Thursday, April 3, 2008

Narrow Streets, Sandy Beaches and Golden Fleeced-Rats

As a reward for making it to the top of Kili, we decided to spend a few days in Zanzibar enjoying Stonetown's streets and the beautiful beaches. The only downside is that Zanzibar is not exactly a haven for hard-bargaining, budget travelers. It is, in fact, a haven for some touts who may or may not be on doctor-approved drug cocktails. The effect is that when you emerge from the ferry into the terminal there are a host of guys with various twitches all representing the "official" tourist board of Zanzibar. They all work for "free" and they all would love to be your guide/hotel-finder. After some cunning duck and weave maneuvers we found a hotel and set out to tour the city.

Stonetown is a a strange labyrinth of narrow streets, crumbling buildings and the most ornate doors we have ever seen. The effect of walking around the old city is that you constantly feel lost and disoriented while simultaneously always finding your way. To add to the atmosphere of the streets there seem to be infinite small Arabic Schools where you can here children practicing their lessons or doing the call to prayer. Without a doubt, Stonetown is our favorite neighborhood so far on our trip. Plus, we were able to end our evening having a seaside drink at the bar named after (I would hope) Zanzibar's favorite son, Freddy Mercury.

As amazing as Stonetown was, the real goal of Zanzibar was to sit idly on the beach and stare at the water. In order to do this we had to by enough food to get by and screw up enough courage to attempt to bargain with the most reticent hoteliers that we had encountered so far. After a fit of haggling and attempting to grasp the concept of price increases for the low season, we settled into a simple room at Kendwa Rocks resort. As advertised, the beach is pristine and the water perfectly warm and clear. Things were looking good with our first afternoon's hammock time.

But, as readers may have come to expect, there is always another shoe waiting to plummet. This time, that shoe came in the form of an extremely large, very real, golden colored rat who crawled into our room through a hole in the ceiling. Luckily, his entrance was less than graceful and I was able to snatch our meager rations from him/her prior to losing our lunch and dinner for the next few days. A small game of chase and the rat left our room. The rest of the night was spent building makeshift traps to keep the rat's buddies from coming back for our carrots and tomatoes.

The next day we moved into the less stuffy, more affordable and seemingly rat-less dorms. The next 3 days became a wonderful muddy blur of hammocks, swimming and getting a bit sunburned. Quite a nice reward and a wonderful way to say farewell to the African leg of our trip. We hated leaving the beach but it was back to Dar es Salaam for 2 days and off to London.


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