Zanzibar! The name conjures up visions of fascinating architecture, Swahili Princes and Omani Arab Sultans, narrow alleys and lane ways and exotic spices. We are looking forward to a week in Stone Town and, although it is technically possible to take your vehicle across to the island on a ferry, it is not practical so we have booked a room in an apartment and we catch the passenger ferry from Dar es Salaam.
Our vehicle is left safely locked up at the Safari Lodge where we stayed before our trip. We catch an Uber to the ferry terminal which makes negotiating the heavy traffic on the trip into town easy and when our driver drops us off we arrange for him to pick us up on our return. We had read and heard about problems with the ferry trip, particularly with managing luggage and avoiding overly pushy ‘helpers’. We firmly respond ‘no thank you’ to all offers of assistance and we upgrade our seats and only carry hand luggage so we avoid the crowds and luggage hassles. The trip takes a couple of hours but the sea is calm and the seats are comfortable. Too easy!
Our home for the week is in a three bedroom apartment on the first floor of a building in a small lane near the port. It is owned by a couple of young guys who rent the rooms out through Air BnB. We ring when we arrive on the island and we are met by Abdul outside a hotel near the port. He leads us down the narrow alleys to our new abode for the next week … it is far too difficult to give directions in these un-named alleys. We get the tour of the apartment and we have the use of a lounge and dining room and a kitchen so we can easily make meals when we want and use the Wi-Fi. We have the main bedroom with an ensuite and the other two rooms are occupied by a couple of young guys both here for a month or two. One is learning Swahili while waiting to commence his PhD work on forest management in Tanzanian communities and the other is a scientist and is working on his business of making videos to teach science.
Most Zanzibar residents are Muslim and it is Ramadan so food and drink cannot be consumed at all by Muslims between sunrise and sunset and many restaurants are closed during those times. The ones which are open have screens or other barriers so people who are eating or drinking cannot be seen from the street. We generally find it easiest to make our own breakfast then, after a morning walk, we return to the apartment for lunch and try out different restaurants for our evening meals.
The lanes and alleys are a maze and we frequently walk in circles and cover three times as much ground as we expect to get from one place to another. It’s not a problem though as we enjoy wandering around looking at the buildings and people.
We also love visiting the market. As well as plenty of fruit and vegetables there are lots of spices. Zanzibar is, after all, known as the Spice Island. The fresh fish market is bustling and the narrow aisle is crowded as locals bargain for their choice of freshly caught fish. There is also a meat market next door. Outside the main market are stalls selling all manner of goods and produce. The fresh dates which come from Oman are our pick.
We have signed up for a cooking class with Shara from Tangawizi Restaurant and we meet her at the market one afternoon. First she offers us some options for our class and then we visit several stalls to buy some fresh fish, some vegetables and some spices and rice.
We take a taxi to her house in a suburb of Zanzibar City where we meet her daughter Lutfia and very cute two year old grand daughter. Over the next few hours we help prepare a fish curry and a vegetable curry accompanied by rice and red beans and chapati. The most laborious task is the grating of coconuts to make coconut milk, I think I’ll stick to the cans. After the call to prayer signalling the end of the day we eat our meal and finish it off with a little candied coconut.
On another day we visit the Anglican Cathedral which was built on the site of the old slave market, the altar reputedly marking the spot of the whipping tree where slaves were lashed with a stinging branch. Slave chambers are located beneath the building and have been retained as part of the memorial. Each chamber held up to 65 slaves awaiting sale. There is also a moving slave memorial in the gardens and a very detailed explanation of the history of the area and the slave trade.
Our dinner one evening is a Zanzibar feast in the rooftop restaurant of the hotel Emerson on Hurumzi. It’s a wonderful evening starting with a drink while we watch the sunset. A waiter comes with a menu and describes the range of Persian and Omani dishes we will be tasting in our meal and while we are waiting for the first selection of dishes a local group begin playing Taarab music which fuses African, Arabic and Indian music. The food throughout the evening is delicious and there is lots of variety with several small dishes in each course. It’s a memorable evening.
Our other meals range from barbecue meats and flat bread at the night market to curries or seafood from local restaurants. A favourite spot to stop for coffee or a cold drink or light lunch is the Emerson Spice Hotel. The interior courtyard has a fascinating mix of rough stone and coral, worn timber, green plants and lots of nooks and crannies. On Paul’s birthday we have sunset drinks by the ocean then dine at another rooftop restaurant. Tis a tough life on the road.
The days pass easily with long rambling walks after which we relax at the apartment during the heat of the day before venturing out again.
After an enjoyable week it is time to return to the mainland so we can continue our adventures in Northern Tanzania.
Zanzibar is exotic and fascinating … well worth a visit.