Star Date: November 2009
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Jambo, Mambo pua!
(Hello! - How's things? Swahili)
"Life is Full of Flavor! Savor each bite."
(A thought while on a spice
plantation on Zanzibar)
Zanzibar. Explorers, sultans, merchants, pirates, and slave traders were all blown here by the monsoon winds. Landing on the shores of this far off island they created the first medieval global village, boasting a mixture of cultures and religions as rich as the exotic spices grown in the interior. Driven by dreams of imagined wealth or riches, led by religious conquests or following starry charts, they came. These adventurers' tales were interwoven by Sheherezade into 1001 Arabian Nights, luring other dreamy romantics to follow their luck and the breezes to Zenj in the south.
As one wanders the labyrinthine alleyways of Stone Town, past intricately carved doors and beckoning green courtyards, it is a journey resonating in history. Palaces reminiscent of Arabian Nights, the mournful slave market, ornate cathedrals, massive forts and aromatic spice bazaars explode your senses and allow your imagination to run wild. One is met with a warm 'Karibu' or welcome at every corner and often a local will walk a hopelessly lost visitor through the maze of streets to the proper junction, sending them on their way. Little shops peeping out from deep cave-like recesses sell everything imaginable, exactly as in merchant bazaars of old. Although much of Zanzibar's fascination is born out of legends and myths, the billowing sails of dhows even now dominate her shores, dwarfed by passing seagoing freighters from around the globe. Muslim women in black sequined scarves or 'ninja' face covers (as they are commonly called here) join village women wearing brightly colored cloth 'kangas' with a woven proverb around the bottom. Ragged fishermen selling octopus or business people in smart suits are all drawn to the ocean shoreline in the early evening to relax and enjoy the cool breezes. Beyond the minaret filled skyline, call to prayer bids farewell to the amber setting sun. Another day passes in the rich time line of Zanzibar.
As first twinkling
lights then stars appear, Forodhani Gardens, newly reconstructed by
the generosity of Aga Khan, comes alive with everyone tasting
a snack of BBQ seafood, falafels, sugar cane juice with lime and
ginger, Zanzibar specialties of mango and potato soup or grill
cooked 'pizza'. Hundreds of relaxed folk sit enjoying the
gardens and stonework promenade overlooking the ocean. People
from all walks of life, representing every corner of the planet;
many traditions and religions mingling, still an intercultural
melting pot as in days of old.
Queen Fatma 'allowed' the Portuguese to build a fort and church in the 15th century. Trade continued for centuries until the rich and powerful Sultan of Oman, decided to move his capitol to Zanzibar 300 years later; sending the Portuguese packing. It soon became a safe haven for sea farers trading in the riches of the world: gold, ivory, rare woods, slaves and spices. From the 1860's Zanzibar was independent from Oman and in 1964 they signed a fragile declaration of unity with the new United Republic of Tanzania (combining Tanganyika and Zanzibar).
Unguja Island, usually simply called Zanzibar, has a lush interior enriched by the contributions of settlers from Africa, India and Malagash. The fragrant aromas of ylang ylang and Queen of the Night jasmine intertwine with cloves, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and cacao. Lush plantations of bananas, citrus, lychee, passion fruit, mango, jackfruit and coconuts of all types line the narrow country lanes. Taking a spice tour gives you an up close encounter of the aromatic kind. Sniff and nibble your way through the spice and fruit plantations, finally pausing in a humble village to sit on mats and sample the zesty food for which Zanzibar is famous. Village women prepare vegetarian pilau rice with cardamom and cinnamon bark, mixed vegetable curry with coconut sauce, and peppered greens over the cooking fires, followed by the famous spiced tea or 'chai' and fruit for dessert. The pungent tea was made from orange peel, dried ginger, cloves, cinnamon bark, cardamom and all spice leaves from the surrounding trees. Add some coconut cream to the hot brew and it is a meal which still makes my mouth water.
