Stone Town wanderings
Trip Start Dec 27, 2010
56Trip End Jul 06, 2011
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It seems a little known fact that 'Zanzibar' actually refers to the Archipelago, which also includes Pemba to the north as well as countless smaller islands/sand bars in the area.
We were destined to be in the thick of crowds all morning, arriving downstairs at the Jambo Inn Hotel's usually deserted breakfast room to find it full of expectant people at empty tables. There wasn't a waiter or a plate of food in sight. Knowing we had to be off we left all the other long
faces to enjoy a cheap breakfast around the corner at chef's pride
After breakfast we gathered our bag and walked the few blocks to the ferry terminal. We were booked on the Kilimanjaro II, the fastest ferry in available, with Azam Marine Co - not to be confused with the very popular Azam Ice Cream Co, although I believe they are the same company. Onc we arrived we were amazed to find that it was an actual lounge, with TV and air con and everything - luxury! We spent the next 40 minutes making fun of the fact that CNN even pretends to be a news channel, when really it just appears to be the launching pad for B-grade actors and the place that failed screenplay writers go to die. Hilarious.
We shuffled from the waiting room down to an area on the dockside reminiscent of a cattle yard and waited for the previous passengers to depart before hopping on-board. The seats were comfy, the air con was blasting and the views were good
was right in front of us, and it took my mind off my slight nausea at the rolling of the ship as it zoomed out of Dar, heading north west to Zanzibar. The trip was pretty uneventful, except for Josh's spotting of the largest sea turtle I have ever seen. It was enormous! Probably a metre and a half long and a beautiful light brown colour. Amazing.
It took longer than I expected to get to Stone Town, but after a while we arrived safe and sound. It was a slightly confusing 5 minute sidetrack through customs, where even our vaccination booklets were examined (knew I got vaccinated for a reason) before we hopped in a cab to Kokoni's Hotel. The place is situated on a beautiful little courtyard with a huge tree. The entrance was a little dark but the floors are tiled with beautiful ornate tiles and the steep dark wood staircase in the centre spirals up towards the sky and open air dining room on the
roof. The whole place is lovely. Our room was a little on the small side, but it was spotless and had a lot of character - with ornate tile details, wooden shutters on all the windows which let in a welcome sea breeze
We decided to find some lunch and then lose ourselves in the maze that is Stone Town. We
set off and a fw blocks later we found a vendor selling nundu (marinated and tastily spiced cow's fat on a skewer - health food of a nation) and tandoori chicken being cooked over a half gallon drum full of charcoal and a recycled coat-hanger grill. So we ordered some with a couple of chapatis and cokes and sat under an umbrella for our feast. All in all it cost about $4. Yum.
After our lunch we rambled along the waterfront for a spot of site seeing. First we passed the Old Dispensary building which was imposing even from the street. Next we came across the Palace Museum, which we entered for a quick tour. The old rooms are still intact with the furniture of the first and subsequent Sultans of Zanzibar. After that we were pretty thirsty so we perambulated in the nearby Forodhani Gardens with a bottle of water. The gardens overlook the harbour and attract quite a few toursits during the day, but also act as the site of nightly food market - a maelstrom of charcoal barbecues, hungry locals and some amazing seafood.
Next stop was the aptly named House of Wonders, hich was built in 1883 as part of Sultan Barghash's building spree. It was the tallest building in East africa for a long time and also was the first in EA to have running water and an electric light and lift. So there you go. The building
is guarded by a pair of Portuguese canons that were captured by the Persians in the seige of Hormuz in 1662
Following on from the House of Wonders we wandered into the Old Fort, aka Ngome Kongwe.
It was built in 1698 when the Omani's expelled the Portuguese from the island. The place is an amazing old thing, squatting on the harbour side. We had a look around, I was taught how to play a game that is kind of like backgammon by a man who then insisted that I buy the board we were playing on (another 'f-off I'm not giving you money' scenario ensued - which has been tiring for a while now). We enjoyed another refreshing beverage in the shade at the western end of the Fort before heading towards home.
We zigzagged our way through the cool, wonky, disorienting alley ways that Stone Town is famous for for almost half an hour (the place is quite small so eventually ou end up being spat out somewhere kilometres from your intended destination into the rest of modern Zanzibar Town. We actually happened across two of the other famous sites in ST - The slave market and the Anglican Cathedral. The market was closed reluctantly in 1873, and the foundation for the church on the same site was laid on Christmas day that year. The building of the slave market is surprisingly benign - a light and airy attractive place with staircases and lovely terracotta colour tiles. Under one of the staircases, however, is the door leading down to the underground holding cells for slaves awaiting sale
After a well deserved rest we took another wander through the beautiful alleys of stone town (unfortunately besmirched with tourist souvenir shops at nearly every turn), though the night market and long the now very busy seaside to our dinner destination. For those of you who don't know, Freddie Mercury, the legendary lead singer of the band Queen was actually born Farrohk Bulsara in Zanzibar. Although he left for India when he was only 4 there are a whole number of Freddie-related things to do in Zanzibar. We chose to pay our respects by attending Mercury's seaside bar and restaurant for din-dins that night. We were both stoked to find that the place actually served great food as well as playing non-stop Queen hits - add a cocktail list a foot long and you have the makings of a great night. Although we arrived a little after the crowds and didn't have a booking we soon became fast friends with the head honcho waitress who managed to snaffle us a table right at the edge of the verandah only a metre or so from the water. Lovely! We dinner on yet another seafood platter, which was delicious, minus me ingesting what appeared to be a big, nasty clutch of octopus eggs. But hey, who can be unhappy with seafood, the ocean, a balmy breeze and great company?
