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AFRICA!   Zanzibar
Spice Town and a spice tour.
July 26

Mr Pazzi met us as agreed. Before we parted company at the ferry terminal we made arrangements with him to pick us up at the ferry on the 29th.

As we crossed the water between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on the Sea Star Ferry, we could see small dhows bobbing in the waves. Some of the smallest ones were fitted with outriggers while others were as they have been for centuries. The dhow is a traditional Arab sailing vessel with a large triangular lateen sail. In bygone days they were considered mainly commercial trading boats, transporting dates, fish and mangrove timber. Using winds to their advantage, dhows would sail south with the monsoons in winter or early spring and back again to Arabia in late spring or early summer.

A ‘Karibu [meaning ‘welcome’] Zanzibar’ sign hung beyond the yellow, single storey customs building. When it was our turn, Sherrie stepped up to the customs window. The little slot at the bottom, through which one would normally slide passports, was blocked by the multi-wired hind-end of a computer, so she put her passport through the circular ‘talking hole’ up higher. The officer thumbed through the book looking for a clear spot to put a stamp. We hadn’t thought we would get a stamp for Zanzibar since we had already received our Tanzania entry stamp. Bonus.

The officer, in the crowded little room behind the window, hesitated. He flipped a few pages back, then a few pages forward, then a few pages back. We couldn’t imagine what had caught his attention. Perhaps the cancelled stamp of our temporary exit from Zambia? He got down from his stool and took two steps towards someone else in the room. Two steps was all he could take for where there were not stools, computers and people, there were boxes. He came back to the window with a serious look on his face, hiked himself back up on the stool and looked at Sherrie. "Are you travelling alone?" he asked.

"No. I’m travelling with my husband." she said turning and looking at Terry who started to inch forward at the glance. The man leaned as far as he could around the computer and peered sideways through the glass. Using the hand that still held Sherrie’s passport he waved Terry over.

"Your passport." he said and Terry bent his enough to passed it through the little round hole. The exercise repeated itself with Terry’s passport; a quick thumb through, then forwards and backwards. He glanced up; his eyes betraying the confusion he was experiencing; wondering what to do with us. "Come. Inside," he said indicating the doorway inches away.

To get us in meant something had to go and he sent out one of the people. We squeezed tight together so the door could be closed behind us. It was difficult to turn around with our backpacks on, so we slid them off and stacked them on top of some boxes which were piled on a chair. We waited while he compared our two passports. "Where did you start?" he directed the question at Sherrie.

"This morning we were in Dar es Salaam and we just came over on the ferry."

"No, where did you start?"

"Oh, on this trip. We started in Vancouver, Canada."

"And ..." he said as though Sherrie was avoiding his intended question.

"Flew to London, from London to Nairobi, Kenya, from there we bussed to Moshi, Tanzania, from there to," she stopped to take a breath.

Terry took up the recital, "Tanzania to South Africa, to Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa, from there .."

"Don’t forget Lesotho," Sherrie chimed in.

"Yes, a day trip to Lesotho, then back into South Africa, north to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and then .." The man held up his hand ... he had heard enough. He thumbed through Sherrie’s passport while half sitting on the stool and reached for the stamp. With both our passports stamped, he handed them back indicating we could leave. We took our backpacks and made our way out of the little room without ceremony while he turned his attention back to the waiting line up.

We passed under the ‘Karibu Zanzibar’ and out onto the streets of Stone Town. Once we shook free from most of the touts, letting them know we already had reservations, we were still kept company by two who insisted we go in two different directions to get to the same place.

In a round about way we made it to Princess Salme a locally run establishment with lots ... and lots ... of ‘character’.

We had a choice of two rooms and selected one on the second floor for its cleaner bathroom, higher ceilings, fan and corner location. Three windows facing front and two windows on the side, plus the ceiling fan gave us good air circulation during the night ... enough to use a top sheet and get some sleep.

We caused the demise of three mosquitoes, closed the netting around the bed and took to the streets of Stone Town.

Zanzibar is not Arabic, not Asian, not African ... it’s all three.

Not much has changed in Stone Town over the past 200 years, for that reason it was recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Old Dispensary is an beautifully ornate colonial building. It was to be a hospital when building was first started but the owner died and his wife ran out of funds before it was completed.

