snake (Pangavini) Island is uninhabited, save for the birds, rats and snakes. Grave (Chapwani) Island is the last resting place of British sailors killed fighting Arab slave ships, and the crew of a British World War I ship. And Prison Island was to be a prison. Too bad there wasn’t a Man Island, because that would have been worth a visit...
The sky was fully overcast and grey when we anchored at Prison Island, making for a hushed canopy. Tall green, bushy trees cloaked the land, with the exception of the endless walkway that jettied over the beach, disappearing with steps down to the ocean. Other boats were anchored, with occupants nowhere to be seen. One by one, we climbed off the boat, into the water and onto the beach. We followed behind Sherif up the set of steps. Up here there was an entire complex of buildings, and walkways. They were different plastered adobe like hues of pinks, and tans, and mauve, with intricate tiled pathways, and curves.
Not to be outdone by its vibrant surroundings, strutted a peacock, with its plumage tucked behind. Moments like this, my faith in a higher being, whatever name you choose, is reconstituted. For an animal to naturally be this perfectly striking, was not a random act. Even a fool can see that. It is no fluke that one has colors and patterns at play such as this. As we walked past the peacock, both bird and human checked each other out with mutual intensity. Sherif guided us through a doorway and an entrance, only speaking a few words to the people at the door. Alas, here were the occupants from the other boats.