A Travellerspoint blog

An African happy ending

2nd November 2010

We get to the ferry 3 hours early (our tour guide has mixed up the times...) and I get chatting to one of the many men on the island who is called Mohammed.

I finally find out what happened in the elections. The main party got 50.1% of the votes and the opposition got 49.1%, so they decided to form a coalition in Zanzibar, so 99.2% of the Zanzibarians should be happy right now.

(Zanzibar still appears to have special status and has its own president and many of its own ministers.)

It finally makes sense that we saw both people with green and yellow flags and blue-red-white flags waving their flags and celebrating. It’s like two opposing football teams kissing and making up after a great game.

Long may the harmony and joy last!

Posted by TTraveller 08:59 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Lost in the maze

2nd November 2010

We are trying to do some shopping and manage to bargain for some kikois (they are like big cotton table clothes that can be worn as both skirts and tops0.

The starting price is US$25. We laugh and walk away, knowing that we can get one for US$12 in an official tourist shop.

In the end, AH pays US$15 for 2 and I pay US$8 for 1.

Despite having a local guide, we neither manage to track down a Kazu top for AH nor authentic Swaheli music. So it seems pointless to keep the guide, who seems to stir us towards certain outlets anyway.

The guide leaves us at a spot where we have been yesterday. All we need to do is walk back via the sea promenade – really straight forward.

Too straight forward and boring for AH. He wants to take a shortcut through the heart of town. After all, he has his compass, so why should there be any problems?

Well, everything looks alike for a start – but AH is in no mood to listen to my voice of reason. He wants a bit of adventure, and a bit of adventure we get.

We pass things I have noticed before, like the shop that mentions Chelsea football or the African Cine. Trouble is I can’t remember when I saw them today, where we then came from and where we were heading. And neither does AH or his compass.

As usual, I stay cool, calm and collected (not...) I can hear the clock ticking. We are meant to be back at the hotel soon to go to the ferry!

Trouble is, we only have the name for our hotel, not even a street, and get blank stares when we ask for directions.

In his desperation, AH finally asks in a bank for the way to the seafront, figuring that we can work our way back from there – and while we follow the directions, we come across the road that leads to our hotel. We had got lost within a few hundred yards of our destination!

Note to husbands: If you want to turn your wife into a chilled-out intrepid traveller, it pays to take familiar roads when there is a deadline to meet, it’s hot and humid and it’s lunch time....

Posted by TTraveller 08:58 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Stone Town walk

2nd November 2010

AH and I have arranged a walking tour through Stone Town.

The centre of Stone Town consists of a maze of little streets like a Moroccan souk, so it’s great to walk with someone who knows what he is doing. (Yesterday, we mainly walked along the waterfront to avoid getting hopelessly lost.)

One of the first stops is the market where the locals buy their fruit, veg and fish. It’s just after 7am, but even now there are already flies buzzing around the fish.

I watch a man throw a whole bloody fish on the pavement, before picking it up and putting it in his wicker basket.

I also notice that at this time of the morning, the fish business is all men’s business. Just as well, as it’s really unappetizing...

We are taken to the former slave market, which is now part of a church. There is not much to see, but what we see is enough to make my stomach churn: Two small underground chambers for 75 women and kids on the one side and 50 men on the other side. They were locked up in that dinky, filthy place for no other purpose then to find out who were the strongest.

Each room had two stone benches with a gully running between them to dispose of the excrements during high tide...

It is a relief that there were people who tried to stop the cruelty. We learn about an English clergyman who bought slaves so that he could set them free. Livingstone is another example.

In the church next door the altar is built on the spot where there was once a whipping post for slaves, and the baptistry was apparently built on a spot where slave children died.

It strikes me that for ex-slaves who became Christians virtues like „long-suffering“ had tangible meaning.

We learn that Christian kids are still taught to set an example and love their enemies from a young age.

Both Muslims and Christians are telling us that relations between both groups are generally good in Zanzibar. But when we dig deeper, we find out that there can be conflict, for example if a Christian man wants to marry a Muslim woman: „You would have to make sure that her family would be far away of they would come for her.“ (No such problem exists if a Muslim takes a Christian wife.)

Our guide finds the song „Amazing grace“ particularly meaningful and is excited to find out more about the role of Newton and Wilberforce in abolishing slavery. We promise to send him more information...

We learn about 3 more useful fruits. One is jojoba, which is not only great as a moisturizer, but can also be eaten (It’s supposed to taste sweet, but AH found the fruit very bitter.) Then there is a fruit that turns into soap when it comes into contact with water.

And then there is the baobab fruit that is turned into a sweet. Our guide buys us a packet and if I had known how tasty it is, I would have bought more bags. The sweet looks and tastes similarly to raspberries, but with a spicy kick. The stone in the middle can be eaten, but only by those with strong teeth. (I have decided not to test the strength of my teeth.)...

We don’t bother going into the House of Wonders, so called because it was the first house with electricity, running water and a lift. The lift is no longer working due to lack of maintenance...

We do visit the Sultan’s palace instead. It’s strange to see some „tacky“ European furniture as part of the prized possessions and fascinating to hear about the princess who married a German businessman.

There is visible evidence of the rivalry between different sultan’s wives. Because wife number 1 went for a dining-room filled with traditional Indian furniture, wife number 2 went for a modern European look.

We also learn about the shortest war ever (45 mins) – England showed her displeasure at the Sultan’s dealings with the Germans by sending a bomb towards the House of Wonders – a case of action being louder than words...

Posted by TTraveller 08:53 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Stone Town under siege

1st November 2010

The streets of the shabby-chic capital are virtually deserted. Most shops are closed in anticipation of potential riots when the election results are announced.

