Category Archives: Zanzibar

Zanzibar beach day (TZ)

The night was great as we had air conditioning and a fan and very comfortable beds with mosquito nets. However when I stepped out of the room at 9.30am the heat and humidity hit me like a brick wall. It took a while to get used to it and luckily the wind picked up again.
We were woken by the cleaning personnel. You would think that opening the door sleepily in your underwear would be a good sign that you are not ready for a towel change at this point. The three ladies pushed past my roommate though and proceeded to stand by my bed and stare at me as if they couldn’t believe that someone could sleep that long. It was pretty surreal. They then made up the room including my roommate’s bed. I refused to get up as I had nowhere to go so my bed remains unmade until now.
After breakfast that mostly consisted of me waving away the hundreds of flies that seem to love this place, and especially so when food is around, some of us walked along the beach to the lighthouse. The beach front consists of simple beach bars, there is a fancy hotel here and there are touristy shops and cafes at the back. The place is bigger than I expected, I assume that in high season there will be hundreds of tourists here. You can do all types of activities of course including show cruises at sunset. There is a spa and some vendors come up to you to sell their stuff but it’s not annoying, however I heard that it’s not necessarily safe at night, and also the sea has urchins. In fact the woman sitting at the next table just stepped on one and there is much drama going on at present. The sand is white and clean though, the sea light blue, and there are a bunch of colorful fish.

 

We went into the aquarium by the lighthouse, mostly because the walk had been a bit longer than expected and we desperately needed shade. The aquarium is actually more of a turtle sanctuary. They have all sizes and I played with the babies as well as fed the huge turtles with lettuce. I had covered up with long sleeves and my wrap pants to avoid having to be slathered in suncream but the guide kept staring at me. Finally at the end of the tour he asked me if I was a body builder and he didn’t accept my answer. I guess to the short-ish and mostly slim Africans I must look like Xena the Warrior Princess. In fact there are masai warriors at the beach and they are about half my size. They do however wear incredibly ugly white plastic sandals that don’t go at all with their red wraps and spears, I couldn’t top that if I tried.

 

The aquarium also had a monitor lizard, a boa constrictor, dolphin skulls and the skeleton of a whale, but that was it.


We had a smoothie at another bar on the way back as well as a Zanzibar spice cake which tasted a bit like gingerbread, and we walked away from the beach through the area of the locals. People were fixing boats, praying or just hanging out in the shade. Lots of kids were around, all of them greeting us in Swahili with “Jambo”, some of them adding a cheeky “give me money!!!”.

 

I am back at the beach bar now with plans to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. Swimming, having cocktails and reading counts as nothing.

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Zanzibar slave market and spice tour (TZ)

Our breakfast was another great example of African efficiency at its worst. We were told breakfast is at 7.30am but we should show up 15 minutes earlier to order our eggs and generally have more time. So we did… and proceeded to avoid starvation by eating dry toast while the waiter walked back and forth a few times to refill milk and clear away barely used plates. We asked if there would be eggs or anything else coming and got an answer that suggested that of course there would but that it might require a secret code word. I had to subsitute my breakfast for some questionable doughnut type of cakes with spices in them at the market later.

Our guide picked us up with a van and we set out to see the former slave market which is now one of the two non-muslim cathedrals in Zanzibar. There are over 50 mosques in Stone Town and at 5 am you can hear the call for prayer yodeling down the narrow streets but there are also these two huge cathedrals, one is Anglican, the other Catholic. There is not much left of the slave market other than a monument of 5 or 6 stone slaves chained to each other, an old yoba tree and two holding chambers underground in the building next to the church which is now a museum or to be honest more of a gift shop with a cafe. The chambers supposedly held 50 and 75 people at a time though they seemed overcrowded with us 12 already. You could just about imagine the conditions and smells there, it was pretty awful to think about.

After a visit at the city museum and the old Fort (lots of pictures of stones) we went on a spice tour a bit further out. Zanzibar only exports cloves but for some reason they give these elaborate tours of spices that are only grown for local use if that. The guide chopped and peeled a whole bunch of leaves, roots and tree trunks for our smelling and tasting pleasure. Among many other things we had custard apple (a small version of star fruit), coconuts, vanilla, pepper, cinnamon, lemon grass, tumeric, saffran, cloves, ginger, cumin, cocoa, jasmine, and a whole lot of exotic fruits (including durian, green oranges, ginormous grapefruits) I will definitely try to find in Chinatown. It was pretty cool to see how these spices make it into the plastic tins; i.e. cinnamon sticks are the bark of the tree that gets peeled off the tree in sheets and when it dries the sheets turn brown and roll up into the shape you know them in. We snacked our way through the forest discovering soap and perfume and coloring material (lipstick, hair products), body lotion, teas and spices for cooking.

Pepper!

