Africa adventure: Stone Town (Part 1)
My trip to Africa was a series of excitement, adventure and many, as they say in Blood Diamond ‘TIA’ (This Is Africa), moments. This is the first part of my adventure.
I saw Stone Town before I saw any other part of Africa, unless you count the drive through the slums of Dar Es Salaam to get to the harbour. However, post our 15-hour journey, that drive was nothing but a montage of women with logs on their heads, and malaria pill-induced dreams. The vivid kind.
I would like to say that the six-day trip to Zanzibar started off as nothing but a smooth, friendly boat ride to paradise, but, much like the African man who sold us a “cheap” boat voyage to Zanzibar, I would be lying.
“Rafiki!”. The businessman greeted my four friends and I. What harmful hypocracies may be caused by calling someone a friend, when you are treated as nothing but a Mzungu, which is Swahili for white man, and white man, in turn, is symbolic for money. We payed five times the price that anyone more accustomed to the African ways would have paid, and waited an hour at the shore prior to handing over the merchant the money, who was apparently “waiting fo [us] to go on boat so dat hee cun leeve....rafiki”.
After thinking we had been robbed by our new “rafiki”, as both him and the boat were nowhere to be seen, a man approached and asked to see our tickets. He led us onto a caricature version of the “vaaary fast power boat” drawn on the ticket. We found our seats and finally got a chance to take off our rucksacks and admire the aquamarine-coloured ocean through which we were travelling, accepting the disbelief that “we’re in Africa”.
I would love to tell you that that was the end of our rough beginning, but, much like the hotel in Stone Town which promised “accommodation”, I would be lying.
After 20 hours of travelling with less sleep than an extreme insomniac, we let out a sigh of relief knowing that in the midst of this new world, the name of the hotel written on our booking print-out matched the one painted on the building in front of us. The sigh was shortly inhaled again, however, when our eyes noticed a big sign on the front door, reading ‘HOTEL CLOSED FOR RECONSTRUCTION’.
Together with the help of a teenager named Al, who insisted on helping us in return for a tip, we found a hotel in the backstreets. Once in our rooms, we threw our rucksacks on the floor like an Olympian Javelin thrower, and tucked ourselves safely under our mosquito nets and sheets, where we finally got some rest.
We woke up a few hours later, at three o’clock in the afternoon, to view our new home through diamond-shaped stitches. With nothing but a few Tanzanian shillings in my pocket and camera flung around my shoulder, we made our way to the shore to have our first African meal. Excited by this novel cuisine, I chose rice with chicken curry and fresh mango juice, unawares that I will be consuming practically nothing but chicken, rice and fresh mango juice for the remaining time of my trip to Africa.
Walking in the streets of such a different world felt dream-like. A rush of people, dressed in materials of different colours and textures, walking along the coral stone buildings. I was scared that if I flick my camera on I would only have experienced Stone Town through a little black hole. Everyone greets you lovingly with no less expression than a smile and a ‘karibu’, which means 'welcome'.
“What goes down better after a meal than an African ball of sweet dough?” were the sentiments of one of my friends, Andrea, as we came across a merchant selling just that on our walk post-lunch. The stand was placed in the middle of a street. Perspex, about the size of your average refrigerator. Like a refrigerator, the stand had three, horizontal shelves. In the first, Tanzanian cigarettes were on display. In the second were the balls of sweet dough, similar to our average doughnut, minus the hole. Contained in the third, sharing air with the doughnuts, fish heads were on display. Our protests and the lack of hygiene did not stop Andrea from, not only purchasing the doughnut, but also eating it.
The rest of our first day consisted of us tendering to Andrea, who was curled in a ball under his mosquito net, while the owner of the hotel had to cycle miles to the baker to get him food to replace the African ball of food poisoning (one must keep in mind that in Zanzibar there is one ambulance per million people, the population of Zanzibar being approximately one million people).
When Andrea was cured, we showered, then made our way to Stone Town’s famous seafood market, where one can buy a cooked lobster for supper for as much as a coke. We also tried juice freshly squeezed from sugar canes, which gave Pfanner a run for its money.
The five of us sat on the beach admiring the place with a platter of fish in our hands, before making our way back to the hotel to find the door locked and the owner asleep on the sofa near the window, ultimately letting us in after one of my friends, Mike, stuffed his arm through the window and shook his shoulder. We climbed into our beds and narrated our day to our journals, then put the mosquito nets over us like we had been doing it all our lives, and shut our eyes for some more vivid dreams, before another day of Africa.
Tomorrow: Part 2 - Prison Island