Yep, I’m travelling again. This time to spend a few days in Zanzibar with a friend and then on to Madagascar to explore the National Parks for a couple of weeks. I flew from Bangkok to Zanzibar via Nairobi and Kilimanjaro which afforded me some magnificent views of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru rising above the clouds.
Mt Kilimanjaro on the left and Mt Meru on the right with a bit of free advertising for Kenya Airways.
The archipelago of Zanzibar lies off the east coast of Africa and is a region of Tanzania, the country which emerged and became independent, amalgamating Tanganyika and Zanzibar, in 1964. However, Zanzibar had for millennia been an important port for traders along the coast from India and the Middle East, and for a period had been under the control of the Sultan of Oman. The island is sometimes called the Spice Island, for its abundance of a great variety of valuable spices for trade and was a key player in the slave trade. Today one can clearly see that both the African Swahili and the Arab, Persian and Muslim Cultures have survived, as well as recognising some remnants of Portuguese, German and British influence.
A colourful, illustrated map of Zanzibar.
This first story of three from Zanzibar is about Stonetown, the main city of the islands, showing a little of the beautiful old buildings with their solid carved doors, the narrow lanes, the markets and of course the people who live there.
The Reception at Emerson Spice Hotel.
The door to my room, and one of the balconies looking down into the central courtyard, allowing fresh breezes to circulate.
And inside the door, what a treasure of a room, the walls painted with brilliant murals and
movie posters featuring Zanzibar as further decoration.
Venturing out of the hotel, you are immediately transported into the maze of small streets and alleys, only accessible by bicycle, motor scooter or handcarts. Walking can be a bit hazardous if your eye is not attuned to the beeping and ringing of those moving at a faster pace than you are.
Bikes for hire and bags for sale.
A typical narrow thoroughfare, walkers competing with cyclists.
But not always space for those riding with little groups of family and friends out to do some shopping.
Plenty of street-side shops catering for locals and tourists alike.
And friendly shopkeepers waiting to lure you into their domain.
Some toys maybe, made out of wire, used coke and other soda cans.
Need a tattoo, or your hands painted with henna, or a new hairstyle?
Or some new shoes?
A traditional wooden carving of one or more ‘characters’ from Zanzibar’s history could be a fine decoration in your house.
In the late afternoon, school was out and the streets were flooded with little kids playing on their way home, the older students walking in small groups with a little more decorum.
This young lad had bought himself a little snack and was chewing on it staring absently out to the street.
The kids were very playful and it was not so easy to get a portrait of just one, without another edging in.
I thought the girls were shyer ….
… but not for long!
And within minutes of allowing me to take her photo, she had beckoned to the gang of boys to join her.
The old part of Stonetown is famous for its magnificent doors, heavy and studded with carved panels and intricate locks. Some are clearly very old and weathered, while some newer houses have modern replicas, beautiful but not quite so impressive.
A new door in the old style, but maybe a bit too shiny.
An old bolt on a weathered door.
Afternoon shadows making the studs on this ancient door look even more impressive.
For this young lad, the heavy door is just a normal part of his surrounds and he swings it open with no trouble.
A more intricate chain, although held with a modern padlock, on another beautiful studded door.
Peering upwards from the narrow alleys, you could feel dwarfed by the tall houses, often shuttered and forbidding.
But some of the painted shutters added a real charm to the buidlings.
Some of the houses also had terraces overhanging the street below, a fine vantage point from which to view
the comings and going of the neighbours and townspeople no doubt.
It’s always interesting to wander through the local market and capture a couple of the vendors preparing or selling their wares.
This man really wanted to sell me some spices but smiled back even when I said I didn’t need any just then.
In the fish market, there were fish of all colours and sizes and plenty of octopus and squid,
This woman was selling her catch of small fish very quickly and efficiently.
This fella was just sitting around doing nothing much but was happy to have his portrait taken.
Other scenes could be found down at the water’s edge, with groups of men just hanging out.
Traditional wooden dhows anchored a little off shore.
Others harder at work making repairs on the hulls of boats in dock.
Between the shore and the winding streets of the old town, there were substantial buildings established when one or other of the foreign powers had claimed Zanzibar to be ‘theirs’.
This is the clock tower of the Customs House.
The fort, looking out to sea, defending the city from invasion.
A round tower as a part of the old fort.
Close by, and in the shadow of the fort, another remnant of another era, with the colourfully attired doorman of a restaurant.
Walking back through the winding streets, a bit off the main tourist thoroughfares, there were children playing and salesmen selling their wares and fresh food.
A sweet little girl gazes out into the street.
An older brother looks after his younger sisters outside their house.
Two little ones play on their Dad’s motor scooter.
A smiling couple play a board and counter game common all over Africa and invite me to join them.
A sleepy cat reclines in a doorway …
… while another little cat follows the fishmonger from door to door waiting for a tidbit.
A busy corner of the street near my hotel, with an art collection in the background.
A nice colourful portrait of two smiling stall owners.
Just in case you forget where you were, or need a souvenir to hang at home,
these carved boards with common Swahili phrases could be bought.
And for my final photo of this story, just a lovely portrait of a beautiful and pensive young woman sitting at her shop.
So that’s it for my brief visit to Stonetown. From here we crossed the island to the far northern tip, and on the way stopped to visit a spice farm, This will be the subject of my next blog, coming soon.
Farewell from Stonetown, Zanzibar.
All good wishes,