Across The Waters To Zanzibar.
In the days following the great party at Mikadi Beach we all seemed to commit ourselves to simply relaxing. Some of us (yes, me) needed a little rest and relaxation in order to recover from what felt like pretty acute alcohol poisoning, after foolishly betting a ski instructor that writers were more hardened drinkers. But the next day the non-stop party at the beach continued, and I left camp with Jens and the others in search of greasy Kuku and Chips from a local fried chicken and chips shop.
Now, if you’re around Mikadi, here’s a tip. If you walk down the street directly across the road from the entrance to Mikadi and continue for 100 meters or so, you’ll find a small thatched roof bar called Ibiza Pub. The chips are right out the frier and the chicken is fresh, as tomorrow’s batch of chickens are still walking around the place. It really hit the spot.
The crowds still around Mikadi drove us to a quieter beach up the road called Kajiji. It became a bit of a haven for us as their waiters would bring G&Ts down to the beach, they had ok WiFi, and most importantly there was a man with an ice cream bicycle wandering up and down the beach.
Since abandoning my original route through Rwanda and Uganda I had set my heart on visiting Zanzibar. It’s just a short ferry ride from Dar es Salaam and a whole new world. Anders and I had been trying to figure out the cheapest way to get there and considered taking a dhow from the port town of Bagamoyo, but eventually settled on the fast ferry out of Dar. So I parked my car up at Mikadi, grabbed my backpack and headed into town to catch the morning ferry.
There’s a new set of ferries operating from the Azam Marine offices on the harbour in Dar. It’s a small building of blue glass with the words “Kilimanjaro Ferries” above it. As we stepped out of the tuk tuk we were surrounded by guys telling us that we couldn’t book a ferry to Zanzibar from here, only Pemba. They were really, really insistent we don’t go into the Azam office. Now, I have a rule; if anyone seems too interested in where you’re going, or what you’re doing, beyond the point of reasonable curiosity, you should avoid them. They’re probably trying to rip you off.
We ignored them and bought our tickets on the fast ferry at Azam no problem. The touts outside try and sell tickets for the slower, unsafe ferries for around the same money. These are the ferries that often sink with huge loss of life. I paid $35 for a business class ticket, economy is $35 too.
It took maybe an hour and a half to reach Zanzibar, a quick stamp in the passport and a really half-arsed customs check and you walk out into Stone Town. It’s suddenly very different to the rest of Tanzania. It’s a pretty little town, full of old, if decaying, exotic architecture. We were hassled relentlessly by taxi drivers on our way out of the ferry port. The traffic was completely blocked up and I couldn’t see the point of a car here. But within the chaos, by some luck Anders spotted Walter, one of the Germans from Mikadi, and he showed us to the hotel he had found.
At $20 a night I shared a big room with Anders at Karibuni. It was a great location to explore Stone Town, as it’s very central and a short walk to a lot of cool bars, restaurants and cafes. After dumping our luggage Anders and I headed for The Africa House Hotel to have sundowners on the terrace. It was packed with tourists, but I suppose it’s iconic. The G&Ts were good but cost a cool 30 000 shillings ($15) so I ticked it off the list and decided to find other hang outs instead.
I had visited Zanzibar years before, but had stuck to the beaches in the east and south. I remember a brief visit to Stone Town and regretted not spending more time there. Stone Town has a lively night life scene. There are great little cafes and restaurants hidden all over town. There’s not much better than settling down with a coffee and a sheesha after a good dinner. The hunt for good WiFi proved pretty elusive though.
That night we found a local bar called Tatu with a pool table. We also found Pascal there. He had come along from Mikadi and we hadn’t really seen him all afternoon. It was a pretty chilled place to just hang out. The lady behind the bar was great, always giving us huge double high fives as we walked in.
In the morning I set my sights on finding a good cafe that could do a proper cup of coffee. I had battled to find any decent coffee shops on the road. I had found a good spot in Bulawayo and one in Lusaka, but that was about it. Most of the coffee I had was really just hot, brown water. And Zanzibar rewarded my determination with The Zanzibar Coffee House, tucked away on a back street near the Emerson Spice Hotel.
Zanzibar is very touristic, which in many ways was a pleasant as it meant good restaurants and plenty of choice. In other ways it had an irritating effect for travellers. It was common the hear things like “oh, we can just take a taxi to the other side of the island, it’s only like $50” So a lot of tourists (Americans I’m looking at you) artificially drive up the price of a lot of things. I found an antique store where I wanted to buy a few trinkets, but the price was so absurd that I left with nothing. The store owner was safe in the knowledge that a blue-haired weekend antiquer from Texas would arrive soon and pay whatever he asked. Also, in the streets I was constantly hassled by people selling things I neither wanted nor needed. I’ve heard that Mazungu is the Kiswahili word for ATM.
One night while out looking for a place to eat, and playing Anders’ game of flipping a coin to make decisions we were approached by a guy promoting a restaurant called Cafe Miwa. And as we hadn’t had all that much luck that night, I thought we should take a look, and it appealed to me as it was on the top floor of the post office building. Well, Cafe Miwa become my favourite place to hang out. This is the exception that’s proves my rule about touts.
Good food, good coffee and WiFi. It was above the bustle of the city, like a little sanctuary. We came here one night after the food market in the gardens for drinks and Sheesha. It really made my trip to Stone Town.
Every night there is a pretty huge food market in the gardens around the castle and the House of Wonders. There’s a huge selection of seafood on offer, and a lot of it is really good. I had lobster and coconut bread, which was great. The guys selling produce there can be pretty pushy, and sometimes it get’s tiring having a 15 minute conversation with everyone you meet.
After a last night at the market and Miwa we decided to head to the eastern beach town of Paje. Pascal has disappeared the day before, but we had joined teams with an Aussie called Erik, who was a pretty seasoned traveller. The next morning we set a challenge; could you get across the island for less than $1?
Zanzibar Continued next time…