We are told that we may have to stay in the hotel from 3pm and need to stay alert for any signs of trouble when we are out.Our cab driver points out people gathering in the opposition area...

The streets remain quiet throughout the afternoon, with mainly tourists milling about. Yet I stay on high alert. That man over there for example: Why is he picking up a rock? As ammunition for a demo? No, he uses it to crush plastic before putting it back in the hole in the tree...

AH gets upset when he finds out that things are 2 Dollars cheaper in Stone Town than on the spice farm, but I feel it’s worth paying extra for the entertainment value of the packaging. Listen to these instructions and descriptions:
Lang lang soap: “Soap to keep your skin” (now who in their right mind would want to lose their skin??)
Clove soap: for “good smile” (or do they mean grimace?)
Tumeric soap: “acts as a cream, especially for ladies”
Cardamon coffee: Add sugar “up to your size”...

We continue to walk around completely unhindered and have time to study the architecture. Many houses are built in Moorish style, and the ones that have been renovated are stunning in their elegance. I like the old dispensary which overlooks the harbour. For a small tip we can freely explore the building.

We meet with the rest of the group for a sundowner in Africa House. When I ask for Happy Hour (in the north of the island they serve amazing cocktails at happy hour prices), the waitress gives me an incredulous look, kind of “Don’t you know where you are? This is a 4 Star hotel that was already popular in colonial times, and you now expect us to lower our standards?”

So I decide to toast the sunset with a juice rather than an overpriced G&T.

We afterwards head to the night market for some seafood, but sadly, choices are limited tonight. Only 2 stalls are open rather than the usual 30, so I never get to try “Zanzibar pizza”, a stuffed bread dish without cheese that apparently still tastes a bit like pizza.

Instead, I have a tropical pizza in Mercury’s bar (named in honour of Freddy Mercury who was born in Zanzibar).

To this day, AH disapproves of my choice, but I feel that I cannot really play Italian tourist and order a normal pizza.

I admit, the combination sounds weird: tomatoes, mozzarella, pineapple, banana, dates, oregano and basil, but somehow it works quite well: The dates give the pizza a caramelized, sweetish taste.

One thing both AH and I like is Stoney Tangawizi – sounds a bit dodgy and edgy, but it’s simply ginger beer...

Posted by TTraveller 07:40 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Spicing things up

1st November 2010

I hope the locals’ predictions for a peaceful outcome of the elections are better than their predictions for the weather: It’s pelting down with rain. If we go out now, we can save the shower!

Just before breakfast, it briefly clears up and a rainbow arches over the sea, but soon it starts raining again.

We decide to do the spice tour anyway, if need be with umbrellas.

Our guide is really entertaining, and I learn a lot about different spices and plants. (He is giving us points for every right answer, so if he is reading this, I am hopefully getting lots of points here!)

1) Henna: creates 4 colours, depending on the number of coats used (1 coat yellow, 2 coats red, 3 coats brown, 4 coats black)

2) Pepper: green pepper turns into red pepper with further ripening; black pepper is dried green or red pepper and white pepper is red pepper where the skin has been removed (takes 3 days of soaking)

3) Most expensive spices: a. Saffron; b.Vanilla (takes 10 years to mature); c. Green cardamom (the beautiful pink and white flowers that contain the seedpod are very sensitive. Too much sun or wind and they fall off prematurely)

4) Clove: Cash crop for the Tanzanian government. Some farmers try to smuggle cloves from Pemba, the smaller island that is part of Zanzibar, to Kenya, but the only way to export cloves legitimately is via us tourists...

5) Tumeric: poor people’s saffron – also good for rich people with poor memories

6) Lipstick fruit: “portable” orange lipsticks that look good on Indian ladies, but clash with the pink undertones of white skin (so no, I haven't brought any home as souvenirs)

7) Cinnamon: The root is as useful as the bark, as it provides menthol for Tigerbalm. Even the leaves have an attractive spicy smell, but aren’t used. (It's here that I lose brownie points with the guide because when I first smell the leaves I say "cinnamon", but am then swayed by all the fellow travellers who find that the leaves smell of "clove". The guide says he will now subtract points from my account because I haven't stuck to my guns.)

8) Nutmeg: Mace is the red “plastic” wrapper around the nut

While we are walking around, first without then with huge umbrellas, a local lad makes accessories out of palm leaves. The gentlemen get a tie and hat, we ladies get a handbag (sturdy enough to carry a 500ml water bottle), frog necklace and hat.

We are also invited to taste green coconut fresh from the tree. The coconut climber makes a big show of the harvest, wiggling down the tree singing “Kakuna matata”...

In the meantime, one of the ladies in the village has prepared a delicious lunch. The Pilau rice is spiced with just the right amount of pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander and cumin (someone also spotted star anis in the mix).

The rice is served with a bright green curry sauce. The sauce is very filling, so my guess is that the base for the sauce is coconut. I don’t really need the fried fish.

The desert consists of tasting all kinds of fruit. We start off with yellow cucumbers, which are crunchy and firm like organic green cucumbers, followed by bitter-sweet Marmelade oranges, pomegranates, green oranges (even in their unripe state they are sweeter than some ripe oranges we can get at home), pawpaw (my favourite) and jackfruit (quite nice taste, but strange chewy texture), and finger bananas (which have a hint of apple).

Anybody who knows what a fruit fanatic I am, will realise that I am in heaven. Who cares that it is pouring down with rain outside our shelter?

Posted by TTraveller 07:34 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 25 of 70) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 9 10 .. »