I am no augur. I am no cowrie-casting seer. But I know what happens to tourists who go to Stone Town. Before I start reeling off the things that will happen to you there, let me tell you one or two things about the place. Stone Town is located in the Zanzibar archipelago that juts into the Indian Ocean. Zanzibar was first inhabited by Africans. Then Arabs and Persians joined later, trading in slaves, spices, and ivory. The Indians followed to control trade before the British showed up to make it a protectorate of theirs. Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania.
In 1964, after independence from the British, Zanzibar politically united with Tanganyika to become Tanzania. Present-day Zanzibar is still heavy with African, Arab, Indian, and European influences, and Stone Town perfectly captures all of these.
So now, I imagine that you are a tourist seeking an exotic experience to etch in your memory forever. Come to Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where powder-white sand meets the blue ocean as the sun and wind caress your body. There’s surely no place like it on earth. But I can tell you a thing or two that will happen to you when you come here.
Check out 5 unmatched experiences you’ll enjoy in Stone Town, Zanzibar…
#1. The ancient houses
When you arrive from the seaport or airport, you will find tall, broad-chested, stone-built houses that feel as if you have traveled back to colonial times. Only that you won’t be feeling like a colonized man. Nobody here feels that way anymore. The houses stand high, broad, and solid, the oldest of which are built of coral stones. No wonder the Swahili-speaking locals call it Mji Mkongwe, which means “Old City.” A lot of them are old, but you will be delighted to find elaborately carved wooden doors on some, carrying the precious weight of history.
#2. Friendly tour guides
When you set foot on this historic place, your travel agency will recommend you a travel guide. Or you’ll simply pick a random guide whom you like the look of his Zanzibari face. Let’s call him Abdul.
Abdul will be courteous, believe me. He will probably wear a white skull cap and white clothes, and trust me, he won’t charge you too much to guide you through alleyways of history and through carved antique doorways of Zanzibari delight. I wager that by the time he has taken you through the maze of enchantments here, you will be rummaging through your purse or pockets to tip him more dollars or Tanzanian shillings. Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania.
#3. The local dialect
Abdul will teach you how to greet the locals. “Jambo,” he will say. “It means what’s up?” You will smile and say, “Jambo,” and he’ll say, “Poa,” in response. At this point, I bet that you’ll realize how chic and simple the word is. It feels bespoke. Specially styled for a tourist like you. But Abdul will have more words in store.
“Asante,” he will say, smiling. “It means thank you.” You too will smile. But as more Swahili pours out of Adbul’s mouth – kwaheri for “goodbye” – something will catch your attention among the tall houses: a donkey pulling a cart burdened with chapatti. If you gesture at it in pure delight, Abdul will explain that donkeys are still used to move things around here.
And soon you’ll realize that the narrow roads here aren’t suited for the dala dalas – local buses – that you found a long way off from here. You have to walk. So you’ll smile as the donkey goes clop-clop-clop along the ancient cobbled road.
#4. Zanzibari tea
The colonial houses jostle with stalls and markets waiting to receive you, and Adbul will soon realize he can’t turn you into a Swahili poet overnight and he’ll ask if you care for a cup of tea and some chapatti. Don’t say no. It’s true you’ve known many teas, but there’s nothing in the world like Zanzibari tea.
“Have you eaten chapatti before?” Abdul will ask you. You’ll shake your head. “Then eat one,” he’ll say, with a smile. “You will like it.”
He isn’t lying. Abdul will take you to an old man’s tea stall and there you’ll sit, surrounded by the smell of tea and Indian, Arab, and African history. You’ll smack your lips and be glad you tried it. And the chapatti? It’s crunchy and sweet. I bet this will beat the taste of the teas and crackers you are accustomed to. And what feeling compares to sipping your tea, chewing your chapatti, and nodding to Bi Kidude’s taarab music pouring out of a radio in the tea stall?
#5. The food, spices, and more
Drink up because Abdul still has more doorways to take you through. There are streets to discover, more ancient houses to pass by, more stalls to stop over at, and more donkeys to see clopping past. There are handwoven Arab tapestries to touch. There are broad-faced wooden masks to gape at you with awe. There are Indian spices wafting off kebabs and grilling fish to smell. Stop, fill your eyes with the colors of spiced meat, fill your lungs with olfactory invites, take a bite, and savor the bliss.
As you nod to an exotic love affair here, remember not to eat too much. Of course, you’ll be tempted as there’s grilled cassava, coconut bread, and roast corn. And fruits? The shops are bursting with jackfruits, grapes, mandarins, papayas, bananas, apples, and more. You’ll fall for at least one of these. And every now and again, a cool breeze from the Indian Ocean will send more of Zanzibar’s seducing smells to you. Stone Town Zanzibar Tanzania.
Surely, Stone Town, Zanzibar is a place worth your visit.
Featured image: @_nassder/Instagram
Continue reading Part II of this series here:
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A writer fascinated by humanity and diversity. He is the author of Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country.