Spice island

Trip Start Apr 18, 2011
Trip End Apr 08, 2012

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Flag of Tanzania  , Zanzibar Archipelago,
Sunday, May 29, 2011

A perfect day being a tourist.

After a leisurely breakfast (scrambled egg whites and thick chunks of bread served with a disturbing fluorescent, but good tasting apricot jam) watching the world go by from the rooftop of the hotel, I waited downstairs in the tiny reception amid a gathering of European students waiting for orders from their teacher, for the tour guide who would be taking me and three other sightseers on a visit to a spice farm.

Collected on time and guided to the car, we journeyed slightly inland along the west coast past free roaming cows, people and the most basic of houses as once again the rain returned, turning the road into reddish brown streams and everything around us greener still. Our guide was happy sit and wait for the rain to subside as we arrived at the spice farm, but we convinced him that being English we weren't put off by a bit of rain and so we hopped out of the people carrier, trying not to slide in the mud as we walked.

The tour was informative and fun, with two assistants appearing from nowhere to shimmy up trees effortlessly to fetch fruits for us to sample, and making all sorts of necklaces, rings and bracelets simply by weaving leaves, before presenting them to us proudly. I was once again reminded of how much is readily available to live off here in Africa; the people make use of and have knowledge of almost every plant in their country, and how to benefit from it.

Turmeric for example, we were told, can be used to help cure bronchitis, aided with ginger (also available) and honey (probably not too far away, either). It still baffles me how someone could possibly know what to do with each plant, and how they work out what to do with each: quite possibly with a lot of trial and error, I would imagine. We were guided past the lipstick tree (named so because of the vivid red dye that the seeds contain that can be used to colour hair and skin), lemon grass, the cocoa plant (how someone knew that it would be great as chocolate is beyond me, but i'm grateful that they did) the coffee plant, and curry leaves, invited to taste and smell each as we went along. I didn't realise that cloves are Zanzibar's main crop: sales of which have to go to government - I guess a little the way certain countries govern oil, precious metals and stones and more.

The tour lasted an hour or so, by which time the rain had cleared, and we were shepherded back to the car. Lunch was part of the tour deal, but none of us were expecting to be invited back to the guide's house to eat lunch, prepared by his wife. Courtesy and friendliness seem common in Zanzibar - a refreshing change from the mainland and Dar es Salaam. You simply can't walk anywhere without being greeted with 'jambo!' and asked 'mambo?' (a lot of Swahili apparently rhymes - handy for me trying to remember words: mambo is 'how are you?', to which the common answer is 'poa' - meaning cool.) We all felt rather humbled to be invited in for food - and the food itself was delicious - a fish dish with spiced (what else?) rice and salad, followed by lemongrass tea.

We left, full bellied and grateful, next heading to a nearby beach for the final part of the arranged tour: no spices on the beach, but a beautiful curved stretch of white sand sheltered each side by rocks that gave way to the Indian Ocean. It's actually a nicer stretch than the beach in Nungwi, perhaps because it was quieter and smaller, and lacking any litter. I stood contemplating the scenario for a few minutes as I dug my toes in the sand and watched the perfect blue horizon: this was what I was getting up to on a Sunday - no office, no deadline, no worries: just taking in the view in a different part of the world, concerned only with the temperature of the sea. If someone had told me I would be doing this a few years ago, I would have laughed and not believed them for a second. But here I am. And with that though I swam for a bit, dried off in the sun before returning to the car, and to Stone Town with the group.
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