Colonia del Sacramento

Day trips to Uruguay are a common offering in Buenos Aires. You’ve got two options: Montevideo, which is the capital of Uruguay; or Colonia, a small town of about 30,000 people and a lot nearer (1hr). You can buy tickets for the Buquebus yourself or do as we did and simply walk into any of the many travel agencies located on Avenida Córdoba near Galerías Pacífico. Trying to drum up tourism, they offer packages designed exclusively for foreigners which end up being cheaper than buying tickets at the station; plus they give you a guided walking tour of Colonia’s historic downtown, a bus tour around the outskirts, and they even throw in a sandwich, not a good one but hey: free food.

Some tips about the ferry. Once you arrive at the Buquebus station, get thru security and into the waiting area immediately. Don’t be fooled by how few people are milling around pre-security. By the time we got in, the line to get on the ferry snaked around the station 3 times already. Why does this matter? Seats aren’t numbered, you simply get the one you can and it is a free-for-all once those doors open. Best is by the windows. Aisle rows are directly below the A/C vents and made us long for the heavy jackets we had left back at the hotel in Buenos Aires. A curious fact is that since this is an international trip, they’ve got duty-free shopping aboard the ferry. We wandered into the store and were shocked by what people were willing to pay for products they can’t get back home.

That’s US Dollars!

Items were flying off the shelves nevertheless.

Arriving in Colonia offers a pretty view of the lighthouse and the Uruguayan flag.

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Colonia del Sacramento was founded in 1680 by Portuguese settlers who built a fort around the city. Today you can still visit some vestiges of the old city wall

as well as the drawbridge.

On the outside of the drawbridge you will find a plaque commemorating José Gervasio Artigas who led Uruguay’s struggle for independence from the four nations which claimed it for themselves: Spain, Portugal, Brazil & Argentina, and the men who courageously followed him back in 1811.

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Downtown’s tallest building is the lighthouse. Buy tickets at the base and then climb the very narrow stairs all the way up to the lens.

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From this height you get unobstructed views of Colonia’s water treatment plant on one side,

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as well as the Rio de la Plata on the other. This is the widest river in the world and was named so for the silver the Guaraní tribes along its coast traded with the early European explorers.

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Sit a while and take it all in.

Colonia’s Historic Downtown Quarter has preserved the fusion of Spanish and Portuguese architectures and for this reason UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1995 .

It’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is never forgotten as evidenced by the exhibits in its tiny museum.

Once our walking tour ended, we rented a golf cart to drive out from the old downtown to visit one of Colonia’s most famous landmarks: the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. It is famous for its Moorish architecture which came about simply because the Argentinian entrepreneur who built it, liked the style. The bullring was opened in 1910 and shut down just 2 years later when Uruguay banned bullfighting as cruel to animals.

The ring sits abandoned and could be visited up to a few years ago when a small earthquake caused some wall crumbling. The authorities fenced it in and closed it to the public for their own safety. It’s nice to look at but…

More interesting is the long road leading up to it which borders the river and has access to several beach spots. Although the water is a bit smelly, it is warm and people do swim here.

You will see a few people fishing from shore but actually Uruguay is an increasingly known destination for deep-water fishing for much bigger catch: the hyper-aggressive Dorado, or Mahi-Mahi. This is due to the country’s safety and relative affordability. I do say relative because we found things in Colonia to be shockingly expensive. One could go broke on ice cream here.

While cannabis is legal in Uruguay, don’t get any ideas as it is legal ONLY to citizens and they have to register with the government for it.

We spent the entire day in Colonia and to be honest it was half a day too long. Of course you could always just sit at one of their many, many downtown cafes and pass the time, food was pretty good every place we tried.

Or stroll through their beautiful old colonial streets. Just make sure you watch your step. Colonia takes its animal love to the extreme: dozens of dogs wander the city unaccompanied leaving their mark literally everywhere.

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I bet the humongous insects don’t mind.

This post concludes my interlude and now we get to the really awesome part. Why were we all the way here at the oddest time of the year? You see, the destination we were headed to can only be visited now because the ice engulfs and isolates it later. Have you guessed yet? Antarctica!! Which was absolutely incredible but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about it.

