Touch Down in Stone Town

After weeks of travelling, we are leaving for our final destination, Zanzibar. A small plane is waiting for us at the airstrip in Seronera, Serengeti. It is airport heaven here: no passport control, no security checks and no queues at check-in. Just an airstrip, an airplane and Richard, our pilot.

“Jump in, fasten your seat belts and I’ll take you to Zanzibar,” he says. Five minutes later the engine roars, the plane shakes and the runway slips away beneath us. “We’re airborne!” Richard shouts. “You can sit back and relax.”

The savannah is shrinking below us: the animals, the trees and even the largest elephants all turn into small anonymous dots. As we pass over the Olduvai Plains Richard points down. “The migration, on the left!” Tens of thousands of pixels are moving south over the vast savannah. Some are zebra pixels and others are wildebeest pixels. Only a few days ago we were driving  down there in a 4×4.

After our stopover in Arusha I fall asleep. When I wake up, everything has turned blue. It is as if someone pressed the remote control and switched from the Savannah Channel to the Indian Ocean Channel. We fly over atolls, which look like small azure circles in the deep blue sea.

“Prepare for landing!” Richard shouts. I don’t really know what he wants us to prepare, because we have no tray tables, the seats only have one position and we didn’t unfasten our seat belts during the flight. “We’re ready!” I reply.

As we descend I start making out the little fishing boats off the coast. In the final approach to the airport, I take one last photo and imagine diving into the warm Indian Ocean. “Touch down, welcome to Stone Town!”

We head into the old city, a place steeped in history and myths, where you can imagine tales of Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin coming true. And of course there is some historical basis to these stories because adventurous Arab traders started exploring the coast of East Africa from the 7th century onwards. Their presence on Zanzibar became increasingly important and by 1800 the island had become a key Arab trading post where merchants from the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Far East exchanged cloves, ivory and other precious goods.

We soon get completely lost in the maze of streets and alleyways. We have arranged to meet our driver at Mercury Restaurant, named after rock legend and Stone Town-native Freddy Mercury. A group of kids leads us there and as we walk a tune pops into my head: “No time for losers ‘cause we are the champions, of the world!”

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