Monday, October 26, 2009

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Quickly after stepping off the train into chaotic Dar es Salaam, we feel an immediate need to flee to the sandy white beaches of Zanzibar. The next day we board a large ferry for the short ride to the Spice Island. Halfway through the journey, we bump into Tank and Daniel again and decide to surrender to fate and unite. Together, we step off the ferry into the crowded port and received the symbolic Zanzibar entry stamp (Zanzibar was an independent nation until 1964 when it joined with mainland Tanganyika to form present day Tanzania and the islanders cling to their sovereign past).

Afterwards, we head into Stone Town in search of cheap accommodation. Hawkers stick to us wazungu (foreigners) like glue, trying to sell trips or get commission from hotels they recommend. They are very friendly despite their pushiness and we quickly get used to the attention. Hundreds of years ago, powerful sultans ruled Zanzibar which was an important trading port for Africa, the Middle East and India. We enjoy the unique culture and the historical buildings as we snake through the labyrinth of skinny avenues that crawl past stone buildings with the famous Zanzibar doors. After settling in at a cheap hotel, we enjoy our first Kilimanjaro beer and plan our next move.

Soon we head for the water. Inspired by the frequent guidebook photo of young locals diving off walls, we go to the stone wall near the Old Fort. I stay with our bags and the guys leap off the wall. I watch and chat with onlookers, mostly the young boys from said photos. They quickly join Clay, Tank and Daniel who are enjoying the refreshing water. Because of a strong Islamic tradition in Tanzania- and in Zanzibar it's even more prolific- women are covered from head to toe and tourists are encouraged not to bear too much skin. I don't want to offend or shock but the water is too tempting. As soon as the guys come out I hand Clay our stuff and quickly jump in. Just what I needed after a simmering day. I cover myself in a sarong when I leave the water and climb the stone steps. Soon the local kids are doing tricks off the wall and showing off for us. Our Zanzibar adventure has begun.

Next we get some beers and "park cheese" -Tank and Daniel speak for chill- on the local beach. There are several boats tied up to the shore, sunset cruises passing by and local kids enjoying what must be their one millionth swim in the turquoise water. The atmosphere is perfect. We relax on the sand and meet friendly locals who will be selling seafood at the fish market later. One man in particular, Ali, joins our little party on the beach and makes us promise to come to his stall at the market. As the sun drops out of sight our stomachs are growling. We head to the fish market which is surprisingly well-organized. Chefs in white hats are assisted by local fisherman who eagerly help customers choose from the many skewers of fish, octopus, shrimp, crab and lobster. After making our selections, they throw it on the charcoal grill with some coconut bread or falafel. It is fresh and delicious. I have a fresh sugar cane and ginger juice to accompany my barracuda and shrimp. After we are stuffed and happy we walk to Ali's favorite reggae bar to have a few more Kilis and reflect on our new love for Stone Town.

1 comment:

foster said...

Man! I want to wander those narrow streets and admire the intricate doors and colorful shutters! Great story,too - a slice of your life in paradise.