Day 24: Exploring Stone Town

Noah found an online guide to Stone Town last night. It had ten tips for tourists. Today, we completed number 7: Get Lost.

Before heading out we had a big breakfast on the rooftop—mango and durian, eggs, chapatti, sausage and doughnuts. Zanzibari food is delicious. It’s one of those places that has the perfect combination of factors for culinary delights: a tropical climate that produces spices and exotic fruits, and an island location that’s been influenced by a variety of cultures.

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After breakfast we grabbed our cameras and a gigantic bottle of water and headed out into the sticky heat. Like Venice or Havana, Stone Town is a tangle of crumbling beauty. The streets are narrow and the buildings crowded. The city is known for its array of ornate wooden doors, carved into spiralling flower patterns.

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We wandered into the tourist market and haggled for souvenirs from cunning craftsmen. The most interesting store was an antique shop, filled with dusty books in Arabic, old gin bottles dating back to British colonial rule, little metal Ganesh statues, and ornate glass lamps.

From the craft market we wound through the fabric market and into the fish market which is part of the Darajani Bazaar. The Bazaar is over a hundred years old but remains lively and colourful. Vendors called out to us, trying to sell us fruit and vegetables.

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Kirsten and I stopped at a spice stall and bought chai masala and Zanzibar tandoori mixes. Zanzibar is famous for its spices and was once a major hub in the spice trade. Even now, a guide told us later in the day, much of the economy relies on the sale of cloves.

We took a tour of the palace museum, where the Sultan of Zanzibar used to live. The building is huge and white with beautiful big verandas and original ebony furniture, hand carved in India and China. The architecture, our guide explained, had Arabic-style arches but is laid out in a very Indian style.

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There is a room in the palace dedicated to Princess Salme, the daughter of a sultan. She fell in love with and married a German man, and was subsequently disowned by her family, so she moved to Germany and changed her name to Emily. Salme/Emily wrote her memoirs, calling them, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar. It is the first known book written by an Arab woman.

By the time we exited the palace the sun had emerged and it was too hot to keep walking. We returned to the hostel, where I took a cold shower and nap. I also managed to Skype home for the first time since leaving. It was strange to see my little apartment in Ottawa. As much as I’m loving the adventure, seeing home made me feel happy that I’ll be back there in nine days.

We set out again when the sun was lower in the sky.

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We’ve been adopted by two local boys, Ochu and Abdul, who always seem to be hanging around the seawall, diving into the water and chatting up tourists. They’re both students in Dar es Salaam, they say, but they’re on their summer breaks for now and are visiting their parents. Abdul works part time as a vendor at the nightly food market.

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Tonight, Ochu and Abdul led us to a spot on the seawall where boys were diving into the water and Noah took a turn at it. The crowd went wild at the sight of the white boy joining the native islanders in diving into the water. Chelsea, Kirsten and I sat to the side and watched. At one point I said, “Don’t you just feel like Noah is our little wild-child son?” They laughed and agreed.

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We had dinner at the night market, visiting the different stalls and tasting skewers of fish, shrimp, scallops and chicken with garlic naan and vegetarian samosas. We bought one of everything and shared our plates. My favourite was the shawarma, dripping with garlic sauce and tucked into small wraps. For dessert we had a sweet Zanzibar Pizza—basically a chapatti stuffed with Nutella, banana, and freshly shaved coconut.

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After dinner we waddled back down the seawall and Noah, Ochu and Abdul took turns diving into the water again. Eventually Noah returned to us, soggy and breathless, and we strolled back down the main street and to our hostel.

Now it’s about 10:20 p.m. and we’re relaxing on the rooftop. The air is finally a pleasant temperature. Somewhere in the streets below there is yelling, a drum beat, and a stray cat howling into the night. Stray cats are everywhere here, especially at night, mangy and skinny and eager to nibble up leftovers from night market customers.

Tomorrow we are going to search for a beach to photograph and swim at. This island living is pretty easy to get used to.

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