We took a short shuttle bus ride from Moshi to Mt. Kilimanjaro airport. Supposedly it is an international airport. It had a tiny hole in the wall for a snack shop. The choices were tea, alcohol, cigarettes, a plastic baggy of chips or a Mars bar! We were starving, so two bags of chips it was. We had a short 50 minute flight to the island of Zanzibar. By the time we reached flying altitude the pilot was already announcing to fasten the seat belts for landing. We could see the beautiful island and turquoise water down below us. We were so excited, it truly looked like an island paradise!
From the first step off the plane it was quite apparent that this place was hotter and more humid than anything we had experienced yet in Africa. We fought through the many taxi drivers awaiting us outside the doors and picked one to take us into Stone town about a 10 minute drive away. We checked into a low budget hotel, it sort of has a bathroom. You can get in and close the door to sit on the toilet, I’m not sure why it actually has a door. Oh well, it works.
Getting Comfortable With The Culture Here
We are really feeling like we are getting familiar with the local customs and culture here now. We have most of the basics down with the Swahili language. We even tried to talk to some young Masai men on one of our bus trips. It was fun. We couldn’t understand each other much, but we were all excited to try and communicate. We showed them where we lived on a world map. They shook our hands several times, and again when they got off the bus. We have had to get used to shaking hands here too. Most people do not do a firm hand shake like in North America. It is a gentle holding of the hand.
The spice tour we did was wonderful. We got to see spices in their raw unprocessed form. Ahhhhh, the smells. Fresh cloves, cinnamon cut right off the tree, pepper, cardamom, and my favorite fresh ylang ylang.
Lunch was included, all cooked with the spices from the farm. We sat crossed legged on the floor and ate. We chatted with a couple who were driving all the way from France to South Africa! They have done it several times and had lots of interesting stories to tell us. Including their bad experience in Nairobi. Unfortunately theirs was a story of the theft, all their camera equipment, their passports and all their insurance information for their vehicle.
We spent our daylight hours wandering about the towns cobbled streets. It is a maze of very narrow cobbled streets. You can walk for hours and never walk the same one twice. You have to be on constant alert for vehicles and mopeds speeding through. You can lose your toes if you are not careful. Sometimes you have to duck into a shop door way, it is so tight for the cars.
We went to the local museum in Stonetown, it was quite interesting showing the life of the local people who first inhabited the area. It also showed the building of the Dhow boats that are so frequently seen here. Amazingly they are built without the use of any nails, bound together entirely with coconut fibers!
We spent one day having lunch at a beachfront restaurant watching a large pod of dolphins go past. As well you can laze around during the day and watch the many Dhows and small fishing boats glide past.
The atmosphere here is about as laid back as you can get. We had dinner at a restaurant with a raised patio overlooking the beach. It was called Mercury’s. Named after the lead singer of Queen, Freddy Mercury. He was born here on Zanzibar.
This island is absolute paradise, we were told it was even more beautiful than the Caribbean islands, and we have to agree. It used to be the spice capital of the world, it still does have tons of spices, but it is not it’s major export anymore. You can smell them in the air when you walk around. We could definitely kick back here for a while.
This island is so full of history and it is a fascinating mix of cultures. The majority of the island is Muslim and it is very noticeable. Tons of Arabic men in their white Kanzu and women covered completely, some only the eyes showing, some with just the face. A great view is a husband and his Muslim wife on a motorbike, the wife’s Muslim veil flapping out the back of her helmet!
There is Arabic, Indian, Persian and European influence everywhere. Some buildings are in an Arabic style with brass studded wooden doors. In fact there are so many neat doors on the buildings they have a book called the doors of Zanzibar. There are Indian Temples, Mosques and Christian Churches within a few hundred meters of each other. With all the mix of culture you can imagine what the food variety is like. You can eat food from a different ethnic group every night of the week.
We can’t wait to discover more of the island, in a few days we will head to the other side of the island were there are tons of white sand beaches, some of them very isolated.