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krisek Stone Town - A travel report by Krys
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Stone Town,  Tanzania, United Republic of - flag Tanzania, United Republic of -  Zanzibar Urban/West
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krisek's travel reports

Zanzibar, the island of both tranquility & parties

  11 votes
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Zanzibar, consisting of a few islands, three main being Zanzibar, Mafia and Pemba, entered into a political union with Tanganyika and formed the United Republic of Tanzania. Zanzibar now wants to split again. It’s one of world’s loveliest places.


Stone Town travelogue picture
I was happy to see that Zanzibar would fly their own flag everywhere, indicating that they are in fact a separate state. They do, in fact, have separate president, parliament, government, law, and national anthem. It has been a possession of the Persians, Portuguese, Omani, Italians, Germans, and eventually the British. Nevertheless, the strongest of the all colonial imprints remain the Omani, evident in the numerous mosques, Arabic architecture, and culture.

The country's main historical attraction, the Stone Town of Zanzibar, hit me with grand colonial white-washed buildings. All the main roads were lined up with extremely attractive houses. Some of them were as grand as palaces, like the one near the old fort or the one housing the Palace Museum. When my taxi started cruising among less picturesque narrow lanes filled with rubbish and rather ugly people looking like rough crooks, I immediately started to wonder if I’d made the right choice of a hotel. The situation improved and ultimately I was quite happy with my hotel room. I later found that the unattractive area was the rear space of port’s warehouses.

I sat down at the Mercury's Bar & Restaurant (actual tribute restaurant to Freddie Mercury of Queen) right on the beach. I watched like two dozens of fishermen struggled to put three large boats into the ocean, and like about fifteen boys played football games on the beach. The beach scene was animated with about fifty people, all male, going about their business. Fishermen and boatsmen were preparing their boats for the evening and night ocean trips, youth kept playing football, young and small boys swam and bathed in the ocean, some guys leaned on boats and chatted and a few just lied down and did absolutely nothing. The sun kept going down tossing fading rays at painstakingly carved wooden balconies of the UNESCO listed buildings. It was a perfect evening!

Favourite spots:
Stone Town travelogue picture
I later went on looking for the Thai restaurant I’d heard about, and for some scenes of nightlife in the centre of Stone Town. I found it. Both of them. I met Paul, aka Cosby, a young Zanzibari who worked as a bouncer in of one of the clubs. We became pals and Paul wanted to show me the main island and one or two smaller ones. We went the next day. On the way to Prison Island there was a flat, uninhabited desert island, which I think might have actually been a tidal island. There were no trees or plants on it. It was a beach in its entirety. It was a perfect place for swimming and sunbathing. The surreal aspect of the island was that its shores were full of colourful starfish. Hundreds of them! I have not seen so many alive starfish in one place before. I was really fond of the spot. I could see the main island from a distance like a mirage - the isle was about 15 minutes away from Zanzibar. I stayed there almost as long as the tides allowed.

What's really great:
Nungwi
Nungwi
Although rather small, Zanzibar was diverse. I didn’t even go everywhere. There were pretty beaches on the Indian Ocean coast in the eastern part of the island, that I didn’t see or the infamous spice factory. Not that I cared about the spice factory much, or at all, for that matter, but it did give Zanzibar the name of the spice island. There were also a few more rural areas, which I didn’t visit, but only passed through. They looked very promising and it would be great to see what they are like from up close.

The Stone Town offered history, mystery, fine dining, clubbing scene, sightseeing, watching people at work in the harbour and on the fishing ports and beaches, parks, museums, quality accommodations, and the trips to the neighbouring islands.

The northern tip of Zanzibar, near Nungwi beach, the scene was completely different. It was a tourist centre focused on lounging in beach bars, baking in the sun, hanging in the pubs and cafes built on stilts above the turquoise waters.

Sights:
Stone Town
Stone Town
The next morning, I arrived, I was supposed to go on a walking tour around Stone Town with a young guy, who was working as a room service in my hotel. He however didn’t show up, so I went on wandering about the town myself. Stone Town was not large at all, but had a labyrinth of narrow streets like a classic Arabic medina, and navigation there made it feel like a huge metropolis. I loved it though. I was on an island, so I thought I could not venture too far. The town felt lovely and exotic to me, almost as if I was transported to Oman or Yemen. Grand mansions, little shops, mosques, palaces, the old fort. I moved in the narrow shaded alleys watching people going about their business. I visited a tailor to fix my camera bag.

Prison Island nearby was one of the auxiliary sights to see the sanctuary of giant tortoises, which could be approached, touched and fed. However, if someone was not into those animals, then there was little reason to go there.

