Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Zanzibar: Sleeping in Stone Town

As I sit down to write this post about Stone Town, I can’t help but mention the recent attack on two British girls that were in Zanzibar for volunteer tourism. The girls were on their way to dinner one night when someone drove by on a motorcycle and threw acid on their faces and bodies. Reports speculate that the girls got into a dispute with a store owner and this was his gruesome form of retaliation. While many say that this is uncharacteristic for the island, I think that if it had happened before our visit and I knew about it, I definitely would have felt less secure about wandering aimlessly through the city. Kent was already on edge as we tried our best to navigate Stone Town, which is very old and made up of twisting streets and alley ways, virtually all indistinguishable, and even worse after dark. I kept assuring him that no one was following us or out to get us and we were perfectly safe because the locals depend on tourism for survival and would not do anything that would put tourists at risk. However after this attack, I would encourage tourists to make sure they know where they are headed when going out at night and that women be very respectful of local culture by properly concealing their legs and shoulders in public.  

Typical street scenes and traditional door in Stone Town
Our first 3 nights in Stone Town were spent at the DhowPalace, a beautiful, historic hotel with roots that can be traced back to 1559 when it belonged to Sheikh Mushin bin Mujbia. It was located in a quieter part of the city and right on the main road of Kenyatta, which was nice because we didn't get lost wandering around the twisty streets of the old town looking for our hotel at night. The Dhow Palace was decorated with incredible antiques, including a wonderful old gramophone, white washed walls and dark wood ceiling beams but the stand out attraction was the brightly colored stained glass windows that decorated the interior courtyard of the hotel.

One of the two beautiful interior courtyards at the Dhow Palace

Hallway at the Dhow Palace

We had some interesting encounters with the hotel staff, who were decidedly less than professional.  When we first checked in, the front desk attendant immediately offered us a variety of excursions while the bell hop who escorted us to our room offered the same trips at the lower price. We had to constantly remind the concierge of the current conversion rates of shillings to dollars because some days he would charge us a higher rate for our excursions and we had to correct him in order to not get screwed out of our money.  Also I’m pretty sure that the man who made omelets at breakfast hit on me when he asked if I was here by myself. “I’m with my boyfriend,” I said pointing at Kent who was never more than 5 feet away from me the entire time we were there.  

Beautiful stained glass windows in Dhow Palace Courtyard
Our last night in Stone Town we decided to stay in a different hotel, the Jafferji House. Upon checking in, we were greeted by the concierge in a way that I can only describe as sensual, i.e. lots of eye contact and soothing vocal tones. We were told our room was being upgraded to the Sultan’s Suite, which meant an extremely large bedroom, enormous enclosed patio and outside bath tub. The hotel was owned by a famous photographer who published multiple books on Zanzibar and is credited with putting it on the map as an international tourist destination. While the staff at Jafferji House was incredibly helpful, the experience was clouded by the fact that my boyfriend and I discovered that our entire bodies were covered in insect bites the day we left. I’m not sure if we contracted them from the Sultan or from the skanky massage parlour that we were fooled into patronizing because of its must-do rating on TripAdvisor. 

Sultan Suite at Jafferji House

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