Categories: South America, UNESCO site, Uruguay | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Art in BA

Argentina has given the world several renowned artists such as Antonio Berni who is one of the creators of the impressive frescoes at Galerías Pacífico.

Berni also collaborated with Siqueiros on that cellar we talked about in the previous post. When a mall contains treasures such as these, it is well worth visiting. Don’t miss out on the extravagantly flavored ice cream (bottom level, next to the food court). You will find many other works from Berni at the Museum of Latin American Art such as “The Grand Illusion”:This work is a criticism of Capitalism and the illusions of beauty and wealth it promotes to the detriment of peace. It is certainly not meant to be pleasing to the eye. The Museum of Latin American Art was a highlight of our visit to Buenos Aires and I can’t recommend it enough. Although the museum is one of the few places in BA that charges admission, the guided tour itself is free and very much worth sticking around for. Among its many treasures is one by the most well-known Latin American artist ever: Frida Kahlo.A peculiar Argentinan artist is Xul Solar. His name means ‘light of the sun’ and he picked it himself. His former house has now been converted to a museum dedicated to his work. Solar was eccentric, believed in astrology and numerology, and was certain that flying cities were the answer to the problem of overpopulation. He wasn’t only a painter though, he invented games and musical instruments as well.He even went as far as to invent a new language: “Pan-Lingua”, even though he already had mastered 10 different ones! He believed that Pan Lingua, which is based on Mathematics and Music, would eventually become our universal language. Xul Solar was a dreamer. He was also best friends with Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina’s greatest author, and a very vocal critic of the Peróns.

A somewhat odd relationship considering that Borges was a conservative and Solar could easily be described as kooky.

And since we’re on the subject of writers, Buenos Aires is home to the second most spectacular bookstore in the world: El Ateneo. (number one is in The Netherlands in case you wondered) This bookstore is housed in the former building of the Teatro Gran Splendid which was opened in 1919. Today, the seats have been replaced with shelves, the stage has been converted to a café with occasional music acts, and the theater balconies have become reading rooms. I could easily have spent the entire day here.

Best thing was our hotel was just a few blocks away which after a long day of walking, believe me, matters.

No visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without a stroll through “El Caminito”, the iconic BA postcard.

El Caminito is situated in the Boca neighborhood and although it is very touristic and hence quite safe, take a cab here. We were told the Subte station wasn’t safe even at midday. Here you can find Maradona,

Evita and Perón,

even the Pope!

as well as the Boca Juniors stadium.

Boca Juniors is the most successful Argentinian fútbol team, although that is debatable according to our taxi driver who didn’t hesitate to make his deeply held contrary opinion known.

If you happen to be in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you must visit the enormous open air San Telmo market. All sorts of original wares are sold here and the food is fantastic. Try the empanadas, they are cheap, fast and oh so good, particularly the Margarita ones. Stop by the plaza where you can watch couples practicing their Tango moves.

At the far end of San Telmo you will find Mafalda and her friends.

Mafalda: “her neighborhood is San Telmo, her home the world.”

Mafalda is the creation of Argentinian cartoonist Quino and as well known throughout Latin America as Snoopy is in the USA. While Mafalda is only 6 years old, she is prematurely worried about the world and concerned with politics. Mafalda taught me to be an environmentalist before I even knew the word existed. She was also the only girl I knew growing up for whom speaking her mind didn’t seem to be a problem and thus a role model, as silly as that may seem. The boys were horrified at how giddy I got when I found her sitting on a bench. Can you fault me for loving her?

