Published Jan 15, 2012

After our trip through the Selous, the driving about the Ruaha that came before it, and dusty Arusha, and the mud and jungle of Mahale, it was time to recover from our vacation. From 5am wake-up calls to afternoons out in the bright sun and hundred-degree heat and hours spent peering into the foliage for a moment’s sight of a brightly-colored bird or a rare, stalking predator, we were tired out. Yeah, I know, us poor folks on a once-in-a-lifetime safari half the world away.

But there were no two ways about it: we were tired out, and we’d seen enough animals. So it was time to leave the mainland and jet — or, rather, the usual 12-seat turboprop — our way over to the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar. Once the center of a vast and wealthy Sultanate that controlled East African trade, Zanzibar is a verdant pool in the midst of bright blue water; so of course we went to the beach to relax with drinks with umbrellas in them. And it was everything we’d hoped for: azure water, friendly staff, delicious drinks, and a lagoon as warm as a bath with cabanas floating in it for the delicious drinks the staff had served you on the beach.

In the Lagoon: At Beaches

Lagoon Lounge: These floating cabanas dotted the lagoon

We even were able to celebrate the new year on that beautiful beach, dancing with the happy staff of the resort, around a bonfire in the stiff sea breeze.

2012!: Courtney and Wade toast to 2012, below a sign on the beach

It was all a relaxing delight, even the massages. Oh, of course the massages would be good — it was what they made you wear during the massages that was odd. For modesty’s sake, it seems, they prefer you to wear disposable undergarments, which I suppose I could see being modest if they weren’t completely transparent black mesh, the kind of thickly-waled, wide-gapped black mesh that I’m pretty sure is quite à la mode in Berlin’s finest S&M techno clubs. But, hey, I managed not to laugh and the masseuse hopefully managed not to be mortified by my nudity, so I suppose it was a win for everyone.

After wearing our — well, I don’t know what you’d call them, gayderhosen? — we felt ready to rejoin society. And that was our next stop: the old Zanzibari capital of Stonetown.

View From Hurumzi: The view towards the ocean from 236 Hurumzi

Stonetown is a beautiful city, a warren of streets built before automobiles and far too thin to fit anything larger than a motorbike. It has a beautiful market with fresh fish and meats and some of the best spices anywhere, and this translates into absolutely delicious restaurants. And history is everywhere, from the ornate touches of India and the Middle East in architecture to the 16th century Portuguese cannon that the Sultanate captured and then, ten generations later, tried in vain to use against British battleships in the shortest war in history (it took the Sultan only 45 minutes to have all of his stuff blown up and surrender).

Stonetown Street: Many streets looked just like this one -- narrow, colorful, active

Fish Dinner: A butcher breaks down a tuna in a stall at the old street market

Stonetown Door

Muzzein at Dark: The sun sets next to a tower the call to prayer was broadcast from

The Cannon: Captured from the Portuguese in the early 18th or late 17th century. Still in use at the turn of the 20th.

Once a fabulously wealthy city, the slow decline of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, revolution, and poverty hit Stonetown hard, however, and a shocking exhibit in the local museum — a building called the House of Wonders, the Sultan’s former palace and the only part of his landholdings not blown up by those British battleships — stated that 60% of the buildings in Stonetown were in danger of collapse. Looking at them, I wasn’t surprised; in fact, there were gaps here and there where a building had fallen down already.

Decay: The poorly-maintained buildings of Stonetown are all covered in this black rot, with stucco chipping away.

Collapse: Almost 60% of Stonetown's buildings are reckoned to be strucuturally deficient, or, worse, in imminent danger of collapse, which would leave a gap like this building here left.

Decay or not, Stonetown was an adventure. Perhaps a bit alien — the bustle of the market, with vendors all pitching their wares, the smells of butchery, and the yelling of cabbies overwhelmed the two of us just a bit — but the people were lovely and the artisans made beautiful work everywhere. Two days, and probably ten showers in the dusty, hundred-degree weather, we were finally able to start our 39-hour trip back to the US. You know, the part of the trip where we ended up in a cab driven by a guy who didn’t speak English and didn’t know where we were going, so he had to pull into a dark dirt alley in the middle of the night and ask a hooker for directions.

Actually, that sounds a lot like riding in a cab in LA. So, welcome home it was indeed, and welcome back to civilization for sure!

Enjoying the Sundowner: A customer enjoys her drink at the rooftop of 236 Hurumzi