Friday, September 05, 2008

Exploring Zanzibar, Tanzania

After leaving the suffocating structured safari in Kenya, it was off to Zanzibar for a week (Aug 30-Sep 5) on our own - without structure and guides telling us where we could or could not shop. We spent the first two nights at the Clove Hotel and exploring Stonetown. I enjoyed staying at the Clove Hotel. The owner was very helpful, the location behind the House of Wonders was great, the roof top balcony was a great place to catch the breeze and relax, and the rooms were comfortable (and matched the pictures on their website). The only downside was the proximity to this mosque.
Every morning, the call to prayer (and the full prayer that followed) would wake us up. I'm not sure it would be quieter anywhere else in the area.
We decided to get our bearings by taking a tour of the city. We learned about the different types of carvings on the door, and how the different decorations provided information about the origin and religion of the original owner. The details on some of the doors were quite amazing.

The main market was a bustling place with lots of spices, grains,
fresh fruits and vegetables,
meats, and fish. Lots of fish!

Zanzibar is predominantly muslim and most of the women covered their heads, usually with brightly colored scarves. Some of them wore full burkas, including the face mask (ninja).

The Angelican Cathedral is built on top of Zanzibar's former slave market.
As a remembrance of the slave trade, the courtyard of the church contains a memorial sculpture.It contains five figures of various ages, sizes, and ethnicities chained together in a pit.

St. Joseph's Catholic Cathedral

Old Fort

Stowntown sunset

We had fun wandering around the streets of Zanzibar and buying reasonably priced souvenirs. However, there were quite a few men who were rather pesty and difficult to shake. They followed us around, and then demanded money for "helping" us. Several people said hello to me and then demanded a tip for saying hi. It was very draining to think somebody was being friendly only to find out that they were just trying to scam you for money.

On the last night in Stonetown, we headed to the evening food market for dinner (Forodhani Gardens is under renovations, so the market was held behind the House of Wonders). The food was very tasty but Crystal got pick pocketed. From the way she carried on, I think that might have been the highlight of her trip! I've never seen somebody so deliriously happy to be robbed before (she was delighted that they found her "decoy" stash, rather than her real stash).

The next morning, we were off to the beach for the rest of the trip.

Paje Beach, Zanzibar

As we were arranging a taxi to leave Stonetown, the owner of the Clove Hotel informed us that our next destination Paje Beach Bungalows had a fire a few days before, and she didn't know if the hotel was still open. We decided to head to Paje to see for ourselves, and hope there was some place that had room if the bungalows were no longer available. The fire was extensive and the place was completely burned down. Too bad - it looked like it had been a nice place. We looked around the area and negotiated the price down a bit at Kitete Beach Bungalows and booked that for our stay. This is Paje beach. The tall building in the background is Kitete Beach Bungalows' restaurant. The owner of Kitete Beach was really nice and she had a bonfire lit on the beach a couple of the nights that we were there.
At Kitete's restaurant you can relax in a cool breeze and avoid being harassed by the beach boys.
Many of the hotels hired Maasai men to chase away the beach boys. Some of them were just as annoying, constantly trying to sell things or hanging out and talking with the beach boys. I think the one at our hotel had limited knowledge of English. His conversations with me consisted of greetings and counting to 10 in Kiswahili and his tribal language.

There were also lots of local woman who hung around the hotels trying to sell massages and paint henna on your skin. If you weren't interested in buying something, they weren't interested in talking to you.

Heading home at the end of the day
Early in the morning, the women went out to farm seaweed, and the children collected clams on the beach.
Here are two posing for pictures, before they started begging for pens and sweets.
A local woman is tending to her seaweed farm.

Here is a seaweed farm during low tide.
At the end of the day, it was common to see women carrying the collected seaweed.During low tide, the water would go out about a half kilometer. This widened the beach during this time so you could walk around these rocky outcroppings to the sections of the beach further south. During high tide, you would be tossed against these rocks by the waves. It was nice to take a morning walk to the areas south of the rocky outcroppings. Here I am taking a break from the sun (and the beach boys) at Hakuna Majiwe Lodge. This looked like a nice place to stay, but it was pretty isolated during high tide, and had expensive cokes!
A beautiful starfish left behind by the tide
along with a neat looking shell.

We found a big pile of sharp pointy sticks left behind when the tide went out. We weren't sure if they were somebody's stash for late night vampire slaying or if they were used to keep away the beach boys. We later realized they were unused stakes for seaweed farms.
During low tide, these boats just sit on the sand. As soon as the tide comes in, local boys and men all run to them and head out to fish.
Paje Beach had some beautiful spots that should have been a nice place to relax or read a book.
Instead of having a nice relaxing end to my vacation, I left very stressed and crabby. The persistent nature of the beach boys and the general attitude of locals that I experienced (you are white...therefore you are rich...therefore you need to give me anything I want) left a really bad impression of Zanzibar. Too bad. It was such a beautiful looking island and has so much potential, but it isn't someplace that I would ever return to again, nor would I recommend it to anyone.