06 March 2005

Monsoon in Zanzibar

We spent a few days in Zanzibar to attend and film the wedding of one of Stuart's colleagues. Paradise! Even the rain was romantic, or maybe that's just me missing a good downpour?

Sitting on the terrace for lunch we watched the rain. Low grey clouds had been moving in from the South all morning, obscuring the horizon line between sea and sky. Suddenly it hit us, a great swell of water on the wind. There were still boats out at sea, wooden dhows with sharply triangular canvas sails, calmly cutting through the waves as if the sky was still cloudless. Smaller rowing boats are plowing the waves, a lone rower trying to make his way back to shore against the push of the water in the air.

On the terrace, as soon as the heavens broke, everyone moved back behind the line of the pillars that hold up the roof, carrying on their conversations, letting the waiters deal with the debris on the dripping tables. There was a clutter of plates, a fork falling to the ground, but shortly we were back to chatting and sipping drinks.

It is not monsoon season yet, that doesn't start until the end of March, so this is just a taster. There seems to be little in the way of seasons here, as we understand them. Temperatures are constant at 26-32ÂșC, with monsoons twice a year and, surprisingly (to me as a Northern hemisphere inhabitant) the best time to visit is the summer, when the weather is balmy and the downpours non-existent.

This rain, the sound of which I longed for when I had just left England last year, is quite different in texture and effect from the rain we left behind in Europe. There, rain is a signal to get indoors, turn up the heating and snuggle up. It's chilly, usually accompanied by an even colder wind, and getting soaked can be followed by serious illness. It can range in intensity from a light mist, like a cloud descending round your head, to gusting winds carrying icy drops mixed with snow.

This monsoon comes in one flavour only. It doesn't mess about with drizzle, doesn't threaten and then disperse. It starts, it pours, it stops. Clouds arrive on the wind, it becomes oppressively hot and the light becomes murky. In no time the water starts falling from the sky in great gusting sheets, pounding the leaves of the lush trees, ripping blossoms off to float down the rivulets that form on uneven ground. The gutters overflow immediately, waterfalls pouring from the roofs to add to the general flood. Drops fall so hard that they bounce off the ground and spray up again.

But it never cools down, and a good soaking results in nothing more than wet skin and coloured feet if you wear the kind of shoes where the leather dye runs. The monsoon stops as abruptly as it started. Then the sun reappears, and the puddles evaporate in the steamy heat. Everyone moves their tables and chairs back onto the terrace and carries on watching the boats.

More Zanzibar photos here

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