Monday, 22 August 2011

Sultans, Suicide Alley & Serengetis

Good Example of Famous Stone Town Doors 
This past weekend I stayed overnight in Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City (the capital of Zanzibar), which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  For over 2000 years, merchant ships from Arabia, Persia (Iran), India and Portugal traded with Zanzibar.  The Sultan of Oman took over from the Portuguese at the end of the 17th century and by 1840, Stone Town had become so important as a trading town (particularly for the slave trade) that it became the seat of the Sultan. In 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate of Britain, and this lasted until independence in 1963, when the last Sultan was expelled.  A revolution shortly afterwards in 1964 led to the massacre (genocide) of thousands of Arabs and Indians, with thousands of others having to flee overseas (shades of Idi Amin's Uganda).  The Islands joined the mainland to form United Republic of Tanzania in 1964, and has remained relatively peaceful and a semi-autonomous part of this federation since - although VSO does recommend that its volunteers leave the island for about an month during election time.

The weekend started off with the usually shopping for the school – fruits and vegetables, dry goods, fish, bottled water – in the bustling market area of Stone Town.  Learning from my mistake two weeks ago, I did not eat or drink in public (Ramadan finishes the end of the month inshallah) – instead, sneaking off to the Zanzibar Coffee House, with its shrouded entrance for coffee and my usual passion fruit tort.  Then it was off to Zantel to get my Blackberry service hooked up - but alas it does not work with my phone (maybe I shouldn't have bought this phone in Ebay).  I shall miss the Blackberry Messenger service immensely – so if anyone wants to get me a 40th birthday present in December a Blackberry Torch (unlocked) would do just fine.  Or a return ticket to Toronto – economy class is good  but exit row please and not on Ethiopian Airlines. After changing some US$ into Tanzanian Shillings (US$1 = TZN 1,617) - shop around for rates as they vary from one Bureau de Change to another - and shopping around for material for the students' new school uniforms, Pat (who runs the school)  and I went to the Zanzibar Coffee House (my second trip of the day) for some more refreshments - had the minced meat crepe this time which was good.

Local Artist At Work at the Back of My Hotel
I then got a quick tour of Stone Town from Pat, including a stop at the Radha Café, where they make great chappatis, samosas and spring rolls (4 samosas with a curried onion and a coconut relish sauce will run you about US$1.50).  Then checked in at the nearby Shangani Hotel in the Suicide Alley area - when you see the narrow streets and the crazy drivers (and wandering tourists) you will understand the nomenclature.  The rooms cost US$25  - the cheapest I have probably ever paid for a hotel room not counting my one time ever staying in a hostel in Brussels when I was a student in the UK (Brussels is bad as it is without having to slum it in hostels).  Breakfast was included, there was AC, good Cable TV (woo hoo!!), hot water and it was clean. It was actually an excellent deal - notwithstanding the creaky bed (not what you think!) and wardrobe doors, the 3 flights of stairs and the construction nearby.

I then headed for the rooftop bar at Africa House nearby, an old colonial outpost and expat hangout, for some cold Serengeti  beers (don’t drink Safari it is vile although Kilimanjaro is good) and the amazing sunset.  The place was packed with Italian and English tourists, and English Premiership Football blared on the televisions, while more appropriate Buddha Bar music piped in the background.  After watching Arsenal get mauled (give up Wenger), and one too many “buono seras” and “ciaos”, I moseyed to my hotel, trying hard for not to make Suicide Alley live up to its name on my Saturday night-on-the-town. And what a crazy night it turned out to be - a quiet dinner at a nearby restaurant (well except for the two cats fighting each other on the nearby table) and a couple more Serengetis and I was ready for some dodos (sleep - not the extinct bird).  Well first I had to get my US$25 worth of all 75 cable TV channels - watched cricket, football, something which I figure was the Arab version of The X Factor (there was no camel humping talent), some fish tagging on the Discovery Channel, some Nollywood shows (Nigerian equivalent of Bollywood), good old CNN and BBC, watched the Pope lose his skullcap in Spain during a freak storm, and for good measure, threw in some viewing of millions of people doing their Haj in Saudi Arabia.  One month without TV can do that to a person.

Beit El-Ajaib Museum - Former Sultan Palace
Slept in Sunday morning and after a breakfast of oily looking weak coffee and some fried eggs with jaundiced looking yolks (still no way near as white as yolks in New Delhi), did a walking tour of Stone Town and made another trip to Radha House (better coffee - more samosas).  Did some walking around – bought some postcards from Mrs. Patel (they are everywhere) from Memories Souvenir shop, and took some photos of the famed Stone Town doors.  After Pat and our driver picked me up after midday, we went shopping for plants for the school (I found a bird pepper tree in the nursery and promptly stole a handful of them) and to the Mtoni Marine Hotel to check on some of our students who work there and to also have a late lunch.  We passed on the philandering-named Tiger Woods Pizza and settled for another cheater-named choice in the Mr. Lance “I Never Doped-It's My Large Lungs ” Armstrong Pizza (hopefully there was no EPO, nandrolone in it).  It was quite good - next time I am going for the Ruud Gullit Pizza - god knows what will be in there.  On my way back to sleepy Jambiani I thought, it wasn’t a Vegas jaunt, or one of my feverish Toronto weekend getaways from my days in Cayman, when the last thing I would be interested in is watching some white South African tag a dark fish on TV (or maybe he killed it - maybe it was a new sport - apartheid fishing?). But it was great.  Old age does mellow one out a bit!


  1. There is nothing like travel to keep one's mind sharp. Your life is to be envied at the moment and wishing you peace, joy and happiness. Thanks for the update.

  2. Enjoying your escapades...keep them coming :-)