 It was then bought to be used as a charitable institution; that’s when a dispensary was set up on the ground floor with apartments above. When the renters fled during the 1964 revolution, ownership was passed to the government. In 1994 its restoration/conservation began. It now houses a restaurant, up-market shops and is a venue for cultural events. The protective fence announced more conservation was being undertaken.


At the edge of the harbour a huge Bengal fig, believed to have been planted in 1944, is a Stone Town landmark simply known as "The Big Tree". In days past, men used to use its shade as a workshop for building boats. Today it is a market place for ‘fast food’ stands, a few staying open until late into the night.

Continuing along the waterfront we passed other Stone Town landmarks including the palace and fort. Passing through the old city gate we continued winding through the streets, keeping, for the most part, to ones frequented by tourists letting ourselves become acquainted with landmarks and establish our bearings.


A stop for a sandwich and ice cream at Amour Mio gave us a beach side seat for people watching: kids going for a swim, a woman using a large discarded tire as exercise equipment, fellows poling a dhow close to the shore and a long wooden water taxi with an orange covered-wagon style canopy which had MR BEAN and a phone number written across it in large black letters.


The sun was starting its decent to the horizon as we reversed our walking direction and walked back through the old city gate (a tunnel of sorts).

Forodhani Park was sealed off with high corrugated metal fencing. It is undergoing major changes as part of a comprehensive Stone Town seafront rehabilitation. The objective is to improve the image of Zanzibar as a tourist destination and therefore stimulating economic activities with improvements for small enterprise.


During construction those ‘small enterprise’ booths have moved from Forodhani Park across the street and up an alley. At this hour they were just getting ready for a busy night. One vendor pointed to all the different seafood he had prepared and ready to cook on the braai ... prawns, shrimp, squid, octopus, tuna, red snapper, barracuda, dorado, wahoo ... many names we had not heard before. "Very good eating," he encouraged.


On the beachfront a group of young men were having a soccer game ... "football" they call it here. It’s was not a large space, the litter cleared sand sloped towards the water, the goal posts were sticks stuck in the sand, spectators stood or sat on the retaining wall or leaned against a boat and, if they didn’t think the game was going particularly well, they joined in. It was wholesome and fun to watch.


July 27

It was about 05:30 when we heard the day’s first call to prayer (99% of Zanzibar residents are Muslim). Shortly after, as we slowly woke under our mosquito netting, we could hear ... clang, clang, clang, the rhythmic sound of metal hitting metal. It went on for more than a minute so Sherrie got up and peeked out the screened window.

A lady below had already begun her morning chores. Atop a hip high concrete foundation (perhaps a building once stood there) an army-size pot of water sat on a round charcoal burner. Resting next to it was a red plastic wash tub holding a white, thick soupy substance. She stood at the concrete foundation, as though it were a kitchen counter, using a metal rod in her hand and banging it into a thick metal container like a mortar and pestle. Clang, clang, clang.

When the water in the army-size pot came to a boil, she stirred the powder from the metal container into the white soupy substance and then the combined red basin’s contents were poured into the boiling water, with the last being scrapped out with a long handled wooden spoon. The pot was stirred again and left to bubble and simmer over the charcoal.

We groomed and dressed for the day and then peered out the window again. A girl, in her teens, perhaps the woman’s daughter, was spooning out "porridge" from the big steaming pot.

Men (all the customers were men) came by foot and bicycle, took a plastic bowl from a blue rinse basin, shook off the water, handed the girl some coins, after which she would spoon out the porridge according to how many coins they gave her.

Most drank the porridge from the bowl or used broken pieces of bread as edible spoons. When the bowls were returned, she would rinse them out in the blue basin and leave them in the water for the next customer. She stood by the pot until the last morsel had been scraped from the sides, then went inside. Customers continued to drop by and peer into the empty pot with expressions of disappointment.

Activity was increasing on the street and we had a VIP box seat to watch the comings and goings. On the road side of the concrete foundation a man set up his bicycle repair ‘shop’ (a box of tools, a bicycle pump, and a bicycle inner tube hanging on a stick) where he patched tires, repaired spokes and anything else to keep his customer’s well-used bikes on the road. While he worked, customers pulled up, gave him a couple of coins to used his bicycle pump ... just as someone would pull into a self-service gas station. His work must be respected for he seemed to keep busy.

