“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”.
I had been teasing Anne that this touristy side trip to Zanzibar was entirely for her benefit as a reward for putting up with me and my inexhaustible enthusiasm for remote and wild places. It always pays to build up a little credit, perhaps to be cashed in later. Anne is no fool and could sense my excitement to visit yet another unique and exciting destination. As usual we had both done our research and we were not disappointed at all. It would have been good to visit less touristy islands on the Swahili Coast such as Lamu, Pemba or Mafia Island, but it seemed a good idea to get Zanzibar out of the way. We would feel that our trip was incomplete without a decent amount of time on this tropical and historic island. We had picked up smatterings of the Swahili culture along the coast of Kenya and Tanzania but were very pleased to have thoroughly explored Zanzibar, having allocated a full 6 nights to this really interesting island.
It took quite a change of gear to adapt to being a run of the mill tourist as opposed to being an independent traveler and explorer of out of the way destinations. We did most of the touristy things in Stone Town and the 3 nights and 2 full days there were just about the correct length of time for our purposes. The preservation of the old buildings, famous studded wooden doors and narrow alley-ways is impressive and altogether we enjoyed the historic atmosphere despite the large numbers of tourists. There are obviously parts of Stone Town that are a little shabby but less so than I feared. We always felt completely safe in our wanderings on foot and there was less than feared of the pestering by touts. There are plenty of good restaurants, souvenir shops and bars to entertain. The beaches here in Stone Town are crowded with locals and I think the sea is not all that sanitary for swimming in the overcrowded and densely built up environment. We saved our swimming for the excursion and the north of the island.
However one thing that troubled me throughout the Swahili Coast was the trend for tourists to hire locals as boyfriends and girlfriends. We were frankly revolted to see old men and women as well, fawning over local members of the opposite sex, half their age. I know this occurs elsewhere in the world such as Thailand but I find it particularly offensive to see this sexual exploitation of poorer Africans on my home continent. These Europeans seem to have absolutely no shame. Particularly surprising to me was to see reasonably attractive young European women with obviously hired boyfriends. Presumably they were getting something here that they could not get enough of at home. They probably did not understand the risks of getting Hepatitis B and not only HIV.
The flight with Auric Air was very pleasant from the small but functional airport at Tanga. Carys from Peponi had arranged that her regular taxi driver Ernest transported us there and back at US$30 (one-way) for the 2 of us. We first landed at Pemba and I particularly envied one passenger who disembarked here with his game fishing equipment. It took just about an hour in all to reach the airport in Zanzibar Town (nicknamed Stone Town as the buildings are all from stone blocks carved out from the coral). Abdul was there to meet us and whisked us to the Tembo House Hotel in his comfortable and air conditioned business vehicle. With him was his business partner Ame and they briefed us on the dos and don’ts of Stone Town. Although almost entirely a Moslem society they felt we should not be concerned about our dress, although walking around off the beach with just a bikini would be regarded as offensive by the locals. Shorts for men were happily accepted. Alcohol is widely sold by all except a few Moslem businesses.
On our first evening we decided to wander down the beachfront of Stone Town and visited the famous food stalls at the Forodhani Gardens. This area was revamped using funds donated by the Aga Khan some years ago. It is very buy both with tourists and locals taking an evening walk along the seaside, but more particularly coming to buy supper from the multitude of food stalls. Anne and I first tried the freshly squeezed sugar cane sap, me with ginger, Anne with lime and most refreshing it was too; recommended. What to eat was quite a problem as a lot of the seafood did not stand up to careful inspection for freshness. We settled on supporting a stall that appeared to be most heavily patronized by the locals, but even then I was not completely confident of what I was eating, oh well, when in Rome….. . There are a wide variety of foods available, much of it on skewers, but what I did not like was the fact that these appeared to have been precooked on charcoal and then reheated after ordering. I had mussels, octopus, squid and also some fish. The food was quite frankly disappointing and turned out to be more expensive than that at the restaurants. By all means you have to try it but rather count on most of your meals being from the formal restaurants. They also cook something here they call a Zanzibar Pizza. This consists of a few layers of some sort of dough, perhaps similar to a chapati, filled with a filling of your choice and then cooked. Most seemed to be going for the sweet choices and I enjoyed a mango, banana and peanut butter filling as pudding. The atmosphere here is great amongst the crowds and the many locals add a lot of colour to the scene. Young lads take running dives from the high sea wall into the ocean at high tide, much to the entertainment of the crowds. It was very hot and humid in Stone Town, to be expected in Dec/Jan, the buildings blocked the sea breeze. We were happy to retire to our air conditioned hotel room. The hotel area was quiet and we had a sound night’s sleep.
Main. The view from our hotel balcony.
1 and 2. Views of our hotel, the restored Tembo House Hotel, typical Zanzibarian architecture.
3. The Zanzibar coast from the plane.