The Zanzibar Connection

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, May 13, 2004 was originally posted on May 16, 2004.

DAY 208:  I suppose a lot more good things came out of the mugging at knifepoint in Cape Town than bad ones.  Ever since the incident, my itinerary had been sent on a tangeant that led me to connections I might not have made if nothing happened.  The mugging led to flight cancellations, which led to going overland through Zambia, which led to Shelle, which led to Cristina, which led to Tony, which led to one connection no one could have predicted in Zanzibar.

TONY LEFT THE FLAT at 6 a.m. to go on safari with fellow ex-pats on a long weekend.  After an early morning farewell and thank you, it was just Ted and I left in the flat, but Ted was up to run some early errands before going to work.  I left with him to run some errands of my own before my shuttle bus to the airport at 10:30.

I was in dire need of a haircut — Can you say Q-tip head? — and went to the barber that Chetan recommended me the night before, a place that could do something with straight hair.  However, with the morning rain, it wasn’t open.  Eventually too much time went by and I forsake it, which was a good thing because it gave me time to sort out the temporary nightmare that I might go to ATM-lacking Zanzibar cashless, since the PIN from my Visa card wasn’t working for some reason, and apparently my MasterCard had been maxxed out on cash advances.  After thinking it over under the shower head, I went back to the money bureau to do a call-in cash advance on the Visa — it worked.  It was a good thing I had that Visa because in Moshi you can organize a safari or a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro…. but they don’t take American Express.


ZANZIBAR, which put the “zan” in Tanzania when it was merged with mainland Tanganika in 1963, has a unique history.  Sultans ruled the island for decades amidst an eclectic blend of people.  Swahili, Arab, Indian, African and European colonial culture make up the vibe of Zanzibar in everything from the different religions, fashion, architecture and cuisine. 

I found myself in this hodge-podge of society after a short one-hour flight from Kilimanjaro International Airport.  I landed in Unguja, one of the two major islands of the Indian Ocean archipelago.  I took a taxi from the airport with a taxi driver named Mansour, who despite his name was a friendly guy.  “Zanzibar is pole pole,” he told me.  I asked him to take me to the Karibu Inn which was recommended by Tony and Lonely Planet, but he referred me to a cheaper, just as nice place called the Jambo Guesthouse.  (He still gave me the option of the Karibu if I didn’t like it.)  Jambo was great; for $10 I got a private room with A/C and free breakfast.  Later I learned that Karibu Inn had a reputation amongst travelers where you got your stuff stolen by the staff.

The Jambo Guesthouse was just one of the many accommodations in Stone Town, also known as Zanzibar Town, the main city of Unguja.  Stone Town is something out of Aladdin or The Arabian Nights, only set on a tropical island.  The city reminded me a little bit of Venice, with its confusing maze of narrow alleyways — it’s no wonder; both cities evolved as trading port cities to the Orient.  Unlike Venice, Stone Town has a very Muslim vibe to it, and it’s evident every minute when you see a Muslim man wearing a white galabiyya outfit, or the Muslim women completely covered in black dresses with hijabs, veils that sometimes cover everything except the eyes.  Prayer sessions five times a day are regular, and it is broadcast everywhere in the streets so that one doesn’t have to go to the mosque necessarily.

The Muslims live and work with the other people of Zanzibar, from Hindis to Christians to the flocks of tourists that come and fill the island from July through January.  It being May, it was the low season, so not many foreigners were around.  The few that were stood out like sore thumbs with their big cameras and straw hats. 

I got lost in the maze of alleys — with no hat and a small camera — and at times it got a big confusing; on the Lonely Planet map, it literally looks like a maze I might have done on paper in elementary school, complete with dead ends that lead to nowhere.  One can’t get lost too long because Stone Town isn’t too big; all you have to do is find a main road to get your bearing. 

I followed one of the main roads and went in the direction of an arrow labeled “Internet” and did some e-mails.  The guy there led me to a hardware store to get an adapter for the unique 250V electrical system in town, and the guy there directed me to a barber for me to finally get a haircut.  From there I ended up at the gardens of Shingani, along the waterfront.  Nearby was the House of Wonders, a Sultan palace-turned-museum built in colonial-Victoria style, which harbored interesting exhibitions of Zanzibari culture and history and an overhead view of the city and port (picture above). 

Nearby was the office of Grace Tours, an agency that I heard Tony and Helen mention from their trip to Zanzibar the February before.  There I met Willie, a tourism student working there as a sort of intern, although there wasn’t much work to do in the low season.  His boss, Mr. Ali left him there alone to mind the shop to deal with people like me entering the door to inquire about the standard Zanzibar tours.

“Where do you come from?” Willie asked me.

“I came in from Moshi.”

“Oh, I have a friend there.  Tony.  He works at KCMC.”  He showed me Tony’s e-mail address in his little address book to prove that he wasn’t trying to scam me or anything; it really wasn’t necessary because he mentioned Tony and KCMC before I did.

“Oh, Tony, I was just with him this morning!”

Instantly Willie took me in as a new personal friend of his simply because we had a mutual friend.

“How is Helen?” he asked.  (Wow, he knew Helen too.)

“She’s fine.  I just saw her last night.”

With the icebreakers out of the way, I asked Willie about things to see in the city.  It was about closing time, so he volunteered to just show me around for free, instead of charging me the $25 he quoted me for the City Tour before the Tony Connection.

We walked around Stone Town to see the sights, including the Old Fort where slaves were once auctioned off in a big field, and performers (still to this day) performed on the stage of an outdoor amphitheatre.  From there we wandered the maze of streets, developing a bond as walked through the market and down the main road for a sugar cane juice stop

The experience was educational for not just me by Willie as well, when we visited the site of the Old Slave Market and took a tour — Willie hadn’t been on it before.  Christopher, the guide there, showed us the dungeons were 75 slaves were stuffed into tiny rooms with hardly any air space or food.  The ones that were strong enough to survive the dungeons proved to be more valuable that the other slaves, and came at a higher price.  Under the appeal of explorer/missionary Dr. Livingstone, slavery was abolished and in place of the main slave trading post an Anglican church was built.  Nearby, a slave memorial (sponsored in part by Sony Ericcson) was built in respect of the slaves that suffered at the spot decades before.


THE THING TO DO FOR A TOURIST AT SUNSET is to have a sundown cocktail on the terrace of any one of the fancy hotels overlooking the water.  Willie took me to the Africa House Hotel, a chic establishment with fancy drinks named after things related to sunsets in Zanzibar.  One look at the drink menu and Willie’s jaw dropped; drinks were up to TSh 5000.  Being from New York, it seemed pretty cheap to me (about five bucks), but Willie knew that in Zanzibar, that was way too high.

“You want to go to the night markets?” he suggested.  I was keen on seeing them anyway since Tony raved about them. 

“Okay.”

“It’s cheaper there.  These prices are for tourists.”

Cheaper was right.  For less than the price of a couple of fancy cocktail drinks at Africa House, you could get a big seafood platter.  Local fishermen set up tables of their latest catch of the day.  All you had to do was point to whatever you wanted, and he’d put in on the grill.  Lobster tails and king crab claws were only two dollars; octopus, squid, tuna and skewers of prawn or baracuda were only one dollar.  An avid seafood lover, I pointed and pointed and pointed and had a pretty awesome seafood feast for about six bucks.  Willie only ordered a tuna steak, and I was glad to buy it for him for his courtesy of the day.

We sat down at an outdoor picnic table across from other tourists who knew about the dinner bargain, a German guy in dreads and a blonde from New Zealand.  The blonde asked me about my relationship with Willie. 

“He’s a friend of a friend I have in Moshi,” I answered.

“So he’s keeping you out of trouble?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s a good thing to have around here,” the German rasta said.

This was true; the Shingani area was swarming with what Willie called “Street Boys,” the crackheads on the street out to charmingly scam tourists for money with bogus tours.  One of them introduced himself to me as Willie’s friend, since he knew of Willie.  Willie was polite about it until the guy left.

“He’s telling you he’s my friend, so if he sees you later alone, he can say that you recognize him.  But he’s a cocaine smoker.  There are many of them.  Just get rid of him, but politely.”

After filling my stomach with fruits of the sea, Willie led me through the dark maze of alleyways back to the Jambo Guesthouse, so that I wouldn’t be targeted by the Street Boys.  Willie sure was “a good thing to have around” for he was my Zanzibar Connection on a confusing first day in Stone Town.






Next entry: Street Boys

Previous entry: Apologies and Farewells




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Comments for “The Zanzibar Connection”

  • FIRST!!!

    Heh Erik Keep up the great work!!  I habe been NIZ myself fro two weeks and pulled a marathon reading and catching up on your travels.

    Have fun in Zanzibar

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  01:12 AM


  • Don’t stop the BLOG!!!  That means that I’ll have nothing to do but actually work ... and who wants to do that?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  03:16 AM


  • Sounds like you had a great tour guide.  MMMM lobster!  six bucks??!! 
    That slave memorial is sad :(  Good memorial, sad sculpture.

    Posted by Liz  on  05/16  at  09:56 AM


  • Awesome to have found a mutual friend - and that seafood feast sounds awesome.
    Again, living vicariously!
    THANK YOU!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  10:38 AM


  • erik, thanks for working so hard on the blog.  i know its a pain for you to do at times, but i love it and appreciate all the work you put into it.  if you need a break from it, then you can skip a couple of days… but don’t completely stop!! I’ll die at work.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  04:06 PM


  • erik, thanks for working so hard on the blog.  i know its a pain for you to do at times, but i love it and appreciate all the work you put into it.  if you need a break from it, then you can skip a couple of days… but don’t completely stop!! I’ll die at work.  and thanks for the postcards. i love those too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  04:06 PM


  • yum. seafood pix looks scrumptous! I am hungry already and its only 9:20 am here! arrrghh…

    good post.

    random useless info (rui): Zanzibar is the first multiplayer map they showed off for Halo 2!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  04:24 PM


  • HEY GANG… I may or may not post a new entry before my next NIZ for 2-3 days…  It’s up in the air if I will have time tonight, because I’ve just been invited to hang out at the super fancy luxury hotel in town by a friend of a guest there…

    If there’s no entry between now and tomorrow, it’ll have to wait!  I’ve rented a Vespa with another American ex-pat I met on a tour today…  We’re going to explore the rest of the island at our leisure and hopefully see more cool stuff other than the swarms of Street Boys…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  06:11 PM


  • The scenery looks beautiful!  Makes me wish I wasn’t here.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  06:38 PM


  • LP: thanks for the RUI

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/16  at  06:51 PM


  • Zanzibar always sounded so exotic and definitely middle-eastern to me. Something out of Sinbad. Shows ya how my geography is. Anyway, I had to find it on a map so I could get my barings. I found http://www.africatravelresource.com/ which has some great pics… I hope you get to enjoy the rest of the island(s)—they look beautiful.

    Oh, yeah. Yummy looking lobster tail… and for a buck or two?  Wow! I won’t tell you what I paid Saturday night for one down in Weehawken.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/17  at  01:16 AM


  • Lookin’ good pal…keep up the good work!

    Word Life!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/17  at  03:33 AM


  • ERIK - Uploaded the music files…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/18  at  05:34 PM


  • HEY! i just read about your mugging tale - hello, scary?!? BUT im glad to know you werent hurt and your travels continue. You really carry an optimistic outlook, huh? Can i BE you?!? =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  06:12 AM


  • To everyone, including you Erik!  smile

    I think I found Erik’s twin in this world.. open up two browser windows and size them so that each takes up half the screen.. paste these links on them, and you be the judge wink

    http://www.eeyartee.com/theglobaltrip/index.html

    http://www.calgaryflames.com/cgi-bin/roster/roster.cgi?displayNode=55

    BTW Erik, got the postcard from Malawi, looks great, had to think for a second who would have sent it!  Safe travels!!

    Darcy

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  11:17 AM


  • darcy: nice try but i think you may wanna change your monitor’s color settings.  lol.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  04:35 PM


  • DARCY - umm….I have to agree with LP….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  04:57 PM


  • ERIK - so I got Terence back last nite and yakked in his car, but I think it was in a plastic bag….

    oh well….i just want tranquilo, tranquilo…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  04:58 PM


  • MARKYT:  Nice one… Happy belated Birthday!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  05:34 PM


  • ALICE:  THANKS so much for CCing me on that KICK ASS e-mail you sent the Visa PR department on behalf of me and The Blog… Perhaps a sponsorship may come out of it!

    ANYONE ELSE find other promotional/awardy type things to associate The Blog with?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  05:36 PM


  • DARCY:  Ummm… no.  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  05:38 PM


  • HEY GANG… I’m back from the NIZ now… and all on the 20th of May, the 7th Month anniversary of The Global Trip 2…

    As the 8th Month begins… I want to thank you all for your loyal readership and support—otherwise I wouldn’t continue doing this!

    If you’ll excuse me now, I have to go lock myself in my room for two days to catch up…  maybe even more because I slacked off and haven’t even handwritten anything in days.  (Blame it on Zanzibar!)

    STAY TUNED!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  05:43 PM


  • ERIK - Ok just found out…I yakked on the van’s floor…hahah…Justice is oh so sweet, well maybe sour in this case….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  07:24 PM


  • I needed an excuse to decide which Road flick to watch, and you’ve given it to me… I’m going to watch “Road to Zanzibar” with Bing Crosby & Bob Hope tonight. Glad your back from the NIZ! Hope it was relaxing. Zanzibar sounds so pole, pole….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/19  at  10:13 PM


  • I miss reading daily! I only have 2 mins left at the internet cafe!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/20  at  10:01 AM


  • woohoo!! erik’s back. yay, something to kill the time at this place. lovepenny helped me with the letter to visa. hopefully they will get back to us. that would be so cooooool. and happy belated b-day to markyt!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/20  at  05:59 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Street Boys

Previous entry:
Apologies and Farewells




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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