Before returning to the coast we stopped at the Kidichi Baths of the Queen, 1st wife of the Omani Sultan Seyyid. Seems she didn't like bathing with his 99 concubines so twice a week servants would heat and carry water to fill her flower petal tubs. One can imagine the lavishly dressed entourage as they massaged and bathed the queen in the peace and privacy of her own spa.
Coral Caverns of Mangapeani was an intriguing stop. Found when a goat fell down the opening, these enormous caverns were later used to hide slaves, as with Prison Island off Stone Town, towards the end of the slave trade to the Middle East, in the 1870's. Passage ways up to 3 km long lead to the sea. These pathways are home to bats, spiders, snakes and the royal chambers of 'Maincia', the Python King. On the eve of the full moon, people still visit the caves to ask questions of the Python King. An old gray haired 'Masini' or interpreter acts as the intermediary and passes on the wisdom of yet another great 'Naga' or serpent of the local tradition.
The coastlines are dotted with postcard perfect white powder beaches and turquoise seas. Dreaming of Hawaii we spent a sun filled week relaxing under the palms at Jambiani Beach on the south east coast of Zanzibar. The green/blue water was stunning. This quiet sun scorched village with sand lanes and 2 km of pristine beach is full of friendly locals and very few tourists. It was the perfect place to recharge our batteries before taking yet another overnight ferry to the mainland.
Sparks still flare up occasionally as the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar disputes the current elections or decisions of the opposition party of Tanzania. When walking the streets of Wete on Pemba Island, Zanzibar's quiet cousin north, it is puzzling to see rows and rows of what can be described as cement 'communist block' apartment buildings. Built by the ruling Revolutionary party following independence, Tanzania's experiment with socialism failed miserably. Productivity was low on the agricultural communes as people were forced into this new Socialist way of life and never bought into the program. Free will wins out once again.
Pemba is a
quiet, sleepy island with it's own laid back style. It is seldom
visited by tourists partially because most of the shores are lined
with mangroves rather than sandy beaches. The unique Muslim and superstitious juju or
cultures have been preserved, with people finding their way here
from the rest of East Africa, searching for a cure or learning
secrets from the healers. Never know when a curse, exorcism or
quick fix will come in handy. Beliefs are such an intriguing
part woven into the fabric of human life. Supposedly humans
are yearning for freedom and self will, instead we fearfully are
drawn like moths to a flame of organized controlling belief systems.
As I write this the quiet Christian group under an awning below our
window, who started out harmoniously singing this morning, have now
started working themselves into a frenzy speaking, wailing and even
shouting in tongues. What a cacophony! Warding off the
'Curse of Satin'? (remind me to tell you the story sometime). P.S. Don't forget your donation. God
needs a lot of money. Call to prayer for Eid is competing in
the Muslim minarets, church bells are tolling, and a parade complete
with brass horns and drums, hundreds of marching participants in
matching hats and t-shirts rounds out the morning's show. All
this just from our balcony. Interesting. We should ask
ourselves what tribal
beliefs still control our own lives?
Joseph gave a thought provoking talk to the staff and students then shared his expanding library of 60,000 books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, text books and many programs such as text to speech software with the local Teacher's College. He hopes that the young teachers will share the library with their new schools, and continue to pass it on. Helpful NGO's set up good computer labs in many African schools but often there are few programs included. Now the over 100 schools we have visited have all the classics, the best multimedia encyclopedias, documentaries and so much more to use while studying. Education is the key to changing towards a better future. We try to aid in this process whenever we can. Every little bit helps.
And so it goes.........................................Next month Dar es Salaam and west towards Mt. Kilamanjaro. Until then add some spice to your life and savor each bite, right Now! As the Christmas Holiday Season approaches remember it is about loving those around us rather than spending money. Give a genuine gift of LOVE. Glad you stopped by. Thanks for keeping in touch and sharing our webpage with others! Take care.
Love, Light &
$1.00US = 1345 Tanzanian Shillings
Good markets scattered throughout town.
