Stone Town is the old part of Zanzibar City, on Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania mainland. At one time, it was the vibrant center of the spice and slave trades. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the confluence of Swahili, Arab, Indian, even European (and possibly more) architecture. It reminded both of us of the medinas in Morocco.
Our day began with a (somewhat) quick trip to the Mozambican consulate on the island. We needed visas for our planned overland crossing from Tanzania next week. We were a little nervous because quite a few requirements were listed that we weren’t sure we could provide. Namely; a hotel booking for our first night there (there wasn’t a hotel- at least online- in the first city we were going to stop in), and recent bank statements. The woman at the desk clearly didn’t care to see any bank statements, didn’t ask for where we were going to stay, and only had us fill in half of the form, before asking us for our passport pictures. I fished out two older pictures where I have bright blond (more like yellow) hair, not exactly corresponding to the long brown hair in my passport. Andrew fished out two recent pictures where he’s wearing a bandana, he’s not wearing glasses, and he’s at least 100 pounds lighter than his nine-year-old passport.
This was problematic. My yellow hair picture, not so much. Andrew’s skinny-without glasses-with a bandana picture.
“It’s big problem.” We were told.
Andrew tried to explain that the passport is nine years old. That he doesn’t wear glasses anymore, let alone have a pair with him on Zanzibar. She eyed everything suspiciously.
“You need a photo without this.” She said, pointing to the bandana. I took a deep breath and then realized I had my (replacement) Polaroid camera with me. – My original camera was taken in Nepal. Unbeknownst to me, Andrew had ordered a replacement for me for Christmas. His mom sent it to the UAE, but their postal system didn’t notify our friends living there. It was sent back to Wisconsin. His mom (Thanks Chari!) sent it again, this time to Tanzania, and when Andrew went to “the bank” he came back with a box of treats for both of us from the post office!
“Ok. Hold on.” I told the clerk, and assured Andrew it would work. We went outside and took a passport photo, printed two copies, and handed them over to the clerk. One cleaning woman was watching this whole process in complete awe that we were able to print a photo off immediately after taking it. I took one of her and I think her enthusiasm swayed the clerk inside to accept Andrew’s makeshift, newly printed passport photos.
We handed our passports over for the week, and then went exploring around Stone Town. Starting first at the former slave market. Now, a hostel (weird) stands over the cells where up to seventy-five slaves were held at once in a way too tiny space as you can see Andrew trying to squeeze into it.
The area where we were standing was where the slaves would go to the bathroom, and at high tide, the water would rise in and take the waste away. Most slaves were brought here and kept for a couple of days until the market was held on Sunday.
After the slave market was closed by Sultan Barghash in 1873, missionaries bought the site and built a cathedral. Inside the church, we were shown the site of the former “whipping tree” where slaves were beaten during the auction (or market, or whatever you want to call it) to show how strong they were. Now, a gold plate lies in place of the tree directly in front of the altar.
We wandered through Stone Town around the time that school children were let out, I’m assuming for a siesta. One girl walked with us, not saying anything, just keeping us company after her friends departed. This has happened before and it warms my heart to no end.
Looking for a snack, and being a huge Queen fan, we made our way to Mercury’s. A little bit of trivia for you: Freddie Mercury was born on Zanzibar. Hence, the bar/restaurant. It was right on the water and had a beautiful view- but the food was minimal and ridiculously overpriced. When we arrived, I debated getting a t-shirt. When we left, I was still hungry and plotted out my TripAdvisor review. Luckily the mini-store across the street had banana chips (my favorite snack so far in Africa) seasoned with chili (even better). We nibbled as we made our way back to our guesthouse for an air-conditioned siesta.