Monday, April 16, 2007

Zanzibar – I: Stone Town

But let me start from the beginning. We arrived in Zanzibar last Friday, a holiday in Uganda, as it was Good Friday. 80% of Zanzibar is Muslim, so the holiday was much quieter there. Our bags were held up in Nairobi during our layover. I think the plane we took from Nairobi to Zanzibar was too small to hold all the baggage. It was also small enough to make me feel a little ill. The flight goes right past Mt. Kilimanjaro, though, which is pretty darn cool.

Victor was the driver sent by the Serena Inn to pick us up at the airport. He helped us sort the forms to have our bags delivered to the hotel—we were quite certain we were never seeing that bag again, but luckily had packed extra clothes (including swimsuits) in our carry-on. Our room at the Serena was amazing, with a great balcony complete with hammock and wonderful views:

The Serena is in Stone Town, the major town in Zanzibar. Stone Town reminded us a lot of Venice, without the canals. The streets are narrow and curvy and too small for cars but you constantly have to dodge people coming through on mopeds and bicycles. People in Zanzibar are aggressive. Each store you pass, the storeowner is out front yelling for you to come inside. Kids will follow you trying to sell you art or jewelry. To all of these people you have to tell them no a dozen times before they will give up. It can be quite draining.

Saturday we left the hotel in the morning to walk around some more. We didn’t have a guide book or any real idea of what the “sites” were, we just wanted to wander and take it easy. We made it about 100 yards before a guy started walking in step with us. He started talking about some of the buildings we passed, asking us questions. We realized we either had to tell this guy very explicitly to bug off or we would be stuck with him until he did and at some point he would expect some money. So J asks how much he would charge to show us around for an hour.

“Hakuna matata.”

Disney did not make that up, which I still find surprising. I can’t seem to get over people actually using it.

Anyway, Ali showed us around for about two hours. He was an excellent and knowledgeable guide. He showed us this door:

Which was carved by a slave who carved only one other door, a bigger and more intricate one in the Old Fort, with his signature eagle, lion, and snake carved into the top. Then the slave was killed so he wouldn’t create any more doors that beautiful to compete with the two he had already done. The copper spikes in the door are to keep away the elephants, though of course there are none left on the island.

Ali also took us to the spice market:

Amazing looking produce and I saw my first breadfruit (called shelli shelli in Swahili). If someone could tell me which book I read about a boy stranded on a desert island who survived on breadfruit, I’d be very grateful.

By the end of the second hour I was feeling pretty hot and sweaty, and I looked down at my legs and noticed that my feet and ankles were covered in red bumps, which I decided was either a reaction to the pedicure I had that morning followed by a 2-hour sweaty trek through a pretty dirty city or I had been attacked by bugs. Whatever was going on, I was freaked out. (Turned out to be bugs, we think. Whatever it was, I'm fine.) We told Ali it was time for us to go back to the hotel.

“I’ll show you a shortcut,” Ali said and started leading us down a pretty deserted alley. At this point I was pretty sure that “I’ll show you a shortcut,” was code for “This is where my friends jump out and we steal all your money.” But it was really code for “You are a very distrustful American and should be ashamed of yourself.” It was a really good shortcut.

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