Tanzania diary, day 11

Monday, 9 July, 2018. 16:09

We are sitting in the Serena Inn bar having a break from the hot sun of the day and enjoying some cool drinks as the breeze blows through the open doors and windows. We’ve been here for a while already as I finished typing yesterday’s diary. I’ve had a gin and soda, and M. had an iced coffee, with milk, which was at first delivered without milk, and taken away again by the waiter who jokingly blamed it on the drink maker not hearing him properly. We’ve also just finished a plate of hot chips, as a snack to stave off hunger until dinner time, as we had a light lunch today.

Our day began as the sunlight began creeping into the sky, waking us up naturally without an alarm. We took our time getting ready for breakfast and then went down to the hotel restaurant, where the usual buffet style breakfast was in progress. For drinks, they had wide selection of juices in pitchers, including hibiscus, as well as fresh coconuts with a hole tapped in them and straws so you could drink the juice inside. They also had a cook doing eggs to order. But no muesli, so I started with a bowl of bran flakes, topped with peanuts, sultanas, and natural yoghurt. M. went for the varied pastry selection, trying four different things. She declared the pain au chocolat dry, but the croissant acceptable. For hot food, there was some sort of fish in a spicy sauce, as well as the usual staples. Seafood is clearly a local thing, Zanzibar being an island and all, so I tried the fish, which was very nice. I had it with some corn, mushrooms, a beef sausage, and grilled tomato. We both finished with some fresh fruit.

Serena Inn breakfast
Breakfast at the Serena Inn

As we ate, we could see interesting boats passing by on the ocean outside, including a dhow, and several boats with outboards full of fishermen, with nets and long poles. There was also a lone guy pushing a small boat with a couple of lobster traps on it, using a pole to push against the sand near the shore. It looked exhausting and slow. And a lot of people were out either walking or jogging along the beach. It seemed to be the thing to do. After a while I went back up to the room to grab my camera to take some photos of the interesting boats, but by the time I returned the boat traffic had virtually stopped. Presumably because it was now after 09:00 and rush hour was over, and everyone was at work now.

The morning commute
Morning commute by boat, viewed from our breakfast room

After returning to the room briefly we ventured forth to explore Stone Town. The day was already hot and humid, and we dressed in long sleeves and put on sunscreen and hats, and took a bottle of water with us. We began by walking past the Stone Fort and House of Wonders again, this time finding the area empty compared to last night’s food market. But nearby was a row of stalls selling souvenirs and T-shirts and things, which we looked at. M. bargained hard for a shirt for herself. I found a stall selling ebony sticks like the Maasai use and picked one up to feel it. The guy said it cost 35,000 shillings, a “special morning price”. I was tempted, but it would cause difficulties with our luggage going home, and we didn’t want to make things any more tricky as we have a tight connection in Nairobi and want to get out of the airport as quickly as we can back home. Also, the stick I picked up didn’t look as well crafted as the one I’d held at the Maasai village, with some small imperfections and scratches. So we passed on it.

House of Wonders
The House of Wonders (under renovation)

We headed inland to explore the narrow streets of Stone Town. Too narrow for cars, but not for scooters and motorcycles, which occasionally zoomed past, beeping to warn people to get out of the way. The first areas we walked through were lined with shops, mostly catering to tourists looking for souvenirs, and staffed by people who constantly called out asking you to take a look at their shop. At one stall selling spices we stopped to check the prices, realising that the vanilla beans and saffron threads were incredibly cheap. So I got a packet each of those, plus we bought a pack of mixed ground spices for a gift for Tony.

Mlandege Bazaar
Heading towards Mlandege Bazaar

We were heading towards the local Mlandege Bazaar, to check out the sights and sounds – and smells – of where the locals did their shopping. It was across a main road, which we crossed by simply dashing over in the middle of the traffic. Now we were in a different world, with tiny shops crammed together selling things like everyday clothing, underwear, socks, pots, pans, soap, toothpaste, chairs, bolts of cloth, cooking utensils, and other household things. There were more locals and not nearly as many tourists here either, and the shop owners didn’t bother calling out to us to check their wares. The streets were dingier too, with uneven paving and dirty water trickling down the middle of the path, and there were occasional interesting smells emanating from who knows where. Some shops had loudspeakers with voices blaring out in Swahili or Arabic. I’m not sure if they were touting their wares or they were religious messages. Many of the local women were wearing full head and face coverings, with just the eyes showing, and as our driver had told us yesterday some 90% of the population of Zanzibar were Muslim.

