Oh my god, the smell

Stonetown market – smell the fish.

I really can’t convey to you how bad the smell is in the Stonetown market. Think of a smell that really leaves you utterly unwilling to eat anything, multiply by five, add in your second choice and you might get some of the way there.

The markets are dim, there are stone slabs down the sides, showing signs of use that’s measured in centuries, upon which lie dead sea creatures surrounded by hordes of flies.  In the dense heat the food is almost rotting as you watch and the stench is eye-watering. Leaving the seafood hall behind takes you to the hall of freshly butchered meat which is only slightly better, but after that you hit fruit and spices which demonstrably drives home to you why spices were so important in ancient times.

Stonetown is a rabbit-warren of twisting streets built some 400 years ago. Most of the life was inside walls in shaded courtyards so the way to demonstrate wealth and status was through intricately carved doors. Now it’s a study in very faded grandeur, which makes it very picturesque but also sad: Most of the old buildings are derelict and in parlous state.

Stonetown door.

The central story of Stonetown revolves around the slave trade, although there is little real evidence left of those times: The main slave market had a large Anglican church built upon it when the slave trade was abolished. However visiting the slave museum drove home the scale and horror of the slave economy. Heres a couple of interesting facts. The West tends to characterise the slave trade as an Arab undertaking when in fact it was very much an internal issue for the African tribes and nations who raided for slaves or sold people into slavery to pay debts. Some slaves did mange to amass some resources; and what did they do with those resources – they bought slaves of course.

And the second fact from the day: Once slavery was abolished only around 15% of slaves actually sought freedom. There was simply nowhere for them to go, so they were better off remaining as slaves. There are really no good parts to the story.

While we were walking around Stonetown the heavens opened and it poured with rain. Within seconds it went from vague droplets to raindrops the size of marbles splattering everywhere and the streets running as rivers. Then almost as quickly it passed leaving us somewhat soggy and not much cooler.

After our tour of Stonetown we headed out to the airport. It’s a typically third-world affair where everything is, very unreassuringly, done on a wing and a prayer. Do we need a boarding pass for our second flight? Nah, it be OK. Does it matter that the wrong destination is written on the baggage tags? Not so much.

Hidden garden in courtyard.

Our first flight was only 20 minutes from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. The safety briefing in our 12-seater Cessna Caravan consisted of the pilot twisting around in his seat and saying “It’s OK to use electronic devices, they won’t make us crash.” None of us were quite sure if there was an emphasis on the word ‘they’ or not. Once the pilot had taxied us to the end of the runway, and closed the door he was holding open for air-conditioning, we took off.

We had about 40 minutes in Dar and then flew on to Arusha, about two hours to the North. We all mostly slept through the flight but woke up at the end for the landing under the glowering heights of Mt Kilimanjaro.  Stepping off the plane, the weather was about 10 degrees cooler and 90% less humid than in Zanzibar – much to our relief. And we were in mainland Africa!

Ten minutes later we arrived at the Arusha Coffee Lodge and were drinking a cup of iced-coffee made from their own beans and feeling that all was good in the World. (Well, Callum did wryly niggle over the lack of tea. But, really, it is a coffee plantation.)

We’ve got fabulous rooms, just had a wonderful meal, and are looking forward to embarking on our safari tomorrow.

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