Last week, I trudged through rain, traffic, and the girl’s bathroom to get to Zanzibar. Today I get rewarded with sun, nature, and entertaining company.
I exited Zanzibar customs to bright skies and the old architecture of Stone Town.
For my first nights’ lodging, I used a website that locates hosts letting you stay with them for next to nothing. I found a woman from Europe who said she simply liked the company and the chance to meet new people from around the world. The downsides of this arrangement would balance the upside.
She was a middle-aged Slovenian woman named Katerina and was trying to make a life for herself in Zanzibar. She was off to a good start, getting a hotel job and sharing a place with her Zanzibar boyfriend smack dab in the middle of the intimate alleys of Stone Town.
Her tall, thin, quiet, feminine-faced professional dancing boyfriend named Fee met me right outside customs and walked me to their place. You can see him in the left in the white headband in the picture above.
Stone Town is a section of Zanzibar Town, the island’s main urban center. Stone Town is also the island’s most famous neighborhood, well known historically, culturally, and architecturally. (We’ll get to that later.)
Fee walked me along the coastal road a few blocks before turning inland, and before I knew it, we were within the maze of narrow alleyways as much a novelty and thrill to navigate as they were an annoyance when lost and startling when mopeds zoomed by at speeds I considered way too fast for the conditions.
After a few minutes, Fee stopped to unlock the ridiculously thick, ornate door which isn’t ridiculous at all here where all the doors are like this. I walked inside and greeted my inn.
I wasn’t the only guest here. Upstairs was another Slovenian, a female flight attendant named Urska here on vacation, and then there was Giovanni from Brazil who worked in Zanzibar as a cook. He was usually gone, but I met Urska this first evening, a lovely, tall brunette who expressed interest in doing one of the spice tours this island is famous for. Fee’s friend, Abdi, who had toured Urska around before, was more than happy to show her around again. I guess I got to take advantage of his interest like a pilot fish swimming along with a shark: efficient transport to sought after places.
Later this evening, I wanted to hop online so walked to the community wifi hotspot: the steps outside the Zanzibar mobile communications company. Me and probably seven other young locals sat out there in the relative openness of an alley intersection. Guards stood there not caring that people gathered. Most of the boys and young men seemed interested in playing video games. I wanted to get on Facebook. And so did another Westerner who approached, a pretty blonde from the Netherlands named Laura.
She boldly traveled solo, but was interested in teaming up for the spice tour I told her about. So the next morning, Urska and I met with Laura.
And Abdi met us to take us away.
From the narrow alleys, we walked back to the open, coastal road and to the bus stand where we hopped in a van and headed out of town. Along a few miles and after a few stops, we found the highway rising up thinly forested hills. Then we stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere, hopped out, and walked along the dirt shoulder of the tar for a hundred yards before hanging a right down a dirt driveway. We were soon met by a young, hefty man in a blue T shirt and jeans who would be our guide.
His services included walking us along the trails; pointing out the plants, trees, and other natural things of note; and taking large leaves, slicing them with his knife, and then braiding them together into all sorts of fashion accessories.
We proceeded on the tour:
Abdi now had two girls he wanted to impress. He actually tried to do so by climbing a tree:
He did it again later to gather some fruit.
When climbing trees didn’t work, Abdi tried to make himself up when we encountered a plant used for pigment in clothing.
In between stops to show us plants and demonstrate his sense of humor by tricking me into tasting aloe flesh (super bitter and long lasting), our guide quietly carried on weaving leaves. His first creations shaped into hats, and even before he was done, our eagerness to handle and try on his creations overcame us.
We would come to another guy along our tour who apparently specialized in coconuts. After our introduction, he took his cue not just to gather some from atop the tree, but to put on a show by climbing in rhythm to a happy-go-lucky Swahili tune.
He sang as he mildly rocked up and down while taking steps up to heights that looked intimating from the ground, so you know were head-spinningly scary from the tops of the thin branchless tree. When he reached the top, he hacked the coconuts off to a crashing thud to the earth forty feet below.
Then he came back down in song and hacked away once more–opening them for our consumption.
As we drank the sour milk and nibbled on the wet coconut flesh, our guide was finishing with his new line of Zanzibar spice tour spring wear. Soon he finished, and we gathered for a group shot:
Here’s a video of the day:
To finish the tour, we all sat down to enjoy more foods these forests produce.
And then we ended at a spice table. I didn’t mention this, but we saw many plants from which spices are derived. And I’ll just go ahead and spoil the surprise by admitting I purchased some for family back home.
Then we packed it up to go back to Stone Town. We said goodbye to Mr. Coconut, Mr. Natural, the spice salesmen, and these guys below that I end this post on because A. it’s the last shot I took in the forest and B. I just like the picture:
Next week we tackle cultural Zanzibar–history, modern politics and religion, and a huge dance party I somehow got invited to.