Stone Town: Zanzibar

20130210-202911.jpgStone Town, Zanzibar

We woke up dark and early the morning after the Serengeti tour to start our 14-hour drive to Dar Es Salaam. The drive was fairly uneventful and long, and the traffic as we reached the city was atrocious. It rained as we arrived at the campsite, but Kelsi and I braved the weather, passed on the sleeping upgrade and set up our tent in the dark and the damp.
Our Dar Es Salaam campsite was lovely. Right on the Indian Ocean with a great bar looking out to the water. We had a couple of beers with the boys before bed and then up early to head to Zanzibar.
It took three bus rides, two ferries and a customs stop to reach Stone Town. Everyone has to go through customs to get to the island. It’s an unusual system; Zanzibar has its own government and flag, and passports must be stamped upon entry. Still, the island is part of Tanzania, and the government has to answer to Tanzania’s rules.
The trip over was muggy and hot. We dragged our feet from bus to ferry and back in a pool of sweat. While we waited in line for the first ferry a local man snatched Sarah’s camera from her bag. She yelled at him as he passed it to his friend, then Kelsi grabbed it out of one guy’s hand to get it back. We glared at them as they walked away while some other locals snickered in amusement. A close call and another great welcoming.
For the second ferry, we opted for the fast version. This meant, for $8 extra, we reached the island in a quick 1-hour excursion instead of an excruciating 4-hour trek. Although the ferry was air conditioned, I’m not sure if I could have handled a four hour trip. When the waves picked up, the boat was sickening. Our trip over wasn’t bad, but the ride back was so choppy, I woke up from a short nap with half the people around me vomiting into bags. People wretched over the side of the boat, and locals lay down in the aisles with their heads in the complimentary barf bags. I had to walk outside to avoid the sounds and smells or I would have joined in on the festivities.
By midday we arrived in Stone Town: 95% Muslim population, a huge supplier of various spices and a central port for the once African slave trade. Stone Town is a quaint city with a combination of Arab and Indian architecture mixed in with local stonework. The city is filled with stone ramparts, stone homes, stone boardwalks and the such. We stayed right in the heart of the city, half a block from the beach, in a hotel called the Karibu Inn (or Caribooin as I wrote on my customs card because I apparently can’t understand Tanzanian accents). It was a great location.
The first thing we did was head out on a spice tour. Although a six-hour tour about spices seemed a little daunting after such a long trek, we had heard great things about the tour from other travelers. In the end, I think everyone was satisfied with the excursion.
The tour began with a free lunch. Two of our woo girls had been feeling ill for a couple days and opted out on lunch. This was perfect for the rest of us, who were starving, and took advantage of “secondsies” by ordering for them and eating two meals ourselves.
When we were satisfyingly stuffed, we drove the half hour out of town to the spice groves. Our guide, Ali D (not to be confused with Ali G), was one of the most unusual characters I’ve ever met. His Tanzanian accent was muddled with this bizarre cockney slang that made him sound ridiculous. Over his years as a tour guide, he had picked up a million colloquial phrases from Australians, Canadians, Kiwis and the British that all mixed into one very strange sounding man. He would normally use about three different accents in every sentence which made us all crack up in laughter every time he explained anything to us. He did have a pretty good sense of humour, and was also pretty good at straying off topic. Nonetheless, the spice tour was very informative.
The thing I found most unusual about the spice groves was how everything was laid out. I was expecting row after row of pepper trees, then a whole field devoted to vanilla followed by a grove of nutmeg. When we got there however, it was just a forest of scattered plants and trees. The harvesters have to walk through the different plants, remembering where each tree is, so that the crop can be picked. Zanzibar grows a LOT of spices. As we walked around the place we got to taste and learn about each spice. We tried lemongrass, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamon, and pepper among many other things. We also got to try star fruit and lychees, fresh mangoes and jack fruit (a pineapple/banana tasting fruit that is surprisingly delicious!). When we had successfully explored the spice farm, we all got to sit down and enjoy some fresh fruits and hot tea, we had lemongrass with vanilla extract, a strong chai tea and a third one, with ginger that I’ve forgotten the name of now. Lemongrass and vanilla was Kelsi and my personal favourite.
When the tasting was over, we went back to get a quick walking tour of Stone Town. Although we did learn some things, this is where I felt that the tour fell flat. I would have loved to learn more about the slave trade and the architecture, but the information was minimal and didn’t stand out in my mind. We did get to check out the slave holding areas, which were small dungeon-like stone basements that held 75 or so slaves chained together. The heat was excruciating, and the only air and light was from small slit windows on the far side of the room. The one we sat in was made for women and children. Sadly, only able bodied women and children older than six were allowed in the market. The others were simply murdered. The area where the trading went on is now covered by a church. It was the Christians who finally came in and stopped the slave market from continuing. To remember and pray for the souls of those who had lived or died there, they built a large church right in the middle of the market.
The Stone Town tour concluded our trip for the day. We made it back in time to have a quick shower, a beer on the beach and then to the open market for dinner. Kelsi, Nick, Sandy and I were so hungry and excited by the time we hit the food market that we forgot to set prices before we ordered and ate. Only a couple bites into the food we realized we were about to get severely ripped off like ignorant white tourists. We couldn’t even do anything about it. Four experienced travelers, and yet all we could do was sit around, waiting to hear the bad news of how much everything was going to cost us. In the end we paid fancy restaurant prices for sub par street food prices and couldn’t argue a bit. Our fault entirely, c’est la vie! We needed a beer…
So the four of us headed out to Freddy Mercury’s bar (Freddy Mercury was actually born in Zanzibar) and started drinking. Before long, the world’s worst singer came out with a keyboard piano and butchered all our favourite classic songs. I don’t have great ear for music, I must admit. Even tone deaf people sound not half bad to me. But this guy had some weird, echoey trill to his voice that sounded a lot like his microphone was just busted. To ease the pain, we began playing drinking games. Before long, the musician was just background static and we were having a blast.
When Freddy’s closed, the bartender took us to a local outdoor nightclub where we could dance the night away. We partied until Sandy “wigged” out. Then, to make an excruciatingly long story short, there was some drama, a missing persons report, some angry nail painting, and finally a comfortable sleep in an actual bed: our first long day in Zanzibar completed.
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