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Published: June 28th 2014
Episode 2: Dazzling Zanzibar.
June 28, 2014.
Hello to all,
We have just spent an excellent five days on the African island of Zanzibar. Highly recommended if you are ever in this part of the world. Although most people have heard of Zanzibar, most would have trouble finding it on a map. It is part of Tanzania, about 2 hours by ferry from Dar es Salaam. It is well known for a few reasons: it was a major hub for the slave and spice trades of yesteryear, it has a wonderful old historic Muslim quarter called Stone Town, and it has sublime white sand beaches with aquamarine water (some of the best beach scenery we have ever seen, as it turned out).
We caught the ferry across to the island, befriending a German girl and Italian guy in the process. The procedure for boarding the ferry was chaotic and intimidating; the four of us formed a sort of interlocked human torpedo and fired our way onto the ferry, as it was the quick or the dead ! Speaking of which, the ferry has twice capsized in the past three years, drowning hundreds, so Ross intently watched the safety video on how to find and wear the life jackets. I was more concerned with popping sea-sick tabs as I had heard the crossing could be rough. But it was all fine, and the indoor air-con first class seats were actually great. The ferry trip was well worth it, since we were destined to have a great time on Zanzibar....
On Zanzibar, we stayed in a charming old place in the heart of Stone Town, the ancient "old" part of town. This World Heritage-listed city is a fascinating maze of narrow cobbled stoned alleys and streets , with numerous old houses, mosques, shops, palaces and bizaars. The whole area feels frozen in time, although mass tourism is diluting the authentic feel . A major feature is the ornate wooden carved doors found on many of the houses, with brass studs and spikes. The more ornate, the more wealthy the occupants. One very early morning, while Ross was still snoozing, I walked through the awakening alleyways, coming across neatly dressed muslin girls all off to school, old men riding bikes, and people selling exotic spices and fruits. There was always something interesting to see.
Unlike the gastronomic minefield that we encountered in Dar, the food in Stone Town ranged from good to excellent. We ate twice at a great tapas and wine bar called The Post, over-looking a nearby busy alleyway (we had the best chorizo we have ever tasted), and also tried out an Ethiopian joint where you eat with your hands and then eat the plate, which was a type of thin pancake thingy. And Ross had coffee that was roasted at the table. We also found a favourite beach side bar called "Livingstones" for happy hour sunsets. Arguably Stone Town's most famous former resident is one Farrokh Bulsara, better known to the world as Freddie Mercury. He was born here; we checked out the joint where he was supposed to have lived, but a few places in town laid claim to it.
One thing that everyone does in Zanzibar is go on a spice tour - the Spice Islands (Zanzibar Archipelago) is of course famous for its spices. The trip goes into the countryside to see the plants which give rise to the various bottles of spices that populate our pantries. We had a great guide and great day - he would walk up to a plant, cut off the leaf or stem, ask us to smell it and guess what it was. We sampled lemongrass that grew as tall as us, encountered bark sliced from a nondescript tree that was clearly cinnamon (although the cinnamon leaves and roots smelt totally different). The big shock was a pale apricot shaped fruit that he pulled from a tree and cut in half to reveal a hard black nut that was criss-crossed in what looked like red plastic strips. He then ground the black nut - it was nutmeg ! We also saw and ate all manner of fruits, including the infamous durian, which is truly foul.
The only downside to Stone Town was the pervasive presence of street touts (called Papasi in local Swahili, meaning “ticks”). They often called out, asking our names, where we were from, and then tried to sell us some shit wooden carvings, some CDs of unknown singers, or a taxi ride. After the first day of such annoying touts, Ross suggested that we respond to their shouting with: "Non comprehendo – No English.” Great idea, I thought, so that is exactly what I said to the the first tout that I encountered on our second day. However, he replied:
“But I spoke to you yesterday. You were wearing the same purple shirt, and you are from Australia. How come you cannot speak English today?”
I said: “The guy you spoke to yesterday was my English-speaking twin brother.”
Ross whispered in my ear: “Ah, Craig…….you just spoke English.” Curses, foiled again.
On another occasion, Ross got cornered by a guy brandishing a woosy little wooden zebra with wheels.
“An excellent gift, my friend, “ he said. “Buy this for your children.”
Ross said: “I don’t have any children.”
He said: “Get some.”
Ross said: “I don't have any because I sold them to buy the plane ticket to come over here.” The guy just stared back in shock.
After Stone Town, we got a transfer 1.5 hours North to Nungwi, famed for its beautiful white sand beaches and clear aquamarine ocean. We passed through some very poor villages on the way, with mud brick houses, lots of people everywhere, busy markets, and cattle being used to pull carts full of fruit or loads of wood. The countryside was very nice, with Muslim kids all walking home from school and with palm trees and banana trees lining the road. We finally got to Nungwi village - which again was clearly very impoverished - and then - a shock - the bumpy dirt road opened onto a series of upmarket hotels, eateries and bars, all lining the water, and a party atmosphere. The juxtaposition of the poor local lifestyle and the hedonistic Western style bars and eateries was jarring. But, anyway, we stayed in a more modest bungalow right on the water. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Bars perched on wooden stilts such that they hung out over the azure water, with white sand beaches stretching into the distance and traditional dhow sailing boats with their white sails plying the ocean. We had an excellent time here, swimming, eating and drinking our way about the place. A highlight was a place called Langi Langi, which played groovy tunes and served the best Swahili curries while we sat watching the setting sun over the ocean. (Den, Wendy, Mum, Dad, Mark, Ross , Lisa, Leon and Bryan, you would all love it).
The days have been warm and sunny, about 28 -30 degrees. A far cry from the sombre Melbourne winter that we left some seven days ago.
Well, that is enough about coastal Tanzania. Now we are headed for where the wild things are. Grrrrr.
Craig (and Ross).
After tourism, cloves are Zanzibar's biggest money-spinner.
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