Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Island life

Zanzibar, spice island, island of Arab traders and slave drivers, birthplace of Freddie Mercury. Influences of Omani Arabs, the British and Portugese on the local African coastal culture. It was alos number one island on a BBC programme of top islands in the world.

We took the fast ferry from Dar at 7.30 this morning and arrived about two hours later, after a few showers to keep us a bit cool on the deck. We had met up with Karin and Danielle, from, Leiden at our hotel who were also on their way to the isalnd and had a nice chat with them about their climb up Kilimanjaro, amongst other things, whilst we passed a strait full with boats and ships, from dug-out canoes to proud dhows to colourful fishiong boats to large container ships. It was good to be back on the water and by the sea, after a brief glimpse in Berbera last week.

Arriving on the island, it was bustle bustle everywhere, with people leaping off, us being met by the chap from our hotel, a container full of alcohol being unloaded, despite this being an Islamic island, it is above all a trading post! We had to get through customs, so another exotic stamp in our passports and from their it was a short walk to our Narrow Street Hotel. We had seen photos of it at the Jambo Inn in Dar Es Salaam, but they did not do justice to the place..... an old building in a narrow street, with beautiful beds in beautiful bedrooms, lots of old carved wood and colourful 1930's tiles. Already we felt good.

The girls were going up north later, so we joined them for a quick recce around town before they were picked up. It was great! Every bit as exotic as we could have imagined, narrow streets, small shops with carved doors, with tailors, shoe-makers, barbers, sweet shops, fruit shops and so on inside. Every now and then a mosque or an old Arab trading house.

And as Fred had mentioned on his blog yesterday, everywhere the friendly greeting of Jambo! Habari? (Hello, How are you?). People everywhere very relaxed.... you could tell we were on an island.. that laid back atmosphere, the coconuts for sale on the bicycles... just great!

We both had a short snooze around lunchtime before I went out to walk around by myself andf take some photos (cannot download them here, unfortunately). Chatted to quite a few people along the way and for sure the ugly world of politics reared its head, as I was told over and over again, the the ruling party had AGAIN STOLEN an election from the Opposition. (These elections took place a couple of weeks ago and led to some unrest, which here too has caused tourist numbers to fall).

Stone Town is a lovely place for walking around, every corner holding a surprise, either an historical monument, a painted wooden balcony, a large old baobab tree, a street market, a fish market, a Maasai market, expensive hotels in beautiful authentic style, a run-down cafe, an 'art' market, views out to see, a dhow coming in, young boys diving into the clear water, or playing football, old men sitting outside a mosque, children sitting cross-legged at the madrassa, an old fort, internet cafes and so on..... all very colourful and wonderfully exotic. Exactly like a tropical island should be.

Fred and I had a delicious dinner on the beach just after sunset and talked about how long we want to stay here. At the moment we are supposed to go to Dar on Monday to catch the train to Zambia on the Tuesday, but I am thinking we might move things up three days to catch the express train on Friday. This should give us more time to relax here and see more of the island. Tomorrow, we go on a spice tour and on Friday to a beach up in the north. Prices are low because there are so few tourists and it is just a great place to be!

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