Zanzibar


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Africa » Tanzania
March 31st 2014
Published: March 31st 2014
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Feb 18

An early morning walk along the waterfront and through some of picturesque, narrow streets of Stone town before having breakfast on the ocean front restaurant of the Tembo. Cloves and Zanzibar are synonymous ( in my mind anyway) so it seemed very appropriate to have clove coffee - yum.

Our guide Moosa and the Island Express bus met us outside the hotel for our day of sightseeing on the way to the northern most tip of Zanzibar and the Z hotel. First stop was a money exchange. Already we had noticed that things were cheaper when paid for in Tanzania shillings - and all we had was US dollars ( which had worked so far). While the guys did some high finances, the rest of us got a chance for our first wander around outside the tourist area. Fortunately we had already been told that while the three religions ( Muslim, Hindu and Christian) live peaceably together, the Muslim culture appears to dominate, so I was very glad we had taken this into account and were conservatively dressed.

The walking tour began at the site of the old Slave Market on the east side of town.

"During the reign of the Omani Arabs in the early 19th century, Zanzibar was the main slave trading point of East Africa. Slaves bought and caught on the mainland were shipped to Zanzibar, where they were re-sold and further transported to Seychelles, Mauritius, Oman and Persia. In those days, the slave market of Stone Town was easily accessible by sea, as the artificial extension of land had not occurred yet. 15 chambers under the earth were used for storing the slaves. The chambers had low ceilings and tiny windows. Sea water running through the damp rooms functioned as toilets. The slaves were chained on the bare stone, separated in male and female compartments. Many did not survive the cramped living conditions due to exhaustion and sickness.

To fetch a higher price, the slaves were often cleaned before taken to the market in the late afternoon. Men and boys had their skins oiled and females were dressed in nice cloth, sometimes even adorned with necklaces and bracelets. Lined up from the smallest to the tallest they had to walk through the market, whilst their owner announced their price. Prospected buyers had the possibility to inspect physique, mouth, teeth and eyes of the slaves. A large tree was used as a whipping post to show the strength of the slaves. Those who did not cry fetched a higher price. The whip used was often the tail of a stingray. After being sold to the highest bidder, slaves were brought to the plantations or houses of their new owners on Zanzibar or shipped to other destinations.

Following the closure of the Slave Market by Sultan Barghash in 1873, missionaries bought the site and built the Anglican Cathedral (Cathedral Church of Christ) on this location and freed slaves helped with its construction under the guidance of Bishop Edward Steere. The altar of the cathedral stands on the spot of the whipping tree. A window is dedicated to Dr. David Livingstone, the initiator of the abolition of slavery. The church's crucifix is made from the wood of a tree in Zambia, under which the heart of Livingstone is buried. Behind the cathedral there is a stone sculpture of five slaves in a pit, tied with original iron shackles and chains".

Only two of the original 15 holding chambers are accessible today. It was rather disturbing to see old diagrams of how the slaves were packed ( both horizontally and vertically in the trading ships) - and the size (or lack of) of the holding chambers!!!

Then it was off to explore the Old Town Market which has architectural influences from all the areas that had traded here - East Africa, Arabia, Iran and India. The buildings are made from sandstone and with fascinating doorways - the door is traditionally the first part of a house to be erected and the size and amount of decorations gave an indication of the wealth of the owner. Many of the doors had brass "studs" a fashion from India where they were put on doors to stop elephants entering. The market itself was like many others that we have explored - each street had similar vendors so you didn't have to travel far to compare goods and prices.

Mossa's job as a tour guide was a bit like "herding cats" 12 people fascinated with what was going on around them, stopping to take photos, lingering to take a longer look at something. He got all our attention when he made a stop at a kanga stand - these are the colourful pieces of cloth that we had seen the Maasai women wearing - each one has a Swahili saying along the bottom so choosing one wasn't all about the colour.. Kelly and Carolyn were "dressed up" so that we could see some of the traditional East African clothing. There were "tourist" kanga as well ( no appropriate or inappropriate sayings on these ones) and a few purchases were made.

Before entering the fish market we were advised to swing any bags to the front and to pair up so we could keep an eye on each other - it was somewhat crowded inside - no refrigeration and lots of smelly fly covered fish of all types on display on wooden blocks.

