I found Paradise!

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Good morning Africa!!! It’s time to pack again; my friend Tina is coming back from Switzerland and meeting me at my hotel for lunch, after which we will drive to the north side of Zanzibar at a beach named Kendwa Beach, known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world…they say. I’m going to miss this hotel; one last breakfast on the terrace and I’ll start packing. By now the whole staff of the hotel knows me by first name and I don’t even have to ask for anything…it’s already on its way! I will say once again how impresses I am with the friendliness and cheerfulness of the people of Tanzania. On-time as a Swiss Coo coo clock, Tina arrives at noon at the Park Hyatt, and after a quick visit around the property and lunch, a few Uuhh’s and ahhhhh’s and a few “Jambo” jokes, we jump into the waiting van with driver that Tina has arranged for us to get to our destination. It’s a 2-hour drive through a very congested and chaotic city, then through the colorful and chaotic suburbs, into the jungle and finally…PARADISE!!!! The moment you arrive at the hotel and look toward the beach, you are blinded by the colors in the horizon: the bluest waters I have ever seen and the whites sands I have ever seen. It’s hard to focus on the check-in process, all I can think is getting down to the water.

 

IMG_8216 (1)The entrance of the Gold Hotel Resort


IMG_8199My first look at Kendwa Beach…I’m in shock at the beauty of it all!


IMG_8190The water is a velvety Aquamarine color and the skies appear to be violet

 

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The pristine, white sand beaches

 

We were supposed to stay at this fabulous, brand new, super chic, 5 star resort that I arranged months ago from the US, but just a few days ago, I got an email form the Toko Toko Resort informing me that regrettably, the hotel burned down the night before and that all reservations, pre-paid I will add, are now cancelled…I will say this is a first for me! So now I’m in Tanzania, 2 days away from going to my fab resort and the damn thing just burned to the ground…that’s 3rd world for you! I call Tina in a panic, letting her know that we will end up sleeping on a beach in a tent and will be eaten by crawly critters if I don’t find a quick solution to our new problem. Burt no worries, Tina makes a few phone calls to her friends and before you know it, we are all set to stay in another resort named Kendwa Rocks…phew!!!

Since I didn’t arrange this place and didn’t have a chance to investigate it, as I always do with all hotels I stay in before choosing them; I’m a little concerned…but what the hell, can’t be that bad! The moment we arrive at the gates of this resort, I know we have a problem; it took just a few short minutes to realize that the hotel that Tina’s friend organized for us is, by far, the most horrific, hippy infested, filthy, pot smoking, drunken college kids infested, mosquito infested, unsanitary collection of decrepit wood shacks they call “Bungalows”, that I have ever set foot in. I looked at Tina and simply said: “Are you kidding me????? I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than stay in this dump”. We lasted a few hours, just enough time to get on my computer (Thank God for WIFI) and find a 5 star resort just next door to the “Crack House” with 1 room left at $400 a night…”I’ll take it!!!!”

 

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Our beach resort from the ocean

 

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Tina found her Cabana and isn’t moving.

 

IMG_8157The charming Cabanas at Gold Resort


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Our amazing beach

 

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More beach shoots

 

So before you know it, we are checking in, once again, at Gold Zanzibar Beach House & Spa; literally a spit away from where we were. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this place a “Real” 5 star hotel, in fact, it’s one of those “all inclusive”, high-end resorts that I avoid like the plague; but next to where we just escaped from, this is a 10 star in my book! It’s also full of Italians, which is always a good sign (they know their shit when it comes to travel). I’m dying to get my ass on that beach and into that water; after dropping off our luggage in our Alibaba-ish beachfront room, I am running to the water “á la” Bo Dereck, “sans” the “10” body or decorative beads. The pristine white sand is blinding to the eye from the reflection of the sun, but feels so soft and cool to the touch. The jaw dropping moment is reaching the intense aquamarine color, velvety water that changes color with the sun and the surreal purple sky; it’s like being on the set of a Sci-fi movie. The color and texture combination is just out if this world, not to mention, a welcome alternative to the sweltering heat and humidity.

 

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Meet my new little friend…

 

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Arabesque detail from the Beach Bar

 

After a good 2 hour session in the ocean it’s time for some sun action! On the way back to my chaise lounge, I run into 2 very young Maasai warriors patrolling the beach, with their beautiful red robes, super cool “Faux” Ray Ban’s and of course…the stick. This tribe is truly remarkable, such amazing history and tradition; not to mention, they can kill a lion with their bare hands…That is more than enough for me to be impressed!

