africa week 4, part 1: zanzibar
we arrived at the airport having “booked” our hotel including a shuttle service. we waited but nobody showed. we got a taxi driver who has been very nice and helpful. we wanted to stay at the hotel for a cheaper price, but the hotel manager wouldn’t budge. so we stayed for just one night thinking we might find a different one the next day. this was the extent of our planning.
it was a pretty nice hotel considering we’re in one of the poorest countries in the world. although zanzibar is a highly touristy place and naturally very expensive compared to our home base of moshi. just to give you an idea, the exchange rate is 20% more expensive, plus the cashier that serves as an ATM (there are no ATMs outside of he main town, stone town), takes an additional 10% commission.
it’s a good thing it’s just barely still high season. and for once, the poor communication infrastructure actually worked to our advantage. we hadn’t really officially booked anything because we couldn’t get in touch with the hotel quick enough before we left. the email quoted us $200 for the high end and $80 for the low end. we ended up getting the high end room for $80 at the front desk. it was a sea view room. can’t wait to show you the video.
we watched the USA/Ghana game at a popular hotel that has a “full moon party”. lots of tourists. there were other Americans there but we were very outmatched by people cheering for Ghana. it was disappointing when we lost, but at the same time it was fun watching with so many supporters of the last African team left in the tournament. I’ll probably root for Ghana for the rest of the world cup.
there wasn’t a whole lot to do that we were interested in, so we decided to beach/hotel hop. we liked our taxi driver so we used him again the next day. he was so helpful that he would call his friends for hotel advice and even take us around to the different ones so that we could shop around at no extra charge. we went to 5 different hotels before settling for a quaint little one on the beach. the ones we saw before were swaaaanky and too expensive. the stuff of movies. and being just before high season, they were cheaper, but still out of our budget. when I’m rich, though, that’s where I’m going to stay.
it was a small group of bungalows. the room was for a family of 4 with 2 double beds, and a hammock. so Stephanie and I got to sprawl out. very spacious too. since they were basically huts, and we were in the attic, the roof served as our walls. it wasn’t even really enclosed. it was like an elaborate tree house. we even had a steep staircase to get up there.
and the beach was very isolated. at the time we were there, it was actually less for tourists than it was for the workers that harvested seaweed from the ocean at low tide. but it was still nice to lay on a beach practically to yourself. the sand was blindingly white, and the sounds of the water could be heard all day long from our room. very relaxing.
after constant hotel researching on the beaches, we arrived in stone town and booked our final hotel. a more luxurious room for 2 nights for slightly more than $200 (down from $240). this is one of the nicer hotels. we got a balcony room overlooking the pool and a partial view of the ocean. it also had free wifi from our room which worked for about 15 minutes. but overall I’ve been really satisfied with our hotel selections.
we walked around town a bit. stone town was built way before automobiles, so most of the inner buildings are very close together. with my horrible sense of direction, we got lost very easily. the doors are really interesting. they’re all preserved from when they were built. each one is decorated and unique.
we went to the palace of wonders where we learned about the customs of Zanzibar. nothing terribly special. but there was an exhibit about a really interesting woman, Emily Ruete (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Ruete). she was born a princess in Zanzibar and married a german and fled to germany. he died, and eventually she was alone there. she wrote her memoirs that became really popular. she was a good writer and free thinker. i enjoyed following her story.
we also stopped at a Persian bath house where, at the time, the very rich people would go to bathe, wash their feet, and get massages. interesting tour. all 5 minutes.
for dinner, we went a couple blocks from our hotel to a fisherman market where fisherman (at least they said they were fishermen) setup little booths and sell their catches of the day. it’s like fair food but for seafood. it wasn’t the greatest but it was cheap and fun. we ate lobster, small shark, red snapper, beef Zanzibar pizza, garlic chapati (???) (kind of like a tortilla), and banana chocolate nutella Zanzibar pizza. all for about $8.
while we were sitting eating, a man started laying out his art to sell to us. he was pretty persistent, as are most street sellers. all of a sudden he ran away, picking up what pieces he could. he was scared away by the 2 police women who walked by. apparently it’s illegal to sell there. the man stopped a few feet away because he didn’t have enough time to pick up all his art. but he didn’t think it was worth getting tangled with the police.
art sold in touristy areas is sad. its all very manufactured. they might be done by hand, but it seems to be done by only a few artists and just copied. there’s very rarely anything unique. art doesn’t flourish very much in Africa in the way it does in highly developed places like America. you always hear of schools in danger of losing their art programs. when it comes to education, reading, writing, and arithmetic come first. if you have to cut something, it’s usually art that goes first. so art becomes a luxury. education in Africa is no exception. but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like education lost art. it seems like it never had art in the first place.
creativity in general is scarce. it’s obvious in the way teachers teach as well. I’ve not witnessed it myself, but all the people I’ve talked to have said the same thing. teaching here is all about memorization and mimicking. nothing else. this past week miho handed out copied pages of coloring books and crayons. the kids didn’t even know to color it in. they just traced over the lines.
still, I felt a little sorry for the man who tried to sell us “his” “art”.
woke up and ate a big breakfast which was included in our rate. we booked a spice tour. Zanzibar history lesson time. Zanzibar was at one time a popular pit stop during the slave trade. also, the sultan of Oman claimed Zanzibar the capital. alright, I’m not so good with history, but the point is that Zanzibar has a lot of different influences. the tropical weather is very good for growing a lot of different produce including spices. so we went onto a couple of the farms with very typical surroundings to the untrained eye. but one minute you pass a tree and the guide would tell you that it’s a cinnamon tree. another person would shave off some bark and give a bit to each person to smell. a couple other guys with bunches of banana leaves would make origami-like things like rings or neckties. the guide seemed very knowledgeable. he knew each plant’s name in several languages and their many uses.
the $13 tour included some time at a nearby, isolated beach where we also got to see a slave cave. it must have been miserable for the slaves. the beach was pretty typical. but considering how much we had paid for a taxi to beach-hop, this tour was a bargain.
they also cooked us a local lunch with a special coconut milk sauce that was tasty. I didn’t eat very much because I got sick. the day before, I don’t think I drank enough water, so I think I got dehydrated. I had chills, was achy, and weak. getting a bit of motion sickness from the tour van didn’t help either. when we got back to the hotel in the afternoon, I crashed. my stomach started hurting. I slept almost the entire night waking up only to watch some of the Paraguay/japan match and to eat stephanie’s leftovers from dinner.
woke up still not feeling well. but it was time to go home anyway. we managed to go see the REALLY fancy hotel nearby, and we ate a really good Swahili meal at a restaurant. it was raining off and on too, so nothing really lost from being sick.