Ocean Breeze Hotel, try 138 on the 3rd floor, balcony into the trees but no ocean, 15,000 double for a good room. In town it is convenient and next to a market and small supermarket with everything you need to stock up.
Blue Mango Expeditions and Cyber Cafe: Hidden in the back of a building near the Main Post Office this clean, well run business has a good Internet connection and information on budget designed tours. Let Cindy, the friendly ex-pat help you plan your trip. phone # 717 032 496
Cappuccino Cafe: Local cafe serving noon time
vegetarian pilau rice and veg curry.
Wete: (on Pemba Island)
The much talked about Sharook Guesthouse has
basic rooms and charged in US dollars ( $25 ) while the much better Pemba Crown made a good deal in TS ($15).
There are a number of secluded, exclusive hotel resorts on Pemba. Prices ranging from $400 -$800 a night. It's crazy that the Lonely Planet even wastes space on these places - except if a traveler can 'smooze' in and have a desert or snack, which often is not an option.
From Pemba to Zanzibar we were able to get 2nd
class tickets on the overnight ferry for half the price, possibly because Salum helped us arrange it. Worth helping him
out by buying a small tour with him for the extra money while
waiting for the night ferry. Board early (7:30pm) and get a
seat where you can lay down and sleep - waking up in Stonetown on
Zanzibar. In fact most of the boat was cleared out when we
awoke from our beauty sleep. The sea swells rock you to sleep.
take ginger or homeopathic remedies for motion sickness if you
prone. Try to get to sleep before the seas get rocking and
A Pemba Island Cultural Experience
We met Salum Ally Khalfan on the
dala dala from
Wete. At 32, he speaks good English, is honest and hard
working. He is strapped with the responsibility of taking care
of his whole family, since his step father died 6 months ago.
He lives and farms in a little green paradise back off the road.
He is unable to scratch together the corruption bribes and fees to
become a proper guide but as friends of ours he can offer the great
opportunity for you to get an inside look at the cultural and life
2) Spice Farming and local Swahili family
experience: Take a dala dala to the small path leading into the
lush tropical valley where Salum's family lives. Walk through
the gardens picking cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pineapples, bananas,
sweet potatoes, etc. Learn why these are called the spice
islands. Go back to the rustic family home and cook a meal
over the fire. Enjoy food and singing with the family.
You can also stay at their house (with one day's minimum notice so they can arrange things) for 10,000Ts per person/per night. Very rustic but set in a beautiful quiet setting with chirping birds, twinkling stars, bush babies and fruit bats crying out.
Salum is available as a guide via dala dala up the island to Wete for 9,000Ts per day. He can arrange a trip up to the north part of the island from there. He has no money and thus you would have to pay for all expenses but his help in arrangements and translation would save you money.
Don't miss out on this unique experience.
Get away from the tourist scene and enjoy this amazing island.
Give Salum a call at: 0777866270 or 0773705423.
We stayed at the Narrow St. Hotel: Kokoni, Dega. Malindi St. (phone # 32620) Only rooms 201 or best 301 are an option, unless you want a cheap, windowless room. A crooked "Deluxe Suite" sign hangs over the door and everything is in need of repair but it is clean, quiet, budget (low season 25,000 TS) and the owners are friendly with good English. Keep receipts for each payment as with any hotel. A good location right in Stone Town but check around.
Forodhani Gardens: Try the Zanzibar pizza, the mango soup, small falafals, breads or sugar cane juice but beware of the seafood. We met several people who got sick on the kebabs, which are probably held over too long.
Muzuri Sana Chinese Restaurant, north from hotel to Malindi Rd., near a gas station (ask). Shum Mu Heng, the wife of owner will cook a GREAT Chinese stir fry for 3000TS plus 1200rice
Just through the alley is Mitu's Spice Tour, off Malindi Rd., phone # 0773167620; 9:30 - 4:00pm, simple, well done local tour, $13 for full day with stop at the beach.