Veils, Spices, ATM, Konyagi and Swimming in the rain in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

by Lena

Stone Town Door

                                                  ” Welcome To Zanzibar! “

I really felt like I was transported back in time and was in ” 1001 nights ” . It is a completely different world here. With stunningly beautiful doors and architecture, delicious and fresh sea food, proud and mysterious women in colorful veils, enchanting sounds from mosques, smells of spices and rain, buildings full of stories of Arabian Princesses and their passions, museums full of priceless items from the times of Sultans, Dhows, Persian traders and slaves.

At the Airport immigration officer forgot to fingerprint me, so I had to remind him of his job – this was a small introduction to what will happen later in the evening…

It’s a marvelous Saturday night, the magic of this island is in the air! I’m on my way to Forodhani Gardens for a nightly feast. I foolishly decided to get more cash from my credit card. I should have known better, since ATM’s in general, really do hate me. — like this ATM IN HONG KONG. There are only 3 or 4 ATM’s in Stone Town, zero at the Airport and only 1 actually excepted my card. As I was trying to convert US Dollars to Tanzanian Shillings and decide how much I need, (math has never been my strong point) this hungry ATM eats my card! It did however, spit out a small receipt on which I read the following words : ” Card capture ” — yes, I know, thanks for explaining!

It also said that I will have to go to the bank at working hours (Monday) and present this receipt with my passport in order to get my card. It is a Saturday night after all and if I’m correct after Saturday comes Sunday – I’m sure that in a laid back pace of Zanzibar banks don’t work or in any other country for that matter.

But since I was leaving the next night to go to Nungwi beach (1 hour and a half north of Stone Town) I just had to get it back on a Sunday morning no matter what! And if I had to dress like a Scheherazade or Mata Hari

and dance for Police, Manager of the Bank, Security and all men of Stone Town, to get my card back, I was going to do it!

That ATM made me remember all swear words in all languages I know, even Swahili (African). Security were loosing it when I started swearing in Swahili! I asked them to tell me “Welcome to Zanzibar!” since that’s all I’ve been hearing since my landing, but I thought that particular moment by that ATM was a perfect occasion for that phrase! We were all laughing pretty hard and then shouted in unison..

“Welcome to Zanzibar!”

You know, I think that the best answer to the lemons that life throws at us occasionally is a really good hearty laugh!

Security guards did help me get in touch with the manager of the bank and arranged for us to meet in front of the bank the following morning.

I don’t let small bumps such as these, where my credit card ends up being ATM’s dinner, stand in a way of my own dinner. Since the favorite past time in Zanzibar is “Pole – Pole” (slowly – slowly) everyone has nowhere to rush. So you have a choice of either settling into that slow and mellow wave, which actually feels nice once you stop trying to control everything that happens or doesn’t happen or continue fighting a fight that you can not win. I chose to ride the wave…

So I made my way through the amazing maze of mysterious Stone Town to the famous fresh seafood market – Forodhani Gardens, Forodhani Gardenswhich is surrounded by the proud, salty and soothing embrace of the Indian Ocean. I was sitting by the pier, listening to the waves, looking at the shimmering reflection of the moon, while enjoying a plate full of mouth-watering seafood ; shark, octopus and lobster with a glass of devilishly sweet sugarcane juice.


It was an incredibly delicious dinner and a must try if you ever in Stone Town!

I greeted Sunday sun

Stone Town Sunrise

and had breakfast on the rooftop of my hotel with views of beautiful Ocean and Stone Town. I found yet another amazing deal and stayed at Warere Hotel

for around $30, in a really cozy room with breakfast, internet and stunning views of Stone Town, Indian Ocean and with extremely helpful and kind staff! Click HERE for more info.

Next morning I met with the manager of the bank. I explained to him that my plane leaves at 5pm today to Zambia (sorry, Sir, I lied) and I just have to get my card back and pay for my hotel. He asked me to show him my ticket, since this is how it is usually done in cases such as mine. So I went through my whole bag “in panic” looking for my “ticket to Zambia” (that’s where my Stanislavsky training comes in handy) I look at him with puppy sad eyes and inform him that I have left my ticket at the hotel..

He’s eyes studying mine very closely, desperately searching for even a hint of lying and deception. I got so completely lost in the role, (since dramatic, broken and tragic ladies is not such a big stretch for me, I can do that with my eyes closed) that even I began to believe that I have to fly to Zambia that evening and almost started crying…

He consoles me that it’s ok, he just needs a copy of my passport and asks me to wait for about 15 minutes. I went to the nearby printing place and got a copy of my passport for him. It truly is a miracle and needs to be put in the book of records – They opened a bank on a SUNDAY morning in Zanzibar and gave me my card back! Of course I tipped him, hugged him, danced for him (kidding) and went to explore the Stone Town. But learned my lesson about ATM’s in Stone Town — make the transaction FAST! From now on I should only tip-toe to all ATM’s and wear a wig, maybe they won’t know it’s me…

  • Met an amazing gentleman, Ame Ali, ( all photographs of me in Stone Town were taking by him ) who showed me Stone Town off the beaten track. If you want the best tour of Stone Town and beyond, contact Ame –> HERE <–
  • Getting lost in the Amazing Maze of Stone Town
  • Visited House of Wonders ;

    The House of Wonders or Palace of Wonders (in arab: Beit-al-Ajaib)

    Dhow inside The House of Wanders

    Persian Baths ;

    House where Freddie Mercury used to live with his family. Yes, Freddie, was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar and his name was Farrokh Bulsara ;

    R.I.P Freddie

    Visited Darajani Market –

    Zanzibar is an Island of Spices

    Zanzibar sarongs and veils


  • I negotiated half or more off the actual prices of the goods ( it’s mandatory in Stone Town and it’s a true Art form .. I was told, by a seller, I’m really good )

  • Walked through different streets ;

    narrow streets of Stone Town

    How To Catch A Snake

    hotels ;

    last floor of the Africa House hotel is a must see!

