Stone Town: An 8th century city of mystical allure
17 June 2016
Leaving the buzz of the touristy North behind us, our Toyota taxi headed us south-west down the island towards our much anticipated stay in Stone Town – about which we’d heard so very much.
En route a visit to the Mangana Spice Farm was most enlightening, although the availability and stock of spices on hand was quite disappointing as most are easily obtainable back home (in South Africa) in similar packaging.
Interesting nonetheless to see how each of the spices actually grows, to learn about the plants, and how the spices are harvested. Not to mention the many applications of some – including food-colouring!
Soon we were wending our way through the bustling outskirts of the city of Zanzibar, as we approached Stone Town within. Here we were met by our efficient transfer and tour operator, Masoud Othman and his brother Abdullah, who had enabled all of our transfers around the island with clockwork precision.
As the Stone Town streets are too narrow for vehicles, Masoud and Abdullah guided us and carried our luggage on our short walk to the eminent and elegant Emerson Spice Hotel where we exchanged greetings and news with them before they bade us a pleasant stay and went off about their business.
Russell Bridgewood, Manager of the Emerson Spice, welcomed us and showed us to our first floor room – the Violetta (named after the courtesan in the opera La Traviata). This hotel, which consists of three adjoining World Heritage site buildings, is steeped in history and is known to be amongst the best in Africa, as is it’s sister hotel nearby, the Emerson on Hurumzi.
The main building of the Emerson Spice is a lovingly restored merchant’s house. Each of the eleven rooms (Aida, Camille, Belle, Desdemona, Kate, Semile, Lamour, Mimi, Violetta, Siti and Turandot) have their own unique character and are appointed in the most exquisite Zanzibari furniture and antiques, which, combined with service efficiency and the friendliness of the staff makes one’s stay here a truly unsurpassed and unforgettable experience second to none in the world. Dinner at the Tea House situated on the rooftop is highly acclaimed – and justifiably so – as the menu changes daily depending on what the chefs find in the markets. Enjoying this five-course meal in the balmy evening overlooking Stone Town and the nearby Indian Ocean is a divine experience-of-a-lifetime and certainly not to be missed.
The hotel too is a photographer’s dream, where the colonial architecture and hand-carved Zanzibari lattice-work, creative nooks and crannies, secret gardens and cloistered breakfast areas, hand-crafted staircases and enchanting frescos combine to provide an infinite canvas for the lens.
Next day our small entourage of selves and porters, accompanied by Russell, ambled through alleys to the Emerson on Hurumzi – a mere few blocks away.
Here Russell introduced us to the Manager, Lisenka Beetstra, who welcomed us with true Zanzibari friendship and showed us to our home for the evening – the East Room – situated on the third floor [no lifts in these lovely old buildings!]. Our room was probably the most incredible of our entire trip, appointed in vibrant green and orange colours and entirely “open-air,” enclosed only by hand-carved lattice – simply breath-taking and a totally new experience for us.
After our traditional Zanzibari breakfast of fruit a day of shopping and bartering in the Stone Town street markets followed. Here in the frenzied but orderly chaos, zooming scooters hoot continuously warning pedestrians of their imminent arrival around the myriad blind corners, as bicycles and traders’ rickshaws ply their way through the maze.
In our explorations we discovered the Maru Maru hotel which advertised a “low price, happy hour.” Here we enjoyed another beautiful sunset and balmy rooftop dinner consisting of Chicken Tikka salad for TZS 8000 x 2 and wine at $2 per glass until 7pm. Night-caps followed an hour or so later on our balcony and we retired happily amidst the rolling sound of a massive city Ramadan Saturday-night party! My-my-my! What an audial expression of this truly vibrant city!
In the early hours we were awakened by a surprising torrential downpour which lasted an hour or so, as the gentle wailing “from a thousand mosques” began all over the city at various volumes, combining with the chiming of the bells of the nearby Catholic Cathedral and the drum-bells of the Hindu temple right next door to us. Yet another amazing audial experience as we dozed off back to sleep again!
Piping hot coffee arrived at 7h00 as arranged. Soon after we enjoyed a traditional Zanzabari breakfast on our balcony over-looking the city. This island delight consisted of various fruits: zaitoon, avo, pawpaw, grapefruit, passion fruit, banana, mango – followed by French toast served with a tangy avo-passion-fruit juice. Before we knew it we and our small entourage of porters were making the short walk to the nearby Ferry Port Terminal – sadly marking the beginning of our journey home.
An epic trip by all standards indeed, thank you Zanzibar – we’ll never forget you – and we’ll be back!
Kwaheri – tuanane tena – asante sana!!
Au revoir – and see you again soon – thank you so much!!