Updated: Jan 2
I have to admit it... I was quite happy to leave Dar es Salaam. It just wasn't my 'place,' if that makes any sense at all. Perhaps it was my jet lag and sleep deprivation. Perhaps the fault lay with the unfortunate series of bizarre circumstances encountered, or the abrupt introduction of chaotic and loud, the violently high temperatures... or just the unfamiliar city vibe... I don't know.
I just didn't feel altogether comfortable in the biggest and most prominent city in Tanzania.
Funny though, considering the name translates to "haven of peace."
Let's blame the fish market.
Anyway... I had high hopes for my next port of call.
I don't know what it is about travelling, but from my personal experience, as soon as you unpack your case, nothing ever goes back to normal again. It's almost as if clothing items grow and the items duplicate. If you think the puzzle of packing is difficult and aggravating, try re-doing it when you no longer have the option of leaving things behind or upgrading to a bigger bag.
Keeping in mind I have not purchased one single tangible thing while I've been here, I still failed to get everything back into my small pack. I actually had to attach my dirty laundry bag to the outside of my pack for transportation purposes.
I caught the 12pm ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar, which was no small feat. It had its moments of convenience and ease, sure... but like most travel, there were those onerous moments thrown in merely for entertainment purposes. I had purchased my ticket the day prior, so I thought I would just saunter through the gates, board the ferry and be off to sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean.
Fun fact #1 - Yes, Zanzibar is a part of Tanzania... yet, has its own government.
So what does that mean?
Security check ✔️
Passport check ✔️
VISA check ✔️
Covid check ✔️
All my favourites!
The waiting room was not one of superior comfort. Crammed with linked-together shabby seats from ferries gone by, it was absolutely bustling with people, packs and produce. The men in various uniforms kept pushing me towards the First Class lounge, though I hardly felt my $35 ticket warranted this terminal luxury. It was a section of the port, divided off by dilapidated plexi-glass panels. Besides air conditioning, it held no other extravagance. The moment I was escorted in, I was shown the exit door. As originally suspected, my ticket didn't make the luxurious cut... and back to sweltering reality, I went!
There were so many men mulling around, dressed in various uniforms, it was difficult to decipher who did what. While I was showing my passport at one random security check, a gentleman to my right kept tugging at me and indicating that I had to take my pack off. Temporarily disorientated, I removed my pack, thinking it was some sort of security identification process. Reality came bounding back as soon as he threw it over his own shoulder, and I realized he was only in it for the tip money.
There's always a catch!
It's just being on-the-ball enough to spot it, which is the real sport of it all. I was perfectly capable of carrying my own bag... and as soon as I made it clear that I had no money, my pack was back on my own shoulders.
The ferry was fairly modern... and quick! During the sail, they showed a low budget "Bongowood" film, which, as far as I could make out, was about a man who thinks he's turned into a goat. It was definitely a comedy, judging by the facial expressions and the dramatic hand gestures... and the way the entire ferry occasionally exploded into laughter. Other than that, the dialogue and plot was lost on me.
Once landed, with the help of my little blue dot, I was able to make my way to the Shaba Boutique Hotel. I had had my eye on this little gem for months and I couldn't wait to be a part of it. I think it was the vibrant yellows and blues, and the "Sultan meets Greek" design that really lured me in. My hotel is quite centrally and their description boasts a wine bar... but I have yet to find this!!! Stay tuned... because if there's a wine bar, I'm bound to find it...
Stonetown is a labyrinth of narrow alleys, winding their way through the charm of the historical old stone buildings, shops, courtyards and markets. You could definitely get lost here, led by the enchantment of what's down the next alley.
I stopped in a Lukmann Restaurant, due to its reputation of being one of the top places to serve Zanzibari food. It seems others had read the same online reviews, as the place was absolutely heavin' with locals and tourists alike. It took awhile to get service at the crowded counter, but when it finally came to my turn, I ordered the rice, a vegetable curry and chapati. Delicious... but way too much, and quite a heavy meal for a quick lunchtime snack in the heat.
