I took the ferry today to Zanzibar, about two hours across the channel in the Indian Ocean. Big red went by porter. On arrival, I got another passport stamp, even though Zanzibar is part of Tanzania the government is separate enough that they require immigration paperwork.
I got to the Dhow Palace hotel, checked in, and my room was pretty moldy. So I asked for another one. Four nights is too long to put up with mold. After two more rooms, I got a good one – a really good one. I feel I am in the lap of luxury up here. Air conditioning, king size bed, big mosquito net (with no cellophane tape on it to plug the holes(!), unlike the first room), and a chair and table. I am up on the top floor. No real view, but it’s quieter and has a pretty ceiling – I think it might be mahogany. There are little gekkos wandering the hotel in the common areas, which is fine by me as they eat mosquitoes and other bugs. The word for mosquito in Swahili is umbu. I needed to know this word pretty quickly – I had to go to the pharmacy today for antihistamine cream for the bites. I have been applying my Deet cream religiously, but it’s not doing enough. I bought the 3M maximum strength 33% stuff from REI and everything. Maybe for African mosquitoes Deet is like wasabi with your soy sauce? Tough to eat but enhances the flavor?
I had to take a bit of a walk tonight, about 25 minutes and back, to get to the cash machine. The one near me was out of money, so I went out to the border of the old Stone town to Barclay’s Bank. As I went, I realized that Zanzibar is a lot like Venice, but with Africans instead of Italians. The weather feels similar, the buildings are tight together, and if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to get lost, but if you are out at night, you are like an alley cat with money (to paraphrase Rick Steves). No razor wire and embedded glass walls here. It is safe, and the worst thing that will happen is that a man will ask why you are not walking with your husband. This is usually with the subtle implication that maybe you are looking for a husband, if only for that evening. Again, not unlike Venice.
I took a sunset cruise on a dhow tonight, which is possibly the most enjoyable $30 I have spent in some time. It lasted about an hour. A dhow is a traditional African boat with a funky triangular sail that has to be physically moved from one side of the boat to the other when the boat comes about (no swinging boom). It’s about 20 feet long or so, doesn’t draw much in the shallows of the channel, and around here they are not painted. You have to wade out to the boat from the beach, but not very far. It was wonderful to be on the water again. Later I had fresh grilled shrimp for dinner and sucked out the heads. I find that now, I actually enjoy that about whole prawns. I think I have been away from America for a while.