East African Eden?

East African Eden?

Darren Frei

Freddie Mercury’s birthplace has enchanted many a gay traveler–and though a new law banning gay sex has led several gay tour companies to advocate for an outright boycott of the Zanzibar islands, the gay-owned Emerson & Green Hotel in Stone Town is as welcoming and popular as ever. “The general populace is mostly gay-friendly or at least gay-tolerant,” insists co-owner Thomas Green. “To avoid the country of Zanzibar is just as over-the-top as this stupid law. Cutting these places off is the worst thing to do as it removes the contact needed to increase the understanding and tolerance of different ideas and lifestyles.”

Consider what you’ll miss if you don’t go: Perched atop Persian carpets high above the ancient city’s bustling labyrinth of bazaars, winding alleys, and elaborately carved wooden doors, the hotel’s open-air Tower Top Restaurant serves everything from battered pepper shark to mango cobbler. The magic carpet ride continues in the rooms, where large stone bathtubs, 20-foot ceilings, hand-painted glass lamps, lattice-enclosed verandas, and netted Zanzibari beds evoke the golden age of the Omani sultans’ spice trade, which made the island one of the wealthiest spots on earth in the 1800s.

The hotel opened in 1994 after dancer-turned-innkeeper Thomas Green and hippie-turned-psychologist-turned-innkeeper Emerson Skeens convinced the local authorities to lease them the site of a dilapidated palace in order to restore it to its former glory. “You may have the idea that Emerson and I were once lovers,” says Green, “but that’s not the case. [We have] similar tastes but somewhat different approaches to life: Emerson always wants to be the center of attention, and I’m more reserved.” Whatever their chemistry, it works. Their otherworldly inn is now one of the most romantic hotels on earth.

Emerson & Green, 236 Hurumzi St., Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania; 255-747-423-266. For more information log on to www.outtraveler.com.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group