Zanzibar

I wasn’t committed to seeing Zanzibar at the beginning of my two-week safari through Tanzania, but I knew that Madalena, my traveling partner and friend from Moshi, was keen to go there. When I’d had enough relaxation on the beach, I suggested we catch a boat, spend a night in Stone Town, and catch the bus back to Moshi from Dar Es Salaam.

We arrived on the north end of Zanzibar after a four-hour boat ride from Pangani on the mainland. We were met by a man who said he was from the government, and that our captains had illegally landed on the beach. He wanted to see our passports, and I said he could find us at the nearest breakfast place. We snuck away as he talked to the crew of our wooden vessel, and he never caught up with us.

After a breakfast of dry bread (no jam or peanut butter at our hole-in-the-wall), we caught a cab to Stone Town, asking to be dropped off at the Tembo Hotel, which was recommended by a friend. We bargained for a rate of $75 per room (down from $110) and checked out the fancy digs before heading out for an afternoon in Stone Town, a World Heritage Site with a centuries-old history of influences ranging from Persian and Arab to English and Portuguese.

After an hour of wandering the narrow streets, we were joined by a young African man who started telling us where we were and how to find a place to book a bus from Dar to Moshi. He was a good salesman, never asking for money, but waiting for me to offer. I asked him how much it would cost for him to guide us around the city for a couple hours, and he said $20,000 — about 11 dollars. It was well worth it, as he led us through the spice market, showed us the slave market, and took us past the old fort and Freddie Mercury’s house. He knew all the narrow streets in town, and many of the shopkeepers and spice hawkers.

We ended up at a nice bar on the second story of a hotel, overlooking the ocean a short walk from our hotel. We had a nice visit with Abdullah, our guide, who told us about his family and his dream of moving away from Zanzibar. We paid him, said goodbye, and went back to the hotel for a rest. I swam in the pool and the ocean, where I chatted with some local boys in Swahili, asking them their age, and telling them about my own 17-year-old son. Later, I watched the sunset and a crowded beach of locals, with boys doing flips and handsprings down the sand and into the water. Down the way, they were diving and jumping off the raised concrete walkway.

For supper, we went to an outdoor food market and paid way too much for a skewer of barracuda and the worst corn-on-the-cob I’ve ever tasted. The sugar cane juice brought back a sensory memory of Thailand. I probably hadn’t tasted it since I was ten years old. As I ate, I was badgered by a guy selling CDs, and because I’m Minnesota Nice, I paid him 10,000 shillings ($5.50) for one. (Someone’s gonna get it as a souvenir.)

I got enough of a taste for exotic Zanzibar — the history, the culture, the clear water — to know I’d like to return for a spell with Diane, but for the time being, I was ready to get back to Moshi and the classroom and the students.

The next morning we caught a fast ferry to Zanzibar, where a taxi driver recommended by a friend was waiting to drive us to the bus station. He had arranged transport on a decent bus, and we were soon on our way. They didn’t let extra passengers on to crowd the aisles — until we passed another bus that had broken down. Road construction made much of the 10 hours miserable in the back seat, but I knew the trip would be over that day, and grinned and bore it like a good African.

When we got to Moshi, some friends called us from a local bar, where we met them for a supper of chicken and chips. It was good to be “home.”

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