Day 335: Stone Town

Mon. 15th July 2013

House of Wonders, Stone TownIt was  a distinctly slow start to the morning – we must be getting the hang of Zanzibar time! Today is our day to head into Stone Town – the only real town on the island and one of the main tourist attractions (after the beaches). Besides wanting to take in some of the sites, we also need to sort out our ferry tickets back to the mainland on Wednesday – the last thing we need to book in our trip and the start of our journey home. Sadly, its only a couple of days away now.

Mosque near Crazy MzungosWhen we enquire with the hotel manager about getting a driver to take us into Stone Town which is over on the opposite (West) coast of the island he advises us to get one of the local dalla dallas. The dalla dallas are Zanzibar’s equivalent of Mexico’s collectivos or Indonesia’s bemos the shared transport the locals use. We’re a bit embarrassed that we ever thought of doing anything else, though our excuse is that we don’t want to give Chris and Lucy too much of a shock.

Our dalla dalla was one step up from this!Decision made, we head out of the drive of the hotel and then follow what seems to be a path that heads in the right direction for the main road. The ‘path’ takes us in between some huts and across some scrub ground with some kids kicking a ball around – but other than some bemused looks, nobody seems to be bothered about our shortcut. We get to the main road right beside a dalla dalla stop sign and almost immediately one draws up and we bundle aboard.

Initially we’re surprised that the seating is 2×2 bench seats – more spacious than the equivalents elsewhere – then we realise that the yellow plastic canisters in the gangway between the seats aren’t there for decoration but to provide a 5th seat in each row. Sure enough, after another half a dozen stops the minivan is full to bursting and we consider ourselves lucky that we got on early enough to get the comfy(ish) seats. It is cheap though at a total cost of TZS10,000 (£4) each way compared to $40 in a taxi.

Market by the dalla dalla terminusIts not the fastest way to travel but, once full, the dalla dalla there are only occasional stops to let people out and the bigger issue is the need to slow down for the frequent speed bumps. We get across the width of the island in a reasonable time and compared to some of the other, open sided and bench seated dalla dallas, in something approaching comfort. The terminus in Stone Town is really no more than a big (and very crowded) car park and our first challenge is to get out of the throng and try to find our bearings.

The Old FortIt’s easy enough to find the ferry port. Once again, the GPS and map app in our phone make it easy to get to the right area but finding the ticket office in the chaos of the port is another matter entirely. Leanne was very clear – only travel on the Azam Marine ferry. They have some safety standards and don’t overload their vessels (too much). All well and good, but where is the ticket office? There are lots of portacabins and shacks. Some even have the Azam logo on them but we work out that they are only agents not Azam themselves. There are also lots of people gesticulating and shouting ‘ferry tickets’ at us. We definitely need to ignore them as they are only after commission or a tip.

The Old Dispensary building - a good stop for a cold drink on the verandaWe quickly come to the conclusion that trying to stay together as a group of 5 is just too hard, let alone trying to find the ticket office – so we leave Steve, Chris & Lucy in a cafe in the Old Dispensary building (which turns out to be one of Stone Town’s historic sights). Janet & I then head back to the port for another go at finding the Azam office. This time, following the old Sherlock Holmes dictum of “when you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” we succeed in finding it tucked in a corner of the port complex. We know we’ve got the right place because the staff are wearing Azam shirts.

The Old FortFrom there on it is plain sailing (so to speak) though, naturally enough, the credit card machine isn’t working (remember TIA – This Is Africa!) and payment is in cash, US$ only. This just about cleans us out of dollars, emergency reserve and all. But this is the end of our trip and we shouldn’t need them any more. We’re just glad to have 5 tickets for the ferry on Wednesday morning.

View from the veranda of the Old DispensaryNeedless to say, Chris, Lucy and Steve  had a much easier time of it and we were glad to be able to join them on the veranda of the Dispensary building first for a drink and then for lunch – though we forgot that pole pole (slowly) is a way of life here and it took some time for lunch to appear. It was nice to relax but time was ticking by and not only is this our only chance to explore Stone Town, but we’ve been told to be at the dalla dalla terminus (car park) by 4pm in order to be sure of getting back. We’d better get our skates on and have a wander around town (and visit an ATM as our hotel wants to be paid in cash).

The beach in Stone TownStone Town is famous for its Arab slave trading heritage, the waterfront and particularly having a maze of little streets in the old town itself. As we walked around, it certainly didn’t feel like anywhere else that we’ve been to in Africa. Bizarrely and unexpectedly as we wandered along the waterfront looking at the somewhat dilapidated buildings I was reminded of Havana, where our trip started all those months ago. Both are cities by the sea with buildings in white and pastel colours that have seen better days.

Forodhani Gardens, looking back at the portTime is short and so it is a very brief walk through the (concrete and stone) Forodhani Gardens – where in the evenings there is a market with lots of food stalls (if we had more time, we would have stayed a night in Stone Town!). Opposite is the Old Fort and whilst it is easy to ignore the entreaties of the locals offering their services as guides we would have liked to have had the time to explore inside rather than just study the rugged exterior.

Cared for and not so cared for side by sideWe stick more or less to the waterfront wondering how best to tackle the maze of streets in the old town centre when we bump into Ali and Liz from our Kili trek. Its great to see them again and we swap tales of our flights to Zanzibar and impressions of the island. They are clear in their advice that we should avoid the street sellers and just go to the ‘Memories of Africa’ gift shop which is set up for western tourists – well stocked shelves, clearly marked prices and no haggling. Very gringo, but so much easier than continually being hassled despite repeated “no thank you”s. Whilst the boys (and Lucy) buy some souvenirs, Janet and I stick to our ‘no tat’ policy – though a pair of 5’ high carved giraffes would go very nicely by our fireplace!

Beautiful, ornate doorsThe windy streets in the old town are exactly as they are described in the guidebooks – narrow, twisty lanes with no straight lines and irregular junctions branching off at odd angles. We do, just about, manage to maintain our sense of direction as we head back out to the dalla dalla terminus. For me, one of the highlights are the heavy wooden doors studded with ornate brass spikes. Apparently they are an Indian design to deter elephants. I’m not sure of they’re relevance here – how would you get an elephant down these lanes? Regardless, they are still impressive.

In the maze of streets in the old townAs we emerge from the maze we find that we are sufficiently close to the dalla dalla terminus for me to be able to claim that this was all a part of the plan. What isn’t in the plan though is that the fare has had a 50% increase (to TSH3,000 = £1.20 each) during our time in Stone Town. “Government taxes” explains the noisy local who, with hindsight, wasn’t the conductor. Steve shows great style and negotiating technique (smiling but very firmly pointing out that this wasn’t the price on the journey in) but to no effect. We feel a little better when a fellow (German?) passenger is even more direct (and much less smiley) but also isn’t able to negotiate a price reduction. We remind ourselves of the saving over taking a taxi and don’t feel so bad.

Our missions accomplished, we head back to Crazy Mzungos arriving just in time for Happy Hour. Time for some more card games (whist variants tonight), chatting and beer for us. Not so much Happy Hour as happy day, happy fortnight, happy year……

This entry was posted in Africa, RTW Trip, Tanzania and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *