Once back at the guest house in Zambia, I packed up and headed towards the Tanzanian border for the third time in heavy rain. Americans are forced to buy a multiple entry visa for $100 where most others have the option of buying the $50 single entry visa - at least I was getting my money’s worth.
By not taking my bike on the Liemba I missed out on traveling up around Lake Victoria and seeing Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Now, my route would take me directly to the island of Zanzibar. I was okay with the compromise.
With night stops in Mbeya and Morogoro I arrived at the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam an hour before the next passenger ferry was to depart. It was incredibly hot and I was soak in sweat since stopping only minutes before. I did not really want to stay the night in Dar, so I made the decision, which I would later regret, of taking the bike to the island with me.
Zanzibar is famous for its white sandy beaches, it’s remarkable history and being the birthplace of Freddy Mercury of Queen. I was interested in it’s history.
Back in the day, everyone starting off across eastern African to capture slaves or ivory procured supplies and outfitted their expedition in Zanzibar. Colorful cloth and beads where purchased from Indian businessman in order to trade with the native chiefs in exchange for fresh food and permission to cross their land. Askaris (armed guards) and porters were also arranged in Zanzibar. When Stanley was sent to Africa to search for Dr. Liverstone, his expedition was outfitted in Stone Town, Zanzibar and then loaded onto Dhows and sailed to Bagamoyo, the capital before German colonization.
Stone Town was the focus of my visit to the island. The narrow streets walled by three or four storied apartments above small storefronts created a cavernous effect. Cars were restricted from the core of the historic center, primarily because they would not fit I imagine, but the occasional scooter or bicycle would give a ring on its bell before passing. Streets seldom had names or right angles so it was impossible to get from “A to B” in any kind of direct fashion. I routinely got lost and cared little. Stone Town was small and one can transverse it at its widest point in about 20-minutes.
The first thing you notice about the town is how Arabic it is, you really feel like you are in a distant land, even unique from the rest of Tanzania. At the height of the slave trading period, Oman relocated its capital to Stone Town and it is where the Sultan lived and held the seat of the country’s power. Before oil, slaves were the big commodity. Villagers from inland Africa were collected on slave expeditions and brought back to the slave markets on Zanzibar. Many of the Arabic people fled during the independence uprising of Tanzania in the late 1960’s, when Zanzibar became part of the new country.
Islamic practices dominate the island as reflected in the dress of the local men and women. Foreign visitors are asked to respect this and not wear beachwear or short shorts out in public. Children walk to school in their Muslim school uniforms and the call to prayer is piped over scratchy PA systems throughout the city which all lends to the air of being in an exotic land – at least for this westerner.
The only downside is that the island is a major tourist destination and there are always a lot of “touts” following you around wanting to "help you" with something for a small fee. It got old.
Luckily, Geert was also in Zanzibar for a couple days while I was there and we shared a few more meals together, usually Indian in nature. After a week, I felt it was time to go.
The bike was loaded on drive-on ferry ($80) that beached itself on the on the sand next to a busy bar. It was comical theater to watch the loading and unloading process. Cars routinely got stuck no matter how fast they took “a run” at the sand. Of course, nobody thought to dig out a path or bring a proper towrope to the daily event. After the bike was loaded, I had to take a separate passenger ferry that took all night and arrived at the docks in Dar at 6:00 AM, the same time the car ferry arrived. It then took six hours, and about $30, to get my bike out of the port. I don’t like being separated from the bike, but I only used to one day to visit the beaches on the island so the aggravation and expense was definitely not worth it.
I spent two nights in the YMCA in Dar es Salaam before heading to Kenya.