The rooftop breakfast area had a view of other roof tops and a thin horizontal slice of the Indian Ocean. Our arrival interrupted the two woman staff sitting on a day bed watching tv.

We walked along the seawall, past Stone Town’s landmark buildings, through the city gate and into the first unfamiliar street we could find. Our objective ... get lost!

The confusing maze of narrow laneways, most not wide enough to accept cars, was lined with thick walls punctuated by ornate doors. Unlike Muslim houses we had seen in Morocco, where the walls were windowless and the doors were understated, Zanzibar’s doors have long been a symbol of the owner’s wealth and status. Many of these ornately carved entryways were purchased before construction began and the house’s design was built around the door. Many doors, made from termite and weather resistant teak, were imported from India or mainland Africa. Local hardwood used was from the bread-fruit tree. Doors with large brass studs came from India where the style was used to protect buildings from elephants. Age, weather and lack of protection has caused many of Zanzibar’s antique doors to fade from their original grandeur, but even so, they are appreciated by those who pass.

Life goes on here, much as it has for centuries. Oh yes, there are motorbikes and cell phones, televisions and satellite dishes, but everyday life is sectioned by calls to prayer and visits to markets. There are fruit markets, fish and meat markets and spice markets.

We wound our way through narrow alleys of high walls and at each new intersection decided whether to keep straight or make a turn.

This is where people live; where children play, men work, women shop for staples and people stop to visit.

We were walking through the real Stone Town, not the one draped with souvenirs, hung with paintings and made pretty for tourists. 

We were where we wanted to be ... this is the reason we travel. The people were friendly and didn’t seem to mind us invading ‘their space’.


We could tell when we were approaching a main alley, the kind of alley tourists stroll; paintings and curios started to show outside doors and shopkeepers speaking English invited us in to see what they had to offer. On the edge of one such street we found a painter. We stood while he produced yet another painting with thick strokes of acrylic paint placed knowingly on a blank canvas. A stroke here, a twist of the brush there and the painting ... which was an original ‘duplicate’ of many we had seen ... quickly took form. We were in awe of its simplicity and his skill.

We made our way back to Amore Mio. The sandwich we had yesterday was better than tonight's meal but the ice cream, as always, was cool and tasty (lots of different flavours to choose from). Roberto and Ombretta are new owners. Last summer, Roberto was looking at Zanzibar web sites from his native Italy when he came across one for Amore Mio. On the bottom of the page it had a ‘for sale’ sign. He made a trip to Zanzibar and liked what he saw; he came back in October, signed the papers and by December they had moved to Zanzibar and took over Amore Mio. "It’s an adjustment," Roberto told us, "but we are enjoying it. We have made some changes and there are more to come. Some things happen more slowly here and we are learning to adapt to local customs. Our customers seem to like what we are doing."


A little park across from the Serena Inn reminded us of the connection between the American presidential race and Zanzibar. Hung from a tree were paintings of Barack Obama and graffiti-painted in red around the circular cement seating were the words, "Zanzibar for Obama. Obama for President."

Barack Obama’s father was born in Kenya and much of Kenya is very proud of their connection to the could-be president of the United States. Plenty of babies are being named after him, many given the first name "Senator". In Zanzibar the connection is with Barack’s grandfather who lived for a time in Zanzibar after World War I.

We stopped again to watch a before-sunset soccer game on the beach.

A great day ... another great day ... we have had so many.

 July 28

Our last full day in Africa, tomorrow we will start the homeward journey.

Zanzibar and Pemba are known as the ‘Spice Islands’. Dhows which had brought dates, fish, mangrove timber and fancy doors to Zanzibar would leave with spices, fruit, ivory and slaves. It would not be right to leave Zanzibar without going on a spice tour. We booked the tickets through the manager at Princess Salame.

We made a quick early morning visit to the market and then by bus we left Stone Town and drove north through the countryside passing numerous small villages until we arrived at Sisso Spice Farm. A guide took us on foot along paths of rich red soil into groves of coconut palms, banana, cacao and clove trees.

Zanzibar once supplied 75% of the world’s cloves, making cloves the foundation of Zanzibar’s economy. It is the dried flower buds which produce the strong spice. When dried they look like rusty nails and that’s where they got their French derivative name, ‘clou'-'nail’. Cloves are used in cuisine in every part of the world. The guide told us how locals use it for toothaches; a touch of clove oil around a sore tooth will numb the pain and bring relief. We remember it well from our childhood.