The juice man
Juice seller and customers

We walked south through the bazaar, taking in the heady sensations assaulting us from all directions. Although a sensory overload and crowded with people, it felt safe, and unlike the more touristy areas we’d walked through earlier in the day, nobody approached us unsolicited to offer us tours or souvenirs. A few people had done so earlier, and they followed us persistently for a block or so before giving up.


The next thing M. wanted to visit was the Darajani Market, which the hotel receptionist had told her we could buy spices. I plotted a route to take us there from the southern end of Mlandege Bazaar, but halfway there realised that we’d already been through the Darajani Market area, and in fact that was where we’d bought the spices! So we rerouted towards the Old Slave Market. We didn’t know what to expect, and found that it was a secured museum type area, and we had to go through a security check to even get in. A man tried to usher us towards the metal detectors, but we decided to skip the bother and continue just looking around.

Stone Town shutters
Window shutters in Stone Town

We wandered some more of the narrow streets of Stone Town, then stumbled across the Zanzibar Coffee House hotel and cafe. M. felt like some coffee, and I could use a cold drink after a few hours of walking in the warm, humid conditions, sometimes in full sunshine. So we went in and found a table near the back. M. ordered a cappuccino, while I tried the banana vanilla smoothie, which the menu said had a scraped vanilla bean in it. It was delicious, and even had small chunks of the vanilla pod that I ended up chewing for a minute before realising what they were. M. said her coffee was very good too. The place had an interesting decor, with old framed magazine advertisements for coffee on the walls, from around the 1940s or 50s. Some were very amusing reading.

Zanzibar Coffee House
Zanzibar Coffee House

It was approaching noon, so we decided to also have a bite to eat for a light lunch, so we could have a substantial dinner in the evening. M. had some banana bread with her coffee. A bit later I ordered one of the crepes, with cheese and dates as a filling! We guessed it might be ricotta or mascarpone, but it turned out to be an orange coloured cheese, somewhat like a mild cheddar. Still, it worked with the sweetness of the dates, and the crepe itself was good, so overall it was very nice. Before the crepe arrived, we moved from our table near the back, up to one right next to the front window, which was getting a bit of a breeze and was cooler. It had a view to the narrow street outside, and we watched people, bicycles, carts drawn by men, and scooters go by. I tried to take a couple of videos to capture the pageant, but each time when I started recording the number of people going by dropped, and I didn’t catch a single scooter at all.

Zanzibar coffee drinkers
Zanzibar Coffee House window

Leaving the coffee house, we walked around a bit more, trying streets we hadn’t explored yet. It seems we’d hit most of the more touristy areas as we wound up in streets that looked more residential, with fewer shops, but still interesting to experience and see the old architecture and scenes of urban life. We decided to head towards the hotel to take a break and sit inside out of the hottest part of the day.

After dropping my camera and our hats in the room, we headed down to the hotel bar for a cool drink and to relax a bit. From the room we could see two young women by the pool area of the hotel, taking glamour shots of each other using a phone. They continued while we were in the bar for at least an hour, possibly more since they were going when we arrived, changing poses and positions, sitting by the pool, standing at the railing overlooking the ocean, tossing their hair in the wind, etc, etc. We began in a back corner of the bar. I ordered a gin and soda, and M. an iced coffee with milk. The bar was warm and stuffy, because the doors and windows were open to outside, so we moved to a seat closer to the windows for some breeze, and then after our drinks arrived we moved again, to other seats nearer to where the breeze was blowing in, which was better.