“My hair is not uncombed, it has freedom of expression”

I don’t want to end this post on Buenos Aires without recommending you visit Parrilla Peña, a restaurant whose specialty is “bife de chorizo”, the best steak you’ll ever have. The portions are huge, one meal can easily feed two grown men, and very reasonably priced (cash only). Not to mention that they will serve you empanadas as an appetizer, they’ve got inexpensive house wine, and their freshly-squeezed orange juice is to die for. They’re off the tourist track and most of their patrons are locals, that’s how you know it’s good. Get there early because it fills up but if you can’t, just walk up to the owner and he’ll get you on the waiting list. It is worth the wait and that’s coming from someone who never ever waits. Don’t despair if you can’t get to Parrilla Peña though, we found food in Buenos Aires to be good every place we tried. You can not go wrong simply sitting down at one of the many corner cafés for a bit of rest and people-watching.

I’ve got one more place to show you before I let you know why we came all the way here but it will have to wait for the next time. A bit more patience, it’ll be worth it.

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Buenos Aires

We are very lucky to have summers off and thus all our travels are usually then but this time we were forced (you just feel sorry for us, don’t you?) to take an early break in Spring. I am going to keep you wondering why for just a bit though. For now, let me tell you that we found ourselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina in early March, the end of their summer.

The weather was pleasant, people nice, food yummy and the city beautiful: highly recommend it.

Our first stop was the Recoleta Cemetery which is one of the most famous and beautiful cemeteries in the world.

Why was this our first stop? They have free tours Tues-Fri at 11am & Sat-Sun at 11am and 3pm. This being Sunday, we didn’t want to miss it or else we wouldn’t be able to make it up since we wouldn’t be in BA for long. The cemetery was founded by the “Recoleto” friars (from where the neighborhood takes its name) in 1732 when they built a church here. Back then the cemetery was for Catholics only but was opened to the general public in 1822. As the wealthy people fleeing the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1870 settled in the Recoleta neighborhood, the cemetery came to harbor some of the most illustrious citizens of BA, among them politicians and athletes as well as artists, writers and actors; 15 presidents and 2 Nobel prizes are buried here. However, the cemetery’s most famous resident is without any doubt Eva Perón.

Eva Perón was the second wife of Juan Domingo Perón, Argentina’s first democratically elected president and the only one to be so elected on three different occasions.

Evita was instrumental in getting her husband to the presidency the first two times. She wasn’t around for the third as she died of cervical cancer just a few months after his reelection. In a curious coincidence, Perón’s first wife had also died of cervical cancer years before he met Evita. (PSA: HPV, do your kids a favor and get them vaccinated.) Evita came from poverty and was born out of wedlock, both circumstances earning her discrimination throughout her life. Add the disability of being a woman at that time and you gain an understanding of where her policies to help the poor, particularly women and children, came from. Were it not for her female condition, Evita would surely have held elected office herself. As it were, she had tremendous influence on her husband: Argentinian women owe her the right to vote (1947) and the right to hold shared custody of their children (1949). Evita remains even today the most beloved first lady in the entire world. She died at only 33 years old, an event which her enemies, of which she had many among the upper classes who hated her policies, celebrated with graffiti thanking Cancer and a campaign to malign her by calling her “ambitious”. Those poor souls probably had an apoplexy when her funeral lasted 16 days and more than 2 million people stood in the rain for days just for a chance to say good bye. Evita’s wake was held at Argentina’s National Congress, an honor bestowed on no other first lady. I could talk for days about Evita but instead I will encourage you to learn for yourself about this admirable woman who dared to desire an equal place in a man’s world.

The Recoleta Cemetery is the definition of a City of the Dead: it is over 5 blocks wide, divided into segments with streets and alleyways. To find any particular tomb, you must consult the map.

Visit Evita early to avoid the crowds (quick tip: she is buried in her father’s crypt among the family who despised her)

and then simply get lost while you enjoy the amazing architecture of the mausoleums.

Navigating Buenos Aires is pretty simple, the subway (called Subte) lines run on schedule and hailing a cab from the sidewalk is safe and inexpensive. Nevertheless, we ended up walking the entire city! We simply went from one attraction to the next thinking that each was too near the previous one to take transportation. At the end of the day, our feet hated us but we had seen even some attractions which don’t figure in the guide books such as this whimsical tree support in a nearby park.

