Having survived being left for dead in the middle of Tanzania, lost and alone with malaria, we had no choice but to keep pushing on with our trip. We briefly reunited with our tour group in Dar es Salaam and ferried together to Zanzibar.
Zanzibar is one of those places that occupied a space in my imagination shared with fictional lands, like Shangri-La or Avalon, its name too exotic to actually be real. Just saying it evokes pictures of far off lands, spice caravans, and robed men carrying curved khanjar swords–ZANZIBAR! Part of the fun of traveling is filling in those blanks your imagination is too happy to fill with its own made up reality. Zanzibar is, in fact, real, and very much lives up to the more fanciful images I had in my head. The narrow, twisting alleyways. The cramped and chaotic marketplaces. The cross section of Swahili, Omani, and Indian influence is every bit as magical as it sounds, all the while perched atop a rocky outcrop off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean.
I could spend the rest of my life exploring the bottomless depths of their cuisine. Alas, we only had a few days. We had plans for another island.
A one-day layover in Johannesburg, South Africa gave us enough time for a proper burger and a brief glimpse into the fractured society still scarred by years of racial divide. Pretty though, in a gated campus kind of way.
We eventually made it to Antananarivo, Madagascar. Where Zanzibar occupied an imaginary space in my mind, Madagascar was mostly a blank canvas. I knew about lemurs, chameleons, coffee, and vanilla. And that’s about it. The people, their culture, their language and food — I had no idea what to expect.
Antananarivo, or Tana as it’s known locally, is distinctly its own. Supposedly, Madagascar was populated by the descendants of Swahili and travelers from Borneo. Yes, Borneo. If you find that a little hard to believe, pull up a map. You don’t normally think of a culture an entire ocean away as being neighbors, but if you catch the winds just right, it’s not as far fetched as you might initially think. At any rate, the outlines of this mix of cultures are evident if you catch it in the right light. Food-wise, you can see it in the zebu cattle from Africa and the rice paddies from southeast Asia. And in Tana, there’s a flair of French colonialism sprinkled in.