Africa adventure: Prison Island (Part 2)
It is one thing if people shout, and it is another if people shout in a language you are not familiar with. The latter echoed around our room in Stone Town in the early hours of the morning. When I realised it was not coming from my vivid malaria pill-induced dream, I sat up, gasping for air. I felt the mosquito net against my lips, and suddenly remembered where I was.
I opened my eyes but everything was so dark that they might as well have been closed. The synchronised voices, of tens of people, were pounding through the walls, seeming louder in the darkness. They continued as I felt my way to the window and looked out, expecting to see a riot. The roads were so black that I wondered if my eyelids were open at all. I forgot that in this country, street lights were about as likely as an ambulance (see Part 1).
There was no one in the street holding sticks with raging flames, as I imagined. My friend Mel, who was sharing the room, was awake too. I could not see her a metre away but I could hear her scuffling around her rucksack in fear. “What’s going on?” I asked her shouting on top of the voices, as she found her torch and shone the light in my face.
We ran to the boys’ room next door where it was just as dark and the voices were just as loud. “What happened?” they asked, in a tone as though cradled in an aura of tranquility and sweet whispers. Wiping our tears, we asked what the noise was. “There’s a Mosque under our rooms” David said, mid-snore.
That fearful incident was digested along with our bread, butter and mango a few hours later at breakfast, and completely drowned by midday, as we put on our goggles and snorkel and jumped in the bluest water I have ever seen, near the shore of Prison Island.
After swimming around the coral reef and gasping with amazement as much as one possibly can with a snorkel in their mouth, we walked up along the golden sand. Each step I took felt as though I was stepping in a bag of flour, sieved. The beach was the prettiest thing to look at. Clear, light blue water, palm trees, and soft sand, sprinkled with colorful starfish which accidentally washed up upon its shores.
The little island, just off Stone Town’s shore, is just 800m long and 250m wide and was used as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 1860s. The British Minister of Zanzibar bought the island at the end of the 19th century and created a prison there. No prisoners were ever housed on the island and instead it became a quarantine station for those with yellow fever.
A 100 years later, replace yellow fever patients with giant tortoises and it may very well be what inspired Chris Martin to write his hit Paradise.
Barefoot, we walked up the stairs to the conservation of the giant tortoises and were stunned to realise that each one was as big as your average sheep. We gladly spent the next hour feeding these magnificent creatures, following them, taking photos of them, taking photos of us with them and taking photos of us without them. The peacocks strutting around the conservation area tried to catch our eyes by “coincidentally” bursting into colour in front of us as we were petting the tortoises.
After walking around Prison Island, we made our way back through the floury sand and on the boat, where, accompanied by nausea and frequent gulps of Dyrolites, we floated back to Stone Town to our hotel room built on top of the mosque.
Tomorrow: Part 3 - Mark Strijbosch writes about his travels to Mafia Island