Much easier on the way back

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Monday, May 28, 2007

What we have seen so far of Zanzibar is pretty similar to the coastal part of Tanzania we have been living in for the last few weeks - palm trees, palatals, tiny stores, beautiful sea views.  The roads are infinitely better here though, no doubt because of the tourists, and people look a little bit better off, probably for the same reason.

We find a hotel along one of Stone Town's narrow alleys and take a much-needed nap.  We wake up in the evening, refreshed, and head down to the Forodhani Gardens, renowned as one of the best night-time food markets in the world.  It is only small, probably fifty metres end to end, but has an amazing array of options, mainly seafood, served from little stalls.  Octopus, squid, all manner of shrimp, lobster, crab, barracuda, shark, salmon, tuna and many other types of fish can be bought, in little portions.  I have a big chunk of calamari and a shark kebab, served with a samosa and hot sauce.  Jane, with her seafood allergy ruling out most things, opts for the delicious Zanzibari pizza.  It is a thin chapati filled with onions, cheese, mayo, minced beef, local spices and an egg, made and friend up in front of you.  For dessert we try pretty much the same thing but with banana and chocolate inside.

For the next couple of days we wander around the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town, still hardly believing our luck in actually being here.  Like Venice it is impossible to not get lost within the unmarked alleys so you just go with the flow.  Along with seafood, Zanzibar is famous for its painting and crafts and there are dozens of little stores bulging with beautiful art.  You have to bargain hard here, it's a buyers market but the sellers don't let you believe it.  We have our heard set on these two awesome matching paintings of gyrating Africans at a 'special price' of US$50.  But then we end up finding three matching paintings of Maasai warriors, almost as nice, for less than $12 together.

Most paintings follow similar themes: Maasai warriors, gyrating Africans, dhows in the sunset or shadowy Stone Town side streets.  One that catches our eye immediately is a large portrait of a guy who looks like Saddam Hussein.  Behind him are several crosses bearing names like Gandhi, Milosevic, Bob Marley, Pope John Paul II, Hitler, Malcolm X and, bizarrely, George Best.

"Excuse me," I ask the painter, a Muslim guy with a rasta hat sitting in the corner, "is this Saddam Hussein?"

"Yes, our fallen hero."

"Hero?  Wasn't he a dictator who killed thousands of his own people?"

"Yes.  Very good man.  Many Americans killed.  These are other fallen heroes," he says, pointing to the names on the crosses.  

"So you like Milosevic too?"

"Yes.  Very good man.  Many Americans dead."

"And Hitler?  You must love him."

"Yes.  Very good man.  And you see I have Bob Marley too.  Very good music."

"Well, it's certainly unique.  I can't think of many painters who would have Idi Amin resting in peace next to George Best."

"Yes.  Unique.  You very good man - how much you pay for it?"

Stone Town's heyday was during the slave trade era (roughly from the sixteenth century through to 1907) and there are a few reminders, including the site of the old slave market.  The missionaries built a big old Anglican church over the actual market to encourage people to forget about the ugly past.  

You can still visit the slave dungeons that are underneath the neighbouring Catholic hostel.  The dungeons comprise two small rooms that housed the slaves before they were taken to the market.  One room, probably five square metres, held fifty men and the larger one, about seven by seven, squeezed in seventy-five women and children.  They were fed very little with the idea that the weak ones would die and the survivors would be fit for sale.  A similar concept was employed at the slave market.  The slaves would be whipped in front of the buyers to show which ones were strong enough to become working slaves.  Because the church covers the market site, you have to use a lot of imagination and the 3500 shilling entry fee is a bit high for that.

We decide, without too much debate, to return to the mainland via the more usual tourist route, the ferry to Dar es Salaam.  We can still taste the salt on our lips and feel the communal fear we shared with the other passengers when the sail and motor both broke on the dhow (see previous entry).  In addition to the comfort and safety issues that the dhow presents, we also learn that it is illegal for tourists to travel on these boats, following the recent incident in which a dhow sunk on the same route we took.  Good to know.

