Thursday, July 10, 2008

Zanzibar Part 2 (by Todd)

As with our first visit to Stone Town, we were initiallay focused on figuring out how to get to Nairobi on July 10th (in order to make our return flight home). We assumed since there were at least three flights a day to Nairobi, and that it was Zanzibar's low season, that this would not be a problem. Again our lack of advance planning bit us in the behind and we were left with only one option, an expensive 6AM flight - which gave us 16 hours to spend in Nairobi (our flight back home departed at 11:45PM).

So once again we were in the busy part of the island, where the Islamic inlfuence is omnipresent - you're surrounded by veiled women & skull-capped men, and several times a day calls to prayer drift over the city from numerous mosques. Unfortunately, also everywhere are the touts (in Swahili they are called papasi which literally mans 'ticks') that want you to take a taxi ride, book a tour through them, buy something from their shops, or in one form or another get you to part ways with your money. It definitely gets tiring to politely respond to the incessant greetings and welcomes you get just walking down the street, but we had lots of opportunity to practice our hapana ahsantes (no thank yous).

We took a small boat out to one of the surrounding islands called Changuu, which at one time served as a quarantine station for people arriving by ship to Zanzibar, but today its main attraction (at least for us) is the population of hungry Aldabra tortoises which inhabit the island, and which they allow visitors to walk amongst and feed. Supposedly they are second in size to the species found on the Galapagos Islands (one of our future vacation destinations). We had to go off the beaten path a bit, but we found the biggest turtles sunning themselves in a far corner of the turtle habitat. We even orchestrated a few turtle races between some of the turtles using the lure of fresh food (but of course rewarded both the winners and losers with a treat at the end).

For eats we sampled the Zanzibari nightmarket, a set of food stalls that opens up shop each night near the waterfront. Manned by the typical agressive papasi, they eagerly court your business to at least 'take a look' at their food, even if it is exactly identical to five other food stalls within the area. Our two favorites were Zanzibar Pizza and beef skewers on chapati, each of which could be purchased for about a dollar. I love places like this where you can try so many different foods, all the while keeping a nervous hand on your Immodium tablets. This video gives you a good idea of what the food market looks and sounds like:

On our final full day in Zanzibar we had to decide between two of the islands' famous activities - a Spice Farm Tour or Swimming with Dolphins. Due to Juli's love of dolphins (if she were an animal she would definitely be a dolphin), it was a hard choice to make - in Zanzibar you actually swim with wild dolphins in the ocean - by means of small boats that chase down groups of dolphins and then - SPLASH! - in go the tourists. This sounded a bit strange to us, and perhaps even a bit cruel, so we decided not to support this enterprise and instead go with the more traditional option of the Spice Tour.

The tour took us to a few farms where we could see and smell the variety of spices for which Zanzibar is known (vanilla, cinnamon, clove, etc.). We also got to taste some of the crazy fruits grown on the island like jackfruit, lychee, and elephant apples. A spice-laden rice and curry was served for lunch that was really tasty, even if we had to sit on the ground to eat (my flexibility in such situations leaves a bit to be desired). After one more stroll around downtown Stone Town and some food from the nightmarket, we headed back to the hotel in preparation for an early wake-up call to get our 6AM flight to Nairobi. We picked out our least-stinkiest clothes for the long journey home. Everything was great until Juli forgot to close the mosquito net around our bed...

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