Zanzibar clove Zanzibar clove 

Nutmeg gives three products in one seed pod. Our guide cut one open and exposed the shiny, dark, rich brown seed in the centre; that’s the nutmeg. The red ‘eyelet covering over the seed is another spice, mace. The light yellow fruit itself is used locally to make marmalade.

Zanzibar nutmeg and mace Zanzibar annatto "lipstick tree" fruit
Zanzibar annatto "lipstick tree"  

Our guide told us to be careful how we handled the fruit of the annatto (near left and above) ... nicknamed the ‘lipstick tree’. The seeds of the ‘heart-shaped’ fruit are covered with a jelly (somewhat like a pomegranate) and the orange-red stain from this jelly is very difficult to get off. It is used in many tropical countries as fabric dye, hair dye and body paint, especially for lips, and commercially to colour margarine, cheeses and smoked fish.

Zanzibar ginger Zanzibar cardamom
Zanzibar cardamom fruit

As we walked among trees and plants he reached up or bent down, dug up, snipped off, cut into pieces and passed around spices we only know by names on containers that we use to sprinkle flavourings on our food ... ginger (far left), cardamom (near left and above), pepper (below far left), cinnamon -  vertical slice of tree bark (below second from left), lemon grass (below third from left), vanilla bean (below right) ... 

Zanzibar pepper Zanzibar cinnamon Zanzibar lemon grass vanilla
... turmeric and more.   Some are simply harvested and dried. The vanilla bean must be dried and soaked several times at proper intervals to produce the taste we tend to take for granted. Others have to be processed.

While we walked local children tagged along weaving novelties out of palm fronds and offering them. "I give you as a gift," they would say holding it up in front of us. Of course they expect a ‘gift’ of money in return.

Sisso Spice Farm sales hut 

At the end of the tour, the farm had a display set up with small bags of spices for purchase and a palm frond covered drying rack with fruit to try ... lichee nuts, star fruit and jackfruit. We bought a few vanilla pods, tasted the fruit and talked with two, shy little children.


Shortly after leaving the farm, the bus driver stopped in view of an often photographed "corkscrew" palm. Was its unusual shape an act of nature, interfered with by man or a particular species of palm; we do not know.

The palm was interesting but four little girls in their front yard caught our attention; one was clothed in traditional Muslim dress. We waved hello, exchanged names and smiles, then waved goodbye.



We stopped to have lunch at another farm. The farm house was made of mud brick with a corrugated metal roof. Food preparation was done within the house but cooked outside under a lean-to. The hostess was kind enough to allow Sherrie to use the toilet facilities within her home. The kitchen was without furniture and the door to the toilet was only partially covered by a split rice bag. There was no window or any light except what dimly seeped in from the kitchen. Sherrie tapped her right foot around the room until she felt a rectangle hole in the floor. We take so much for granted, in our luxurious Western lifestyle, it is good to experience what much of the world accepts as normal.

Sitting picnic style under a thatched roof, we were served a traditional meal seasoned with local spices. Not caring for highly spiced food, we were delighted with the dishes set before us. The curry was mild and sweet, the spinach fresh and light, and the chicken succulent.

Before returning to Stone Town we were driven to and given some time to play in the Indian Ocean surf.


This was our last night in Africa. As most of our trips are lengthy, we always seem to have a day, or two, during our travels when we feel we would ‘rather be home’ .... if somehow we could wriggle our noses and be magically transported to our own livingroom ... our own bed ... we would grab the opportunity, take a break for a couple of days, before proceeding with our travels. This Africa journey has been different; we ... both ... did not have a single day like that during our entire nine weeks in Africa. Tonight we kind of wished we were home, but it has a lot more to do with the 33 hour travel schedule looming ahead.


We washed off the day’s tour dust and changed for an evening out. Sherrie opened her backpack to pick out the blouse she planned to wear and saw immediately that someone had been through her bag. She looked in the second compartment, it too had been rifled through. A little panic set in. The combination lock on the front compartment was missing and it had been rummaged through as well. There had been no attempt to hide the fact that her bag had been ransacked; no attempt to replace items as they had been; whoever did it just shoved items back in ... clothes that were on the bottom were now on the top and unfolded, papers were now crumpled and out of their proper pockets. Sherrie undid the combination lock on the back pocket ... whoever it was had been in there too.

