The name alone sounds exotic. Zanzibar. It’s off of the coast of Tanzania, and is reached by ferry from the city of Dar es Salaam. It’s actually two islands, Unguja and Pemba, which are collectively referred to as Zanzibar. The majority of visitors head for the beach resorts and the fabulous old city of Stone Town on Unguja, which is exactly where we went for four nights away from the big yellow truck. It was a nice change of pace for us; we were independent travelers once again.
Our first couple of nights were spent in Stone Town, Swahili for ‘ancient town’. The old buildings are constructed from local coral stone with an eclectic mix of spiky elephant-retardant Hindu doors and intricately carved Arab doors. The streets weave between them creating a maze of narrow winding alleyways reminiscent of a Moroccan medina. From its very beginnings, Stone Town has been a centre for trade, the gateway between Africa and Asia, prior to European colonization. Spices and slaves were traded. Spice still are, slaves are not. Thank goodness.
We went on a “Spice Tour” from Stone Town, which is the thing to do and was highly worthwhile. We had no idea spices could be so fascinating. The plants alone are one thing, but also, when you think about it, it was spices that drove the colonization and discovery of much of our planet. And it’s no wonder. There is a spice for almost every ailment. Our Spice Boy, who goes by the name of Lovely Jubley, took us for a walk around the community-run spice farm, introducing us to the plants by sight and smell. In Canada, our minds are missing a connection — we think of spices as dried things that come in glass bottles and not the plants that produce them or the faraway places they grow.
On the tour we also treated our tastebuds with a variety of local tropical fruit including jackfruit, custard apple and green oranges (orange on the inside, green on the outside). Lovely Jubley had a few other Spice Boys assisting him throughout our tour climbing up trees to fetch coconuts, weaving a collection of grass accessories for us to wear, and embarrassing themselves with the lipstick tree. The rest of our time in Stone Town was spent wandering through the bustling streets and markets and gorging on fresh seafood, naan bread and sugar cane juice at the nightly fish market.
Nights three and four were spent on Kendwa Beach. White sands, turquoise Indian Ocean, crimson sunsets, dhow fishing boats cutting the skyline, Maasai warriors — yep, exotic Zanzibar. We found a great bungalow on the beach at a place called Duniani Lodge. Added bonus: cool music in the bar and free WiFi (!!). I put my feet up and indulged in some beach reading while Mark tried desperately to download Apple’s new keynote speech, introducing iPhone 4. He was giddy with all the new features. Reluctantly, we eventually had to make our way back to Dar es Salaam on the ferry to rejoin the truck. Hakuna matata — the truck still has much in store for us.