My two friends and I didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to take a little vacation in Zanzibar. It was listed as one of the “10 places to visit in 2011” by the New York Times; how could we resist?
Armed with all of the cute clothes we brought to Africa that we hadn’t worn yet, we arrived at the ferry station in Dar es Salaam. Stepping out of the cab was like stepping onto the red carpet, minus the cameras, designer gowns, and Joan Rivers.
From all directions, men were shouting at us to get our attention. They wanted us to buy ferry tickets, which we had already bought the day before (being the travel savvy GoGirls that we are). Despite our insistent “hapana’s,” which means “no” in KiSwahili, we were followed all the way into the station, celebrity-style (sort of).
The ferry station was just as chaotic. I watched in awe at people carrying king-size mattresses, large planks of wood, and crates of produce pushed their way onto “The Sea Express.” Talk about deer in the headlights. My friends weren’t doing much better. I turned around and saw Alex struggling with her giant suitcase and beige heels, which she decided to whip out for the occasion despite our attempts to convince her not to.
In our minds, the 2-hour ride from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar was going to be luxurious, spacious, and simple. Having been in Tanzania for 2 months, we should have known better: Everyday is an adventure, especially for 3 young GoGirls in Africa!
With much difficulty, we managed to make it onto the right ferry, with the help of a friendly Muslim woman who sensed our confusion and directed us onto the correct ramp. Thank god for Tanzanian hospitality.
Cramped and sweaty, we “relaxed” on the austere metal benches. Despite the complaints, we all agreed on one thing: the sea breeze from the Indian Ocean felt heavenly–a nice relief from the sweltering Dar sun.
Before we knew it, we had arrived in historic Stone Town, Zanzibar. I felt like we were in a completely different country. The architecture was beautiful and much older than the tin roofs we saw in Dar. Muslim women dressed in hijabs and burqas were the majority. Young boys rode around on carts selling ice cream–a vice I missed terribly living in Africa.
As the immigrations officer greeted us with a gentle smile and a polite request to see our passport, I knew that we were going to like it here.
We soon learned we had to adapt to this coastal vibe. People didn’t shout at us to get our attention here. We didn’t have to stare straight ahead with a serious, “city” look on our face. Forget the aggressive attitude of Dar, Zanzibar has a people and pace all its own.
We slowed down and took the time to admire all that Stone Town had to offer us. Our vacation was filled with snorkeling, eating delectable seafood, getting lost in the streets of Stone Town, and making friends with the local people. Despite the many European and American tourists we saw, the island never seemed to lose its genteel, authentic feel.
Everyday, young men in Bob Marley t-shirts and dreadlocks chatted with us before departing with a clichéd “hakuna mata” (a phrase that people actually say here). Locals willingly gave us directions when we got lost in the narrow alleyways of Stone Town. Mostly everyone we met wanted to welcome us to the island and learn about our lives.
I guess visiting Zanzibar was sort of like being a celebrity after all. Even though we didn’t end up wearing any of our cute clothes and Alex eventually took off her high heels, we felt important.
I’m not sure if we received the star treatment just because we were foreigners, or if people in Stone Town really are extremely friendly all of the time. Regardless, Zanzibar was an adventure the three of us will never forget, and that is the most important of all. Who needs the glamour when you can have the adventure?