The final stop was to visit the Sultans Palace ( Beit el Sahel) which was built in the late 19th century as a home for the sultan and was made into a museum in 1994. Lots of the original furnishings from all over the world - somehow I imagined sultans and their many wives reclining on cushions not upright, hard carved furniture.

Back on the road again we made a welcome lunch stop at M'toni Marine, a restaurant (and hotel) right on the ocean. A couple of really interesting items on the menu were impala and warthog!!!! The food was excellent.

Onward to the Spice Tour. Although this would make the third spice plantation that Kelly and I have been on, each tour has shown us something different. Zanzibar is known as the spice island with spices (especially cloves) becoming a mainstay of the economy after the abolition of the slave trade. As Moosa walked us around the plantation, we had the opportunity to smell and taste various leaves to see if we could guess the spice. Black pepper, cloves, cardigan, cinnamon, turmeric, vanilla, chile, all spice and my personal favourite - nutmeg with its lacy red covering of mace - this is the only plant that provides two different spices. We were also introduced to the iodine plant, the lipstick tree, henna bush and coffee bushes. And then there was the fruit! A local fellow climbed a coconut palm whilst serenading us and doing acrobatic tricks and then we were able to drink fresh green coconut juice. Moosa 's assistant was kept busy gathering various spices and weaving us some great accessories - ties and crowns for the guys, frog necklaces and tiaras for the girls and a pair of glasses for Jan. The finale was a tropical fruit tasting - jack fruit, pineapple, banana, green coconut juice, oranges, lychee. And of course there was the stands selling soaps and spices.

Back of the road and we continued north through the tropical lushness, through small villages. Finally we reached the northern tip and drove through the village of Nungwi - a rough road, some very basic stone buildings - then the bus turned into a narrow alley that opened into the compact courtyard of the Z hotel. White sand and turquoise water in front of us - nice!!! A warm welcome from Julie, the English manager and then a slow ( even by African standards) transfer to our rooms. Us and the Asquiths had upgraded to the ocean front cottages - wow!!!! At high tide, the sea comes up underneath the stilted balcony area off the downstairs living area. Upstairs was the bedroom with a smaller balcony and Hibiscus flowers strewn on the turquoise bed spread. And don't forget the TV artfully nestled in the mosquito netting at the foot of the bed!!!!

It wasn't long before we all gravitated to the infinity pool and the beach - ah the warm water of the Indian Ocean - although theoretically we were swimming in the 56 km wide channel that separates Zanzibar from mainland Tanzania. A few cocktails later ( yum, they have dawa's although they are made with gin and called dawn of zanzibar) and it was time for food at the open air Cinnamon Restaurant- actually all restaurants here seem to be open air. And then sleep to the sound of waves.

Feb 19th - my birthday !!!!

The next three days followed a pattern of a lot of relaxing mixed with some exploring. A short walk north along the beach and through some hotel frontage was the fishing village of Nungwi. While we never got up early enough to see the fish being brought to the market there was always some fishing activity going on. There were many dhows (a traditional Arab boat that has triangle shaped sails) anchored off shore. Nets were being sorted and mended. Boats with motors moving about their activities .The most entertaining activity was watching the heavy wooden boats being pushed into the waves. Sometimes successful and other times not ( capsizing in the waves). There was also a boat building yard here and although there were a number of wooden boats in various stages of construction, we never saw any actual work.

An alternative to walking back along the beach was to cut through the houses, giving us a closer look at the village we had driven though when arriving. We had been warned before we left that this was a a conservative Muslim village so we dressed appropriately and we had also been told not to take photos without asking permission. -apart from some of the fishermen, no one did want their photo taken so we developed the habit of just shooting from the hip and hoping that something decent would turn out. My favorite sight was the little girls with their head coverings, which looked like a round hole had been cut into a table cloth and then their faces poked through.

Swimming was the major activity of the day. The beach was very flat and as the tide went out a very long way, rocky coral was exposed. So it was somewhat painful to try to get to deeper water except at high tide.

There was a small supermarket right next door to the Z hotel (water and wine) and right next to that was a crafts market - most of the items we had seen on the trip so far was for sale here. An addition was the paintings done in the Tanzanian Tinga Tinga style - using very colourful enamel paints and incorporating lots of tiny dots. A short stroll further south down the beach, a Maasai crafts market was set up. Same things for sale but the sellers were dressed in traditional Maasai clothing. This group was also seen doing some aggressive selling on the beach.

