Sailing a dhow to Prison Island

Now if I were to be taken prisoner, I would choose here…

Prison Island might not seem like a place you would want to go. It was built in 1893 to serve as the central jail for Zanzibar, and had a total of 18 cells with toilets that dropped straight into the ocean.

By the end of its construction, cholera epidemics in Egypt and the outbreak of bubonic plague in India was making the British government nervous. They desperately wanted to quarantine not only visitors to Zanzibar, but to all British territories in East Africa.

The jail seemed like the perfect spot. Instead of housing inmates, it was hastily remade into a hospital.

All visitors to the region were required to stop on the island for a health assessment. Only those deemed well were allowed to proceed. Anyone found to be sick was cared for at the hospital.

Prison Island beach

Prison Island beach

Prisoners never did end up using the jail. Today a resort has been built on the site of the old jail-come-hospital, and only tourists visit the island.

But if you are still not sure whether you should go, here is a picture of the beach you land on. The trip was even more fun because we sailed to the island on a dhow, a traditional wooden sailing ship almost identical to the one in my cover photo.

A main attraction of the island are the Aldabra giant tortoises that were sent from the Seychelles governent in 1919 as a gift to Major F. B. Pearce, a resident of Zanzibar. In exchange, Major Pearce sent back a number of tropical plants.

In terms of size, this particular species of land tortoise is only second to the tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. Males can weigh up to 250 kg.

The tortoises can live well over 100 years. At Prison Island, numbers have been painted on the shells to show their age. The highest number we saw was 192.

The girls pet an Aldabra tortoise

The girls pet an Aldabra tortoise

Not long after the tortoises were brought to Zanzibar, thieves began stealing the young to make money. The tortoises were then moved to Prison Island for their protection.

Sir Gruntsalot

Sir Gruntsalot

Unfortunately today, Aldabra giant tortoises are highly endangered.  They do not live anywhere in the wild anymore, making the population on Prison Island extremely important.

The tortoises on the island are extensively monitored, and visitors must pay an entrance fee to ensure that no one can easily steal one of the animals.

And about those biological lessons the girls keep experiencing this trip… Tortoise sex is not at all discreet, in case you were wondering!!!

5 Comments on “Sailing a dhow to Prison Island

  1. What a wonderful experience it is for the whole family, also an education not worth missing!

  2. Heather,
    Just to let you know that Marlene’s mother passed away New Year’s day, January 1, 2016. The funeral was last week. Marlene doing well under the circumstances! She will be back to the office tomorrow.

    Keep the stories coming… I love it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *