Monday, December 29, 2008

Seabus commute (Dec. 17/08 - Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania)

Normally, the Seabus we're used to at home is a 12 minute commuter ride between North Vancouver and downtown. Today's Seabus took us across the channel to the island of Zanzibar, which lies about 40km offshore from Dar Es Salaam. Luckily, the boat was an air conditioned catamaran, but the big rollers coming in from the Indian Ocean still made for a bit of a queasy ride. The 2 1/2 hour crossing was effortless thanks to the magic of Gravol, and soon we were walking up the dock into Stone Town. Established in the 18th century by the Portuguese, the old part of town is basically a maze of narrow alleyways bustling with people and scooters and lined with hundreds of shops selling eveything from fabric and wood carvings to spices and paintings. It reminded me of a cross between the markets in Cairo and the locale of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As expected, most of the storekeepers tried to persuade us to 'look for free' in their shops, and sometimes the offer was too tempting to resist. At one point, when feeling a little lost, we stopped the only other person we could see to ask if he knew where we were. Turns out he's from Kansas and has owned a hotel here for 19 years!

We wandered for hours and ended up buying some canvas paintings, a beautiful carved wooden giraffe (small enough to ship home), some spiced soap, and some sarongs. Ken even picked out some funky African patterened cloth to wear as a sarong. He claims he's man enough to pull it off! And he was - it was worn out this evening when we went out for dinner, and other than the goofy shuffle his walk was restricted to, he actually pulled it off.

For dinner, we treated ourselves to an evening at the Africa House Hotel, which is a beautiful old hotel that was once home to the Sultan of Zanzibar. From the rooftop patio, we watched the dhow sailboats cruise across the water at dusk while we ate fresh seafood and Kilimanjaro beer. There is a lot more of Stone Town that we haven't seen yet, but after we leave tomorrow morning for an island tour and then two days on the beach at the north end of the island, we will be back here again for one more night. For now though, we will enjoy the luxury of a real bed and a fan to keep the heat down, and the freedom of not having to check for lions before getting up at night to pee!

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