Buenos Aires was founded in the 16th century by Spanish traders, the architecture of the city is a dead giveaway to its colonial past. BA is full of statues and old colonial buildings everywhere you turn to. One such monument is the one erected to remember General José de San Martín, along with Simón Bolivar, one of the liberators of South America from Spanish rule and a national hero in Argentina.

Teatro Colón is a must-see attraction.

It is the main opera house in Argentina and a beautiful building full of gorgeous details.

However, what gives it world renown are the acoustics. They are so perfect that even Luciano Pavarotti considered it to be among the top 5 concert halls in the world.

What is even cooler is that they not only hold performances for adults but also some especially designed for children to enjoy. We weren’t in BA long enough to get tickets but we were lucky that the day we were touring it, the philharmonic was practicing and we got to watch them for a bit.

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and thus is the site of the houses of government, most of them arranged around the Plaza de Mayo which makes it easy to visit them all in one day. You could begin by visiting the “Congreso de la Nacion” or National Congress at the start of Avenida de Mayo and then follow this avenue to its end at the Plaza. The National Congress has free guided tours every Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri at 12:30 & 17 hrs.

Get here early because you must sign in & show official ID to obtain tickets (they’re free); it will take a while to get in and the guide won’t wait for stragglers. We began our visit backwards and were dead tired by the time we got here but considered ourselves lucky to have gotten in to the last tour. This is the House of Representatives; there are 257 of them but only 72 senators.

We were surprised by how exhaustive the visit was. We even got to see the Library of Congress with its beautiful Walnut wood panels covering every last bit,

as well as the Eva Perón Hall which was decorated in pink by the woman herself as a reminder to the congressmen that women should also be given a place at the table.

A gold bust of Evita (left-hand corner) as well as her funeral shroud are now exhibited here.

Following the avenue, on the west side of the Plaza de Mayo lies the “Cabildo” which is where Buenos Aires government was first established by the Spanish settlers to represent them before the Crown. It is now a museum narrating the history of Buenos Aires. The old well still stands in the patio.

From its balcony you can see the Metropolitan Cathedral to the left.

The remains of General José de San Martín are kept here.

Directly across the Plaza stands the “Casa Rosada” which is pink because President Sarmiento decided to paint it so in 1868 and this tradition has been followed since.

The Casa Rosada is the workplace of the president, vice-president and their cabinets. Free guided tours are offered Sat & Sun but you must sign up online early enough (up to 15 days ahead) to get a spot. As expected of a place of such importance, the inside is a work of art although understandably pictures aren’t allowed in most rooms. This is the White Hall or “Salón Blanco” where the most important events take place, such as the transfer of power from the outgoing president to the incoming one and the signing of international treaties.

Once again, we were surprised at how comprehensive the visit was since we were taken to see even the offices of the president and vice-president, no pictures allowed of course. The only hall we weren’t shown was the one dedicated to Eva Perón from where she ran her foundation for the poor when she was alive. From her hall, the balcony on which she famously addressed the populace is accessed. I would have loved to have been able to step out unto it.

The Honor Hall is populated with the busts of Argentina’s constitutionally elected presidents (not all of them have been so). The bust of Néstor Kirchner (prez from 2003-2007) stands out because of the band-aid on his forehead. The bust was commissioned by his widow Cristina (also a former president of Argentina 2007-2015) after his death. She insisted on the band-aid to commemorate the one he had to wear at his swearing-in ceremony after an accidental run-in with a photographer’s camera when he approached the crowds gathered to take a peek at the new president.

Behind the Casa Rosada stands the Casa Rosada Museum. The museum is underground, at the site of the first fort established here in the eighteenth century.

It covers Argentinian history from its beginnings to the present day with several movies as well as artifacts, furniture and paintings. It is a well-designed and very informative museum, an absolute must-see to understand Argentina’s violent and complicated history. And its free!

It also houses an incredible piece by David Alfaro Siqueiros,

Mexican muralist who designed an entire underground alcove for his patron Natalio Botana.

