Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s bustling capital, was a place I didn’t care to stay long in. The drive in was a gridlock of beeping horns and clouds of exhaust fumes. Trucks with colourful stickers and cabin decorations, battered cars with cracked windscreens and huge luxury 4WDs and black taxis. Phone salesmen going window to window at traffic lights selling handsets and SIM cards. Heaving bundles of powerlines running from balcony to balcony, sharing stolen electricity. Grey city grime, cream-coloured high rise apartments, cast iron balcony rails, cracked and broken sidewalks. Square apartment windows with colourful paint. The buildings looked like what I imagined an Afro-Arab city to look like. Despite the grey weather, we were exultant. This was an achievement – we had driven from one coast of Africa to the other.
We left our car in the hands of the Ford dealer, confident that the machine gun-toting security guards would protect Hammond. After just a few hours, we said goodbye to Dar Es Salaam. Zanzibar’s shores beckoned.
The ferry pulled out of Dar Es Salaam port and into the Indian Ocean. We were excited to see Zanzibar, and called uncle Jan from the boat. He said he was going to meet us at the Serena Hotel, which he would book for us for a few nights. We were equally excited to be hanging out with our long-lost uncle, who helped finance our trip but as yet had very little chance to partake in the adventures. We wandered up to the top deck of the three story ferry, to breathe the fresh ocean air and look at Dar Es Salaam as it shrank into the distance.
We sat on beanbags at the stern of the ship, admiring the Zanzibari flag snapping in the sea breeze. As the ferry circled round Stone Town to find the port, we saw the Serena Hotel built like a fortress on the cliff edge. From a distance, Stone Town looked old, with no tall buildings and squat, square, yellow buildings like something out of Aladdin. Traditional dhow sailboats with stiff triangular sails plied the nearby waters, and it seemed as though I went back in time.
Looking at the medieval African trading port of Stone Town from the sea, I felt that familiar rush of adventure building inside me. Even though Zanzibar is well known to the tourist trail, it felt like we were somewhere uncharted and insane, unexplored and alien. The ferry docked and we walked down the gangplank, stamped our passports through customs, and past the huge Swahili greeting sign to the city, ‘Karibu’, welcome.