Zanzibar Stonetown; Making our way into Dar es Salaam; Ferry and ferry; Getting lost on the docks; The Fish Market

Our ferry to Zanzibar wasn’t until 10:30, but somehow our our guide had scheduled a taxi pickup for us at 8. None of us were quite sure why, since it was Sunday and nothing was open in the city, unless we wanted to go to church. The taxi ride was only for two kilometers and took only a couple of minutes, but as the price was only 2000 Tanzanian shilllings (about CAD$1.75) per car, and we split the fare four ways, it seemed stupid not to. The taxi dropped us at a ferry dock, but it was only the little car-ferry across the bay. It was a grindingly slow rustbucket that had originally been blue, and still was somewhere under the oil and corrosion, packed with cars and people. A few younger boys were working the crowd, hawking candy, cigarettes and the like . The fare was 100TSH - about CAD$0.08 - so I certainly wasn’t going to complain about the speed. It deposited us on the far side of the bay. There was a fifteen-minute walk to the Zanzibar ferry terminal through an ever-increasing density of hustlers.

Dar es Salaam is very inaptly named, I think. The name means Haven of Peace and it’s hard to imagine a less peaceful place than this fizzing termite mound of five million people - a third of whom are trying to sell you something, a further third of whom are trying to get you into their taxi, and the remainder of whom just stare calculatingly at you. We reached the ferry terminal at nine. There were ten of us taking the same ferry over, so we alternately watched the bags and fended off the hustlers or explored the few blocks around the terminal. It was more or less as you’d expect a big African city to be - hot and dusty, with cracked and broken pavement where there’s any at all, and the fronts of buildings and shops in brick and concrete dwindling to makeshift shanties by the time they reach the alleys behind. No dogs, no cats - no animals at all, only a couple of dusty sparrows.

By the time we finally got to board the ferry it was nearly 11 - half an hour after the scheduled departure. We’d been standing crammed in line (in the shade, luckily) watching the cargo go past on peoples’ heads to be loaded. I remember a giant lashed-together raft of empty plastic water bottles, and crate after cardboard crate of peeping yellow chicks, which set up such a racket we could hardly talk. We spent the time in line talking to a tour guide from some South American overland outfit who was off-duty and going to Zanzibar to dive, and a young woman from Hong Kong. You hardly ever see Chinese travelling alone, and she seemed quite ill-prepared, lugging around a giant awkward duffle bag instead of a pack. She said she hadnt had any trouble being a woman alone, but I got the distinct impression that she didn’t like Africa very much.

The ferry was crowded, but fast - about two hours. We were met at the terminal by Hamim, Dragoman’s Zanzibar agent, a round swarthy man in a fez. He’d arranged transport to our hotel, where we discovered that the $15 price we’d been quoted was for a dorm room. All the couples immediately opted for private rooms instead, leaving the singles to share the dorm. It was a threadbare, shabby room with mosquito nets over the beds and a dead air-conditioner and electrical outlets, but it still had its own sort of charm.

We declined to go on the the arranged tour of a spice plantation in favour of exploring Zanzibar’s Stoneown ourselves. It’s very poor there. The buidings are ancient, disintegrating hulks, but they all have the most elaborate doors with great iron spikes and studs. The doors are an Indian influence - the purpose of the studs is to prevent them being knocked down by war-elephants, none of which we saw in Zanzibar, sadly. Neither Sheryl nor I took any photographs in Stonetown - the atmosphere was predatory enough that we were on our guard all the time and didn’t feel comfortable flashing our cameras around. The hustlers were intense, too. We wandered, getting instantly lost in the twisting senseless alleys they call streets in Stonetown. We had a map, but since none of the streets have names, it wasn’t very useful. We were looking for an Indian restaurant, but didn’t find one that was open in the afternoon. For dinner we’d planned to go to Stonetown’s open-air fish market, which we reckoned must be like Oistens in Barbados - a big square filled with stalls selling grilled fresh-caught fish. Normally I follow cats to where I need to go. They don’t often lead me wrong, and I thought I could certainly rely on them to find us a fish market, after all, but they didn’t come through for me this time - we had to find the place on our own. We couldn’t find it for love or money, though, and our quest led us into some very dodgy areas of town down by the docks. Desperate poverty, people squatting dull-eyed in filth. The buildings there barely qualified for the name - they were shacks and shanties and warehouses, all stained black with centuries of slime. Eyes were on us every second. We both instantly fell into our don’t-bother-me struts - a body language that makes use of long loose strides and relaxed shoulders, with a bounce to the walk nd a cocky tilt to the head. Avoiding trouble in bad neighbourhoods is half body language and half declining to do anything stupid (or at least anything supider than being there in the first place). In any case we got out unscathed. When we finally did find the fish market, it turned out to be quite small - only one little alley-street with four or five stalls - maybe a tenth the size of Oistens. Also, yes, crawling with cats. The fish was good, though, and the prices reasonable-ish - 1500TSH for a skewer of fish (about CAD$1.50) We had a good meal for 12,000 shillings. Sheryl felt poorly afterward so we went back to the hotel for her to lie down, and went out again after a while. We wound up on a deserted beach, watching the Indian Ocean surf roll in.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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