Hello my friends! I know it has been a long time since I posted… but I have had a very good excuse. For the past week I have been climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and reached the summit on Friday! It was a wonderful but definitely exhausting experience. Of course, more details and pictures will follow.
Before I delve into my Kili expedition, I wanted to share my experience in Zanzibar with you. Zanzibar has been long on my destination list as friends ranted and raved about its beautiful beaches and interesting culture. Additionally, Sauti Za Busara, one of the largest and ‘friendliest’ music festivals in Africa, was occurring at this time. Unfortunately, I was on a tight schedule and could only fit in three days to explore the island. I knew this was not enough time, but I was determined to see as much as I could.
I arrived Friday morning and stayed at a beautiful hotel called Mashariki Palace. I chose this hotel because it was located right in the middle of Stone Town and close to everything, including the music festival. I quickly dropped off my bags, ate a delicious breakfast at the hotel, and then started exploring the city.
The temps were high, the water blue, and the tourists abundant. Everything I had read and heard about Zanzibar had been correct- it truly was a mix of African and Middle Eastern flavors. The architecture of Stone Town was beautiful and there were many nice boutiques (mostly owned by ex-pats) featuring designer crafts, jewelry, and clothing. The prices were anything but African, and everything was expensive. It was obvious that this little island was the African playground for Western tourists.
I wandered out of the touristy district and made my way over to what I believe is the ‘real’ Zanzibar. In a few minutes, I found myself lost in a massive market abundant with products galore and crowded with locals. Its always interesting to get lost and wander into the different sections of the market. When I first entered, I found myself surrounded by brightly colored fruits and vegetables. As I continued to walk I saw little stands stacked high with different type of spices and happily breathed in wafts of cinnamon and cloves carried by the warm breeze.
As I pushed through the crowd and denied about a hundred vendors, I found myself in the butcher section. Unfortunately, this section was neither as colorful nor as sweet smelling as the previous one. Rows of different cuts of meat were hanging (and usually festering with flies) from large hooks, with their vendors eagerly eyeing the next customer. Having seen enough of this section, I moved on to the seafood side. I stood in awe and held my breath (in order not to pass out from the smell!) as men furiously worked side by side gutting fish and lining them up for sale.
The last section I wandered into was the poultry section. Spread across a large room, hundreds of chickens were crammed into large woven baskets, heads bobbing and clucking away. It truly was unlike anything I had seen before.
Exhausted from the heat and my explorations I headed back to my hotel to take a nice refreshing shower and grabbed some dinner. The hotel restaurant, located on the top floor, had a beautiful view of the city. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with my average but pricey dinner. I recommend staying at this hotel, but perhaps dining out on the town.
After dinner I made my way over to Sauti Za Basara. As I entered the ticket booth I was surprised by the prices. A single day pass was $26 and a full pass was around $70 (can’t remember the exact amount). I guess the thing that slightly annoyed me was the very distinct price categories for locals and foreigners. I understand that there should be a slight variation, but the difference was blaring…$26 compared to $6. After reluctantly paying for my ticket I made my way into the Old Fort, where the festival was being held. There were two different stages and the place was packed- with mostly white people. That’s right, for the second time that night I was surprised. It honestly looked like an American Peace Corps rally- not really the African experience I was looking forward to.
Despite the vanilla crowd, the music was amazing. Groups from all over Africa participated and performed with high intensity. Not wanting to stay out too late, I wandered outside and stepped across the street to check out the night market across from the Old fort. Lights illuminated hundred of little stalls teeming with roasted meats and assorted delicious goodies. It was a nighttime feast and all were partaking. Zanzibar truly was alive at night.
On Saturday, my hotel arranged for a Spice tour- an apparent ‘must do’ in Zanzibar. Located about 30 minutes outside of town, the tour took about three hours. I learned about the top seven spices exported by Zanzibar and was even treated to a show by a man who climbs coconut trees while singing about Zanzibar and conducting gravity defying acts. At the end of the tour I was able to taste a variety of delicious fruits all grown on the island and purchased some much desired spices. The tour was great and I highly recommend it!
On Saturday evening, I went on a beautiful sunset boat ride along the coast of the island. There were yummy finger foods, delicious wine, and a wonderful guitar player. It was only as the sun dipped below the horizon and the warm breeze caressed my face that I truly understood what lures people to Zanzibar over and over again.
Sunday was spent touring more of the city and doing last minute shopping. Although I did not have time to venture to other parts of the island, I still walked away with a good feeling of what Zanzibar is all about. It’s a very interesting mix of cultures, past and current, and will leave you wanting to see more.
After my whirlwind weekend in Zanzibar, I jumped on a plane and landed in Kilimanjaro last Sunday night. My trek up the mountain began bright and early Monday morning. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Thanks for reading and your continued support!
Until next time, travel well and travel often!