Once, while walking through my hometown, I decided to visit a bookstore. I had always been interested in just one section – adventures.
Looking through the bookshelves, I found the book “Monsoon” by Wilbur Smith. Its cover featured an old ship and a chest filled with incredible treasures. How could one pass by such a sight? The book engulfed me: it described the distant shores of Africa, vast herds of animals, Bushmen tribes, ancient forts, and, of course, adventures.
Imagine my surprise when, a couple of months later, I was asked at work:
“Have you been to Zanzibar?”
“That’s in Africa, right? No, I haven’t been.”
“Yes, Africa. Filming in two weeks. We need to write a plan and prepare the equipment.”
“Africa,” I thought, “Safari. Zanzibar!” Just a couple of months ago, the idea had crept into my mind – I must visit Africa and embark on a safari, and here was such a coincidence. The next two weeks flew by. For the first time for filming, I booked a 200-600mm telephoto lens, justifying it as critically necessary. I packed my other lenses and cameras, and before I knew it, I was sitting on the plane. As I looked out the window, I could just make out the outlines of Zanzibar.
As we approached the Zanzibar Airport, the conditions the local population lived in became distinctly visible, with small houses resembling garages, often lacking windows and doors. You could say that I experienced a slight shock even before the plane landed.
Tanzania was the first African country I traveled to, and I had never engaged in reportage photography or wildlife photography before. But it was from there, I believe, that my journey into “serious” photography began.
Upon landing, I was greeted by a very small airport and a large number of tourists. Among them, there were people with large backpacks and clothing in protective colors that stood out. At first glance, it was clear – they had come for a safari. As for me, I had a couple of days to spend on the island before heading to the mainland for my first safari, but first, I had to go through passport control.
Immigration forms were scattered everywhere, and many tourists couldn’t find pens. So, one pen was passed from hand to hand. Afterward, people divided into two lines. The first consisted of those who had paid for their visas online, and the second – of those who would pay here and now (a little life hack: apply for a visa online; it saves a lot of time). It was then that I first heard the phrase “Hakuna Matata” – it means relax, don’t hurry, no problems, and so on.
At first, it seemed amusing, but everything changed when I had to take a PCR test, and my name was misspelled three times, forcing me to redo it each time for a fee of 50 dollars. But every time, I heard “Hakuna Matata.”
After all the visa procedures, I finally left the airport. Ahead was the road to my temporary home.
The first place I stayed was a cottage not far from the airport. Surprisingly, it had everything I needed, including a separate room with rusty gym equipment. And outside the window, the Indian Ocean was visible.
Waking up at 6 in the morning, I planned to work out on the beach next to the water, but as it turned out, the water was gone. This was another surprise that Zanzibar had in store for me – low tides. The water had retreated from my beach by several hundred meters, maybe even a kilometer, and women were already walking on the exposed land, collecting shellfish. They were accompanied by birds of all kinds, and somewhere in the distance, you could see the small sails of fishing boats.
After breakfast, it was time to start work. The mornings were dedicated to the commercial shoot I came for, but fortunately for me, my workday ended each day around 1:00 PM. The rest of the time, I was left to my own devices.
I would divide the time I spent in Zanzibar into two parts: the north and the south. In the north – crowds of tourists, beaches, villas. Everything a person needs for a relaxing vacation, spending time on the beach, and enjoying good food. And in the south, there’s the airport and the old town, known as the “Stone Town,” which, in my opinion, is the best place in Zanzibar.
I was interested in an old fort, about which I had read a lot in Wilbur Smith’s novel. It’s an ancient fort that was built by the Arabs for defense but eventually used mostly as a prison. Today, this majestic structure is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and souvenir shops, local artists, and spice vendors have settled within its grounds.
In one of the souvenir shops, a couple of old masks caught my eye. When I asked about the price, the vendor replied, “Name your best price!” My best price was $20, which, judging by his expression, did not match his best price. “$300!” said the vendor. That was his starting price. “It’s an antique mask. Look how dusty it is!” (Though truth be told, all the masks are very dusty there. They wait for their buyer day in and day out, for weeks, months, or longer.) In the end, after 30-40 minutes of bargaining, we settled on a price of $80 for two masks and a pair of beautiful wall hooks in the form of a Maasai warrior and a lion’s head.
When going shopping, you need to be prepared to haggle, otherwise you could definitely end up bankrupted. I witnessed a woman buying a wooden giraffe and some sort of rattle for her child for $100. Trust me, the real price was about $5-10, but if you don’t know how to haggle – you pay.
So, here’s another life hack: Stock up on patience, a sense of humor, and a good mood before visiting souvenir shops, and haggle. Most likely, you’ll still end up paying more, but you definitely won’t break the bank.
In Zanzibar, night falls quickly, but it’s certainly not a reason to head home. Every evening, as darkness descends, fishermen along the Stone Town waterfront set up small stalls and sell the day’s catch. The scent of fried fish and calamari fills the air, and you can hear people chatting in various languages.
As you weave through the crowds, touts constantly try to lure you and guide you to their stalls to surprise you with local food.
Having grabbed some fried calamari, coconut, and some fish, I headed to the waterfront, and there, I discovered another form of local entertainment – cliff diving. But this wasn’t just any old cliff diving. These divers were more like circus acrobats. Sometimes they landed flat on the water, but each time, they climbed back up the wall and performed new jumps.
I was greatly impressed by their mutual assistance. After all, it wasn’t just adults who jump, but also small children, around 5-8 years old. Every time a child jumps into the water, it’s practically impossible for them to climb up the high wall of the waterfront on their own. That’s when a whole team gathers right in the water, and the little one climbs on the backs of their friends to reach the top, where they are welcomed with applause. But after a couple of minutes, that little one takes a new run, pushing off the wall more vigorously to make another jump.
All of this happens to the sounds of camera clicks, applause, and enthusiastic shouts. Perhaps thanks to one of those camera clicks, the lives of these kids will change, and they might become famous, who knows. In our time, the era of social media when boundaries blur, anyone passionate about their craft can wake up as a celebrity because someone saw them at the right moment.
It was a real feast for the senses: people’s shouts of joy, the sound of applause, splashes of water, the smell of seafood, and the dim light of lanterns on the waterfront. Seeing all of this, the Stone Town seemed like the liveliest place in the world.