There are three ferry companies operating between
Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. All the trips are
scheduled around the same time; between 12.30 and
2.30pm. With this in mind we woke up to buy
provisions for the ride.
There is something about a picnic by the sea that
makes even a simple meal of bread and juice
romantic. Maybe it’s the hypnotic sound of the sea
repeatedly crashing against the rocks.
Shops in Kenya and Tanzania are markedly different.
Alcohol is sold openly in kiosks in Dar es Salaam. In
Kenya, with its strict alcohol rules, it is still possible
to find a shopkeeper ready to flout the law and sell
you alcohol during the day, but in Dar es Salaam,
lined up next to the bread and the milk are bottles
and bottles of gin, vodka, whiskey and brandy.
However, the taxi drivers are similar to those in
Nairobi. You get the feeling that you are being taken
advantage of, that your accent and lack of street
smarts means you get charged more than you should
As the taxi dropped us off at the ferry terminal with
luggage that clearly said “tourists,” we were
hounded by hordes of eager young men. They clawed
at our bags relieving us of them and walking us
towards the ferry of their choice. The cost for the
ferry for non-Tanzanians is $18.
There is a passport check at the ferry boarding area.
The waiting area is airy and complete with seats and
a baggage area. Nothing like the chaos at the Likoni
Ferry in Mombasa.
When the ferry docked at the pier, there was an
announcement that all passengers should embark.
The process is controlled like traffic at a roundabout.
A few people are allowed on, and then an
announcement made that passengers should make
room for offloading of cargo.
The ferry has enough seats for almost everyone on
board, and we sat above-deck to watch the ocean, for
me because I think the ocean is mysterious, for my
companion because it’s better for seasickness.
We set off. The ferry is fast; it feels like its flying over
the surface of the ocean. It’s disorienting because,
unlike on land where you can tell how quickly a
vehicle is moving by how fast the scenery changes,
in the sea all you have is the wind and the sound of
the boat and a vague feeling of inertia as you cut
across the waves.
After about two hours, we docked in Zanzibar where
there was a Customs check. Zanzibar has its own
president and chief justice, separate from mainland
At Customs, your passport will be scrutinised, yellow
fever shot confirmed and your picture taken again. I
asked why all the fuss and the female officer told me
that there are Zanzibaris and there are Tanzanians.
When Zanzibaris visit the mainland, they are still
Tanzanians, but Tanzanians visiting the isles cannot
think of themselves as Zanzibaris. A case of “yours is
mine, but mine is mine.”
When travelling without a local guide, you come to
rely on taxi drivers for a number of things. They get
you to your hostel or hotel, to the backstreet money
changers or forex bureau, or an ATM machine. They
will show you where to eat, and if you get lost, they
are the people to trust.
When we got off the ferry, we found a friendly taxi
driver: An elderly man with white hair, laidback and
jovial with laugh lines etched into his face. He got us
to our hostel with no fuss — a place called Flamingo
Guest House on Mkunzani Street, in Stone Town.
What I liked most about this place was the rooftop,
where we were told breakfast would be served the
Stone Town was not built with cars or public
transport in mind. As a result, many of the roads are
one way. They look like they were built for animals
and many of them end abruptly because vehicles are
not allowed into some residential areas.
Stone Town is also the seat of the semi-autonomous
Zanzibari government, but you don’t even know
when you are only 500 metres away from a
The architecture is beautiful — a mix of Swahili,
Arabic, Indian and European influences. Almost all
the buildings are made of stone and you can see the
ageing in them, the effects of the sea air. You can
smell the salt in the air, and taste it on your tongue if
you breathe through your mouth. Coupled with the
humidity, Zanzibar’s afternoons call for just being
The best part is that you can walk around all night if
We left the hotel and went to the famous Forodhani
Gardens, a seaside street and seafood bazaar that
sells delicacies from the ocean. It is vibrant. Laid out
along the road, it spreads in one direction instead of
gaining depth and width.
In many respects, it is a grocery market filled with
everything you need to make a meal; tomatoes,
onions, coriander, vegetables, cheese, garlic, ginger,
lemons and dozens of other spices that I couldn’t
There is also an array of cooked food. In display cases
are mshikakis (meat on skewers) of roast chicken,
beef, squid and other seafood, and various starches.
There are juices in ice-cube form made of passion
and sugarcane, flavoured with ginger and spices that
I still can’t identify. They were simply heavenly in
After Forodhani Gardens, we went looking for a bar.
There are few bars open in Zanzibar during
Ramadhan. Those that are open are generally empty.
The question I most wanted answered yet no one
could answer was, “What do you call an ashtray in
The next day, while taking a walk, we bumped into
our taxi driver from the previous day. We needed a
taxi to get us across the island to Paje beach. But
first we visited the building where the Zanzibar
International Film Festival is hosted. It has a stone
coliseum with a circular seating area and a stage.
There are nights when plays are performed here and I
couldn’t imagine many things more beautiful than
sitting under the stars breathing in the salt air and
being taken away by actors to another world.
Later in our night wanderings, we got lost. Most
people think that all you need to do is keep heading
east and you will get to Japan. But, how do you know
where east is? Well, they say moss only grows on the
east side of rocks. But what do you do when you find
moss growing all over and footprints that look
exactly like the ones you left behind?
None of the streets we followed seemed to take us
where we had been, nothing looked familiar and
suddenly we found ourselves on the posh side of
Stone Town where there are hotels with uniformed
The saving grace was that the posh hotels are close
to the beach, and once on the beach it is easy to walk
along it to the ferry terminal, then on to Forodhani,
and-with a few detours back to Flamingo where we
had kept our friendly cab-driver waiting for nearly 40
He drove us to Paje beach with no extra cost for
waiting. Decent chap.
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