Day 23: Goodbye Kigali, hello Stone Town

I’m writing on a rooftop in Stone Town, Tanzania.

It’s been a whirlwind past couple of days. Kirsten, Noah, Chelsea and I bid Kigali a tearful goodbye just over 24 hours ago and now we’re writing from a completely different world.

Stone Town is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s located on the island of Zanzibar, in the Indian Ocean. The old part of town, where we are staying, is an amazing mix up of cultures. It used to be a popular trading post for slaves and spices and now there is still a heavy Islamic and Arabian influence, but also African, Indian, and Thai.

Many of the buildings are crumbling pieces of history. There are white sand beaches and palm trees. It’s hot and humid and colourful.

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It was a long journey to get here. We flew out of Kigali at about 5:30 p.m. yesterday, barely making our flight after a mix-up at the airport. By the time we got into Dar es Salaam it was after midnight and dark out. We drove into the city, unsettled by the flat landscape and moisture in the air. Already, we could tell that we were far from Kigali.

We stayed in a two bedroom suite on the tenth floor of a little hotel, enjoying the hot showers and wifi before collapsing into bed. This morning we rose early enough to enjoy some complimentary breakfast. There was delicious chai masala, tasting of India. Another sign of how, only one country over from Kigali, life is different here.

We left the hotel and headed for the ferry terminal, feeling funny walking amidst the tall buildings and towards the ocean. The ferry terminal was buzzing with activity: women in brightly coloured headscarves and men swarming us, trying to sell tickets. Noah was designated as the ticket purchaser, and he disappeared into a small office to take care of everything while us girls waited outside.

From there, we were escorted through security by two friendly men who grabbed our bags and kept repeating “haukuna matata.” We pushed our way through the crowd and security. On the boat, we were escorted to the top floor and took a seat at the very back of the boat.

While we waited to leave the breeze was pleasant, but once we slipped out of the port, the boat turned around and the front part of the ship blocked the wind. The temperature shot up. About an hour into the trip, I felt nauseous. Noah, being the gentleman he is, went in search of water.

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I curled into a ball on the floor and closed my eyes and took deep breaths. I thought of how unspeakably miserable it would have been to make the same journey as a slave, on their way to be sold in the Arabic slave trade, and counted my blessings that my own discomfort was mild and temporary.

I woke up to Noah and Kirsten’s excited voices as we began to pull into port. From the boat we could see dozens of smaller wooden fishing vessels, a white sand beach, palm trees, and pastel buildings topped with minarets.

We disembarked and wandered, trying to find our hostel. Eventually, a man led us there, insisting that he just wanted to guide us for free and welcome us to the island. The Princess Salme hostel is in a pretty pale building. We have a small, clean room with two sets of bunk beds. There are only two other people staying here.

After working out payments with the front desk, we wandered down the main strip of road, just as the sun began to lower in the sky. The seawall was alive with people on their evening strolls and young boys running, jumping off the stone walls and flipping into the ocean. Vendors were beginning to set up their stalls in the Forodhani Gardens, where there is a nightly food market. We browsed the tables, laden with skewers of octopus tentacles and prawns, and decided to come back for dinner there tomorrow.

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Tonight, we had dinner at Mercury’s, a restaurant named after Zanzibar-native Freddy Mercury. I had an amazing seafood coconut curry and virgin pina colada. All of us agreed that this is one of the most amazing places we’ve ever been, but that we also missed our Kigali family.

After dinner we walked back to the seawall and sat at an outdoor table and shared a packet of shisha. We talked about life and travel through the haze of apple flavoured smoke. Kirsten and Chelsea sipped on sugar cane juice flavoured with lemon and ginger. Families, young people, tourists, and locals poured down the boardwalk, nibbling on treats from the night market.

Now we’re back at the hostel, relaxing before bedtime. Tomorrow our plan is to wander the town in the daylight and on Tuesday we’ll head to the beach. It still feels unreal that we’re here. I’ve never been any place like this, and I’m feeling the culture shock here much more than I did in Kigali. It’s good though. I’m feeling a sense of wonder at this exotic place, and a curiosity that’s making me excited to get up tomorrow morning and explore further.

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