Zanzibar (1) – Spice Tour

We left Kenya this morning and caught an early morning flight to the islands of Zanzibar. We flew with the delightfully named Precision Air, who sport propellor planes with a gazelle on their tails. I was entertained by the in flight magazine which seemed to feature a single author who wrote quite a few interesting articles about life in Tanzania, and the opening announcement by the pilot which went along the lines of ‘Welcome to this Precision Air flight to Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam. We are operating this flight with a delay today due to personal reasons’. Mum and I had a lot of fun trying to guess what the personal reasons might be, and I think it’s going to become a standard joke between us.

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As soon as we stepped off the airplane we were aware that we were in a totally different climate than the parks where we’ve spent the last couple of weeks. The ground was very wet and it was an extremely humid 27C. There are palm trees all around, and everything looks very green and lush.

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Before entering the terminal building we had to show our yellow fever vaccination certificates, and then we were allowed in to fill out yet another immigration form, more or less identical to the ones we’d had to fill both on arrival and departure in Kenya. A long stand in line to buy the visa, and give yet more fingerprints – again, as on leaving Kenya – all fingers of both hands, and both thumbs, and we were allowed out. My minimal use of Swahili (Ahsante sana = thank you) earned me a big smile and a thumbs up from the immigration officer.

As arranged, our driver and a local agent were waiting for us outside the airport, and they very speedily delivered us to our hotel in the centre of the main city, Stone Town. Along the way we organized some tours for the coming days, including a spice tour for this afternoon. After checking into our hotel, and getting our bags up to our room, a process which ended up taking a couple hours because the room wasn’t ready, we were ready to go out for lunch and our tour.

Our guide took us to a local restaurant where we could sample the Zanzibari cuisine. I was hoping to try ugali with coconut and cashew sauce and vegetables, but unfortunately they’d run out of coconut so I had to settle for a vegetable biriani instead. It was served with plenty of raw onion and chili, along with piri piri sauce on the side. Very tasty, and a nice introduction to Zanzibar.

After lunch we drove about 15 minutes out of town to a spice plantation. It was totally different than I’d expected. I’d been envisaging large fields, but in fact it was a tropical forest, with all sorts of trees and spices mixed up. It was really an eye opener to see how all the spices we find in our supermarkets are grown and to taste how different they are when they are fresh.

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The plantation guide carried around a pocket knife which he used to dig up and clean roots, and cut open fresh fruit. He started out by digging up some fresh ginger root which was remarkably potent compared to our normal supermarket ginger. We also sampled turmeric (turned my hands yellow), fresh pepper (really blows your mind), along with a number of tropical fruits, such as star fruit, passion fruit, and coconut, which one of the workers shimmied up a coconut tree to collect. He detached them and let them drop to the ground with an almighty thud – you would really not want to be underneath!

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Truth be told, we saw so many different spices, I’ve forgotten what they all were now!

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