18.04.2009 - 25.04.2009
Vladivostok. Karaganda. Pondicherry. Outer Mongolia (I know, I know). Samarkand. Jokkmokk. Yokohama. Timbuktu. Aylesbury*. Zanzibar. Some places have attracted me since I was young for no other reason than I like the sound of the name, which I think sounds so wonderfully exciting and exotic. Though Timbuktu remains the number 1 destination for me on name alone, i have no illusions about how it will actually be should I ever make it there. I expect it to be a veritable dump. Over the years, I have often (but not always) found that places which you hold in such high mental regard sadly fail to live up to expectations, and so I have to admit that my hopes for Zanzibar were not overly high.
So I was pleasantly surprised. Sort of. Six hours on a cargo boat later and we had covered the 35km to Zanzibar Stone Town, and i loved it. Parts of it reminded me of Fes, parts of Qom and parts of another Middle Eastern city that I cannot quite place. Lots of narrow pathways and alleyways heading off in all directions, with brilliantly evocative – though in some places a little bit too neglected – architecture and, especially, doors and doorways throughout. Unlike Fes, for example, most of the alleyways were through passages, and with Stone Town surrounded by water on 2sides of it's roughly triangular shape, it means that it was hard to ever get truly lost (although I accept that getting lost can be one of the best experiences of such places).
We spent a happy few days wandering the town, browsing the shops and stalls, and eating as much seafood as possible, including lots of skewers from the excellent outdoor evening bazaar by the seafront. From there it was up north, past the endless police checkpoints and roadsigns with oddly specific distances (19.3km, for example) to Nungwi, to do something that I rarely feel any great need to do: sit on a beach for a couple of days.
Sadly time was not on our side, and after a week, we had to leave without getting to the East or South of the island. We also had to leave with my stomach unsatisfied. I had seafood everyday, yet with the exception of a few of the skewers from the bazaar and the last meal I had in Nungwi, I was almost universally disappointed with the seafood that was served. It was all edible, and none of it was bad, but on a small island with a deep fishing history and large amounts of truly fresh fish to use, I was surprised at how average the seafood was. I was also disappointed by the locals: Whilst there were some very friendly and helpful ones, many were not. In Stone Town in particular, it is easy to 'collect' followers (normally younger men, and especially when you have several women in the group) who are near impossible to shake off, believe you are best friends if you have exchanged 3words or asked a simple question/direction, and can then get very abusive when you try and actively get rid of them. People are also actively trying to conn you: short changing you which happened so often that it obviously was not accidental, not fixing – or even causing - problems (like no water in a hotel room) and the inevitable need to haggle for everything – on our return to Stone Town we (5 of us) agreed on 4000 Schillings each for a taxi, but had to promise not to say how much we had paid to 2 others in the taxi who had paid 10usd each, or about 12500 Schillings. I know it happens. I know it's normal. I know you have to fight for a decent price. But it can be tiring, especially when you are already feeling really, really sh1tty.
- No. Not really.
Thanks to Maaret for many of the photos in this entry. For reasons that I have forgotten, I took few photos, and so have since decided to shamelessly steal hers instead