It really is difficult to explain Stonetown and I think that’s why it has taken me so long to upload this post. I’ve read other reviews and blogs about it but none really seem to quite get it right. I’ll try to explain it the best I can with my very limited vocabulary.
Let’s however start right at the beginning.
We booked an AirBnB spot for our first night in Stonetown – $25 for all 4 of us including breakfast seemed to good to be true. It was. The guy whose place it is did not quite understand how to set up his post and he thought each one of us will pay $25 – we luckily found this out the next day before we arranged to stay another night where we would have had to pay him directly and not via the website. We got to an agreement of $25 per room – which is reasonable. Marcia helped him to change his post to the $25pppn and I sadly think we will be his first and last visitors.
On day 1 our host (who at that stage thought we each paid him $25) also acted as our personal tour guide. He showed us where to shop, where to eat and generally made sure we did not get lost. This was a problem though because one of the things you need to do in Stonetown, is to get lost in Stonetown. I did not quite understand what they meant by that before but now that I’ve been there, I totally get it. The narrow pathways form a maze with an ever changing center point based on what you are looking for. With all good mazes there are booby traps to keep you on your tows, Stonetown’s booby traps are scooters and motorbikes. The drivers recklessly maneuver their bikes through tiny, sometimes almost too narrow pathways, hooting only to alert a fellow biker of their presence. That is your cue to get out of the way as quickly as possible before you get driven over and it is Game Over. You jump into small curio stores, scramble up stairs, duck into an alleyway or if none of those are an option you become one with the wall behind you.
Your prize at the end depends on what you are looking for. During the day it is the perfect souvenir or gift bought at the best bargain negotiated between you and the shopkeeper. Lunch time it is a place that sells the best food (we kept ending at Lukmaans – a tourist trap frequented with locals so you know the food is good). At sunset it is the beach area for the best place to have a sundowner and at night your center point is the Forodhani night food market.
Stonetown experiences can be broken down into 3 sections with each one equally as amazing as the next. Food, shopping and architecture. The doors. My word the doors. I silently wept inside every time I insulted a magnificent door by taking a photo with my mere cellphone.
Negotiating for an item became one of our favorite past times. At times I wasn’t even sure I wanted the item but in the end I got the price I thought to be reasonable and then had to buy it. (One thing we made a point of was to never bargain them down to a price that is just ridiculously cheap. Some of them would just about take any amount to make a sale so when we reached a price that we were happy to pay we stopped the negotiation and paid up.) If they started with a reasonable price then we did not negotiate. This hardly ever happens because they always start with the mzungu (white person/tourist) price that is easily double even three times more than the normal price.
Zanzibar’s food, and especially the night food market, is an experience everyone needs to have. From the normal chicken kebab to weird looking octopus kebab and crayfish, rice cakes and chapati, samosas and spring-rolls, mussels, clams and oysters. Then there is the Zanzibar pizza (my all time favorite), Urojo (Clayton’s all time favorite), sugar cane juice and avo juice (both our favorites).
Urojo is a soup-like dish with potatoes made in 3 different ways, dried chopped mango, crisp sticks, a boiled egg and whatever else they have. It looks like a witch’s concoction but taste really good and it is really cheap (R15 for a big bowl). It is also something that I will never even attempt to make because it has like 10 different elements and it takes about 2 days. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
We were in Zanzibar for 2 nights (our host luckily did not chaperone us again on our second day) before left for Paje, a town on the east coast of Zanzibar.