Siqueiros’ murals tended to speak of the injustices suffered by the poor in being exploited by the rich and thus he was an uncomfortable guest. He was exiled in 1929 to Uruguay where he met and married his muse, Blanca Luz Brum, a writer. He was then invited to L.A. where his mural “Tropical America” caused the U.S. authorities to suggest he leave the country. At this time, Victoria Ocampo (Argentinian writer) asked him to travel to Buenos Aires for a series of lectures; he gladly accepted her invitation. During his first lecture, he exhorted Argentinian artists to let their art break free from tradition and instead mirror back to society its ills. His incendiary lecture caused the military government of Argentina to detain him for a few days (he wouldn’t be allowed to give any more lectures) after which Siqueiros found himself unable to leave the country. Botana offered him a home and asked him to decorate his wine cellar in return. The entire story is sordid…and terribly interesting! See, Siqueiros came to Argentina with his wife and he held the firm conviction that art should be free and accessible to everyone. Botana asking him to paint an underground and private cellar was jarring to him. On top of it, his wife becomes Botana’s lover and when Siqueiros finally leaves for New York City, she stays behind. Now, Botana was a married man himself but his wife was in a sanatorium in Germany addicted to ether. Turns out that when she had confessed to her then 17 year old firstborn that Botana was not his father, the son shot himself in front of his two younger brothers. The mother couldn’t take it and became addicted to opium. Ether was supposed to cure her addiction to opium but didn’t. She lived to the ripe old age of 80 outliving them all.

For the cellar, Siqueiros decided to paint a completely apolitical mural devoid of all ideology. He imagined a glass box under the sea and painted naked women swimming around the box staring at us who are standing inside this box. It is very different from every other of his murals but no less stunning. Who do you imagine served as the model for this work? His wife of course. His mural was “lost” for a time as Botana died in a car accident and his heirs lost the estate. The new owners were scandalized by the nudity in the mural and ordered it destroyed with acid and painted over. In 2001, the Argentinian government declared it a national treasure, cut it up into 7 pieces and transferred it to the museum where it can now be visited by all, just as Siqueiros would have wanted. Pictures aren’t allowed of course but here’s a link where you can take a peek at this work of art being visited by then prez Cristina Fernandez Kirchner.

Not only is Buenos Aires rich in history but also art, and I haven’t even begun telling you about the food but let’s take a pause and leave something for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Argentina, South America | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dubai

Our last stop before going home was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is made up of 7 emirates, Dubai City being the capital of the Emirate of Dubai. The UAE is a Muslim monarchy ruled by Sharia law although we were told this is only applied to Emirati citizens and not foreigners, which outnumber them 7 to 1.

We hadn’t planned on visiting Dubai but since we were flying Emirates Airlines (THE best airline we’ve ever been on), all connections go through Dubai. On our way in to South Africa we had had an 8hr nighttime layover at the Dubai airport which was a nightmare. The Dubai airport is humongous and has the feel of a never-ending shopping mall. Although some nice reclining chairs are placed all over the airport, there were none near our gate and the few which were not extremely far away, were guarded zealously by other tired passengers. You see, since ALL connections go through Dubai, the amount of passengers is such that even at 2am, it is beyond crowded. On top of that, Dubai airport is a bit quirky in its A/C usage: you might be freezing cold in some areas but step just two feet to the side and you’ll be sweating in no time. We had huddled on the floor near our gate in an attempt to sleep for a bit but truth be told, I am getting too old for that. Let’s leave it at: it wasn’t pleasant.

We had a 12hr layover on the way back! On top of which, I was beginning to develop painful pustules from the Zanzibari jellyfish stings (they would take a few weeks after getting home to clear themselves up).

We simply didn’t feel ready to deal with all that and thus decided to postpone our flight and spend the night in Dubai.

We were in Dubai in August and the temperature was nearing 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Farenheit). The streets were understandably deserted. I was raised in the desert, 40C degree (100ish F) weather doesn’t faze me but this? It was hard to breathe, and even to see since the air has a brown hazy quality to it from all the sand surrounding the city.

The unbelievable part is that hundreds of construction workers labor in this heat.

Can’t you just feel the heat waves radiating up from the concrete under them?