    Some are painted, some are real ..

    and shops, mostly for photography moments. Took pics of different people

    Zanzibar Woman

    ( asking permission prior to that, showing them pictures after that, seeing the excitement on their faces and hearing their laughter and then saying thank you with a few dollars, which always puts a smile on their face. –> RAIN & HAPPINESS  <–  I don’t understand how some people who come to a different country and snap cameras in locals faces like they at some zoo and then just walk away without saying a word. You are a GUEST, act like one! ) Same goes for women who come into a Muslim place like Zanzibar , and wear shorts and tank tops in town. ( that’s what the beach is for, ladies.. )

  • Tried local food PILAU at a local place in Stone Town — having Armenian blood in me, I remembered what it reminded me of — PLOV it’s a middle eastern dish, which was probably precisely what it was..  It’s a delicious mixture of rice and meat. And it reminded me of my late grandmother’s Plov which she used to make every time I visited her in Tashkent, Uzbekistan or my Brother’s home made Plov in Moscow. ( oh, memories, memories .. ) And it is well known, that men cook it much better than women.. ( in my humble opinion, men, cook everything better ! : )
  • I’m a true rain child, I brought rain to Masai Mara, Stone Town and Nungwi!
  • Walking around Stone Town under the pouring rain — the best !
  • Being mistaken for a local, several times, but my camera usually gives me away..

    I think I can pass for a local .. what u think?


  • Negotiated a great taxi fare to Nungwi Beach
  • Stayed in Nungwi in a private bungalow ;

    roughing it in here .. : )

    and waking up to this view ..

    right on the soft white sand beach, with stunning views of the Ocean for $30 per night with breakfast ! ( It’s not what I can afford that gives me the thrill in life, it’s what kind of a best, once in a lifetime deal I can get that gives me the true satisfaction .. and I always, get the best ones! ) Those $20 -30 per night bungalows are EVERYWHERE in Nungwi, you don’t even have to book anything in advance ( I didn’t ) I found this one in 15 minutes after arriving on the beach .. ( Of course tour agencies won’t tell you about those bungalows, they’ll send you to one of the ” posh ” hotel, who’s only ATM in Nungwi will charge you %10!! ) BTW, be sure to either take a lot of cash with you or get your money in Stone Town! THERE ARE NO ATM’S IN NUNGWI !

  • Got a henna tattoo

    I have a bunch of real ones, but never had a henna one

  • Perfected the Art of Doing Nothing on a beautiful beach;

    ” Perfecting The Art Of Doing Nothing… Try it “

  • Walked for miles along the beach



    welcome to my paradise

    The Veiled Mystery

    This was areally horny monkey .. he kept trying to take my skirt off and steal the key to my bungalow : )

    Skill + Spear + Stick = Supper

  • Watched one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen ;

    Just another Nungwi Sunset ..


  • Swam in a stunningly beautiful waters of Indian Ocean
  • Woke up and fell asleep to the sound of waves, rain and birds
  • Had a delicious dinner right on the sand ;

    that cat did not leave my sight that night and kept following me around the whole time I was there

  • Made new friends with whom we got around camp fire and played on guitars and drums, sang, drunk, told stories and laughed ;

    Mama Zanzibar … hey …

    with my new friend Marko

    umm, no! we are not high!

    The door of a famous ” Cholos Bar ” .. they have the best cocktails ! I think I had “multiple orgasm” … the drink I mean …


  • Got a drum lesson from a local ;
  • Swam under the pouring rain ( I brought rain even here, it rained non stop from early morning in to the wee hours of the night, but it didn’t stop me and my new friends from having fun and swimming under pouring rain ) — This was supposed to be a dry season everywhere – in Masai Mara and Zanzibar ..
  • Tried famous Tanzanian drink ” KONYAGI “ , wow! It’s really strong! Konyagi is a clear liquor from Tanzania. It’s the most popular brand and liquor in Africa.
  • I actually left this Island with tan lines : ) … which is an extremely rare event for me.. But, I happen to respect Muslim customs, traditions and people of Zanzibar and would never even dream of skinny dipping in the ocean.. regardless of how much I love doing that. 
  • Was stunned by the fact that at the Airport I talked to a lady in a veil who works there and who speaks Clean & Fluent Russian! I thought I’m imagining things or that I had too much Konyagi, but no, she actually lived in Moscow for several years and studied there… Small world.

This Island and it’s people really got under my skin and regardless of all that went wrong along the way… it’s somehow made me fall hopelessly in love with this Island and it’s secrets —  which I will probably never fully discover ~ that’s the true Magic of Zanzibar.

October  2011