Back at the hotel, I intended to lie down for a short nap... and woke up 20 hours later. It's true when they say, "you must have needed the sleep!" Wowza...
So... despite the knee pain and the exhaustion, I signed up for another Guru Walk tour.
His name was Fadhil and he showed up at The Shaba Boutique at exactly 9am. He was a bit of a lugubrious man. He lacked confidence and seemed content with a character built from eternally playing the victim. A bit of a downer, actually.
Nonetheless, Fadhil and I set off into the tangled maze of Stonetown, Zanzibar and I was keen to learn as much about the area as I could. I was a little concerned about my knee, but it was feeling a bit better, after a full day of rest.
Interesting facts about Zanzibar:
Known popularly as the “Spice Island,” Zanzibar was once a hub of the spice trade in the Indian Ocean.
Stone Town is one of the oldest living Swahili towns in East Africa AND a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
Around 600.000 slaves are estimated to have been sold through Zanzibar between 1830-1863. Human beings and spices became the biggest trades to the far-middle East and Europe.
Freddy Mercury was born here!
Fadhil and I wandered throughout the town, past the Old Fort, the House of Wonders, the people's palace, Freddy Mercury's house, Forodhani Park...
The history was fascinating, a true multicultural melting pot of culture. Swahili, Arabs, British, Indian, Portuguese...
The Stonetown feature that really captivated me were the giant doors. These massive teak or mahogany structures grace the front of almost every significant building. Each door is unique with their intricately carved patterns, and each one is specifically crafted to social position, religious beliefs and occupation.
Some were created, depicting chains & ropes lining the edges of the doors, and Fadhil told me the design signified the residence of slave traders. I was a little confused by this becuase, perhaps this particular design would exhibit wealth and stature, but wouldn't everyone that had the money to get these doors hand-crafted be able to afford slaves? Hmmm.... Further research revealed this was done to enslave any evil spirits attempting to force their way into the residence. Maybe it was lost in translation? Why ruin a great story with the truth?
The distinctive brass studs have been taken from doors in India and originated as defence against war elephants. Rest assured, there are no elephants in Zanzibar, let alone war elephants intent on battering down doors, but the decoration seemed to work. Many of the more massive doors have a smaller opening, which allows people to enter one at a time.
Another fascinating feature about the Stonetown architecture is the balconies. The Arabs didn't like balconies... and according to Fadhil, it was due to the fact that they didn't want their wives speaking to each other. Why? Why? What would they say? You can't say something like that without follow up! Curious minds needed to know! Wouldn't they run into each other at the Mosque or various other events?
Fadhil had no answer for me and just moved on to the next historical fact.
Once again, I took it into my own hands to read up on the culture. These enclosed balconies were actually built to allow the ladies of the house an opportunity to step outside for some fresh air, while still remaining shielded from the prying eyes in the street below. Makes you wonder who was wandering around the streets below!
I think I might become a Stonetown tour guide.
I was very intent on listening and learning. I truly absorbed every smidge of information Fadhil provided, and I was, as far as I could tell, an active tour participant. Star pupil, in fact. Asking questions, demonstrating genuine interest... my face was a constant display of enlightenment.
Then, out of nowhere, Fadhil turned to me and boldly declared, "You look like you not enjoy my tour."
I was really taken aback.
I quickly altered my facial expression to something more euphoric, and I scrambled to find an excuse to pardon my oblivious behaviour and ensure he felt undeniably applauded. Then it dawned on me. This was a pity play.
I had given him my card earlier and told him I was an aspiring travel writer. In his own miserable & gloomy way, he was vying for some kind of terrific review, by turning the narrative around. It provided me temporary delight to have someone who mistakenly believed I was internationally acclaimed and might, ultimately, make him famous. But the truth? He just wanted more money and this was his angle.
So everyone that is reading this... hire Fadhil!
Or don't... I don't care.
That was weird.
Later on, he asked me why I was fat... but that was AFTER I had already agreed to do a tour to Prison Island the following day. So now I'm stuck with Debbie Downer tomorrow too...
Wish me luck...