The ancient maze of narrow streets up Zanzibar’s “Old Town”, once the historic centre of ivory, gold and slave trade, is now a web of markets and craft centres. Fascinating scenario, and on top, you get to follow in the footsteps of Stonetown’s most famous son, Freddie Mercury.
We just stepped off the boat at the pier when I got a really good grasp of the noise and strong smell of the surroundings which had dozen of traders. In front of us, an old historical building stood up and we felt like we were being transported several centuries back in time. After just a few steps we were entering the intricate labyrinth of the town with its endless alley ways, the huge carved wooden doors and its ancient coral stone buildings.
The final touch of the picture was fine tuned by the ambiance made by locals, these interesting kind faces, who were welcoming to strangers. A desire to get to know these new people and to familiarize ourselves with their customs started to envelop both of us.
Our first, somehow random stop inside the labyrinth, after walking for just a few minutes, was in front of a magnificent carved wooden door. Suddenly, this lady came outside and greeted us with a warm smile on her shiny face. We couldn’t resist the temptation. We smiled back and complimented her colorful and lively fashion style. It was something quite different to what we are used to see in a muslim women wardrobe. A small doze of harmless flirting, going both ways, stopped the moment we were introduced to the price of the 4 star hotel we bumped into. It was way beyond our organized budget.
We continued to wonder around the alleys, not following any given path. We let ourselves get lost in the backstreets as we felt a real sense of achievement when we actually found a guesthouse at our liking. The woman greeting us was delightfully charming. She invited us for a free delicious meal. That was her way of convincing us to stay at her home. Sold!
All these streets were offering a fascinating view into the daily life of locals, with kids running around and vendors selling local handcrafts, species and more. They were punctuated by stunning architecture and striking carved wooden doors – a trademark of Zanzibar. It seems like each of these doors had a story to tell…
We found the state of disrepair charming. Most of the time when walking around you keep looking up to admire the balconies or verandas of the deteriorating buildings. Sometimes we felt threatened to be run over by bikes, which reminded me of Cuba where this happened often.
But the gongs of the Indian temples and the calls for prayers from nearby mosques gave a strong reminds you where you are. There is a chill atmosphere and a positive ambiance where these different cultures, styles and religions manage to fusion beautifully…