Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Zanzibar

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Once again I managed to escape the yoke of the grindstone and head off to sunny shores, this time to the ancient trading post of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa.

Zanzibar is an island of contrasts. It is one of the poorest places I’ve visited, yet it also has one of the richest cultures I’ve experienced, with influences from cultures all across the Indian Ocean. After a short flight from Dar Es Salaam, I landed at Zanzibar’s airport. It was a bit disconcerting as I descended the stairs to a tarmac that was almost in total darkness. I thought to myself, this must be what it was like during the raid on Entebe. I smelled the scent of wood fires burning. I liked this place.

A quick taxi ride got me to my hotel in the old quarter of the city named Stone Town, a World Heritage site. Stone Town displays Zanzibar’s Arabic influence in its exotic architecture.

Stone Town alley

As an ancient trading post, Zanzibar was subjected to influences from Arabia, India, Malaysia and even China. While the Roman Empire was covering the Mediterranean with trading outposts, Indian Ocean cultures were doing the same all around its shores. Most notable was the Arabic influence, as Zanzibar came to be ruled by the Sultan of Oman.

Arabic influences seen in the elaborately carved doorways

Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town and lived there until the revolution of 1964 overthrew the Sultanate and chased his family to England. After the revolution, the new government chased out most of the Arabic merchant community and allowed the poor to take over the lavish homes in Stone Town. Unfortunately, the poor didn’t have the funds to maintain the buildings which led to overwhelming decay. Steps are currently being taken to salvage Stone Town but the country is poor and restoration is lagging. Stone Town’s alleyways are too narrow for cars limiting them to pedestrian and moped traffic.

School girls trade secrets in a Stone Town alley

An old man exits another exquisitely carved doorway

After sleeping the sleep of the dead, I got up the next morning and located a place that rented motorbikes. The guy showed up at the hotel on a Vespa and asked me if I wanted a scooter or a “boom boom”. I said boom boom πŸ˜€ He left for a bit and returned with a Yamaha dirt bike of some sort which I deemed worthy. I then asked him to take me to an ATM so I could pay him, so he hopped on and I hopped on behind him. What followed was one of the scariest thrill rides I’ve ever been on. I’ve ridden the Isle of Man on Mad Sunday and I’ve ridden in Italian city traffic….neither comes close to the experience of riding bitch behind a Zanzibarian local, flailing the bike through narrow alleyways, shooing pedestrians aside with a relentless beep-beep-beeping of his horn πŸ™‚

Yes…we rode through this…

We somehow reached an ATM without taking out any pedestrians. After paying him his money, he offered me some last minute instructions. “Very important…the horn button”, pressing it for emphasis, BEEP BEEP. “Very important”, he reiterated. I nodded my understanding. “And use the back brake. The front brake may make you lose the front end”. Uhmmm….hokeyyy πŸ™‚ :thumbsup: With those last words, I headed out into traffic. Zanzibar is one of those silly places that insist that driving on the wrong side of the road is a perfectly natural thing to do, so I dutifully fell in with the rest of traffic.

One of the wider roads in Stone Town

My first experience was trying to find gas. I pulled into a service station where the attendant said “No petrol”. What do you mean no petrol?? Finally I noticed the signs over the pumps. They all read DIESEL. I had pulled into a diesel station…not a gas station…D’oh! I asked for directions to a gas station, but when I got there, the attendant said,”No petrol. Maybe this afternoon”. D’oh! A little further down the road, I found another station with a line forming. Aha! A line means gas. There were 2 lines on each side of the pump. Mopeds taking the inside lane, with cars and trucks taking the outside lane. After about 30 minutes, I had reached the front of the line and received my allotment.

Lining up for petrol. The tanker truck in the background had just discharged its load.

Heading towards the north end of the island, I stopped to take a picture of this government building. I’m not sure what it was but, I liked its design. I hadn’t noticed the beaming local until after I had taken the picture. Just about all of the locals were friendly with ready smiles.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a road map, so I would have to rely on the memory of a Zanzibar map I had seen on the internet a few days earlier. Like Sir Shackleton making his way to South Georgia Island, I would have to rely on dead reckoning. I headed north, trying to keep the west coast to my left hand side. Most of the roads on the island were flat and straight, so they weren’t the best for curve strafing.

Zanzibar seemed to have an inordinate amount of police check points. It was an hour and a half trip to the north end of the island, and I must have gone through 4 check points, each one wanting to see some identification and a driver’s liscence, asking where I was going, etc. Some were pleasant, others were less than pleasant. In the end, they all let me go on my merry way.

I turned off the main road in a vein attempt to find the beach but alas, it dead ended

I must have taken a wrong turn because I ended up going in a circle and coming through the same check point I had been through an hour earlier. So much for my dead reckoning talent. The policeman just shook his head and laughed. I eventually made it to the north end of the island.

Fishing boats stranded at low tide

I found a seaside restaurant and enjoyed a fresh seafood meal. Octopus with a coconut sauce and mango chutney with sweet yams and Arabic bread

I made my way back to my hotel in Stone town in time for cocktail hour. The hotel had a nice veranda bar on the roof that offered a nice view of the old quarter.

The following morning, I repeated the gas ritual and then made my way to the eastern side of the island.

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island as it produces most of its income from growing cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. the center of the island is where most of the plantations are. The island seems to have a fairly high rate of unemployment, as everywhere I went, I saw large groups of men sitting around in an idle mode. No one seemed to be starving though. Most people seemed to walk or ride bicycles. A few had mopeds or motorcycles, and even fewer had cars. Traffic away from population centers was minimal.

Returning to Stone Town, I took some time to explore some more. Where did western culture go wrong? When it comes to architecture, the organic beauty of Islamic architecture leaves the west in its dust.

The view from my hotel window.

The hotel roof

More intricately carved door ways

Fishing boats along the Stone Town beachfront.

A heckuva ferry ramp…although there aren’t any tire tracks in the sand, so maybe they were just picking up foot passengers.

The sun setting on my last day in Zanzibar. Many fishingmen used these small, fast sailing boats to haul in their catches.

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