October 1, 2004
The trip to Changu Island is a pleasure in itself. We hired a boat to get there ( $70), and found the trip -- through the blue water and the blue sky, leaving behind the picturesque Stone Town harbor, heading towards the smaller islands -- exhilarating. The boatman, Jojo, was friendly and helpful; he spoke little English, and we spoke even less Swahili, but goodwill made communication surprisingly easy.
We went on the trip for the snorkeling, but the island is also tremendous fun to explore. When we reached it, Jojo led us off the boat, along a sandy spit of beach, and up some wooden stairs set into the hillside. The stairs passed the beginnings of a small luxury hotel which is being built on the island. (Apparently all the construction workers come from the mainland, where people are willing to be hired for lower wages.) When the hotel is complete, it will have a wonderful setting; here's hoping it doesn't take so many guests that the island's sense of privacy isn't spoiled.
Past the construction site comes the island's other attraction: a colony of giant tortoises. For about $0.50, we bought big plates of spinach, which we fed to the tortoises; huge creatures with sharp beaks, which happily chomped up the spinach from our hands. Some of the tortoises let us touch them; their necks are dusty/dry to the touch, very muscular under a thin layer of papery skin. Jojo showed us a tiny cement tank containing some three-month-old baby tortoises, about the size of small turtles, and a larger tank containing some adolescent tortoises which had reached a foot in length; apparently the young tortoises are kept in these enclosures to keep them safe from rats.
After we were done feeding tortoises and snorkeling, we walked on the beach for a while, chasing near-invisible crabs at the waterline and watching a distant gray heron. Behind us, two boatloads of girls in Muslim garb arrived and began playing on the shore, wading into the water and collecting shells. We left happy.
From journal Zanzibar Spices