November 23, 2017
The Dala Dala Experience
The day was open. With a late flight out to Nairobi out of Zanzibar Airport at 7:30pm, the day was my oyster. After some discussion with Ellie, we decide to take on Stone Town for the day, giving us both the opportunity to explore it properly. Ellie made the experience more fun than it would have been alone. Not only that, but her two-months of intensive Swahili lessons really helped us communicate with the locals.
To say money, and for a more authentic experience, we elected to take the “dala dala” or minibuses that makes stops along routes on the island but operate in a much more casual fashion than a normal bus line. Plus, it only costs Tsh 2000 ($1) for an hour and a half journey in a crammed vehicle. We just had to wait for it at the Paje roundabout for pickup. I actually enjoyed the ride, not only because it was far cheaper than a taxi, but because we were the only white people in the bus and got to be elbow-to-elbow with locals going about their daily business.
Remnants of the Slave Trade
Neither of us really planned specifics of Stone Town ahead of time, so we just wandered around for a while before heading towards the harbor. I fortunately was already ahead with sightseeing as I had my original taxi to Paje stop at the Old East Africa Slave Market just a couple days prior. It’s a now a church with the alter being the very location of the auction platform where the slaves dragged over from all over East Africa sold and shipped to the Americas.
Still existing to this day and underneath the church is the confinement areas. One chamber housed women and children, and the other was for men. The men were especially kept in down there long enough so some would die from starvation and dehydration and the strongest could be identified and then sold upstairs. Dozens of men were kept in these rooms in tiny confines, with nowhere to stand with a trough of sorts for human waste. It’s a very sad location but beneficial to see to reflect on their hellish treatment and understand what others endured with the goal of creating an awareness to ensure history never repeats itself. Sadly, in current events, slavery is very much real in this day, such as the captured refugees fleeing western and northern Africa for Europe, for instance.
Giant Tortoises Doing (Lots of) Time on Prison Island
Onto happier thoughts, Ellie and I scheduled to meet with a couple friends of hers that were staying in Stone Town and planned on venturing to Prison Island that afternoon. The island, known for its former prison of rebellious slaves that turned into a hotel and its tortoise sanctuary. It being one of Stone Town’s best attractions and from what we heard of it, we quickly decided we were in.
Zanzibar has a well know market of street food somewhere near the harbor so we set out to find it, even though we didn’t have an exact location. After a pleasant walk around the seafront and down narrow, winding alleys of the neighborhood, we were unsuccessful and with meeting up with the island group in less than 30 minutes we had to settle for western food… pizza at a local cafe. I normally avoid western food on trips like these, but we were in a pinch and I must admit, it was pretty delicious. And we got to look at the Old Fort and clock tower from across the way while we waited. The point of the pizza was to get something quick but turns out it takes darn near a half hour for these things to pop out so we simultaneously ate and briskly walked in classic “rushed American” style. After all, they say Americans are always in a hurry, and we hit that stereotype to a T. Even eating while meeting the group, and continuing all the way to the boats, just 100 or so meters away.
The group we joined were American high school students on a homestay program and Ellie’s friends were group leaders. Besides the ride over on the wooden craft over to the island, I never got the chance to know them. Ellie didn’t have swimming gear and even though I did (I’ve been lugging around my entire bag with me the whole day), I didn’t want get wet and salty before flying. So even though the rest of the crew started out with some snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters off the Zanzibar coast, we got dropped off right on the island and started to explore.
We were in a time crunch, well I was because I had a flight to catch, but Ellie was nice enough to adjust to my schedule and saw the same things as me even though she’d have to repeat them later with her group after I leave on my separate ride back to the mainland. Now with little time and an island to explore, we headed straight for the tortoise sanctuary – the highlight of the trip over. Both of us snapping loads of photos each, we entered the sanctuary containing at least 20 or 30 humongous tortoises with dozens more younger ones. The hugest must have had shells of 2.5 or so feet long and 3 or 4 feet long with their long necks extended for some grub, and were known to be 120, 140, 160, up to 186 years old. It’s amazing how such a big, super slow animal has such a long lifespan. Leafy stems were included, giving us the opportunity to feed them, touch them, and simply observe them up-close and personal.
Prison Breaks and Goodbyes
Satisfied with the amount of tortoise interaction just had, we quickly saw some the old prison facilities, and even took a moment to enjoy a male peacock really flaunting its stuff to an apparently uninterested hen. My previously scheduled boat was about to arrive so we had to cut the roaming short. After a nice goodbye and well-wishing, I was off to mainland and then to the airport as Ellie rejoined her friends that just arrived from the snorkeling.
The Next Leg of the Adventure
As I have been writing on the plane from Zanzibar to Nairobi, the plane is now preparing for landing. Next time: Kenya.