We then had lunch at a friend our guide’s house. His wife had prepared a rice dish with potatoes, beef, spinach and a coconut sauce, it was delicious. We sat barefoot on the floor of their “sitting room” which had nothing but a plastic carpet. The toilet was a ceramic hole in the ground with a bucket of water next to it and plastic slippers you needed to wear to avoid any type of accident.

In the afternoon we arrived about an hour away at our “beach resort”, ┬ájust in time for another heavy and long overdue thunderstorm. It had been screaming hot and humid all day and the breeze that kicked in here really helped. We spent the rest of the night at the beach bar which is right by the water. We have low tide now which means there is no water at our feet directly but in other times you evidently sit in it.

Dinner as usual took forever so we somehow never left the place until we moved on to the next bar late at night. The waiter kept a log book of what we had consumed and he listed us individually by physical description. I was “the green lady” due to my Smurfette shirt. We also had “grandpa with glasses” and “tall grandpa”. I don’t think we were meant to see the log book but we needed it when the total sum came out to half of what we had consumed. Turns out that not only did the staff forget to bring us our drinks most of the time, they also forgot to enter them into the books.
At the bar next door I nursed my own bottle of water for hours. Seems like they have no ambition to make more money than they can. We would easily have had many more drinks given the opportunity. This way I woke up hangover free the next day. We were there until 3 am and experienced a number of power outages. Various times I thought that they would finally close the place down but nobody ever said a word. They had changed the local music to pretty much every album Oasis ever released long ago and after a period of silence after 2 am they simply turned it on again. TIA- everyone is on their own time here.

Zanzibar (TZ)

This morning we got up way before the asscrack of dawn again to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. It’s a modern high speed ferry and the ride took a little over two hours.
When we arrived we got caught in a tremendous thunderstorm while we were waiting for our passports to be processed. The guide did thid for us, the immigration people don’t even need to see you face to face.
After checking in to the hotel we went on an orientation tour and had a snack. I bought two bananas at a cafe and got caught in a long conversation with the waiters about the correct use of the words “older” and “elder”. They were very grateful for the grammar lesson, I hope I did the language justice.

 

Zanzibar is mostly muslim though it’s not that strict as the tourists obviously bring the money. You can get alcohol here and strapless tshirts or shorts are available for sale. Stone Town, the historical center where we are staying for the night, has had Portuguese influence among others which is obvious primarily in the architecture. While far from being in good shape the place reminds me slightly of Macau, the island off Hong Kong. There is no cobble stone here or Chinese/Portuguese food, but the city center is small and has these long narrow alleyways that one car barely if at all fits through, and the shops are inside dark wooden or stone rooms and they are much deeper than they first appear to be. Unfortunately there is trash lying everywhere and most of the buildings are in desperate need of restauration or at least a new coat of paint. Nevertheless it’s pretty nice here, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is laid back. You can buy paintings, wooden carvings, jewellery and all types of sarongs, saris, kaftans or similar clothing here. I bought two pairs of wrap-pants, they should be perfect for this sticky weather and all upcoming countries on my trip that require modest clothing despite the high temperatures. I’m sure they will look especially awesome with my green Smurfette tshirt…

 

People don’t really drive cars through the narrow streets, but at any second a motorbike or a bicycle is bound to take you out. There are cats everywhere and small kids dressed in muslim clothing. The men try to get you into their shops but not overly annoyingly so, the women are more demure.

We had lunch at a local hole in the wall spot and the food was just ok. According to the tour guide the food in Zanzibar is mostly overpriced but not great so our expectations were low. Unfortunately the waiter failed to inform me that the sauce my dish should come with and that I specifically picked this meal for was not available today, and he did so after I questioned what I had in front of me. So instead of coconut cashew curry I got ugali with chicken.

In the evening we had sunset drinks at the Africa House which used to be the first British club in the early 20th century and is now a posh hotel with a huge hookah lounge.

Dinner was at the night market where you can get grilled meat and fish skewers and the typical Zanzibar pizza which is nothing like a pizza we know in western countries. It’s more like a huge omelette. A thin dough is spread out on a questionable surface (don’t expect plastic gloves, hair nets or clean utensils for the food preparation) and covered with the meat of your choice, cut up veggies, a raw egg, Laughing Cow cheese and other random stuff. Then the edges get rolled up and the whole thing gets fried. It’s delicious. I had a chicken one and a banana-Nutella one as did everyone else. The meat skewers didn’t look too appetizing as they were already cooked. One person explained to me that they have to be prepared up front because it would take too long for the vendor to do them upon request. This does not apply to the pizzas and indeed I had to wait a full 30 minutes for my first one as the guy making it was on African time.

 

We had a night cap at “Mercury’s” which is named after Freddy Mercury, the late lead singer of Queen. He was born in Zanzibar. The pub played awful music from the early 80s but no Queen, but there were many posters of them all over. Other than that it looked like a regular beach bar.