East Africa Day 3 – Zanzibar

Woke at 8 for breakfast, simple bread with butter and jam, and a pancake, washed down with Kilimanjaro tea.  Today, I was going on a Spice Tour of Zanzibar.  At 9, I was picked up and taken to join around 10 others for the tour.  We were packed into a minivan and driven off to one of the Spice Farms.  The party consisted of myself, the only ‘solo’ traveler in the group, a South African brother and sister team, a couple of English medical students who had been working on a placement in an Arusha hospital, a couple of German medical students,  both amusing blondes, and a Ugandan journalist and her friend.

We arrived at the Spice Farm.  A small and rather unassuming place upon first impressions, but each part of it produced different types of spice and fruit from different trees and plants.  Our guide, a Persian descendant called Mohammad, was very knowledgeable and interesting.  He stopped at key plants and trees to explain more about what they produced.  We saw jackfruit, pineapple, coconut trees, and chili plants, pepper plants (where we learned 5 different types of pepper come from one plant – black pepper comes from the green seeds that are left out in the sun and baked black, and white pepper from the green seeds that are left to ripen, where they turn red and the shell can be cracked open revealing the whiteness inside), tamarind plants with pods with small red seeds that give tikka its colour, and when crushed leave red stains on your skin that is hard to wash off.  This is what gives a masala its distinctive red colour, though the seed has no flavour itself – tamarind and cumic powder are added for that.

We saw so many weird and wonderful spice plants.  It was fascinating.  I don’t cook, and have no real interest to, but it was still fascinating to learn where the different spices come from.  We were invited to smell and taste different spices, courtesy of a boy who kept scaling the trees and cutting off fruit for us.  We were each given a cone-shaped holder made of leaf, where we could put our spices.  We were told of nutmeg – used in drinks that are given to African women to make them insatiable and sexually aroused, and you can tell they’ve been drinking it just by looking at their eyes.  All through the trip locals kept adorning us with various accessories weaved from leaves.  I got a tie and a hat.  ‘Spice King!’ they all proclaimed, and the German girls took photos of me the eccentric Brit.  I also got a handbag, while others got leaf spectacles.  The boys were obviously well-practiced and talented in the art.

At the end of the farm tour, we had the opportunity to buy some of the spices we had seen, and spice tea and coffee.  I bought a pair of assorted spices, including the famous cloves, which Zanzibar is famous for – it used to export 90% of all the cloves in the world (now Indonesia provides the biggest competition, and market share has dwindled).   We hopped back in the bus and visited a fruit stall in a village, where we had the chance to try different exotic fruits.  After this, we were given soap fruit which when  rubbed foamed lather in our hands – just like soap!  I never knew soap came from a fruit!  Then it was on to lunch, knelt down on woven mats under a thatched roof in the middle of a village.  Lunch was delicious – pilau 5 spice rice, spinach and a delicious sauce with potatoes, made from chilies and other spices.

After lunch, a separate minivan too those of us who didn’t want to go swimming or to the slave caves back to Stone Town.  I enjoyed another couple of hours wandering the streets of Stone Town.  I went to the Old Fort, inside which is a market.  I then spent a couple of hours sat on a table on a bench outside Livingstone.  The Spice Islander ship was in, and was being loaded up with all kinds of crates and boxes of all sizes, improbably carried by strong young shirtless men, their legs almost – but never fully – buckling under the weight of their burdens.  A constant stream of men ferried crates and boxes up into the belly of the Spice Islander, like ants carrying food or twigs to the nest.  Occasionally, vehicles would thunder down the sand, giving themselves a run-up before hitting the ramp and just managing to get up with tyres screeching.  They would swerve in the sand and almost knock the workers over,  Once, a small truck got stuck, and a man got out his shovel and planks of wood and tried to help the truck get up and into the ship.  It was a chaotic scene of shouting, vehicles and men carrying great loads….like the days of yore.  This is what it’s been like for centuries…..a busy port going through the motions.  It was great to be witnessing it.

The sun was setting, an even more beautiful spectacle than the night before.  Dhows drifted lazily past the sun, boats bobbed in the water, children ran, laughing and cartwheeling around….I noticed that there were no dogs in Stone Town, and such a peaceful, less-dirty place it was as a result.  Cats ruled here.  A young man called Mohammed sidled up to me as I sat on the beach gazing at the setting sun.  He was keen to practice his English, and I let him do so….my job is hardly any different.  After the sun disappeared, I collected the flight ticket I had earlier paid for from Nassor at the tourist info place.  From Zanzibar to Arusha, $180 one way.  I walked back to Manch Lodge, getting hopelessly lost on the way.

I showered, changed, and hurried out again.  I withdrew 400,000 TZSh from Barcleys ATM, and got talking to a girl who ran a massage shop and beauticians, Cathy.  The colour of dark roasted coffee beans, she embodied all the is the African woman.  Full, sultry, beautiful, big smile, curvy and friendly.  We agreed to meet for a drink later.  I went to Al-Azuri bar/restaurant on a rooftop, and enjoyed a chilled Kilimanjaro beer.  I then took a 10-minute walk to Mercury’s restaurant and bar, and ordered a delicious minced meat and chilli pizza, masala chips and some Tusker beer.  I was sat alone, the only person in the large seafront restaurant to be doing so.  An Omanian couple from Muscat were sitting on the table next to me, and they began chatting to me.  The husband was a respected dentist, who counted many foreign diplomats as his friends.  He’d studied in Glasgow.  We talked about many things, and they tried to convince me to go and work in Oman, promoting it as a very liberal Muslim country.  I said I’d certainly consider it.  They were both drinking alcohol and seemed very nice, a fun-loving Muslim couple.  They spoke of their disappointment with the very few terrorists who have made their lives difficult.  A husband spoke of his train journey around Europe, something he said would be impossible now due to visa restrictions.

They left after he handed me his business card.  I finished another Tusker, then went to Livingstone to meet Cathy.  Here, I ordered another beer, and Cathy a soda.  The beer was a mistake, I just felt sleepy.  We got on quite well and she walked me back to Manch, as I was lost in the dark.  Another enjoyable and eye-opening day and evening.

Author: Neil

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