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Journeys : Oct Nov 2010
October / November 2010 19 Lead singer of the supergroup Queen was bor n Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town and my sisters and I are fascinated to walk the same streets as our idol. But Stone Town makes us feel claustrophobic – one minute back from the waterfront and we lose all sense of direction. The narrow, winding alleys and houses three to six storeys high form a labyrinth. Old men sit around enjoying a leisurely pace of life, while young men speeding around cor ners on motorbikes honk horns madly, war ning pedestrians to leap to safety. The sun is beating down overhead, but due to the narrowness of the lanes and the height of the buildings, only the midday sun gains full access. A peek through massive, intricately-carved doors reveals dim interiors and courtyards that look cool, but can’t possibly be in this fierce heat. Many of the doors boast huge brass studs that were to prevent marauders using elephants to break them dow n during invasions in days gone by. Now they are for decoration, and display the owner’s wealth. While searching for our way out of Stone Tow n, we come across numerous tiny bazaars selling brassware, tablecloths, clothes and trinkets. We buy fringed tablecloths and hinged lidded boxes decorated with brass. My younger sister isn’t used to wear ing her new w ide-legged Zanzibari trousers. She catches a foot in one of the hems and trips, landing heavily on the cobblestoned road. Our older sister immediately senses the danger and holds up her hands desperately in a bid to stop an on-coming motorbike from careening into my sister as she struggles to her feet. Her knee is sore and her pride a little dashed, but at least she has escaped with minimal injury. We are all a little shaken by the near miss, but our nerves are quickly calmed as we enter a cloth shop and are distracted by heav y bolts of brightly patter ned Zanzibari cotton mater ial. It is difficult to choose, as the floor to ceiling selection is so vast, but we all find something for each of us. One day we will sew unique and exotic skirts, tops and trousers from the cloth. Every where we wander, delicious food smells tempt us. Zanzibari food is spicy and dripping with coconut sauce. At a waterfront restaurant we sample the fish and green bananas, which we all pronounce delicious. The fish is ocean-fresh and tender, and the green bananas almost have the taste and texture of sweet potatoes. We head off in search of the old slave market. The tour ist brochures have warned that it is not for the claustrophobic and they’re r ight. It’s underground, w ith a thick concrete ceiling and we have to climb down steep steps, ducking several times in low areas. Today, although 95% of the population is Muslim and the 75 mosques guarantee that wherever you are you’ll hear muezzins calling the faithful to prayer, an Anglican church has been erected here. The altar is built over the whipping post site. The red marble on the facade was deliberately chosen to represent the blood of the slaves. Also in this church is a series of tall, stained-glass w indows dedicated to explorers of the Afr ican continent, including Doctor Livingstone. We find an eclectic museum that not only houses Livingstone memorabilia including his medical kit, but also displays oddities like tiny stuffed goats w ith eight perfectly-for med legs. We go looking for Livingstone’s house. Nearby are many fine examples of beautifully-restored buildings with intr icately-carved woodwork, huge verandahs and stained glass. We see goats on the beach – it’s reassur ing to note they have four legs. The next day we take a tour around the coconut palm-studded island. Dur ing his well-rehearsed spiel in Sultan Barghash ’s harem ruins at Marahubi, our guide suddenly seems stuck for words. ‘The women sat around...’ Here he stops, looks us one by one in the eye, breathes deeply, then bravely continues ‘... in nakedness mode!’ Our hotel was restored by the Aga Khan – instead of tearing down two dilapidated waterfront buildings, he spent $7 million faithfully refurbishing them and connecting them with a covered walkway. Brightly coloured panes of glass create pretty patterns on the stone floors, and mosquito nets protect us at night. We swim in the sparklingly-clear ocean-side pool that creates a central focus to this hotel. Poolside is also the perfect place for our sundow ners. Gazing past the white-painted walls of the courtyard and out to the dhow-dotted blue Indian Ocean beyond, we feel a deep sense of contentment. Some Queen play ing in the background would make it just perfect. Destinations
Aug Sep 2010