On our very first afternoon captain Marco Polo came along offering a great deal on a boat trip that seemed like a good idea at the time. However, we soon noticed that the sea was pretty rough and a boat trip seemed like a recipe for sea sickness - so that offer was declined. He also recommend Baraka beach restaurant which we went to for my birthday dinner (after a small celebration on our balcony drinking champagne courtesy of the Z ) A table on the sand and pretty decent food at reasonable prices even though it took forever to be fed!!!!

Breakfast was included at the hotel and that was eaten overlooking the ocean. Typical buffet style with all the fresh tropical fruit you desired along with cereals, omelettes etc. A storm had recently removed quite a bit of the thatch from the roof and it was quite entertaining to watch the way they repaired it. Common sense dictates that the person on the ladder would climb down each time the ladder had to be moved - but it was obviously more convenient for the fellow to hang onto the rafters ( 50 feet above the ground) while the ladder was moved under him - and then he would climb back on and continue working.

One afternoon a group of local women were seen walking along in the shallow water with a fishing net. They were fully clothed with silver pots of their heads ( took a while to realize this was where they put any fish they caught) and DID NOT LIKE anyone taking photos or coming too close. It was pretty obvious that they resented all the swimsuit clad tourists in THEIR fishing grounds. Interesting to watch.

Apart from snacks ordered from the pool bar, the favourite restaurant was the Langilangi. Finally a menu that featured Zanzibari cuisine. Items like papaya njugu pililpili salad( papaya, peanuts and chilli), Mr Hatari chile kali chicken and hot beef masala ballaa - very delicious curries made even better by the location with waves crashing underneath the stilted wood slatted deck. And the time it took to get fed here? Let's just say we were on holiday and weren't going anywhere in a hurry.

Since the very beginning of the trip, members of our group had been succumbing to various short term ailments but here in Zanzibar they appeared to be of the GI variety. Standing at the bar one day watching the ice for my Dawa being crushed in the bartenders hand caused me some worries ( a couple of travel rules being broken right there) but I was one of the 4 that remained unscathed. Maybe the alcohol content of the locally made gin killed any germs, maybe it was sheer luck.

Our final evening we had cocktails in Doug and Jan's rooftop suite - in hindsight this was a better choice than the ocean front cottages - huge room with a HUGE deck and low hanging thatched palm roof that provided shade.

Our flight from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam left at 7:15 pm and our departure from the hotel was 5pm - this didn't seem to allow much time to get to the airport and certainly didn't allow for any traffic incidents. Ron and Terry were connecting to a flight to Paris from Dar and the 7:15 departure gave them a 30 minute connection time. From our experience when arriving we knew that this was an impossibility so they changed to an earlier flight and arranged with Island Express to pick them up shortly after 1 pm - we ALL decided to leave at the same time as this would give us some more time in Stonetown before heading to the airport. At this point we left Doug and Jan who were leaving a couple of days later for South Africa.

Wandering around the streets, buying last minute souvenirs and gifts - the perfect way to end the vacation. A fellow selling spices glomed onto Kelly and refused to take no for an answer and followed us everywhere. Back to the Livingstone Beach Restaurant for snacks and a final dawa and it was off to the airport.

The Zanair flight departed 45 mins late - another small plane, a 12 seater caravan which deposited us right outside the international terminal in Dar. We had tried to check in online earlier but because we had a connection through the states we were not able to. In addition, some of our group were flying direct to Vancouver from Amsterdam and we were hoping we might be able to do the same. The fellow at check in took me to the depths of the terminal where I talked to an operations officer. Not only could we NOT change our flight, but we were in danger of not getting on the first leg as it was already full and we hadn't checked in! So back to the front counter ( through the bowels of the airport by myself - good security) and a bit of an anxious time while a manual checkin had to be done and thankfully us and the Asquiths got the last four seats. Many security checks later and we were on our way to Amsterdam where we said farewell to Carolyn, Duncan, Leslie and Jamie who were flying direct to Canada while we went through another rigorous security check prior to our flights to the States. Note to self, avoid flying through the states but at least our flights were a lot cheaper.

32 hours of travelling and we were finally home after a trip of a lifetime

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10th April 2014
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