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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 12, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 46
Week 18: Leaving Dar and on to Zanzibar
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Week 18: Leaving Dar and on to Zanzibar

After breakfast on Sunday, we walked with our Australian friends down to the pier to find out how we were going to get a ferry to Zanzibar. We had read to be cautious and to purchase your ticket from a proper ticket office and not from one of the 'sellers' along the street. Ticket sellers seemed to pop out of all the small offices along the street and coax us into their offices. Sean and I walked into a couple of them to discuss the 'fast ferries' going to Zanzibar on Monday, how long they took and what the fare would be. There were about a dozen different ferries and I was quite amazed at how 'modern' they were. The latest in high speed catamaran ferries, far nicer than anything I have experienced in the US or Canada. We kept walking as I had been told to go the big blue ticket office. We found the Azam office and walked in. It was a real terminal and felt as modern as anything we might have at home. I walked up to the counter to bargain for ticket prices. Since there was competition from all the small offices, the woman at the counter was willing to cut the fare from $40 for first class to $35, since we were buying six tickets. We were not prepared to be given vouchers for lunch too. We were very surprised to get in the lineup to receive a sandwich, juice and French fries, all courtesy of Azam ferries. The Azam company is a huge multi conglomerate in Tanzania, owning everything from ferry boats to bakeries and juice companies.

The rest of the day Louis and I spent exploring Dar Es Salaam. We took a daladala for about a 45 minute trip out past the US Embassy, Coco beach and some pretty fancy homes out to the Sea Cliff Village and then a Tuk Tuk to the Slipway which is another 15 minutes ride around the Msasani Peninsula. This is a very upscale area of Dar, and when we went to explore the hotel at Sea Cliff Village, I really felt a little "under dressed". We spent some time overlooking the cliff and the beach and then enjoyed a drink at a waterside bar at the Slipway. It was quite awesome.

The next day we were on the ferry, speeding off from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar. It sounds exotic and it is. Louis mentioned to me that the scenery kept reminding him of those beautiful computer fantasy games where they need an exotic beach and the blue-green-turquoise waters to create a make believe world. You could see thatch roofed lodges on small islands which looked more inviting than anything I could create in a fantasy.

Then after about 2 ½ hours we were approaching the island of Zanzibar. I was awestruck. To see Stonetown from the water is like suddenly going back a couple hundred years. It felt like the Sultan of Zanzibar could be waving from the House of Wonders, his home after 1896 when the British destroyed the Sultan's Palace in what is termed, "the shortest war in history". All you have to do is take one look at the House of Wonders and the surrounding buildings and you have no doubt this place is amazing. This is the place with history of Arabs, Persians, harems, and the largest slave trade in East Africa, Livingston, John Speke and Sir Richard Burton, who left here in 1857 for what would become the discovery of the source of the Nile. Then mix that with the British, the Portuguese and the African Swahilis. It goes on and on. And in more recent times, the birth place and where Freddy Mercury was born and grew up as a child.

Zanzibar is interesting too, for its political relationship with Tanzania. Somewhat like Quebec in Canada, Zanzibar looks at itself as part of Tanzania, but somewhat sovereign. When you arrive, your passport is checked and stamped with a Zanzibar visa. Politically the island largely supports the opposition party in elections. Not quite the probable 100% support the residents of the island of Pemba nearby, where they will get their power cut off in retaliation.

We grabbed our bags and left immigration for the short walk to where we were staying at Hotel Kiponda. All the sellers and the locals approached us to see if they could help us find the way. Although not built as a maze to confuse invading troops, Stone Town is very maze like, and it only takes a couple of turns down the narrow streets and you are very lost. We checked into our rooms at Hotel Kiponda. It is nicely renovated, well run and very nice accommodation in Stone Town. The breakfasts which are included with the room, are some of the best I have had anywhere. And the price worked out to $35 for two. I did negotiate a little on the phone. Compared to what we had been experiencing for the last two months we were in total luxury.

We were quick to get out and explore. There is nothing here that is "modern", no Holiday Inn type hotels, no fast food. Although not classified as a UNESCO heritage site, it is truly one of the top in this category. Zanzibar is not in the state of decay we experienced in Stone Town on Mozambique Island, but then again, it's not painted up like a Mediterranean village either. This is Africa, very Muslim and this is a historical town where people live, and living for most is very, very basic. We visited the home of Tippu Tip, the biggest slave trader of the times. On one hand you have the history of the slave trade to the east and far east, then you have the current reality of the house where families and individuals rent out rooms to live, many living without furniture and sleeping on the floor. Our guide was one of these residents, an older and very poor gentleman who lived in a large, scenic room on the top floor of the house. He lived off tips from tourists as he would guide you around the house and tell of its history.