To buy the ferry tickets we have to go to the ferry terminal at the northwest edge of Stone Town.  There are many touts here and they are all very insistent.  Because there isn't really anywhere to go apart from the ticket booths, they have you as a captive audience and are reluctant to leave you alone.  Jane decides to take a different approach from the usual polite "no thank you".  The first guy approaches.

"Ah, hello my friends, where are you going?  I can help you buy ticket!"

"Hneva ma, ze tu mate tolko vela ryb a nemate tu tresku.  Ja mam rada tresku.  Zanzibar je pekny," responds Jane in her native Slovak.  ("I'm sad because you have so much seafood here yet you don't have any tresku [fish salad].  I love fish salad.  Zanzibar is nice though.")

The guy looks a bit surprise but, to his credit, he responds in kind.

"Yurgen shleppen haff ze kleineshpugel, remdee hoikel poikel barden blurgee blugel."

"Mas peknu koselu." (I like your shirt.)

"Nimka roopy doopy dongel."

I chip in with "moje hlava je velka". (My head is big.)

"Ah, la voola bella shnolka nosty tama."

This walk and talk has gathered the attention of several other touts, intrigued by the battle of wits between the Slovak-speaking mzungu and the local guy making up his own language.  By this time we have reached the ticket office.  We walk inside where the touts cannot follow.

The 400-capacity 'Flying Horse' ferry is reassuringly large and modern, not made out of wood and it even has seats on it.  All foreigners are immediately sent to the 'VIP Lounge' of the boat, whether they want to be or not.  This is the upper-most deck, a large space with comfortable armchairs, sofas, a TV and even mattresses on the floor.  We seem to be the only passengers in the VIP lounge so we stake our claim on the comfiest looking mattress in the quietest part of the lounge.  We shake our heads when we think that the tickets for this boat cost the same  as those for the death-trap dhow from Kipumbwe.

Two Dutch guys join us as the only other wazungu on board.  

"Ja, ve came on zis boat from Dar.  It voz awful, vosn't it, Jurgen?"

"Oh, ja, Ruud, it certainly voz!  Ze mattress voz not comfortable und ze boat voz bouncing a lot."

"Ja, bouncing."

Jane and I look at each other but say nothing as the Dutchies whine about their experiences in the VIP lounge.

Predictably, the 'VIP Lounge' fills up with basically anyone who wishes to be in it and by the time we set off at 9.30 PM, it is squashed up like any other form of transport in Africa.  And one lady decides to talk loudly the whole night, either to her companion or to her friends on the phone, which rings constantly when she is not on it.  The boat rocks like a bunch of long-haired teenagers all the way and a mouse even finds his way into our little stash of chocolates.  With all this going on we barely manage a wink of sleep all night.  However, having survived the HMS Suicide the other night we are not complaining at any of these inconveniences.  And in a rare case of poetic justice in this part of the world, the chatty lady ends up puking her guts out and making sounds of genuine agony.

Dar es Salaam.  Another of those mysterious-sounding place names that Tanzania specialises in.  In 1874 Dar was nothing.  Now it is home to around five million people, seventy percent of whom live in what the government-types call non-planned housing - basically, slums.  In a recent survey of two-hundred non-Tanzanians who thought Tanzania's capital city was Dar es Salaam, one-hundred percent were unaware that the capital is actually Dodoma, the boring inland administrative town.

Dar has a cosmopolitan, upbeat feel to it that we haven't sensed elsewhere in Tanzania.  People seem purposeful, shop-keepers look busy, the man on the street wears shoes and the ladies have a kind of elegance.  Buildings are upright and maintained and even the market shacks appear to be cared for.  Sadly we don't have any more than a day to spend in Dar, as we had not planned to come this way, and we are so tired that we spend most of the day sleeping.  A city for the 'come back to another time' file.
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