Accommodations:
Tortoise on Prison Island
Tortoise on Prison Island
When I arrived on Zanzibar in the early afternoon, I was focused on one hotel only: Malindi Lodge. The taxi driver wasn’t exactly sure where it was. I must have circled the capital twice, and navigated around the Malindi district for about twenty minutes. Eventually, the lodge was found, and I was afraid that it might have not had vacancy. But luckily it had. It was great. The room had two firm beds with mosquito nets, own bathroom and the building was an old Omani mansion.

There were many hotels around Stone Town, some exclusive and uber expensive, and some for budget travellers, and few medium range. In Nungwi, one was spoiled for choice as well. And there were many more budget options there, too.

Nightlife:
After the party
After the party
In Nungwi, I spent most of the time at the beachfront bar Cholo's, because it was Paul’s favourite place. He loved being around Europeans. After hooking up with his friends, we lingered there until 8 p.m. watching a perfect sunset and drinking passion-fruit juice and soda. The bartender played lounge and bar music, which made a great composition with the sound of the waves breaking on the beach.

Back in Stone Town, Paul took me to the most popular disco in town, the Garage Club, but first we stopped at Sweet Easy to collect two of Paul's friends one of whom, Cash, greeted me like I was his best friend. I have never been hugged like that by any of my friends! The disco was large, actually quite fine and up to standard. It took time before the scene gained temperature, but there were very comfortable couches with little tables around the dance floor, so there was plenty of space to sit and wait as the situation developed. Rooftop bar was perfect for cooling down.

Hangouts:
Nungwi Beach
Nungwi Beach
I went back to Nungwi. The trip took longer than expected and the last stretch of the road was very poor. I couldn’t imagine how long it would’ve taken, had I not taken a taxi but a regular minibus. The 50 kilometres were interrupted by eight to ten police checkpoints, which only delayed the journey. And, before I forget to mention, the taxi driver had to obtain a permit in Stone Stone to travel to the north of the island.

The beaches around Nungwi were great. Some of them were very long stretches of flat sand beach, some were small perfectly white powder-sandy bays formed and surrounded by the coral. A small paradise! The colour of the water was amazing, and the beach bars - socialising centre.

The place was perfect to meet travellers and locals from the nearby villages. I didn’t find the same in Stone Town, where the majority of visitors were wealthier and didn’t mingle that well. And locals seemed more focused on doing business with tourist rather than just to chat.

Restaurants:
Zanzibar Museum
Zanzibar Museum
I met mine at Sweet Easy, a place to party and scuff lovely Thai curries in great interiors or cool garden, which is just one of the several great places to eat in Stone Town, around Kenyatta Road. Just north of the old fort, there was a seafront garden, where on certain nights, there was a giant grilling party, where seafood was fresh and really, really cheap. My first meal on the island was at the Mercury’s. A very friendly waiter convinced a cook to do a seafood platter for me, although it was still an hour before official opening of the kitchen. The platter was lovely, but small and not a great value for money.

There countless local eateries in the alleys of Stone Town offering simple food for next to nothing. Great for boiled eggs and rolls for breakfast!

In Nungwi, there were many, many places where to have fruit salads, simple grilled fish or more sophisticated meals, almost all complete with perfect views over the ocean. And there were some owned by local villagers!

Other recommendations:
Paul - my 'bodyguard'
Paul - my 'bodyguard'
Zanzibar was growing a reputation of a tourist hassle island. The term ‘beach boys’ had been used frequently in my conversations with a few travellers who’d gone to Zanzibar before me. Even my new friends from Lamu in Kenya, whom I met a few days before, had told me that I would be hassled there. Well, this never truly happened. I wasn’t hassled on any of the Zanzibar beaches or anywhere in Stone Town. Yes, I was approached once or twice by t-shirt and cheap souvenir sellers, but most of the time I was with Paul, who would prevent any troublemaker from approaching me, but when I was on my own wandering about the island, no-one troubled me. No-one really talked to me. Call it my luck, but I believe that the Zanzibari hassling business was massively exaggerated. But if anyone is concerned about it - befriend a local guy, who will provide valuable insights to the place and will act as a bodyguard. And they love it, too.

Published on Saturday February 16th, 2008


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Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 07:20 AM rating by magsalex

That water looks so appealing!

Sat, Feb 16 2008 - 09:38 PM rating by rangutan

There is nothing better and more interesting than reading about what the LOCAL PEOPLE do rather than what the TOURISTS do. Your reports are very good examples of this.

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