Saturday, 15 October 2011

Fire in Stone Town but Tepid Food

Artwork from the Hotel Balcony
Why do fireworks and undue excitement seem to follow me whenever I decide to travel.  If it is not fireworks in the hotel room or actually catching a flight after showing up at Pearson Airport 15 minutes before the flight departs, it is always another thing.  I overnighted in Stone Town a couple weekends ago, to catch my ferry Sunday morning to Dar Es Salaam, the  chaotic litter-strewn capital of Tanzania, where I had In Country Training with my employers VSO (I came out of cycle so now doing it). Buying the ferry ticket on the Saturday in Stone Town was an ordeal enough.  In the Caribbean lines and queues are usually general guidelines of where one should stand and are usually chaotic.  In Zanzibar, “Qs” only exist in the alphabet -  they take bold-faceness to a whole different level - cutting in front of you blatantly or going to the back office to bypass the queue.  To top it all off a "Tanty Merle " liked woman came and pushed me aside with her buxomness, not even apologizing and proceeded to buy her ticket and leave without even a murmured assante (thank you).

Beautiful Stone Town 
After that experience I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at the Arab -themed Monsoon Restaurant.  The service and ambience was excellent and the food was well presented but taste wise it was not a hit.  I ordered the peppercorn encrusted calamari in a tomato sauce with spicy rice.  What I ended up with was plain battered fried calamari without any sight of peppercorns (and we are in the black pepper capital of the world) or tomato sauce, a tamarind paste that was so sour you could wash and season fish with it, something that was supposed to be curried chickpeas but tasted more like a curried-channa sweet porridge, a cold stale flatbread, something that looked like cooked pumpkin, but turned out to be cooked ripe papaya mash with cilantro and garlic, and a spiced rice without any salt. As if this wasn't bad enough there were also blobs of sautéed spinach and something like an eggplant ratatouille.  The last two items weren't bad taste-wise, but I grew up on food similar to what was on the plate and I could make them much better with my one good eye closed. To top it all off, to get to the washroom the restaurant (he’s single – so dump him on the terrace) you had to go inside, take off your shoes and walk through a Morroccan styled lounge where they was live Taureg music band performing in the middle of the room, with many people eating on the ground on cushions on the fringes. Excuse me as I interrupt your dinner and live entertainment but I have to pee – sorry was that your feet I stepped on.  Not what any diner wants to hear in a nice restaurant.
Fire in Stone Town

After grudgingly having to pay for that meal I decided to go for a night cap at rooftop bar at the African House close to my hotel - at least I know not to order food there and just stick to drinks.  Approaching the corner to turn into Africa House I see a crowd blocking the narrow street in what is the worst section of what is known as Suicide Alley, with lots of activity and sounds - what now? Turns out the building in front of Africa House had a fire on the 3rd floor, which also houses a Chinese Restaurant.  Clean the pork fat in your grease trap people!! The fanciful Dhow Palace Hotel which is close by was running a water hose across the street to help put out the fire – at least they knew that the firemen who would surely arrive when the fire is either put out or the entire building has burnt down.  I decided this was not a scene to be missed – we West Indians love fire (not you Anna) – so I ducked under the hose and headed to the African House - why should a fire stop me from drowning my sorrows.  I get there only to realize there is even a bigger crowd there as the hotel had been evacuated and several Chinese people walking around frantically.  Doing the Japanese thing (which by the way is now becoming the Chinese thing) I pull out my Blackberry and start taking pictures furiously of the fire and the crowd.  I missed the best shot though of the man in one of the windows of the building where the fire was burning, sticking his head out the window doing his best Occah Seepaul impression (the former Speaker of the House of Trinidad who refused to vacate her post and a temporary state of emergency had to be declared to get her out)  - refusing to leave.  Maybe he had faith in the no-show firemen.  They did arrive a few minutes later but could not seem to find the hydrant – sorry this is Stone Town there are no hydrants.  They did find a pipe where they attached their hose and me being a bit wiser than most of the crowd, quickly retreated to the far corner of the street and watched comically as all most of the curious onlookers got sprayed with water coming through the building and the fire was being put out. This was too much for one night....I chuckled all the way back to the hotel. I thought to myself, I haven’t even reached Dar as yet and the fireworks had already started.  And I still had the Econo Lodge (and they do take the Econo seriously) to look forward to for a week. Well that’s another story for another blog post.

1 comment:

  1. I love how you never forget to mention the washroom at least once in each of your blog posts lol