Most of these migrant workers come from India, Pakistan and Indonesia. When they arrive in Dubai, they sometimes have their passports taken away, effectively bonding them to their bosses as without this document they are not permitted to leave the UAE. They are housed in inhumane conditions, packed like sardines without A/C in this atrocious heat. Most of them work under unsafe conditions, deaths at construction sites are a common occurrence. Rights violations have been documented by Human Rights Watch and, as expected, denied by the government. No matter what, economics always rules and as long as there are jobs, migrants will come. Dubai is building up and out in its effort to become one of the premier touristic destinations of the world in preparation for the 2020 World Expo. The amount of construction going on blows the mind.

None of the people we met were from Dubai or even the UAE; all were foreigners, there to work, save some dirhams, and leave. We asked where the people from Dubai worked and were met with quizzical looks. According to one person we asked, Dubai citizens get a stipend from the government simply for being citizens and thus do not work. Anywhere other than in a repressive state this arrangement would spell disaster for the country as it has a majority foreign population supporting the economy which is prohibited from establishing ties to the community they live in. No wonder no one seemed to care much about the country.

We tried to escape from the overwhelming heat by taking refuge in the Dubai Mall which is dubbed a major attraction and talked about in awe. It is the largest mall in the world, it even has an “Aquarium and Underwater Zoo” inside

as well as a “ski mountain” complete with penguins.

At the end of the day though, it is but a mall

with the same stores you find in any mall

and the same delicacies in their food court.

Although these might be the fanciest sandwiches I’ve ever come across:

Don’t let my bland description put you off though, it might be simply a personal preference. See, I’ve never been much of a shopper, I don’t think I’ve even set foot inside my local mall in 5 years so you can understand why a mall, as fancy and big as it may be, could be less than impressive for me.

Still seeking A/C, we decided to see the city aboard one of those typical Red Sightseeing buses. While it did drive us around to the major attractions such as the Burj Al Arab, which is a luxury hotel in the shape of a sail located at the even more famous Palm Jumeriah Island,

and the Atlantis resort,

it turned out to have its A/C set to permanent lukewarm which lulled us into napping instead. We couldn’t wait for the bus to bring us back to the mall.

The one attraction I was dying to see was the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It is 2,717 feet tall and has both the highest outdoor observation deck in the world as well as the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world. It houses two hotels, hundreds of residences (by Armani because of course), office space, restaurants, art gallery, wellness centers, four pools and even its own scent. Yes, that’s right, each floor of the Burj Khalifa has its own distinct proprietary scent drifting through the air; none of that plebeian air for these people. The building’s cross-section was inspired by the Spider Lily flower which grows in the desert surrounding Dubai. The Burj Khalifa took more than 22 million man-hours to build. Allowances for the extreme heat had to be made during construction such as including shards of ice in the concrete mixture and only pouring at night. It is a true marvel of engineering.

One small detail which allegedly Dubai hates is that it is named after the Abu Dhabi Khalifa who lent Dubai the money for its construction, otherwise it would be named the Burj Dubai as it was originally intended. Quick tip: buy your tickets online, with plenty of anticipation as they are timed, to get a discount.

The view from the observation deck is dizzying

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and fun.

The Dubai Fountains at the foot of the Burj Khalifa put on a light and sound show every half hour from 6 to 11pm which is an indisputable free must-see attraction even if one has to sweat through it.

While Dubai was alright and had the breath-taking Burj Khalifa to visit, we don’t think we would ever choose to visit again; it’s one of those been-there, done-that, moving-on, kind of places; unless you’re really into malls that is.

P.S. This ends our summer 2016 tour, it took me a bit of a while to catch up, apologies for the lateness. We’ve been busy exploring and already have 2017 posts coming right up I promise! In the meantime: Keep Exploring!

Categories: Asia, United Arab Emirates | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Stone Town

Zanzibar City, the capital of Zanzibar, consists of the new area, simply called “the other side” and the old one: Stone Town. Stone Town was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.

Forget New York, Stone Town is the true definition of a melting pot. The Persians were the first to establish a trade base here back in the 3rd century amidst the local Bantu people. The first mosque in the Southern Hemisphere was built by these traders right here.

