Star Date:  November 2009
Tanzania:  Zanzibar & Pemba Islands


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 are 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.  

Major F. B. Pierce wrote in 1919, "It is a city of brilliant sunshine and purple shadows, dark entries and lattice windows; mysterious stairways and massive doors which conceal one does not know what.  It is a town of rich merchants, busy streets of thronged marketplaces resounding with the din of barter.  Dhows line the harbor, images of the sea and the rich savour of Eastern spice.  This is Zanzibar!" 

Not much has changed.  First settled by the Bantu tribe from the interior of Africa, soon they were blended with the merchants and sailors from the Persian Gulf, India or the Far East.  The intertwining of cultures and the faith of Islam resulted in the unique East African coastal culture and language of Swahili.  Taarab music is a prime example of this blending of cultures and traditions.  A favorite of the Sultan, it combines African drums (ngoma), thumb pianos (mbira), Arabic horns, guitars, and Indian 'accordions' as the singers belt out ballads of love and lore.

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 voodoo rural 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?

This is the real spice island, as most spices are grown here and exported to Zanzibar for shipment.  The hilly interior is lush, green, fertile and a pleasure to explore from the open back of a 'dala dala'.  We got lost for a week in Wete after sailing over from the mainland on the once a week, 'Spice Islander' from Tanga. (On the southern coast we met Salum and spent 7 hours at his farm in the country near
Mkoani.   An idyllic setting, we walked his land, cooked dinner with the family over charcoal and talked with him about possible choices in his future.  He is our friend and we would like you to give him a call and as friends join him on a dhow trip with local fishermen or spend the day on his fruit and spice farm. (See info below).  A unique opportunity.  Tell Salum, "Hi!" from us.

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 & Laughter, 
xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph



Travel notes:

$1.00US = 1345 Tanzanian Shillings

Out on the ocean with sweeping views of the sea, is the Inn By the Sea, 15,000 - 18,000 TS.  Try room 103 or better yet 206 looking out on the bay.  Great quiet location to hang out while waiting for the ferry to Pemba - which only sails on Tuesday mornings, and we arrived Tues afternoon!  ($20 US only option for foreigners for 1st class).  You can also look for a dhow.   A dala dala is only 300  or a tuk tuk only 1000 the 4 kms out from town.  Only swim at high tide. 

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)
Pemba Crown Hotel: Modern, new hotel.  Safe, clean, friendly manager, Mr Juma and the staff, Fatima and her sister, will make your stay pleasant. Phone # 777493667  At time of writing there was electricity every other day but at night the watchman would fire up the generator from 7-10pm.  Bargain for a better rate 20,000 -25,000Ts if you are staying for a few days.  Insist on room number 12 in the back, loaded with windows.

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).

End of the island where you catch the ferry to Zanzibar.
We had the Jondeni Guesthouse recommended to us but thinking he was the only act in town, which he probably was, the owner wouldn't bargain lower than $20 each or $40 for one room.  Way too much for his simple but nice rooms.  We just headed out on the evening ferry.

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 are prone.  Try to get to sleep before the seas get rocking and rolling.

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 of Pemba.

1)Dhow sailing: spend the afternoon sailing on a dhow.  Observe birds, snorkel in a world renowned diving spot, and have lunch over the fire on the beach. 
A gift of 19,000Ts per person. (Minimum 2 persons)

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.
12,000Ts gift per person (minimum 2 persons).

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.

Zanzibar Town:
When you disembark from the ferry you will be picked up by a 'papasi' or tick in your search for a hotel.  Some can be helpful some can be annoying.  Venturing into the 'pier edge' of Stonetown opens up some budget options.  Zanzibar is expensive so just look around and wander down side streets and away from the main tourist mecca and possibilities open up. Old buildings have character but prices are the same for a decent room as a dank, dark room so do some footwork.    Joseph always does a great job at finding a good option.  Staying longer, 5 or more days, often lowers the price.

