This nearly-one-million-inhabitants town is the heart of the island and where everyone arrives and leaves. A place that does not make much sense in an urban perspective but most importantly, an interesting mix of Omani and African cultures.
I wasn’t impressed by the place at the beginning of my stay in the island although I admit the circumstances were different then and all I could think of back then, was the nice paradisiac settings I have been experiencing for the past days.
It feels right to give this place a second chance and, as soon as we arrive and leave our luggage in a conveniently located lodge south of the city, we immerse ourselves in this madness of this place by walking through narrow streets covered in rustic stone cobblestones and big chunks of rustic concrete running in all possible directions while scooters, street vendors and pedestrians fight for every single space. The smell of clove and saffron is stronger than ever and brings me back to the hectic souqs of the Middle East.
Men assembly around blue-coloured mosques. Minaretes call the prayer loudly and a festival of loose shoes and sandals is left outside them. I am in Africa yet it does not feel like it.
We need to sort out a few things in town so the first stop is to meet the dodgy “Travel agent” the German had contacted in order to arrange her trip to Mount Kilimanjaro. The meeting takes place in a car park where she hands out part of the money and she gets a rather dodgy receipt in return. It takes no more than five minutes and we leave hoping for the best. Sorting out my plane ticket to Dar Es Salaam is next and after visiting several airline companies, I am left alone with Tropical Air's little Cessnas for the return leg.
The afternoon time flies by as we get lost in the winding and narrow streets of town buying souvenirs and haggling (not my specialty). I am happy with the purchases which are small but symbolize the best highlights of my trip to these lands.
A loud parade catches my attention, it is the Indian community residing in Zanzibar celebrating the Festival of Colours with loud Indian tunes and basically a large amount of colored powder and water. I am tempted to participate but they ramble around the streets rather quickly. A mandatory good Tanzanian-Arabian coffee follows and then time to enjoy by Stone Town main beach where I manage to steal some free wi-fi from the hotel nearby and watch the world-famous sunsets that take place in here.
The beach is mostly used by the locals and kids are seen playing around everywhere, swimming and doing crazy pirouettes in the sand. The boats are coming from Prison Island and the “dhows” are sailing off to the sea for the night fishing. The sun setting in the West creates an amazing optical illusion and gives us the most orange sky I have seen in my whole life.
As the day gives way to the night, a few power shortages remind me of the African reality and set the mood for what I can only describe as an amazing experience: The Night market.
A festival of sights, smells and flavours challenging my senses with all sorts of sea food delightfully laid out in tables and stalls around Forodhani Park, just by the main pier and the bay. Smoke coming from all of them and featuring smells of fish and vegetarian food being cooked with strong tones of saffron and curry awake my sense of smell while the combination of octopus, fish brochettes, falafel and coconut bread awake my senses of sight and taste. It is madness to walk in between stalls as vendors pull you by the arm with a very elaborated speech about them being the best in town (or recommended by a Lonely Planet guide) and trying to make you try what’s on sale.
As a sea food enthusiast, I am massively tempted to try everything on sale but I am aware of possible food poisoning risk so I am happy enough with a delicious falafel and a banana-and-Nutella Zanzibarian pizza (made with a very thin pastry rolled up in balls, stretched and folded with the fillings inside of it, then finally fried).
The following day is marked by feeling of the trip finally coming to an end. I switch lodges to a new one recommended by the American couple I had met on the way to Paje which looks more like a house with some extra beds near the port.
I feel a knot in my throat when finally saying good-bye to my travel partner and see the ferry sailing off to Dar Es Salaam. Her adventure is just about to begin while mine will be over the next day. A promise of meeting back in Europe is done and I decide to spend the rest of the afternoon losing myself through the streets of Stone Town eating chapattis and having some nice coffee.
I walk to the beach to watch the sunset and take some nice snapshots of it. Night time follows and I head to the market to have some Zanzibarian pizzas again.
Just when I am about to go back to the hostel , a couple of girls from Poland surprisingly make conversation with me in a very dramatic and sharp way. They ask for advice about the North of the island and we continue talking about our adventures around the world and how to move around the African continent. They seem eager to see what I had just been seeing and ask for advice on Uganda and Rwanda, two of my now favourite countries.
The night unfolds while chatting , making jokes and enjoying some local (safe) food. Foreigners are all over the place amazed by the drama of this stunning market, set in a unique way in a truly unique place in the world.
I am leaving Africa tomorrow. I think the idea of giving Stone Town a second chance was a wise choice. It is one of those places that grow on you, it is madness, somehow dangerous and dirty but most importantly, it is different. And that is what this trip to Africa was all about.
Stone Town surprised me as a place rich in history and culture, where two continents blended in a single place as a trade hub, slightly spoilt by the uncontrollable tourism development.