Published: February 17th 2009July 27th 2008
After 7 days on a mountain and 5 in a jeep on dusty track roads, a well deserved trip to a spice island is needed. I take the short flight to Zanzibar, with the customary wing dip to take photos of Kilimanjaro. On all three short flights I take with Precision Air, there is always a tip of the plane to get the best view of the mountain peak. This is the easiest way to see the summit as it is almost always above the clouds so not visible from the ground. Amazing to think I climbed so high that I was visible to passing planes!
I arrive at my hotel through a strange route, the taxi parks in a disused alley and then starts a fast walk with my bag, we rush up some tiny streets which couldn't fit a car, then we get to my hotel. I hadn't realised I'd booked quite such a swanky place. The suite... has only half height walls on two sides! It looks out onto the roof tops and sea, the bed then has two layers of curtains to shut yourself away from the views at night. It also means while showering I can
look out onto the town. There is a raised area with table and chairs and if that isn't enough there is also a spiral staircase leading to another private balcony. I don't really fit in turning up with my backpack and muddy walking boots!
Zanzibar has had many inhabitants over its history from many parts of the world. The earliest arrivals, to the African inhabited island, being the Arabs in the 8th century. The main island was used as a base to control much of the the East African coastline as they traded spices, ivory and slaves. Later the Shirazi Persians arrived and mixed with the local Africans, the intermarriages led to a new language derived from Arabic, it later became known as Swahili. Later still many Indians migrated to the island trading in spices and ivory. There were periods of European rule with the Portuguese and British taking some control.
The slave trade was an issue in Zanzibar, the amphitheatre in central Stone Town was used for parading slaves for purchase. Eventually in 1822, the Omani Arabs signed an agreement making slave trading illegal but this was largely ignored. In 1873 the British threatened Naval bombardment and the
slave trade was finally closed. Britain took over the land after the First World War and this finally put an end to any illegal slave trading. Many of the slaves were then employed as low wage labourers so they hardly noticed a difference.
Zanzibar became independent in 1963 but there was still a large British influence. After the revolution in 1964, they united with Tanganyika and became the United Republic of Tanzania.
Due to having a multicultural history, the architecture is also mixed. Zanzibar is famous for its carved doors. The Indian doors have a plain structure with an ornate carved frieze. They have a central post and are often hinged to fold into the shops in which they enclose. The Arab doors have even more ornate decoration and usually have an Islamic inscription from the Koran. A hybrid type has a semi circular decoration at the top. These were originally used to show wealth, the more glamorous the door, the more prestigious the owner. There are over 800 doors in Stone town, which are now protected to preserve the history of the area. Even after days of looking at the doors, I still struggled to tell one from
another so my photo labels could well be the wrong way round!
Zanzibar is famous for its spices, it now only exports a few, mainly cloves and coconut products. Other spices and fruits we see through the tour are cardamom, ginger, pepper corns, jack fruit, cinnamon, cumin, saffron and nutmeg. Many others too but I am writing this blog very late so have forgotten them :( Cinnamon comes from the bark of the tree, then then heals over time so more can be taken later without destroying the tree. Pepper grows on stalks similar to sprouts, the ones we see are green and we are warned not to be fooled by people selling pepper as they often say some are more expensive than others, in fact black, white and red pepper all come from the same plant it is just a different stages in its growth. Nutmeg is the stone like nut inside an apricot like fruit. The women are informed here that nutmeg is a Viagra for women. It needs grinding, boiling, drying then boiling again, very potent if you have enough of it... As well as seeing how the fruits and spices grow we are also told
the medicinal properties. Cardamom is used in cakes but is also good for digestive and stomach problems. Ginger is similar but can also help circulation. In some parts of the world machines or monkeys are used to pick fruits and spices, the guide shows us that in Zanzibar they prefer to use the traditional hand picking method and an assistant quickly shimmies up a coconut palm. This ensures only ripe coconuts are picked so there is less waste. We also see a palm that was struck by lightning when it was small, it has grown in an unusual spiral shape. He encourages us to take photos to avoid paying for a postcard of it.
All of this viewing works up an appetite so we are then taken for a meal using a variety of the spices we have seen, also a chance to buy some of course.
In the afternoon I wander around town and follow a local on a small walking tour, which wasn't planned but asking for directions leads to him taking me where I wanted to go, so I felt obliged to tip him.
I then get a taxi to the other side of the island,
there are tarmacked roads for much of the journey but we need to go down a dirt track to get to my hotel. I have booked well again, Kichanga Beach, at the end of the track is a thatched building with paths to small thatched bungalows. I have my own bungalow with views of the beach and a rose petalled, four poster bed. Also I hadn't realised included in the price was 3 meals a day, and they were all impressive meals. Unlimited buffet style, with lunch and dinner including different barbqs, one day fish, then steak, then crab! The problem with a site so far from civilisation, set on a deserted beach, is that it mainly attracts romancing couples so not so many people to talk to. Luckily though one of the big, backpacking tour companies offers this hotel as an add on to a kili climb, so there are 5 trekkers there. We go on a boat trip so a few can try scuba diving, I go snorkelling instead and see some amazing fish. The hotel and area are patrolled by security which are all Maasai. It does seem strange as they don't dress any differently so are
wearing the traditional red robes. They even stop for an afternoon break by playing football in the same clothes. One day they start a locals versus foreigners game, but win easily. They also put on a show one evening, the women sell home-made jewellery and the men perform the jumping dance while singing/chanting. The rest of the stay is spent relaxing and sunbathing, just what I needed. The journey back to the airport though was far from relaxing. Firstly the taxi driver arrived late, then as we reached the tarmac road the driver got out and 2 other men got in, we drove about 5 minutes then pulled over. The older man in the back got in a locals minibus taxi and left, there was no explanation of what was going on but I was getting worried about missing my flight. Lots of mobile phone calls were happening but we were still parked on the side of the road, so this was not helping me get my flight. The driver kept saying another car was coming, I thought I was about to be scammed for more money as I has paid in advance to the hotel. Finally the older man
came back on a motorcycle with a can of petrol, we were finally on our way. As I had been telling the driver that I had a flight to catch, he decided to drive extra fast the rest of the way. I thought I was going to die. We even drove at full speed through some roadworks area where smoke covered the road, we could have driven into anything while unable to see. Then when passing the nature reserve, I let out a scream as I saw a huge monkey in the road, then I felt a bump and didn't have the nerve to look back and see if it was injured. The driver didn't seem to care and just carried on. We got to Stone Town and as we were waiting to cross a dual carriage way, we broke down in the middle. Total chaos around us, but luckily the minibus behind agreed to take me the extra few miles to the airport, phew! He did also insist I take his number and come back and marry him though...
There are more photos below