Part 1: Stone Town, Zanzibar Island

Photography and report by Bert Duplessis

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It is a very long way from Houston to Dar Es Salaam in southern Tanzania. Getting there entailed two long back to back flights from IAH/Houston Intercontinental to AMS/Amsterdam, then AMS to JRO/Kilimanjaro, followed by a final hop of about 45 minutes to Dar, as Dar Es Salaam is commonly referred to. The first leg was pleasant enough with a good cabin crew making up for the extremely limited legroom in the Boeing 747 Combi. Candy and cookies in the galley between meals helped to relieve the unbelievable tedium of spending so much time in so little space. Our dogs have more room in their crates. 

The second leg was on a relatively much roomier Boeing 777 but by then we were starting to get very fatigued. When we finally arrived in Dar, it was already 1145P. And a day later. And we still had to get visas.Should have done this before we left the USA! So we completed a visa application form, and handed over a C-note each for the privilege of entering Tanzania.The official scrutinized the bills and handed them back to me. Only ‘new’ US money is acceptable – my ‘vintage’ $100 bills (printed in 1996) were no good.They could buy you a nice dinner for two in the USA, but not even a loaf of bread, never mind a visa, in Tanzania… Thinking but not verbalizing a few choice expletives, I handed over some crisp new 20’s instead.Much scrutiny of the ‘born by’ dates later, the currency was given the thumbs up. Swell. Then followed a 20 minute wait while four other officials seemed to be taking turns handing off our passports to each other for additional scrutiny. Eventually we were off to the Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel in lovely downtown Dar.Even at night we could tell the place was a dump. The hotel was first class though. We were in a zombie-like state by then, but we did enjoy the huge big bath with scalding hot water. Otherwise the room was so-so.The highlight of our short overnight stay was watching the end of the last one-day cricket match between South Africa and Australia. The South African Proteas humiliated Australia by a 4 to 1 margin in the 1-day series having already clinched the test series.

Dar Es Salaam Harbor as seen from our room in the Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel

Towards the end of our trip, we would take this ferry across Dar Es Salaam Harbor to the South Beach area 

Breakfast at the Kempinski was amazing. The array of fresh fruit was stunning, including excellent papaya, honeydew, bananas, apples, mango, watermelon, pineapple and granadilla (aka passion fruit). There were several types of bread, a dozen varieties of jams and preserves, sweet cakes, pastries, croissants, apple fritters etc. I was very happy with the choice of cereals with soy milk. For those people wanting a ‘real’ breakfast, you could have eggs to order, three types of sausage (beef, chicken and pork), fish cakes,roasted vegetables, bacon, beans, and Belgian waffles.Not enough for you? Well then try the yoghurt, wild honey, dried fruit, three kinds of smoothies, cured ham, beef stew, or the large variety of cold meats and cheeses.

Part of the breakfast display at the Kempinski Hotel in Dar Es Salaam 

It is a short 25 minute flight on a Caravan from Dar to Zanzibar Island. At the tiny and rather dismal airport our guide Fauz picked us up and drove us to the Zanzibar Serena Inn where we would spend the next two nights. It was an excellent choice: a well-run property right on the beach with great views over the placid, clear water of the Indian Ocean. We ended up in one of the best rooms in the place, a corner ‘prime room’, with stunning views. I unpacked, laced on my running shoes and went for a 5-mile jaunt along the beach, staying just on the edge of Stone Town. For lunch I enjoyed a spicy Zanzibar pilaf, and Kathleen had some locally caught cobia, also known as ling.

The pool at the Serena Inn 

The view from the pool at the Serena Inn

Another view from the pool at the Serena Inn 

A view over Stone Town Harbor, from the patio at the Serena Inn

Another view of the pool at the Serena Inn

The view from our room at the Serena Inn

Another view from our balcony

Our first activity was a tour of Stone Town with our private guide Fauz, walking through the maze of narrow alleys, gawking at a bewildering array of old, decaying buildings of several different styles, mostly Indian and Arabic but also Portuguese. The place was somewhat reminiscent of Lisbon’s Alfama district with its narrow streets. Stone Town is a fascinating place where an unrivaled cultural experience awaits visitors who cannot fail to be bowled over by the impact of this place. Stone Town hits you on many levels. Of course there’s the dazzling visual impact of the place.Beyond what is visible, the sense of history and of bygone times is palpable. I would not have been surprised in the least, if a real Sultan appeared around the next corner. There is just so much to see: the ornate doors, the plethora of balconies, both exterior and interior, the beautifully designed and often quite ornate lobbies of several building which are now hotels such as the Al Johari, the Dhow Palace, the Tembo Hotel and many others. There are houses of worship galore; some 48 mosques, a magnificent yet sadly dilapidated Catholic Church and many others.

Narrow alleys such as this one is typical of Stone Town. There is no vehicular traffic, only pedestrians, bikes and motorbikes. 

Kathleen in a fine carved chair in the Al Johari Hotel in Stone Town 

The entrance to Tippu Tip’s former residence in Stone Town. He was a notorious slave master who amassed a fortune in the slave trade 

A building in the Portuguese style make for an interesting view from the edge of Stone Town 

An interior courtyard and pool at a Stone Town hotel

Another view of the courtyard at the same Stone Town hotel

Yet another interior courtyard in one of Stone Town’s interesting buildings 

This Catholic cathedral has fallen into a terrible state of disrepair; unfortunately not an uncommon sight in Stone Town. 

A colorful display outside a curio shop in Stone Town 

Some interesting masks at one of the many shops in Stone Town

The Wednesday and Sunday market adds an olfactory level to the Stone Town experience. Squeamish visitors beware: the fish market flat out stinks, at least on a hot Sunday in early February. But what a place! It would last about a week in any major US cities by which time the health authorities would shut it down.Refrigeration? Don’t need no stinking refrigeration…And then there’s the people of Stone Town. One is often hard pressed to even guess at their ethnic background. African, Turkish, Indian, Arabic, the diversity is astonishing. One thing that most of them do have in common is the Islamic faith, and the Swahili language.

Fresh (or maybe not so fresh) squid for sale at the Stone Town market. There is no refrigeration.

Fresh vegetables at the Stone Town market

A variety of spices on sale at the Stone Town market

A partial view of the former Sultan’s Palace on the Stone Town waterfront; it now houses a museum which we did not have time to visit. 

Kids swimming in the ocean just off the beach at the Tembo Hotel in Stone Town. 

Barack Obama is very popular in Zanzibar – this sign in the small square in front of our hotel was a popular backdrop for several TV reporters. 

Late afternoon scene from the patio at the Serena Inn 

 

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