day 2 by josh
we got up early and headed up to the roof to enjoy a meagre breakfast of eggs and toast, accompanied by Masala Chai tea. from here we could see the roofs of many of the old buildings in stonetown, including the spires of the anglican cathedral we happened across (the one above the slavemarkets). we had arranged to meet our guide at 9 for the spice tour.
when we got to the palace museum, our guide was not a guide at all, but one of the endless ranks of middlemen who tee up things for a price that includes their fee and then they ask for a tip.
our 'guide' suggested that we do the trip to prison island and our snorkelling first as the sea was calm.
our 'guide' turns to us and says "I forgot to tell you, there is an entrance fee of $4 US each" which was and is utter bullshit, blind profiteering and the most common of all the endemic swindles in east africa. Evelyn, not taking an inch of his crap, says all was included in the money that we spent already ($40 US)
we walked to the town beach to where a large cargo ship was unloading and a few dhows were tethered. he hands us over to the other middle man who arranges the boat. he says to us "do not pay for anything at there, you have already paid for everything"
our boat captain zips us out through the small channel to the third island in a little change. the privately owned historic Prison Island (don't worry its just a name, its really a resort... perhaps a prison for Seychelles tortoises)
cap'n walks us into the the reception, he pays the fee and then takes us into the prison island tortoise penitentiary. i was wondering if this is where Lonesome George, the last of the Giant Tortoise impatiently waits to stop grieving. it wasn't. right next to the entrance a tortoise is munching on a cabbage leaf and another one sits on the path, two metres along. in fact, simultaneously, looking at two different tortoises (tortoisi?) Evelyn and i say "found him!"
it took me a little while to stop evelyn taking photos of the cabbage eater and come to gawk at another not-so-lonesome George mounting a not-so-lonesome-Georgina
I have heard that retirement villages are a place for the old wrinklies to swing, well this was a tropical island retirement village for tortulean inclined. to our right was fifty to sixty tortoise, with one supposedly 145 year old having a good go at beating the spectre of extinction.
we were taken to a pen to see the week old babies, feeding on mango (they were isolated in a cage so to avoid being stomped on by their great great grandparents, or goofy footed tourists) another pen housed the 1-3 year olds, and what I thought was a leopard tortoise (named as a Lake Victoria Tortoise, and i'm not a biologist so who am i to argue, but it looked like the other two leopard tortoises i saw on safari...)
the tortoises found themselves on the island back in the days of the powerful Omani/Zanzibari
sultanate. they were traded for Zanzibari plants with the Sultan of of Seychelles. After a few robberies (turtle rustling) they were moved to prison island.
Prison island gets its name from the ruined gaol on its eastern side. The Italian owners had restored the ruins to be a courtyard where barbeques could be held for the guests that they get when they open the resort (December January only)
this island was predictably filled with white tourists, seeing as though we swarm like maggots over anything that turns into hotel to slow its decay. And that goes for all of Stonetown. i forgot i was in Africa, and felt like I was in The Rocks, still surrounded by tourists, just harder to get a good steak and a cold drink.
our guide showed us the old prison door, which was made a couple of hundred years ago. to show us how sturdy it was, he tried to pick out some slithers of wood.
It wasnt yet lunch time, but we had seen all there was to see on the island so we arranged to go snorkelling. it turns out that having paid for everything didnt mean we had everything with us. so we had to hire mask snorkel and flippers from another, more well provisioned bot (likely in co-hoots with our tour) for another 10,000. We didnt want to pay, and said we'll talk about it with the guide back in stonetown. we went snorkelling. here there was wave action from the ocean. the coral wasn't as good as peponi, nor were the fish as varied, but it was within an easy swim distance from the shore. The most interesting thing we saw was a garfish (interesting as in we had previously seen the clown fish and the angelfish, but not the garfish)
we went back to shore, and our boat guy made a jerk of himself dancing on about the hire of the snorkelling gear, so we paid him begrudgingly.
we went to have a perfectly serviceable lunch at a place right near where we landed. its menu had seagull on it, but i must have needed iron more that salt and got a boring option: beef burger.
after lunch we went back to the guide for our spice tour. here we got our money's worth our spice guide (David) and our taxi driver (amani) were very knowledgeable, and showed us many spices, and even though we are both foodies it took us a while to guess a number of
the spices. Cinnamon smells different at root, bark and leaf, so there you go.
we then got another coconut episode
and no one here knows the lion king's song! (Josh is just bitter because he can't eat coconut, I laugh and clap and am happy every time still - Ev)
another local had made a number of palm weaving oddities, such as a crown, a hat, a tie, a frog-shaped necklace and a handbag
we also noticed a number of small glass ampoules dotting the surface of the ground. this was from when the revolution came, the english hospital was sacked and its grounds turned into a school yard (all of those kiddywinkies becoming heroin addicts due to the ready supply of
morphine in the water table)
we also saw the endemic Zanzibarian Red Colobus Monkey, saving us the trouble of going to the only national park on the island.
we returned to stonetown some time before dinner, which was to be at the old fort for a cultural dance and meal. the meal cost 30,000 included a 3 hour african music and dance show (no explaantions as to where these dances originated or ther cultural sgnificance) with a glass of wine and a barbequed dinner. we seemed to be one of two tables who had paid for the dinner of lobster chicken kingfish and salads. the fort had put on a sumptious banquet, so it soon became all you can eat lobster
our doing day was done.
the next day we were to go to Paje for the week of resort living that Evie had been looking forward to all holiday.Stone Town, Zanzibar