Saturday, January 2, 2016

Stone Town Tour, Zanzibar

We weren’t sure who was going to pick us up to drive us to the airport for our flight to Zanzibar but we were delighted to see Shange again!  I really do think he grew to like us a lot, evident by his big hug for me when he saw us.  On the drive to to the airport we finally got to see Kilimanjaro cloud free for the first time from the valley.  It was hard to believe that 6 days earlier we had been at the top!  My chest still remembered though!

JRO was a much nicer airport than the wing of the Ethiopian airlines we flew through.  Emily and I got through security quick but Eric got stopped because he had forgotten he had 2 large bottles of sunscreen in his carry-on.  Whoops!  The flight to Zanzibar was very quick and before we knew it we were departing the plane into some of the hottest weather I had ever felt!  Once we found all our bags we headed off to meet our driver who took us the 30 minutes to Stone town in a van that was thankfully air-conditioned just enough.  We had scheduled all our activities on the island through a company called Eco & Culture Tours that Stacy had recommended to us.  

When we arrived in Stone town we could see how busy it was on a Saturday.  Our driver didn’t know much English so when we departed the van we had no idea it would be another 5-6 blocks through busy streets to the Emerson Spice where we would stay for two nights in Stone Town, a World Heritage Site.  We were given juice when we arrived (weird tasting grape juice I think) and then shown our room, called Aida, in the hotel which is a beautifully restored 19th century Swahili sultan's palace.  Our room was amazing, with art painted on the wall, stained glass windows, an upper loft up a steep spiral staircase where Eric slept, and a rear veranda above a garden.  Plus… wait for it…. AIR CONDITIONING!!!!!

We relaxed in the hotel until around 2pm when our guide came to pick us up for our Stone Town Tour.  Our guide, I forget his name, took us on a walking tour of historic Stone Town.  I brought the GoPro to capture wide angle shots of the tight streets and he assured me that it was ok to film and take pictures as went along as I didn’t want to offend anyone.  It was super hot and the streets were packed with people zooming by us within inches on bikes and cars trying to push their way through packed crowds.  We never got harassed or anything by anyone but the scene was a bit too chaotic for me and I just didn’t get the warm fuzzy feeling here in Muslim dominated Zanzibar that I got on mainland Tanzania.  Emily also had to wear long pants and long sleeves that covered her shoulders to respect the Muslim culture.  As I said… nothing negative happened… just not my scene.

The tour was fairly short from 2-4:30pm.  We first walked through all the produce stands with all the fruit and spices you could ever imagine and then through the seafood and meat buildings which smelled worse than anything you could imagine.  Some guidebooks said to peruse and buy while others warned all tourists away as there was no way of knowing how long the seafood was sitting out in the 95-100 degree weather.  We played it safe and just took photos.  We were also told not to eat any fruit that didn’t have a peel to take off first.

We then toured the incredible Anglican Christ Church Cathedral.  Up to then we had been pretty unimpressed by our guide but here he shined, describing us the long history of how the island used to be center point for the entire East African Slave Trade and how Dr. Livingstone fought his whole life to eventually stop the trafficking of slaves through the island.  The church was built by a colleague and friend of his whom is also buried behind the alter.  The alter itself has a round circle in the red/rouge stone representing the whipping post and blood from slaves that used to be at the location during darker times.  

We were told that slaves were brought to this location and whipped to assess their “worth” and then brought out back to pits where they were chained by the neck or to dark 4-5 tall holding “dungeon” slave chambers where many died from starvation or disease.  It was haunting hearing the bloody, horrible history of the island.  Walking out and seeing the stone representations of slaves in pits with the actual chains that used to lock living human beings was humbling.  Going down into the slave chambers was even more horrifying.  It is a history that would definitely like to read more about, especially Dr. Livingstone.  It also makes me wonder why after such harsh lessons were learned from the slave trade why women aren’t afforded more rights in Muslim culture.  

After the church and slave chambers we passed by the Freddie Mercury House.  He of course, was the lead singer of Queen and having been born on Zanzibar was pretty famous to the island.  We also passed through a large square of people that were watching a soccer game on a flat screen in the corner.  Along the way Emily was snapping photo after photo of the amazing doors of Stone Town which are world famous.  Each one has designing influences from around the world, but mostly from India and the Middle East.  Some of them were incredibly detailed and others had massive spikes sticking out of them.  It was really an interesting area with rich history but I would have liked it more with half the people and about 20 degrees cooler.  

After passing through many more streets and checking out a ton of vendors selling African Art we arrived at the Old Fort of Stone Town which is the oldest structure on the island.  There wasn’t much to it except the structural ruins of it with vendors selling stuff inside where there was also a large open space for people to relax/picnic in.  After exiting the fort we were shown the “House of Wonders” building which is the largest and tallest building on the island that used to be an Arabian Palace.  It had been pretty torn up by high winds and rain and looked a bit beat up but our guide explained it was the first place on the island to get electricity, tv, internet, a computer, etc etc, hence the iconic name it was given.  

On the waterfront, far from our lodging our guide announced pretty abruptly that the tour was over.  We had just wandered through a huge maze of streets and had no idea where to head.  He gave us some vague instructions then headed on his way.  Before heading back we decided to relax on the waterfront and get a beer and appetizer at the “Floating Restaurant” which appeared to be the only legit looking place to eat.  We grabbed some beers and Eric and I ordered shrimp cocktails with the limited funds we had on us.  What came was about 3-4 small bay shrimp drowned in what appeared to be thousand island dressing over lettuce.  Funny, if it wasn’t for the fact that appetizer I believe was the root cause of ruining the following day for me!

While sitting at the restaurant we watched as an Asian man was fishing off the restaurant pier a few feet from his table (apparently totally fine to do..).  I jokingly brought over a plate to him and before I knew it he brought over a big angel fish on a plate and put it in front of Emily!  Ha!  We took a couple quick photos before I rushed it back into the ocean where I saw it swim away thankfully.  

That night we ate dinner at the Tea Room at the top level of the Emerson Spice.  We chose to splurge on the expensive 5-course meal and it was worth it.  Not a ton of food but it was so wonderfully tasty and the experience of eating up there was amazing.  As we sipped beers waiting for each course we listening to the traditional evening muslim call to prayer being blasted out over loud speakers throughout Stone Town.  We could also see other very pretty rooftop restaurants and bars around us.  

In the distance we could also see the bright lights of a soccer stadium that must have have been hosting a match.  Thankfully, as we ate the temperature began to drop a little bit but it was still amazing when we got back to our room, unlocked the padlocked door and found the AC had cooled the room perfectly.  Slept like a baby that night!

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