After our three nights of luxury on the eastern side of the island, we headed back towards Zanzibar’s main city, Stone Town, to get more of a feel for the “real” Zanzibar. Historically, Zanzibar was a main hub in the slave trade in and out of Africa. Due to its past, it has long been a mixing ground of different people, cultures, and traditions. Today it is a predominantly Muslim population (~90%), however there is an undeniable Indian influence and the local East African culture is prevalent as well.
Though we were back to roughing it backpacker style, and though our place was kind of a dump, we were centrally located in the middle of the old city. There are hundreds of different winding alleyways and narrow streets to wander around. Sometimes you would turn a corner and see Muslim women in their burqas or kids walking to school in their school uniforms. Other times you’d find men sitting in their shops gathered around a TV smoking cigarettes, while others would play soccer in the street. Meanwhile there are people zipping around corners on mopeds and bicycles navigating these same obstacles. It was a magical place for people watching and though we normally had no idea where we were going, you eventually end up back at the water so it is impossible to get lost.
Our most memorable meal was down at a waterfront park where dozens of food stalls serve up fresh catches from the day, Zanzibari pizzas and desserts. As you might imagine, the salesmen are quite good at their pitch and everyone wants you to eat at their stall. We finally picked a couple winners and squished in amongst the locals to eat our delicious seafood dinner.
As we were finishing up, two young men sat down on either side of us and started chatting. After 6+ months of travel, we were welcoming but apprehensive because a ‘friendly’ conversation often turns into a sales pitch (for a taxi ride, a guided tour, etc.). However, this was not the case at all. They were simply talking to us just to practice and improve their English. The guy I was talking to was just about to finish up school and ultimately wanted to be in the tourism industry as a guide. He knew he would need to improve upon his English so he often visited the nightly market in hopes of finding people to talk to. How cool is that? Though I definitely didn’t catch everything he said, we did have a great conversation. He played me some Rihanna from his cell phone and I introduced him to YouTube and we talked about our families. All in all a great night and a wonderful way to wrap-up a visit to the fabulous island of Zanzibar.