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.

Al Jabar?:
Small restaurant near the baobab tree, (in the neighborhood of the church with the slave market) just down from Luckmans.  Great vegetarian plate for 2500Ts.  Veg samosas 300Ts each.  Worth the effort to find it- just ask.  (If you know the correct spelling please email us). Only serves from 1-2 pm.

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.

A tribute to Zanzibar born lead singer of Queen, this is the perfect place to catch the sunset and have a drink before walking 2 blocks along the water to Forodhani Gardens.  Right on the water with cool breezes.

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.

Taarab music:
Check out the ocean side bar at the Serena Hotel at sunset(6:30-8) for a traditional taste of Taarab music.  You can just sit to the side and listen for a while without ordering food.  Also at the restaurant in the fort.

Jambiani Beach:
Garden Bungalows, near the village center.  With only 3 units you are able to have your own small bungalow and balcony right on the beach.  Quiet, clean, basic with a small good restaurant.  All the beaches in Zanzibar are expensive but Dulla will negotiate a lower fee ($15-20 night) for 4 or more days.  He, his lovely wife Fatima and fun brother Halim (say "A" to him and "Hello" from Nancy & Joseph) are very social and helpful.  A great place to get lost for a few days. Halim will even climb the 100 ft coconut tree to score a couple nuts for you (500 each).  About 1 km down towards the post office is a small store with fruit and limited vegetables. 














Massive, intricately carved doors hide mysteries at every turn in Zanzibar.


A new generation of independent Muslim women, our dear friend Zeyana.


As one wanders the labyrinthine alleyways of Stone Town........


A friendly Jambo or "Hello" in the harbor.


Forodhani Gardens in the late afternoon, as the vendors set up their
stalls.  It is common to see an extended Muslim family, including
the husband and several of his wives and all the children,
out enjoying the oceanfront with it's cool breeze.


Heading for Call to Prayer at the mosque. Everyone enjoys the new
 waterfront promenade recently completed by the good works of
the Aga Khan Foundation.

We sampled fruit for desert.
  Have you ever tasted fresh cacao?  The pods
in the front right are the beginnings of one of the tastiest addictions
on earth, chocolate!



A corkscrew palm.  Over 100 feet tall, try climbing up to get
those coconuts!

Cutting bark off the cinnamon tree.  Where would apple pie be
without this tree?


Now that's a smile!  With mountains of dirty clothes and two buckets
of water hauled from the well she was busily doing the family's
 laundry.  And we complain in the west because we have to use
the automatic washer and dryer?


Mama's kitchen helper.


The mesmerizing green/blue ocean of Jambiani Beach.


A hot day at the beach.  Swimsuit or heavy polyester bui bui. 
Care to wager who is enjoying their time more?


The whole town of Wete shows up at the pier when the
"Spice Islander" arrives every Tuesday afternoon; laden
with passengers and supplies.

Main Street Wete on Pemba Island.


Patch work sails.  Because there are no large trees left, even the masts
on the larger dhows are three pieces roped together.


A dhow being built totally by hand.  The man on the right was using a
drill powered by spinning a rope.  Once the hole was drilled
he would pound a wooden peg in.


Fish boats returning with their catch of the day.


Young lovelies posing at a Muslim wedding party.  The women
put great effort into coordinating their scarves and new wraps
and look absolutely stunning. 

I was drawn into the frenzy to dance a song or two with the girls.  A
wedding event for women only, it was comical to see the band facing
the wall, like naughty little school boys, so they couldn't feast their
eyes on the forbidden fruit.  Great fun!


Driving along the main road through Pemba Island is like being in a
'potporri' basket.  Cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon are all drying
in the sun, giving off a heavenly scent.


Salum and his Mom outside their home.


Salum's spice farm is in a lush, tropical valley.


We sailed into the sunset on our overnight ferry to Zanzibar.





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