Posts Tagged With: Zanzibar

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.

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Spices

We had arranged for a Spice Tour on our way back into Zanzibar City for our night flight. Our ride back seemed just as interesting as the tour itself but unfortunately our guide discouraged any stops along the way.

What is wrong with this picture? Zanzibar was under British “protection” from 1890 thru 1963.

Always from the vehicle, we got to see

Children during recess:

The young people wearing black & white are high-schoolers and the ones in blue & cream, middle-schoolers.

Mothers waiting for public transportation:

People doing their shopping:

People come from all over the countryside to shop at these roadside markets

and then head home.

Public Transportation, called “Daladala”, is a bit tight but efficient.

The guy riding in back collects the fare. Sometimes, the truck doesn’t even stop and it’s up to the passengers to catch it.

The Spice plantations of old have metamorphosed themselves into tourist destinations as Indonesia has surpassed Zanzibar in the spice trade. One of these plantations was our first stop. These were the quarters where slaves to work the plantations were kept.

These now house plantation workers and their families

but are in the process of being taken down, not because nicer houses will be built but rather because the plantations don’t have a need for workers anymore. These people will need to find something else to do and somewhere else to live.

Zanzibar Island lies just 46 miles away from mainland Tanzania and as such it was the perfect headquarters for explorers and traders in the 600s. Local Bantu people served as go-between with Persian, Arab, Indian and Chinese merchants. This trade brought spices such as cardamom

and nutmeg

from Indonesia; and black pepper from India.

Zanzibar’s fertile soil and mild weather were the perfect environment to grow these plants and thus spices quickly became a major export. Persians are believed to have been the first explorers to settle in Unguja (Zanzibar Island) but the Portuguese took over control in the 1500s. Exploration in the Americas was in full swing by then and this enabled the Portuguese to bring with them seeds from Mexico such as vanilla,

papaya,

chili pepper,

and achiote (used in Tacos al Pastor, yummy!).

In 1698 the Sultan of Oman threw the Portuguese out and established trade in slaves and ivory, brought from the mainland; as well as clove, brought from Indonesia.

This made Stone Town (old Zanzibar City) one of the wealthiest cities in Africa. When the slave trade was abolished by the English, who had by then taken over control, in 1897 Zanzibar came to rely mainly on the clove trade for which they once were the world’s major producer. Clove was more precious than gold due to its medicinal properties as it was used to freshen the breath, relieve pain, particularly toothaches, and to conserve meats from spoiling. It is now also used in cuisines the world over. Zanzibar began to lose control over the clove trade just recently in the 1970s and hasn’t been able to recover from this economic downturn since.

Another ubiquitous fruit in the island is coconut. Since it grows everywhere without any human tending, it is common practice for young people on their way home from school to climb a palm tree for a quick snack as our guide demonstrated.

Our tour ended at the gift shop (of course) where we bought some spices to bring home.Somehow our dishes don’t come out tasting as good as the ones we had in Zanzibar, may be that’s a sign for us to go back?

We continued on our way to Zanzibar City and begged our guide to let us stop at the market.It would seem that all those trinkets we simply throw away somehow make their way to this place.

We wandered into the market where I was struck by how merchants arrange their wares for sale; for an onlooker with a bit of OCD, this was pretty neat. The stench was powerful

and locals made it clear that they didn’t approve of us being here so we made our way out and continued on to Stone Town.

 

 

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Paradise Found…Maybe

We had decided to end our African tour enjoying the Spice Islands. Zanzibar is made up of several islands, the largest of which are Unguja (commonly referred to as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania but is clearly proud of its independent history. Swahili is spoken here and although we didn’t have time to learn much, “Jambo” (hello) and “Asante Sana” (thank you very much) were easy enough for us. Everyone here is so warm and easygoing, it was a delight to visit.

The capital of Zanzibar is named, appropriately enough, Zanzibar City. We arrived late that night and didn’t get to see much of it. The hotel we stayed in for the night was beautiful and when we had this view in the morning from the restaurant while having breakfast,

we were saddened at not having booked at least one more night here. Unless your flight gets in early in the morning, we do recommend staying two nights in Zanzibar City in order to enjoy it. Zanzibar is a mainly Muslim country and thus women cover most of their bodies even while taking a stroll on the beach.p1200026

As soon as we were done with breakfast, our guide carted us off to the northernmost tip of the Island where we were booked to stay at “La Gemma Dell’est”, which translates to Jewel of the East. We soon learned why. It took our breath away!

This all-inclusive resort caters mainly to Middle-Eastern tourists. We met tons of Israelis although there were a few Italians thrown in for good measure. The all-you-can-eat meals were fantastic and having a waiter bring drinks made from hibiscus and lime to you while lying by the pool is heavenly. The resort brings in different acts to perform nightly and these can be enjoyed at the “Sunset Lounge” while listening to the waves lap calmly underfoot.

Zanzibar has the cutest crabs: white and very shy.p1200126

They didn’t even try to pinch us when we grabbed them.p1200124

It also has gorgeous, and humongous, starfish but you won’t get to see them because…I lost all my pictures! It happens. Not to worry though, Fernando’s survived. The sand is soft and the water clear and calm. On our second day here we were talked into taking a snorkeling tour over the coral reefs by one of the many peddlers walking the beach. While it might get tiring to have to say “Asante, no” over and over again to the many people trying to sell their wares, they are only trying to make a living and it’s a small price to pay for the privilege of enjoying their beautiful beaches. Who can be unhappy here?

We took off early the next morning in order to beat the “rush” of all the other visitors to the reef. It was only a short ride in a small boat to a secluded area between our resort and Tumbatu Island right across. To my untrained eyes, the coral seemed a bit run down but fish were plentiful. If you go snorkeling here, make sure to bring some bananas with you. Turns out Zebra fish LOVE bananas!

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As beautiful as this all looks though, it wasn’t enjoyable due to some small and almost invisible beings. Can you spot the one lurking in the video? When at first I began to feel tiny electrical discharges on my arms, I convinced myself that I was imagining it. The guys were happily swimming around so it had to be me, I thought. When one of those stings got me right across my lips, the pain literally took my breath away. I had had enough; it forced me out of the water and back onto the boat.  Soon enough the guys got stung too many times as well and also decided to bail.

Our guides then took us to a deserted and beautiful beach for lunch where Alejandro got buried so deeply in the sand, he had a hard time leaving when it was time.

All in all, Zanzibar Island was beautiful: water is clean, sand is soft, food is delicious, people are nice but…I’d rather go to Mexico for beaches. What can I say? I am a beach snob. Haven’t been everywhere yet but as of today, I still prefer Mexican beaches to any others I’ve been to, although Zanzibar is an incredibly close second on my list.

We’ve got Thailand on our radar though and I’ve been told I will change my mind. We will just have to wait and see.

We enjoyed a beautiful couple of days here but now it was time to get going again to our next and last stop before heading home: The Spice Plantations and Stone Town – a World Heritage Site.

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Categories: Africa, Tanzania | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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