 

IMG_8215 (1)The amazing young Maasai warriors patrolling the beaches

 

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Dusk at Kendwa Beach

 

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Dusk

 

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Taking it all in

 

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Beyond…

 

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Sunset on Kendwa Beach

 

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Palapa detail at our resort

 

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The beautiful “Palapa” dining room at Gold Resort

 

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Kendwa Rocks Hotel beach Bar

 

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Another Bar on the beach

 

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Not bad for this remote area: Papaya Martini

 

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Arriving at Langilangi Beach Restaurant

 

IMG_8247Langilangi Menu…check out the bottom quote. How eloquent.


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The charming interior of Langilangi

 

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More interior

 

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View of the beach and ocean from our table

 

IMG_8257Just another terrible photo of me and Tina


IMG_8249The Langilangi restaurant terrace


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An street market open at 11pm, with a 5 year old boy angrily pointing his finger at me and telling me not to photograph him.

 

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Back to our Gold Resort

 

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My super kitch Alibaba tented bed

 

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Well protected from the local venomous, flying critters.


IMG_8159 (1)Morning walk at Kendwa Rocks Hotel…AKA “The crack house”

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Lovely detail

 

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And that amazing beach again…


IMG_8239Fishermen’s boats


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Fishermen’s boats

 

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Tina and myself ready for our foot massage.

 

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No filter…just paradise!

 

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My last moments in paradise

 

The rest of my time in Kendwa Beach is really all the same kind of bliss: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed. Repeat: beach, lunch, beach, massage, sunset, dinner, bed! The real beauty of this place cannot be described, it can only be experienced; it’s off the beaten path and perhaps lacks some of the western necessities that some travelers might expect; for me, however, it is heaven; it’s beautiful in every way, it’s peaceful and it’s surprising. I’m so far from my comfort zone and yet so comfortable in such a deep level; I feel so connected to nature when I’m here and so free. I know this all sound a bit wacky and self-indulgent, but if you ever get the chance to visit this country, you will know what I mean. They have so little and yet they seem so richer than most people back home…food for thoughts! I am humbled by this experience and I leave a better person. This, my friends, is the reason I travel!!!

I’ll be leaving for Switzerland in a few days and then back to LA to start working on hotel #2. I will re-connect with you then! In the meantime, I send you all positive energy from “Mother Africa”.

“Assante” Africa…I will be back!

 

 

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

 

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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!!!”

 

Today’s destination: Stone Town, Zanzibar

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After packing and a quick breakfast, Tina’s driver is waiting for us outside to take us to the national airport in Dar es Salaam for my short 20 minutes flight to the mystical island of Zanzibar, an ancient and historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic influences. Zanzibar is a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. On its main island, Unguja, familiarly called Zanzibar, is Stone Town, The northern villages Nungwi and Kendwa have wide white sand beaches lined with hotels; I’ll be staying there later in the week,

Driving on the main road to the airport, you can’t help noticing the incredible amount of construction going on in Dar es Salaam, hundreds and hundreds of new buildings and skyscrapers all mixed in with the old decrepit small business and what appear like mud homes where people live in; all lining the unpaved streets bustling with thousands of street vendors and activity. The paradox between old and new Africa seems to burst trough the seams. Once we arrive to the airport we are attacked by third party travel agents that wait for the “unaware” to pounce and sell you tickets to wherever you are going (It’s always better to buy your air tickets on line through proper travel websites) . Tina and I fall immediately into the trap, but once we realized what was going on, Ms. Thing pulled out that Swiss Airlines badge, like a DEA agent in the movies, stormed through security, barged into Coastal Aviation office (the main local airline) and demanded NOT to be messed with!!! I just stood by quietly with a grin of proudness on my face until she was done and I had a super cheep ticket to Zanzibar in just under one hour…”Not that’s how it’s done in Switzerland…bitches!!!”.

 

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Check-in

 

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Of course there had to be the “Out of Africa Cafe” at the airport

 

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Simple but effective…good cappuccino and grilled ham and cheese sandwich

 

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Not much traffic today

 

Tina is not coming with me today, in fact, she has to fly back to Zurich for work but will be rejoining me in 3 days in Stone Town. So after a short wait at the “Out of Africa” Café (Imagine that…), it’s time to board this really scary, small, beaten-up bucket they call a plane! It’s a 10 seater Cessna and pretty much the only choice for traveling inside Tanzania, so I better get ahold of myself and squeeze myself through the inhumanly narrow isle to reach my inhumanly small seat behind the pilot…at least if we go down, I’ll have the best view! When you finally reach cruising altitude the fear of flying is replaced by the sheer beauty out the window of the Indian coast line, the turquoise waters and corral reefs…Just Amazing!!!

