Discovering the ancient African Spice Capital: Stone Town

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It’s really hard to get out of my very comfortable bed today, but I must! It’s going to be a long day of discovery, adventure, incredible heat and humidity and tasting of new foods with the hopes I will not get food poisoning. After a lovely breakfast on the terrace, I venture out the busy, narrow streets of Stone Town; they are lined with shops selling everything from tourist crap to bad African arts & craft, to colorful fine art and just abut anything else you can imagine. The merchants are quite aggressive and don’t shy away from calling you out loud to sell you their trinkets; One local kid looks at me and calls me out loudly: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”. Immediately I think he’s calling me Jumbo because of my “slightly” over weight condition; not even a few minutes after, another one addresses me as “Jumbo”. That continued throughout the day to the point where I became really annoyed at the “cheek” of these people to make fun of my weight so shamelessly…how rude!!!! It was only later that evening when I was telling my friend Tina the story that she burst out in hysterical laughter and informed me that “Jumbo” means “Hello” in Swahili. I never felt so stupid; I gave every one who called me “Jumbo” the dirtiest looks all day long when In fact, they were just being kind and welcoming…such a Meryl Streep moment in “Out of Africa”!!!

 

IMG_8126 (1)The amazing Colonial architecture of Stone Town


IMG_8123 (1)The famous roof tops of Stone Town

 

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Arriving at the historic Emerson Spice Hotel

 

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Entrance of the Emerson Spice Hotel

 

IMG_8128More architectural details

 

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The amazing carved wood terraces

 

IMG_8092Carved wood terraces

 

Walking around these narrow streets, you get a sense of claustrophobia after a while and you never really know where you are; but it doesn’t matter, there is so much to see: the amazing 18-19 century colonial architecture that still remains, though in much need of restoration; the well-known, finely decorated wooden doors, with rich carvings and bas-reliefs, sometimes with big brass studs of Indian tradition . Stone Town’s architecture has a number of distinctive features, as a result of Arab, Persian, Indian, European, and African traditions mixing together. The name “Stone Town” comes from the ubiquitous use of coral stone as the main construction material; this stone gives the town a characteristic, reddish warm colour. Another Stone Town famous feature, is its rooftop lifestyle: cafés, restaurants and lounges are often on the top floor or the rooftop of their 4-5-6 story buildings, where you can escape the sweltering heat from below, while enjoying the breeze, the amazing views of the town’s roofs and the ocean. The Arabian, Persian, Indian style is evident in most of the interiors around here; you really feel like you’re on the set of “Alibaba” or that Rita Hayworth will pop out any minute now, wrapped in silk, ready to enchant you with her “Seven veils dance”.

 

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Zanzibar’s famous carved wood doors

 

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“I beg to differ…”

 

After what seems like hours walking around in circles, I stumble into the Coffee House Café, which I read about on the Internet; apparently it’s the most famous Café in Zanzibar and a favorite of the international tourism, an immediate “red flag” for me! However, since I am there, I might as well check it out. As expected it’s full of tourist and besides the fabulous local ladies behind the counter with their classic African turbans on their heads, it’s not for me, so off I go searching for the town’s main market: Darajani Market. This is the heart of the town and it’s bustling with activity; there is no better place to get the pulse of the people and a view in their way of life and what they eat than a visit to their main market. Once there, it’s a violent stimulations of the senses and It’s not for the faint hearted, in fact, some areas of the market are really hard to be in because of the foul smell of some of their foods; but most of it is filled with spices, plenty of exotic fruits and a real delight to shop around. Being the “Gourmand” that I am, I can’t resist buying al sorts of local Curries, Masalas, hot chilies and the best Vanilla beans in the world…I hope they won’t take them at the US customs.

 

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The famous Zanzibar Coffee House

 

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Interior of The Coffee House

 

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Interior of The Coffee House

 

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Arriving at the Darajani Market

 

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Darajani Market

 

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Darajani Market

 

IMG_8098The meat hall…I wonder if the cat is included?



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Dried octopus and other oddities (really smelly too)

 

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The narrow passages at the market

 

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Stone Town’s famous spices

 

IMG_8109Market activities


IMG_8108Bananas everywhere

 

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One of the thousand beautiful displays at the market

 

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By far my favorite photo of the month

 

I think I’m done with culture for the day, I got mud all over my feet from the muddy, unpaved streets and it appears I have some new friends following me…cats! Must be the smells of flesh I picked up while visiting the meat market. I’m feeling a little light-headed from the heat and I hate to say, but that infinity pool back at the Park Hyatt, is looking mighty fine now! I’m ready to go back to my comfort zone! On the way back I make a few mandatory stops at The “House of wonders”, formally the Sultan’s residence, built in 1883; It was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity as well as the first building in East Africa to have an elevator…how about that? I also visit to the Old Fort, a heavy stone fortress that was built in the 17th century by the Omanis to protect the city from European invasions; the internal courtyard is now a cultural centre with shops, workshops, and a small arena where live dance and music shows are held daily.

It’s sad to see how many of their heritage monuments are literally falling apart due to the paralyzing poverty that plagues this continent. With regard to Tanzania, perhaps thing are looking up and maybe the near future will bring some much-needed help to provide a better life for its citizens and much needed funds to restore their beautiful monuments.

 

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An old photo of the House of Wonders

 

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A new photo of The House of Wonders

 

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The building is sadly falling apart

 

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House of Wonders

 

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Another fabulous Colonial building typical of Zanzibar

 

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The Old Fort of Stone Town

 

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Kids playing football in from of my hotel at dusk

 

Once again, I will spend I quiet evening on my own at the hotel in preparation for tomorrow departure, with my friend Tina, to the other side of the island of Zanzibar, in an area called: Kendwa Beach, that apparently has the most amazing, pristine, white sand beaches in the world…I’ll be a judge of that!

Goodnight Possums: “Jumbo, Jumbo!!!”