Trade attracted merchants from India, Indonesia and China and the local culture incorporated these new elements. The Indian culture is evident in the exquisite wooden balconies of many buildings.

In the 1500s, the Portuguese took over control of the island but with a very hands-off approach to its administration by putting in place Arab sultans and giving them wide latitude. In 1631, the Sultan of Mombasa killed off all the European settlers after which act the Portuguese decided to bring in European rulers to Zanzibar. The people of Stone Town grew dissatisfied with this development and invited the Sultan of Oman to help them overthrow the Europeans. The Sultan gladly did this and kept power for himself of course. Stone Town came to be ruled by the Sultanate of Oman until the death of Said bin Sultan in 1856 which caused his two heirs to quarrel. Britain saw the opportunity and stepped in to settle the dispute by dividing the area to be ruled among the two sons: Majid then became the Sultan of Zanzibar while his brother Thuwaini became the Sultan of Oman.

Majid bin Sultan made Stone Town one of the wealthiest cities in East Africa by promoting the trade of, unfortunately, slaves. These slaves were “bought” from their villages in East Africa for almost nothing and employed in carting ivory into Stone Town. Once the ivory had been sold off, the slaves were next. It was a no-losses business model. Stone Town had become the epicenter of the slave trade.

Slaves were sent from Stone Town into all corners of the world: Arabia, Oman, Persia, as well as the new continent. Both the slaves’ and the traders’ cultures came to shape Stone Town’s culture and made some merchants very wealthy. At this time, slave traders were proud of their trade and built their houses to reflect this. Look closely at the edges of this intricately carved door, notice the chain links? That meant the owner of the house was a slave trader.

Tipu Tip was one of the (if not THE) richest such slave trader, although as you can read from this sign and observe from the covered edges of his door, his history has been cleaned a bit.

In 1842, the British decided to end the slave trade and applied pressure on the Sultan to do this. While the trade towards the East was diminished, the British found it almost impossible to stop the slave trade to the Americas as France, Spain and the United States continued to engage in it. In 1873, the British threatened the Sultan of Zanzibar with a blockade if he didn’t stop the trade in slaves to these nations finally forcing the slave market in Zanzibar to close down for good. The Cathedral was built on the very site of the former Slave Market with the altar incorporating the base of the whipping post.

Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1890 and remained so until 1963. In 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika came together to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Stone Town is rich in history and flavor. Unfortunately, they don’t have the means to invest in preserving it and most buildings seem to be crumbling. Houses in Stone Town were traditionally built from coral and this material does not weather well.

That white building in the background is “The Palace of Wonders” called thus because it was the first building in Stone Town to have electricity. It is the largest building here and one of their most important historical sites. It was built in 1883 by Sultan Barghash bin Said as a ceremonial palace and it is said that he kept wild animals chained in the front yard.

Sadly, while one can roam the front “yard”, the museum is permanently closed as Zanzibar simply doesn’t have the resources for the upkeep.

Even with the decay, Stone Town is a wondrous place full of twists and turns to lose oneself in.

It is very safe as far as crime goes, Muslim nations usually are. Traffic is a whole other story. Most of the streets in Stone Town are too narrow for cars and one must walk everywhere which is actually a delight. The locals though employ motorcycles to get around and you can imagine the fright one gets when turning around a corner puts you in the direct path of one of those speeding locals.

Freddie Mercury, lead singer for Queen, is the most famous son of Stone Town and our guide took us to see the school he attended

as well as the house he allegedly lived in. His fans might be disappointed as there really isn’t much to it but hey, taking a picture of his door is free.

On the day we were here, a street food fair was taking place on the square across from the Palace of Wonders. Families were out in droves and people were enjoying the pleasant weather.

Food smelled delicious and even though there was a cholera outbreak, we decided to risk it telling ourselves that no germ could survive frying.

The food was indeed delicious and no, we did not get sick. We only wish we had had more time to enjoy lovely Stone Town at leisure.

Categories: Africa, Tanzania, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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