"Why would they take the time to figure out the combination and chance being caught or was one of the combination locks left at the "open" setting?", Terry asked.

"They knew we were on the spice tour. They knew when we left and when we would be back."

We looked around the room hoping to find the missing lock. Oddly, it seemed the only thing missing. We had some currency from different African countries to take home as souvenirs ... none was taken. We had dvds ... some filled with photos and others blank ... none were taken. We had camera cards and AA rechargeable batteries ... all were there and accounted for. Our lap top computer ... there. The I-pod ... there. Why? Curiosity? Sherrie felt violated and was upset ... for awhile. We kept saying "T.I.A. ... This Is Africa." Their way of looking at things is not always the same as ours. Respect of someone else’s privacy is not, perhaps, high on their list of manners. Sherrie repacked her bag to put things in order and to confirm there was nothing missing. Everything was there ... except the lock.


We went out for dinner. We felt safe walking in the dark along the sea wall and through the dark tunnel of the city gate, through the park where the paintings of Obama hung from the tree and past Amore Mio. We had chosen the outdoor terrace of La Fenice, a restaurant where Italian and Swahili cuisine intermingle.

We were ahead of the late night dinner rush and were able to have an outside table with a sea view. The salad starter was delicious, though we found the pasta dishes just so-so. When it came time to leave the waiter handed us the bill while saying, "I forgot to add the salad on so the real total is ..." We thought that awfully strange ... if he knew he had forgotten it, why didn’t he add it to the bill or change the bill before presenting? The answer to the question came with the notice ... cash only. Perhaps he was planning on pocketing the salad amount. We called him over and told him we required a bill for the full amount. He looked puzzled at such a request but took the bill. He returned with our copy of the bill on which he had hand written the added salad amount. We would bet the original bill had not been altered and believed it was also a safe bet his employer would never know we had a salad. Our second T.I.A. moment this evening ... we left without saying anything further, leaving no tip.

The stroll back to our accommodations was a pleasant one. The air was warm and the ocean hummed against the shore. The alley market was busy so we walked up between the gas lantern lit tables and watched as sugar cane was pressed through ringer rollers to extract a slightly white-tinged liquid which was poured into small cups and sold as quickly as they could be filled. Deep-fried dough bubbled in oil over charcoal stoves and kebabs of meat and fish sizzled on charcoal braais. We bought a bottle of water from a stand which sold everything from chocolate bars to safety razors. When invited to buy some food, we held our full stomachs and explained we had just eaten. "Tomorrow night," they said. Wouldn’t that be nice, we thought knowing tomorrow’s dinner would probably be eaten somewhere in the skies over Uganda or Sudan.

July 29/30

We could not buy tickets for the ferry from Stone Town to Dar es Salaam until this morning and we ended up having to take a different ferry than the one we had told Mr. Pazzi we would be on. Our ferry wasn’t going to leave until 13:00 so we had time to find an internet shop and emailed a message to Palm Beach Hotel in hopes they would pass it on to Mr. Pazzi.


When we arrived in Dar es Salaam our eyes search the crowd of touts and taxi drivers. There he was; Mr. Pazzi had spotted us first and was waving. It’s a comforting feeling to be greeted by someone you ‘know’ in a foreign country. We asked him to take us directly to the airport.

We were early for our 19:45 departure so killed time playing cards. Our flight to Nairobi was on Precision Air’s first ever jet in their fleet; a spanking new Boeing 737. After a short layover in Nairobi we were off to London via Kenya Airways. When they advised they had checked our bags all the way through to Vancouver ... we thought "Oh, Boy, here we go again!"


Our first sight of land on the west side of the Atlantic was Greenland's icy coast with glaciers inching their way towards the ocean and "calving" (breaking away) into the briny depth.   

Thirty-three hours after getting on the ferry in Stone Town, we landed at Vancouver International Airport (and so did our luggage) ... tired, exhilarated, already missing Africa, glad to be home, full of wonderful memories and feeling perhaps it had all been a fantastic dream.


Africa !

can it get any better?

The only way to find out is to ... keep travelin’.


Next trip ... join us as we spend 7 weeks island-hopping through the Caribbean.


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