Monday, September 11, 2017

The road to Zanzibar

True story: when we got back from Africa, we pulled up at our house and saw our former neighbor, Tom, who was back in town for a visit. We spent a few minutes chatting, and he said, "Zanzibar ... I couldn't believe that's a real place!"

But first we had to get there... and first we had to get to the Nairobi airport.

We were up and out of the hotel before dawn -- which was a pity, because the view would have been amazing from the 11th floor. The drive to the airport was short, but took quite a long time because there's a lot of security going in to Nairobi airport.

First we drove to what looked like a standard "get a ticket for the airport parking" gateway -- several cars wide. As we inched toward the barrier, I noticed a lot of people walking through the lines of cars. When we were a couple of cars back, the driver told us that we should leave everything in the car and walk through the building on the right.

This seemed super weird ... so we grabbed our day packs -- so that we at least had our passports, money, and credit cards. And then we walked into the building, where we were met by security guards and an airport x-ray scanner.

We walked through the building, hoping almost beyond hope to find our car ... but Wil spotted the driver and we got back in. Then we drove to another gate ... and where one would normally take a ticket from the machine, there was a bored woman standing there pushing the button and handing the tickets to the drivers.

Then to the airport terminal, where we got out of the car and grabbed the worst airport trolley in the world, to drag our bags ... a few feet into the terminal to go through another security scan.

Then luckily we weren't far from our check-in desks, though we had to wait for quite a while to get checked in and drop off our bags. But, oh, the freedom of only having our little daypacks to carry!

Then we had to go through emigration -- which was a little nutty, with some serious line dodging. One woman ran up to the front saying, "Oh, please, our flight is boarding!" and the woman said, "Your instructions are to arrive 2 hours early... obedience starts in school." But she let her through, anyway.

And then we had to clear security, again. But then, finally, we were in the airport proper. Nairobi airport is sprawling -- or at least it felt that way. We hit the duty free shop first and I bought a kikoy (a Kenyan sarong), Wil bought a very cool t-shirt, and ... oddly ... we decided not to buy any booze. We hoped we wouldn't regret that later!

Then a loooong haul to the gate... passing a surprising number of small duty free shops -- and ANOTHER security screening to get into the actual gate. Phew.

Eventually we were called for our flight -- which meant  we walked down a stepped ramp and across the tarmac to a dual-prop plane.

The flight was brief, and at a cruising altitude of 18,000 feet, was lower than the summit of Kilimanjaro. Oh, and we passed it on a glorious day. Sadly, it was on the other side of the plane!

But I imagine it might have looked like this... well, okay, with a different plane...

photo courtesy Precision Air

Then a mellow arrival in Zanzibar, where we cleared immigration relatively quickly. One interesting point: we had Tanzanian visas already... when we got to the immigration desk, I noticed a stack of pink immigration forms with "Revolutionary Republic of Zanzibar" on them. I almost picked one up, and then thought, "Ummm, this is something I know nothing about, sooooo..."

We then picked up our bags and headed outside. Last night we had received an email offering to have a driver collect us at the airport and take us to the hotel for $20. We sent a note back, hoping that someone would see it -- and, happily, they did. We were met at the airport by our driver Ahmed... and his "boss" -- a very cute, very shy little boy. 

Ahmed drove us to a Stone Town, and then to a parking spot near our hotel. Why just "near"? Because the streets in Stone Town are too narrow for cars.

We were met by a doorman who helped us carry our monstrous bags to our hotel: Emerson Spice.

Emerson Spice is a glorious hotel, cobbled together from a few different buildings, totally renovated and spectacularly beautiful. We had booked the small SITI room, but were surprised by an upgrade to SEMELE -- a larger room on the second floor. It's beautiful ... in the style of a ruined temple inside, with a huge bath, big balcony, and larger sitting area.

After exploring our room we went out for a couple of walks around Stone Town, getting lost and finding our way again. Lots of small shops here, but we don't really want much. We did buy some postcards and stamps so we can take care of our final obligations!

We admired the House of Wonders -- the first building in Stone Town to have electricity, running water, and an elevator. 

We also went to the seafront, where we admired the old cannons on display. 

And, of course, we swung by the former home of Farrokh Bulsara ...

a.k.a. Freddie Mercury.

But mostly we just wandered up and down, enjoying being somewhere new.

And then we spotted this local wearing a Broncos t-shirt, so I used my very best Swahili to say, "Excuse me sir, may I take a photo with you?" and then "Denver Broncos!"

We stopped at the Africa House Hotel for a drink on the upstairs terrace -- really beautiful, if overpriced. I tried the Savannah Cider for the first time, and it's very nice. Possibly good that I didn't learn this earlier...

We did, however, eventually find our way back to Emerson Spice. Okay, so we had to ask for help, but we did.

Tonight we'll have our sundowner and dinner at the Tea House -- the restaurant on the roof of Emerson Spice, which happens to be the best restaurant in Stone Town. Exciting!


We went up to the roof at 6pm, took a table at the railing, and settled in. We started with cocktails and just sat admiring the sunset view.

Meanwhile, the staff began preparing our meals. 

I couldn't resist having another dawa -- the best of the 3 versions I had in Africa, as it was refreshingly tart.

Dinner was both delicious and fiddly. Five courses of three dishes each -- each one exquisite and beautiful.

The mix of Swahili and English words on the menu meant that each course had at least one surprise. The date creme brûlée was quite possibly the nicest dessert I have ever eaten.

We had thought -- expected, even -- to go to the Secret Garden downstairs for a nightcap. But by the end of dinner we were ready for bed -- all these early mornings and early nights have gotten to us!

This hotel is so beautiful, and so is this city -- I'm so glad that we're staying here for 4 nights!


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