by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
The train from Zambia back to Dar es Salaam passed through another animal reserve. We watched giraffes race along on one side of the car, and on the other, a herd of antelope. The car we were in was filled with tourists, and all of us were crowded at the windows, trying to film the galloping animals. The work strike between the train and the dining room personnel had not yet been settled, but this time we brought enough food to see us through.
Back in the capital of Tanzania, we decided to visit the nearby island of Zanzibar. It was the home of Sinbad the Sailor, and the stories of Zanzibar featured large in the adventure stories of our youths. Now we needed to find a way there by boat.
There are two choices when buying tickets to the island, a fast boat and a slow one. The fast one is a lot more expensive, but only took two hours to get there; the slow boat took four. We chose the slow option and boarded the ferry for the trip.
Several whales cavorted alongside and provided lots of excitement as people took photos. Almost everyone on board would race to the side where the giants swam, causing the boat to list dangerously while I sat in the middle, hoping my body would keep us from sliding into the sea. As always, I tried to sit as close to the life preservers as possible, but on this trip they were stored in a steel box with a padlock. I wondered what would happen if we did tip over. I tried to put that thought out of my mind.
Landing in Zanzibar, we found a taxi driver who drove us around to find a room. The first three or four places were full, but he knew the island, and continued on. We finally found a nice, clean hotel and booked a room. The hotels are all within easy walking distance from the restaurants, shopping and tourist attractions.
Walking the streets, you could almost imagine that you had stepped back in time. It’s not only the old buildings with doors studded with metal spikes to prevent elephants from pushing in, or faded balconies where the harem women lived and peered out to see the world, because they were never allowed out. It’s also the men wearing caftans, and women wearing hijab, and the smell of spices wafting from the markets. Even children were wearing caftans as they kicked balls around on the dirt streets. The whole atmosphere screams of past glory, Arab trading, and British Imperialism. It’s easy to imagine adventure around every corner.
The streets are teeming with markets, buses, tourists, and local people going about their day. We walked around, enjoying the smells from the open food stalls. At one food area, fishermen were showing off their day’s catch, grilling over burning coals and laid out in lovely displays. We stopped to watch one man, using his machete, chop cabbage for slaw. It took him about three minutes to chop the entire large head into tiny strips without losing any fingers.
Ted needed to buy some more film for his camera, and we started going down small streets searching for a sign that film was sold there. We finally found one and after paying for his film, we watched a local small taxi pick up several shoppers and their bags. Walking down streets lined with stalls and shops selling everything one could imagine, from mattresses to coffins, to clothing, soap and knives, I could almost see Sinbad being chased by the royal guards between the stalls. I would liked to have bought sacks of spices, but settled for a woven bag with cloves that we could throw in the backpack.
At a museum we marveled at the photos from the early 20th century that missionaries had taken. The eastern side of Africa had been settled by Arab sailors for hundreds of years. Here, they paid Africans for the slaves kidnapped from all over the continent, then sold them to the western captains who transported them all over the world. While the Africans never built large cities or forts, the entire coast from Egypt down to South Africa, is dotted with stone forts, slave markets, and Muslim enclaves, built by the Arab traders. Today the slave market is still a tourist attraction and one can only imagine the depths of human degradation that occurred there.
We met several other tourists and went to an Indian restaurant, spending a pleasant evening with others who were traveling alone. One thing we had found is that Indian food served all over the world is a modified version of what we had tried in India, and to our tongues, much better.
Most of the restaurants only opened in the evening, after nine o’clock. Day time is for picking up something from the stalls. As we visited the streets and took photos, we tried some of the local food. It was as delicious as it looked, and we knew it was fresh because we had watched the fishermen come in and unload their day’s catch. Now we saw it cooked and laid out for us. That smell, mixed with the smells of the wonderful spices for sale, made for a very memorable visit.
At least the ATM machines were working and for the first time in several weeks, we were able to obtain cash.
We were ready to return to Dar es Salaam and found our way to the ticket sales at the harbor. This time we chose the fast boat. The slow one reached Dar es Salaam in the evening and would spend the night anchored outside in the harbor until daylight and high tide, when the passengers disembarked. That was not for us.
We returned with photos and memories. The home of Sinbad had been explored and enjoyed. Now we were ready to venture on.