This post is almost certainly the last for a while, we’re camping from now on, most of it in the wild. Please ignore any references to ‘see this photo’ as I meant to post some but the internet seems to be getting worse and worse and we’re running out of time. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Zanzibar Day 7 It could certainly be said that this was not our best day of the holiday so far. We had a big mix up that resulted in a somewhat unpleasant scene as we left our accommodation. To start at the beginning: when we caught our taxi over from Stone Town to Paje we told our driver that we’d need a ride back in a week and we would SMS him. The night before we were due to leave we sent him a message but didn’t hear back. The next morning we asked Gemma, the hotel manager, if we could use a phone at the hotel to call the taxi and see if he was coming but she told us her phone was out of credit. We figured that since we hadn’t heard from Ali we’d book the hotel minivan but at 12 Ali arrived. There was no sign of the van from the hotel and Gemma got very upset with us, raising her voice and repeating herself even though we clearly explained what had happened. It only occurred to us half way through the arguing that Gemma supposedly had no way to call the minivan since she’d said her phone wasn’t working. So it looked like her story was a ploy to get us to use the hotel van rather than the taxi. Anyhow, the van didn’t show up so we piled into the taxi and left – not feeling all that terrible since the service at the hotel had been abysmal the whole way through and we’d been overcharged for laundry, not to mention all the other things I’ve complained about in the previous posts.
We didn’t realise, until we got to Stone Town, that Luke had left with our room key in his pocket. Somewhat unfortunate for the hotel since they’d indicated they only had one key for each room and had to get ours back to do the cleaning while we were there. Quite mind-boggling, really. The whole place was something of a farce but at least it made for some funny stories. I started composing my TripAdvisor review in my head on the drive back. It’s so extensive I think I’m going to have to use bullet points.
In Stone Town we found our tour at their hotel and were told we’d be staying at a different hotel since theirs was full. I didn’t really realise that it’s not a case of everyone on the tour having arrived together – the tour we’re doing is two sections of a much bigger tour. Some people joined at Cape Town, others further along. Some are leaving after Zanzibar, some are leaving or joining when we first get to Nairobi, others are doing the same two sections as us. So the group we joined already mostly knew each other – lucky we’re a group of six so we didn’t feel like the odd ones out.
The age range is spread between people who’ve retired and at least one teenager, although I think most of the very youngest people might be leaving the tour in Zanzibar. I’d say perhaps two thirds of the group is older than me (and I’m 37, for those new readers.. or as I like to say in front of Luke “nearly 40”). Almost all the older members of the group are extremely well traveled, one of the ladies was the first person to ever sign up for a Dragoman Tour in 1983 and this is her 21st trip to Africa!
First thing we did, after handing over our big bits of luggage, was go for a bit of a walk around Stone Town. The architecture is interesting – very Arabic, with beautiful carved wooden doors everywhere. We had a few places pointed out to us then we all split up to use ATMs, check into our hotels and then do some wandering around the main shopping street. Everyone we walked past wanted us to come into their store. I ended up buying a bright blue African print kaftan and we also bought a packet of boa boa berries to try, ignoring the fact that it was Ramadan and no one is supposed to eat or drink on the street during the day. To be honest, I don’t think much of a religion that stops people drinking water for 12 hours a day in the tropics. And I do wonder what would happen if you were a Muslim in Iceland? You’d get a couple of hours a day to eat and drink. Or if you were in the arctic circle and it didn’t go down for a month!
Edit: I’m in Uganda and I’ve been informed by Mugarura Ashraf, a nice man I met at the camp bar, that if a Muslim person was in Iceland they could just fast for 12 hours. Whew! What a relief.
After a bit of a wander round we had some quite delicious Indian food then it was back to our room for a hot shower. Or so I’d hoped. I haven’t washed my hair for so long that I’ve forgotten what colour it is. The combination of sand, sweat, oil, bits of seaweed and god-knows-what that have become embedded in it ensure that it retains its shape long after any pins or hair ties have been removed. It’s disgusting. Unfortunately the hotel water never heated and we spent over an hour waiting in our mildly cell-like room before deciding to pack it in and head over to drinks with the rest of the tour.
Drinks at the club were nice but then it was on to the main event for the evening, the night market, which I didn’t take my camera too – Luke got some on the video though. The Zanzibar night market is all about food, and mainly seafood. We were instructed to walk around, look at everything then go back and buy what we liked. Everything was for sale by item – a skewer of prawns, a lobster, etc. The smell was pretty great and there were cats everywhere. I walked around and took some photos and tried to practice my few words of Swahili. As soon as I’d said a word or two people would always say ‘You speak Swahili?’ and then try to teach me a bit more. I need to write down things to learn them so I can’t say I absorbed much, but it was fun talking to people. I ended up having a delicious crab claw, some prawns and a fish skewer. The crab claw was the nicest crab meat I’ve had yet, although I think it did lead to some dreams the following night in which I bought some live lobsters and then took them to the ocean and set them free. I always feel sorry for crabs and lobsters, the way they’re kept alive for so long all trussed up. Obviously it doesn’t stop me eating them though.
After dinner we headed to the Mercury Bar, named after Freddy Mercury, who was born here. There were young local guys breakdancing on the beach just beyond the balcony and it had a good atmosphere but we were all exhausted and headed to bed before 10. Zanzibar, Day 8. Steve, the tour organiser, sent a minicab over to pick us up first thing and we joined the rest of the group for a tour of Stone Town. First stop was one of the two churches in the city, where Daniel, the local guide, talked to us about the history of Zanzibar and the slave trade that was carried out here. The church we were in was built on the site of the slave market. People from all over East Africa were caught and brought here by Arabs to be sold and transported to the Ottoman Empire. Daniel said that the difference between the West African slave history and the East African is that the Arabs castrated their slaves so that there was then no generations of African people to grow up in their lands like there was in the Americas.
We saw the way the slaves were kept to wait for the sales and it awful. Ten of us felt quite cramped in a room that had held up to 75 people for days. They said people often suffocated because of the heat and lack of ventilation.
After the church we spent a short time looking at the local markets. Having neither room to keep purchases or anywhere nearby to post things from, we mostly just took pictures and got in everyone’s way while we were there. I liked looking at the fruit and vegetables best, there were some bananas (plantains) that were twice as long as my hand! The bus we’re driving around in is not the tour truck that we’re using on the mainland. We’re in a minibus where we’re crammed in like sardines, although it doesn’t matter because we only spend up to an hour in it at a time.
Before lunch we did a tour of a spice farm and saw vanilla vines, cocoa trees, cardamon bushes and lots more. Some of them I’d already seen when we were in the Cook Islands but a few plants were new. We tried different fruits – the ones that were new to me were jackfruit, custard apples and durian. They were all nice except the durian, which was, as someone said, a bit like sick. Plus the smell of it stuck to our hands and tainted all the food afterwards. Blurgh!
Lunch was at a house in Daniel’s village and it was really good. Rice with potatoes, vegetable curry, spinach, beef – just what we all needed. We ate on mats on the floor and passed the bowls around.
Last stop was our hotel on the north west side of the island. We have little huts and are almost on the beach. It’s very pretty and the water is a lovely colour. We relaxed in the afternoon then had an orientation meeting with Steve where we sorted out money and learned the rules for the tour and what what was going to happen over the next two weeks. Lots of early starts and camping! We have two nights here then one in Dar Es Salaam before a 4am start and a big day’s drive to Arusha where we’ll be camping on the slopes of Mt Kilamanjaro. After that we go on game drives in the Ngorogoro crater and hopefully the weather is good for our balloon ride over the Serengeti. Lots to look forward to!