We woke to the sounds of the call to prayer in the dark after a night of enjoying our freezing air con (so nice in this heat, and with these angry red welts all over). The kids came in to see us, and then off to breakfast on the rooftop here, enjoying the view over Stone Town and to the sea, a couple of blocks away. We set off straight away, walking through the narrow alleyways, trying to trend towards the old slave markets and the fresh food markets, but just wending our way through all the crooked alleys. The streets were very clean, swept, with small rubbish piles hidden in corners. People were slowly going about their day, no tourists yet, kids already in school. We found our way fairly directly to St Monica’s Caedral, one of only 2 cathedrals in Stone Town (there are 54 mosques) which is the site of the slave markets that finished in the 1870’s.
After paying our $14 entry for the 6 of us, a guide met us and took us through. Zanzibar was the main slave trading centre for east and central Africa, with Ghana the west African centre. Thousands of slaves were traded and auctioned on this site for several hundred years. We were shown the holding rooms underground, lit only by very small windows at ground level in which 75 people would be chained together, cheek by jowl, hunched on the concrete step (their waste would collect on the floor). Turnover was fast, so they were never there for more than 3 days, but the ships were even worse, housing 609 people on a boat built to accommodate 451. We also admired the cathedral itself, complete with a crucifix made from wood of the tree that Dr livingstone died under. The mahogany pews came from Cyprus, the alter from India, the Carrera marble pillars from Italy. Typical church, no expense spared, built on the site of the slave trade.
We then wandered past the university and the Hallie Selassi secondary school to the main fresh food markets. Wow, what an experience that was. We started with the fish market. It was more than the kids could bear, so I stayed outside with them while Charlie went in to take some shots. Then into the fruit, veg and spices. So many spices. Fresh garlic, ginger, onions, bananas the size of the kids lower legs, green mangoes from Pemba, the next island to the north, cucumbers (tango in Swahili), avocados, leafy greens, apples (we haven’t seen them since leaving home), lemons and limes. Unfamiliar tropical fruits – jackfruit, breadfruit, and presumably the horrid ‘bum fruit’ on our plates at breakfast (it had orange flesh, looked like papaya, tasted terrible), as well as the familiar. Distressingly, many of the fruits were cut open and utterly covered with flies. The locals didn’t shoo the, away, leaving us to wonder if they didn’t know about flies and disease.
The spices looked fantastic – baskets full of fresh saffron, little bags with 20 vanilla pods in them, whole nutmeg, turmeric, seeds, pods and ground. We didn’t buy any – everyone seems to understand fairly well that in the land of the kangaroo (the response whenever we say where we are from), we cannot take them home. We wandered through some of the other alleys, seeing the stalls and then small shop fronts selling everything else – hardware, nappies, pharmacy, toiletries, washing powder (seriously, a separate shop for each), clothing, haberdashery, pool toys (no pools in Stone Town), stationery, electrical goods. Everyone was pretty hot by now – it was only 10.30 or so, but it was stiflingly hot, we were all very sweaty (I was about the sweatiest I have ever been) and the kids were getting overwhelmed (heat, noise, crowds). We wandered back towards the hotel, keen to get back out there without the kids to look again. So we did. We got the kids settled with Gran, the air con, plenty of water and the tv playing cartoon network, and off we went.
We wandered through different streets and found our way pretty quickly back to e markets. We were approached by a man very quickly who wanted to show us his spice stall. We said we were Australian, and he understood immediately, but said he’d show us around. He took us through the fish market, asking stall holders for permission to take a picture. These markets were revolting. The heat, the smell, the flies all over the fish. The shelled mussels in little piles, covered with flies and getting drier by the second, the shark with its fin cut off already, the big tuna drying out, kingfish, swordfish, prawns, whitebait, white fish, squid, octopus, snake fish. The smell!
Next, the meat market. Slabs of meat hanging from hooks, still hot, still flyblown. All the offal, including stomachs and goats heads, complete with hair. A buffalo head with horns attached. The smell here was bloodier. And often the men were smoking as well! Solomon then led us to the chicken market. At the entrance were men with plastic buckets with chicken in them, often whole, sometimes with water also to wash it, sometimes cut portions. As we ventured in further, we could see in the dim shed that there were many baskets, all filled with live chooks, ready for selection and slaughter. Thus all the buckets of water to wash them off. It was amazing – such mangey, unappealing birds. He then took us through the shed to the food preparation area behind, the women tending the fires, preparing the fish curry, cooking the rice, ready for the lunchtime rush. We only saw one dead rat here, along side a dirty discarded child’s bunny toy, and couldn’t help but wonder which was the more disease ridden. We did marvel at the constitution and gut flora of the locals.
Solomon led us to a coffee us for a cool drink, insisted his tip should be higher than the 10 000 TSH we offered (he accepted 20 000 – about $14), for his kids education, and we then wandered back to e hotel to collect the family for lunch. I love just weaving my way through the streets, just as I did in Venice 11 years ago, seeing the locals, how they shop, trying to fathom some idea of how they live. We would occasionally find ourselves on a more touristy path with souvenir shops, but soon ducked off onto quieter alleys again. The girl at the hotel desk recommended the local italian restaurant for lunch, so we walked the 3 minutes to get there. what a hit! The service was particularly warm and friendly, the kids ate all their food (bolognese, lasagna, and a nutella pizza for the lad, while we had pizza and eggplant), followed by gelati. There was a quick rainstorm while we were there, overlooking the water, so we were able to see the rain come in, and ten the clearing sky. We could also see the sand bar a little off the shore, with boats on it for picnickers.
After lunch, some quiet time at the hotel while Charlie sought out beer to accompany his photo downloading. The kids were wanting to rest and watch tv some more (2 weeks without tv til now has been a record, it seems), I think they are also a little over the crowds and heat. I soon joined Charlie so we could explore some more – we hadn’t seen the main buildings on the waterfront, nor that side of the town at all. So, off we went, back into the sun and the heat. The main street with the most important old buildings was terribly shabby. The ‘house of wonders’ housing the museum is closed after a piece of balcony fell on a tourist last year. Repairs can only be done with UNESCO approval. So it seems almost nothing gets repaired. Most of the buildings here were build in the middle of the 19th century, so are about the same age as much of Adelaide. It hasn’t aged well. Built with poor materials, poor workmanship and no ongoing maintenance work, there’s rust and decay everywhere. It adds a certain charm, but really is a mess.
The Customs House and another palace were here also, along with the formal gardens. After we had done our obligatory walk past whilst getting idly hassled by touts offering to guide us or arrange tours for tomorrow, we dove back into the back alleys. I can’t even describe it right now, other than to say – look at the pictures. We came across a little square outside an Islamic school. It was 5 pm so the kids had just finished for the day and were playing outside, waiting for parents to walk or scooter them home. We sat on a wall on the edge and watched the children play, taking surreptitious photos. It was a delightful way to spend 20 minutes or so. We walked back home, finding our way increasingly easily.
We bought a few souvenirs today – some woven scarves, and a few Christmas decorations – a nativity scene and some angels for the tree. A sundress for each of the girls, a flag for Luca, and some cheap jewelry. We had a drink on the rooftop bar here at our hotel, watching the sunset, catching up with FB, cooling down and hanging as a family again. Then dinner in an Indian restaurant, walking home slowly in the dark, refusing taxi rides (so few of the roads are wide enough for a car – where could a taxi be taking us anyway?) and tours for tomorrow, and enjoying the evening. Shower the kids, supervise teeth cleaning and reminding them we are leaving again tomorrow, this time for the beach. So spoiled.