We found a new and wonderful restaurant opened by a South African woman and her locally born husband. Louis probably ate there at least four times during our stay. I might call it African fusion food and it was so creative and so good. One evening when I suggested to the owner that I would like a beer we learned more about how things operate in Zanzibar. At first I was told they weren't licensed. I suggested that perhaps the waiter could go around the corner to some shop and purchase a couple of beer and bring them back. They balked initially at my suggestion and then the owner sent somebody out to buy a couple of beer. The beer arrived at our table in glasses wrapped with tin foil. The conversation with the owner then even got more interesting. Seems in Zanzibar, there is what you might call "community jealousy". We were told that she did everything to grow her business very slowly. If she was suddenly very busy, she might find that she can't renew her business license. Another problem was that the restaurant was right across the street from a mosque; hence no liquor license would ever be available. It was a game of fitting into the community and not creating waves.

Another highlight for eating was what I might call "the taste of Zanzibar" which was held down at the waterfront in front of the Place of Wonders every evening. Done by lantern light, are tables and tables of food, mostly fresh fish, shrimp, octopus and squid with lots of chicken and beef. The chefs all wear their whites and have tall chefs caps. You can sample food until you can't move anymore and then have a large glass of fresh squeezed sugar cane juice to get you going again.

People here have the same incredible outgoing and friendliness as the other countries we visited in Africa. Often I would walk into a shop, most of them owned by older Muslim men, who had genetic ties to Arabia or India. They were so well educated, and some of them seemed to understand even Canadian and American politics better than myself. Often a conversation with one of these people could go for over an hour, with us discussing our viewpoints and ideas about local politics and how we saw the world. It was also an interesting time for us in Tanzania and especially in Zanzibar, as it was election time. We were there to listen to them "secretly" discuss politics with us and then see an election happen. I was a little concerned that things on Zanzibar might get a little dangerous after the vote counting and perhaps things did go it that direction. The day after Election Day, the market did not seem to open as usual and there was a large number of military in the area. Zanzibar as I mentioned earlier mostly supports the opposition.

After 4 days of exploring Stone Town we were off to Jambiani and the beach. Located about a 1 ½ drive on the other side of the island, Jambiani is a combination fishing village and tourist accommodation. On our drive to the beach we passed through an area of monkeys in the trees and sometimes lush tropical palms and plants. After driving through the village the van pulled up near the beach at the White Sands Bungalows. I got out and just stared at the water and the beach. Never in my life do I think I saw a place that was so beautiful and colorful. The tide was out and in the distance (probably 1 or 2 kilometres) was the white surf hitting the reef. Most of the accommodation along the beach was single story thatched rooms, well looked after and very modern. And the best part, no multistory chain hotels, maybe on the entire island.

We couldn't wait to run out into the water. I am sure the temperature was probably 34 or warmer (close to 96F). We had a tropical downpour in the morning and the humidity was probably running close to 100%. A quick dash out over the sand and into the pools of water&.some pools so warm that you thought you had run through a hot tub. After about a 20 minute walk we were in water over our heads and could swim, float lazily or just go back and sit in the water for an hour looking at the incredible scenery. Our friends from Australia booked a scuba tour the next day and there were tours to take you swimming with the dolphins.

Then as it seems, Friday rolls around and it is time to put the SGN online again. I had confirmed when I made the reservations that internet access was available. The internet in Stone Town had worked quite well. The owners of the White Sands had taken my request seriously and had a friend take me down through the village to meet another friend who took me to the "hotel" down the beach about 1km. The Coral Beach Hotel was upscale thatched bungalows with a infinity pool and large bar and restaurant. Its clientele was the older more moneyed people. I tested out the connection, (which worked surprisingly well, if there were only a couple of us) and made arrangements to return when the files were available. I sat putting the SGN online, watching our over the green-blue-turquoise water of the Indian ocean, stopping to watch the dhows sail by, the kids play on the beach, or a colorfully dressed African woman walk up the beach with her things wrapped in matching cloth stacked on her head. Extreme working conditions, never to be forgotten.

After 4 nights at Jambiani we were ready to head back to Stone Town and take the fast ferry back to Dar Es Salaam. Our Australian friends had booked their "climbing party" for Kilimanjaro starting in 5 days, Louis and I had booked our return ticket from Dar to Joburg, via Nairobi. Unknown to us was that I was going to spend 3 days with the LGBT activists in Dar and that we were going to spend the night in Nairobi before we made it back to Cape Town.

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Elections signs on the street
Top room in the infamous slave trader Tippu Tip's house
Diving into the water at a Stone Town Beach
Stone Town Street
Beach at Jambiani
White Sands Bungalows Jambiani
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