Monkey at hotel pool
Monkey having a break by the pool

Looking out at the ocean, we saw that the beach had completely disappeared. The tide had come in and covered the sand, leaving nothing but a few rocks as the water washed directly against the seawall of the hotel. Information in the booklet in our room had said the hotel advises against jogging on the beach in front of the hotel. I wondered why, as no explanation was given, but maybe they were thinking about the possibility of joggers being caught by the rising tide.

After relaxing a bit, M. started feeling peckish, so we ordered a serve of French fries, and I had a few as well. This was around 16:00, and we’d been there for a couple of hours. M. was reading the novel she’d bought way back in Peru to read on the plane but hadn’t yet started, while I caught up on Internet stuff using the WiFi and wrote some diary.

Old Fort of Zanzibar
The Old Stone Fort

Around 17:00 we went back to the room briefly to pick up my camera and went for another walk through Stone Town, again seeing out some streets we’d missed so far, tracking back towards the seaside stalls we’d started the day at, north of the Stone Fort. The food stalls were back and the music was playing again, with guys doing acrobatic stunts like standing on shoulders and things like that. An interesting feature of the food stalls was that many had names starting with “Mr”. There were “Mr Nutella”, “Mr Chocolate”, and, most amusingly, “Mr Big Banana”. I said, “Wow, look at his big banana!” and pointed M. at the pole he had slung across the top of his stall, from which dangled not one, but two of the largest bananas I have ever seen. They must have been a good 30 centimetres long.

Pre-sunset light on the Indian ocean
Dhows against the sunset

As the sun went down again over the ocean, I took some photos of dhows sailing past. We walked back towards the Beach House restaurant near our hotel, and across the street from 6° South where we’d eaten last night. We walked in and got a table next to the railing directly overlooking the beach and the sunset. It was really quite spectacular, with boats in the distance, and guys on the beach below us doing exercises and running around.

Zanzibar sunset
Sunset from the Beach House restaurant

I ordered a Beach House gin and tonic, which had local spices in it – chunks of star anise, cloves, cinnamon bark, cardamom pods, and black peppercorns – as well as hibiscus syrup. It was layered, blue on the bottom and purple on top. M. had a Zanzibar Sunset mocktail, which was passionfruit, mango, citrus, and hibiscus, served with a mango slice on the lip of the glass.

Beach House gin and tonic
Beach House gin and tonic

After a while, someone on a table near us started smoking, and the wind was blowing it in our direction. We asked the waiter if we could move tables, and he moved us to one upwind of most of the other tables. This was fine for a while, and we ordered food, the Zanzibari paella for me and a vegetarian pizza for M. The paella was described as seafood and cigale. I looked up “cigale” using their WiFi and discovered it was the French word for cicada! I presumed the paella wouldn’t come with cicadas on it, and was relieved to find a reference to “cigale de mer”, which turned out to be a name for slipper lobsters. But before our food arrived, more people lit up, at almost every table, including a couple who took the table upwind of us, and again we could smell the smoke. We asked a waitress if we could sit inside, but this elicited a puzzled look, like we were asking for the impossible. After a few seconds she suggested we could sit upstairs, and escorted us up to a room with windows overlooking the verandah below and the beach beyond. This was nice, but the room was otherwise abandoned, with the remnants of a staff meal on another table. And as we waited for our food, two guys came up and removed two other other tables and some chairs, taking them downstairs, presumably to fit more customers onto the verandah.

Zanzibar paella
Zanzibari paella

Eventually the food came, and it was really good. The paella came in a small metal paella dish, with a half cigale de mer embedded in the rice. M.’s pizza had a nice thin crust and she declared it delicious. We ate in the isolation of the upstairs dining room, and staff occasionally came in to remove more chairs to take downstairs, but at least we were out of the cigarette smoke, and the food was good.

Done, we paid up, with the cashier coming upstairs to process our credit card, then we left for the short walk back to our hotel through the warm evening. The hotel staff had been in to turn down the bed, leaving Monkey in an amusing pose sitting up against a pillow with his hand on his head. We had showers and repacked our bags for flying tomorrow, then went to sleep to the sound of the constant wind outside.

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