From the mountains we head east to the coast. The bus curves on the winding roads and I feel waves of nausea until we reach the plains and the straight, flat highway. The women in front wants to our window closed, we want it open; a passive aggressive battle of wills commences. They are screening Tanzanian soap operas on the tv at the front and a guy across the aisle from us is entranced, laughing and tutting at the storyline. When we stop at towns along the way, guys run to the window holding aloft frayed cardboard boxes over their heads packed with goods and held together by strips of rubber. “maji! soda! maji! soda!” they cry and some board the bus to sell soft drinks and biscuits and nuts.
We crawl into Ubungo bus station at a snails pace, waiting for the Friday night traffic to inch forward until we reach the huge bus station and elbow through the touts to find a tuk tuk. The guy drives around in the dark, unsure of where our hotel is, and we peer out into the rain and try to direct him from the map on my phone. One thing I will not miss about travelling is arriving late into a dark bus station and relying on a stranger to keep you safe and get you to the right place.
The next day we take the ferry from Dar across the water to Zanzibar island. The booking office on the mainland is surrounded by more touts, pulling us in different directions and I pull my elbow out of someone’s grabbing grasp. We had read about one scam where a guy takes you to a seemingly legitimate booking office, offers a discounted rate and whilst you will eventually arrive on the island you journey would have taken seven hours and you would have been on a freight ship.
We find the right office and take our place in a bewildering number of different lines and waiting rooms until we board. The ferry dips across the rolling sea and an old Charlie Chaplin film on the tv makes people around us giggle.
It’s busy also around the port: taxis and motorbike drivers and porters vying for our business. We walk past them and head to our guesthouse where I’ve stayed before with Sarah and then again with Dad. It’s near the docks and the fish market; it’s a familiar walk and there are still cats playing around outside, probably the great-great-great grandchildren from the last time I was here. West, the rooftop overlooks the container ships and if you look south you can see the other rooftops of the old town, worlds on top of buildings.
We have lunch in Passing Show, a local cafe, serving big cheap plates of biryani and samosas. There’s a tv playing and kittens hunting for scraps around our feet.
That night we wander along the waterfront. The rain from earlier has stopped and the sky is dusky purple and yellow, distant rain clouds boding another shower later on in the night. Teenage boys jump off the promenade, trying more and more elaborate flips and dives. We have a drink in a bar on the beach, lit up with candles and talk about the past year, and then go to a curry house I’ve also been to with Dad and Sarah, share bhajis and curry and coconut source and lassi. It’s fun retracing my footsteps from the past and showing Moz a place I love so much.
The next day we wake to rain and, though we still head out exploring, it hinders the experience a little. I really like Stonetown and getting lost among its twisting alleyways, admiring the ornate carved wooden doorways and peering into hidden courtyards fringed with delicate latticework. I like the groups of women in burkas and the school kids and the men in prayer caps selling food, but this time we have the streets to ourselves. The call to prayer sounds and the signs of life we spot are the flip flops and umbrellas left outside the mosques.
We walk to the old slave market and because I have visited before we decide that just Moz will go in while I find a spot for a coffee. Zanzibar’s history is entwined with that of slavery: Arab traders who came to the region in the 1690s were the first to enter into Africa’s interior, taking people back with them to the coast. These people, now slaves, were held and then sold at Zanzibar’s slave market, a trade that existed for hundreds of years. You can visit the cells built below ground; they’re inhumane, dark, dank and fixed with iron manacles. The ceiling is low and you have to stand with a stooped back. Up to 65 people would be held in a chamber the size of a classroom with a drain for a toilet. Though I didn’t visit this time I remember the feeling of horror.
Meanwhile, whilst Moz was visiting the market and shown around by the snappily names Elvis, I was sheltering from more rain in Lukkman’s, a busy restaurant with a glass counter and packed with locals and tourists. I warmed my hands on a spicy masala tea, did some writing and got chatting to a nice French couple.
When Moz joins me we have lunch and then walk through the streets, jumping over rivers of water. We head towards the Daranjani Market where we rub shoulders with locals doing their shopping and wander past piles of silver fish, the meat market where a whole cows head gazes at us, packets of spices, stacks of bananas and carefully displayed vegetables.
Last stop on our wander is the Old Dispensary, built in the 19th century as a hospital and possibly the prettiest building on the waterfront with its peppermint latticework and white walls. An old man shows us inside and onto the balcony overlooking the sea. I’m confused: there is a plaque that celebrates the renovation work that was undertaken in the 90s alongside old photographs that show how dilapidated the building had become, yet all the rooms here stand empty and there are rivers of rainwater falling again down the walls and stairs. Like many of the buildings in the town, it’s a victim of the sea salt and the sun and the rain, crumbling with decay yet still standing. And perhaps that’s why I find them so beautiful.