 

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This is the flying bucket that will be taking me to Zanzibar

 

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God help me…

 

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Dar es Salaam’s coat and the deserted island I had lunch at yesterday

 

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Corral reefs sufronding the island of Zanzibar

 

Before you know it we land in Zanzibar…Get me out of this plane already! Like all the other airports in Tanzania, this one too, is chaotic and no one quite knows what is gong on and where you are supposed to go, but eventually you work it out and reach the outside parking area where hundreds of drivers and Taxi men are fighting for you business. Through the mob I see a smiley, bright eyed, thin young man wearing a Moroccan white crisp clean tunic, holding a gold framed sign with “Mr. Kass” on it…a sign of relieve takes over me as I wave away: “here, here…” just like Meryl did on “Out of Africa”.

 

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And here we are!

 

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Where is mine???

 

When I was looking into which hotel to stay in Stone Town, I was reluctant to consider the newly finished and only proper 5 star hotel in the island: The Park Hyatt (www.zanzibar.park.hyatt.com). I usually try to pick local brads or independent hotels; I always feel you get a much better feel for the local culture and experience as you would by staying in the big, foreign chain. But the whole story I read about Park Hyatt buying a beachfront, 17th century mansion on the Indian ocean and restoring it to it’s formal glory in such great taste…I couldn’t resist! I picked The Park Hyatt and I’m on my way and I’m not apologetic…BTW, it’s always good to mix it up a little when you’re visiting 3rd world countries: doesn’t hurt to throw in a few “5 stars” moments in the mix, now and then. My love affair with the Park Hyatt Zanzibar starts at the entrance of the hotel…I just know! The architecture, the design and attention that went into re-storing this building is obvious the moment you arrive; beyond chic and so respectful of the integrity of the original building and it’s environment…well done! I spend the late afternoon exploring the many areas of this oceanfront stunner and even more time enjoying my brand new, super comfortable, colonial, four-post bed and all the many state of-the-art amenities this hotel offers. The temperature is stifling and probably 100% humidity, so I rather hang out in the infinity pool for the rest of the day and wait till sundown before venturing out in the small town.

 

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The stunning 17th century building that is the new Park Hyatt Hotel

 

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The elegant Arabic entrance of the Hyatt Hotel Zanzibar

 

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Stunning lobby

 

IMG_7963Sitting room


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My Ali Baba suite…so thrilled!

 

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More…

 

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Now this is a bathroom

 

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I’ll be sending lots of time here

 

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View from my room



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The hotel’s Bar

 

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The amazing infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean

 

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More…

 

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Terrace

 

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Detail

 

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The Tanzanian classic fishing boat on the horizon

 

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Sunset from my bedroom

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

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Park Hyatt

 

The town of Stone Town is a very complicated grid of winding narrow streets, filled with shops, art galleries, hotels, cafés, minarets, stunning carved doorways and 19th-century landmarks such as the House of Wonders, a former sultan’s palace. It’s impossible to find your way in this maze but you can only end up in two places if you get lost…and you will: the ocean or the Daranjani Market square; from where you can find your way home. Tonight I’m going to have a quick walk around at the Forodhani Gardens, the town’s main square, in front of the Old Fort, where all the locals congregate after work to eat and hang out and where all the food vendors cook up a myriad of local delights, mostly from the ocean, that they sell in the dark square lit by hundreds of gas lights.

 

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Amazing architecture

 

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One of the many roof-top Cafés in Stone Town

 

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Local children huddled around a few TV playing video games

 

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Street vendors in the Gardens of Forodhani

 

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The amazing food displays in the main square

 

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The Floating Restaurant

 

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One of the many Restaurants in Stone Town

 

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Arabesque architecture

 

IMG_8069Should I…should I not?

 

There is something so magical about hanging out in this square on the Oceanside; the energy, the smells, the people, the colors, and the foods…it’s so intoxicating! There are hundreds of scrawny little cats everywhere; I wonder how many end up on the dining table. There are so many interesting looking foods displayed on portable tables, some of which I have never seen and no shortage of sales people calling you out to try their delights; I usually don’t have any problems eating food from street vendors in any country I visit, in fact, I love doing that…that’s how you really get to experience the local fare!!!! But tonight I decide to treat myself to a delicious dinner in my hotel, in that beautiful terrace overlooking the water, with a good glass of wine, proper china and white linens. Tomorrow I will properly explore the locals’ foods and customs…. I promise!

My King fish with Curry dinner is amazing and after a few glasses of South African wine by myself, it’s time for some of that amazing bathtub action before curling up in my 4-poster-bed for a movies and much needed rest.

“Kwaheri” everyone…or good night

 

IMG_8078King fish with Curry

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Great end to a perfect day!