An index to this series appears at the first post.
We awoke this morning (the 30th) to a terrific din upstairs. It sounded very much like the ceiling had collapsed in a room on the floor above us. Natasha poked her head into the corridor and learned from a fleeing resident that his room had been on fire. Any thoughts we had about the earliness of our waking (5:30 AM) vanished, and we hurriedly jammed our things into bags and rushed downstairs. The hotel staff felt it wasn’t a big deal; the fire was out, wasn’t it? At no point had we heard a smoke alarm. I scanned the building from the outside and saw nothing amiss. Eventually we accepted a key to a different room on the first floor where we hurriedly showered and then piled into a taxi for the ferry dock.
We arrived just after 6 AM in a teeming mass of people, all trying to board a ferry to Zanzibar for the new year holiday. Our hotel taxi dropped us at a special office that handled business class tickets. Our broker took me through the locked door of the ticket office, where he arranged for the sale of two Azam Marine tickets (with returns on January 6th) for $160 USD. Locals would have paid 140,000 shillings (~$63 USD) for the same booking. The fare depleted quite a lot of the dollars we had on hand, but we anticipated handling the rest of our bills with debit cards and the shillings we had already acquired. With tickets in hand, Natasha and I went for breakfast in the capable hands of Abdullah, one of the porters. We enjoyed the omelets, but it seemed downright weird that they supplied us each with a cup of very warm milk for me to dip a tea bag and for Natasha to dump in a pouch of instant coffee.
Boarding the ferry was again expedited with the help of our (now two) porters, who simply ignored the long queue of people with economy tickets. We were processed through metal detectors by a tough-looking sergeant who held a baton like he was born to use it, and then we waited 45 minutes in a departure lounge. We chatted with a group of Spanish teachers on holiday. When the doors opened to let us onto the catamaran, we fell in with the crowd and occupied a couple of the business class seats. I think I fell asleep just minutes after we pushed away from the dock. When I awoke, Natasha spent some time asleep. Her eyes fluttered open as we completed our two hour transit (the distance is around 84 km), making a sharp turn for the new harbor at Stone Town, which is the old part of Zanzibar City.
My navigation to the Riverman Hotel (near the Anglican Cathedral at the center of the east side of Stone Town) was stymied by my picking the wrong way to turn as we left the harbor. There are pretty clear streets in a band around the outside of Stone Town, but the middle streets are quite narrow and poorly labeled. I took us much too far south when Natasha noted that she wasn’t going to be able to walk too much further with her two heavy backpacks. The heat and humidity were quite overpowering, I must admit! We hired a cab who drove us clockwise around the whole loop to reach our hotel. He even walked my bag to the hotel, which was around half a kilometer from the parking lot.
When we reached the hotel, we learned that air conditioning was not actually available, but the manager promised he would have a great room for us the following day. For now, we had a relatively small room with a large, canopied queen bed, with mosquito netting all around it. The recurrent trouble we encountered was that credit cards would not be usable (despite the contrary information on Booking.com). I hiked out into the sun to find a working ATM. I was glad to see the green and white logo of the CRDB once again. To pay the $350 USD bill for seven nights, I needed to withdraw the maximum number of shillings twice from the machine. I crossed my fingers that the bank didn’t clamp down a security lock on my card. The manager seemed impressed that I had circumvented the currency problem so quickly.
Natasha and I ventured out for lunch soon thereafter. We found a delightful hole-in-the-wall cafe called “Mom’s Restaurant” that served us pilau with spinach and beans in coconut sauce. We had a lovely chat with two Koreans who had decided to make their own life plan rather than follow some of the rigid rules of Korean society. From there, we wandered south-west, eventually reaching the traffic circle where we had hailed the taxi earlier in the day.
This time, we found a tourism service that had several cool tours available. We signed up for one tomorrow morning (Dec 31) that supplied a history tour of Stone Town, and we signed up for a second one for January 1st that drove us to see a nearby spice farm! We paid 62,000 shillings for the first part, denuding our wallets of most of our remaining local currency. We’ll owe a similar amount tomorrow. Our chat with the staffer (from nearby Kenya) was really pleasant, and we discussed the possibilities of a return trip to see the north of Tanzania (Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Olduvai Gorge, and the Ngorogoro Crater).
From there, your heat-stroked travelers wandered in search of cool refreshment. We found a restaurant on the beach and watched the waves roll in and the dhows sail by. Natasha enjoyed some iced lemon tea, and I happily slurped a chocolate milkshake! We wandered along the beach a bit.
Soon we headed back to the hotel, passing by a series of mosques in the center of Stone Town. We had heard the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer throughout the day. Of course Natasha knew just the right words to greet the older gentlemen sitting on the mosque steps (“Salaam-Alaikum”). We returned to the hotel room, drained from the heat. We had reached Zanzibar. Who knew what might come next?