We flew down on Friday morning and saw the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro as we flew past. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel, and immediately went to eat lunch at an Italian restaurant outside on a terrace overlooking a white sandy beach with turquoise water. There are many spots like this on the island. We took a walk through the town and tried to see a museum that had been closed and ended up at one of the main museums/historical attractions – an enormous house that had lots of good displays about the culture and history of the museum. Often at museums in Africa, the displays are very old and worn out and not well done at all, but this museum was done well, and there was actually too much to read for one visit.
For dinner we ended up at another fun restaurant, one where you sit on the floor, Arab-style. Lexi enjoyed this because we were at her level and she could crawl all over us. She made a friend at the restaurant – a 4-year-old girl who was with another family eating there. I had an interesting dessert. It was called a cardamom date cake, but there was neither cardamom in it (that I could taste), nor was it cake-like. It was really just date meats shaped into a small roll and sliced with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Luckily I like dates (and cardamom), and they are a typical Arab-type dessert, so I was eating something authentic for the area, but it just wasn’t what I was expecting.
On Saturday we scheduled ourselves to be with a group of people for an organized spice tour. Also on this tour were a young mother with her 9-year-old daughter who are from Richmond Beach, Wash. (very close to where my parents live) and who are volunteering for a month elsewhere in Tanzania but were taking a short break from that to visit Zanzibar. They actually stayed at our hotel too, and this girl also made quick friends with Lexi, so the girl was pleased that they were together for a few hours on the tour.
We took a van a short distance from the island’s main city into the rural areas where there were a few other vans full of tourists doing the same thing. We could see signs for spice farms/plantations, but it seemed the areas we visited to see spices growing were really just next to people’s houses by the side of the road. And in many ways that really was what it was, I was told by another person on the tour – that the tours don’t take tourists to the actual farms but just show them how spices are grown in sort of demonstration areas where many different types of plants are grown in small patches so one doesn’t have to travel from farm to farm to see all of them individually.
We made several stops for a couple of hours in the area and were shown various spice plants and trees – cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorn, lemongrass, nutmeg, mace, ginger, vanilla beans, and several others. We were also shown the trees of many exotic tropical fruits – star fruit, jack fruit, bread fruit, Japanese pear, cocoa beans, the various kinds of coconuts, and several others. We got to sample many of these spices and fruits, although many of the spices were in their raw forms, since parts of the tree, such as seeds (or pods inside thick fruits), are usually dried and ground first to make the spice. But it was very interesting to see how many of the spices I know and love start out. At the end we were taken to a small fruit stand and were given samples of many of the fruits we saw. I found a new favorite fruit – jack fruit. Near the fruit stand was a place to buy all the spices we had seen, so I bought some cardamom (my favorite spice, which I always buy when traveling) and some flavored coffee and tea.
Then we drove what seemed to be a good distance further from the main city to a beach area. A short walk from the shore was a cave that had been used in the 1800s to hide slaves by Arab traders before selling them on the market, who continued to illegally trade slaves after the British abolished slavery on the island. From there we walked to a beautiful stretch of beach with soft white sand. We had an hour there. We had brought a life jacket for Lexi in case we got an opportunity to get to the beach. We stood her in the shallow surf, but she didn’t like the water, probably because it was too cold. So we just sat in the shade for most of the hour, and Lexi happily played in the sand.
When we returned to our hotel late in the afternoon, we popped into the café next to our hotel for a cup of coffee and tea. I needed another cup of the cardamom-laced coffee they serve in many places in Zanzibar. I was delighted to have it at breakfast at our hotel the first morning, which was served on a small roof-top patch of our hotel in an open-air dining room with a 360-degree view of the sea and the old city of Stone Town. Immediately after having coffee, we returned to this roof-top restaurant, which was set up for dinner. Our Lonely Planet guide book describes our hotel as a "Zanzibar institution," since it is a former sultan’s palace that has been restored to look like it did in its heyday. Its rooftop restaurant is also an institution, it says, with much sought-after dinners. One definitely needs a reservation, which are offered first to hotel guests. Like everybody else with a reservation (and several without reservations for dinner, who were promptly asked to leave when those with reservations showed up), we showed up an hour early for drinks, just as the sun was setting (it was overcast, so it wasn’t as colorful as it was the night before). Breakfast at the restaurant is served at tiny tables that seat only two, but for dinner, one sits on pillows on the floor and propped up against the outside walls. The floor space can seat 24 like this (with small tables for you to eat on). So, starting at 6:00 with drinks, it was a six-course meal that was still going strong at 9:00 when we left to put Lexi to bed. There were essentially two main courses with sorbet in between – a fish, potatoes and vegetable plate and then a chicken, rice and vegetable plate. Neither was quite large, although it’s a good thing we were warned to pace ourselves by the woman from Richmond Beach who had eaten there the night before.
We ate lunch at an Indian restaurant and sat in a verandah-like third floor and had a great view of the water again. Then we toured the Anglican cathedral, where the slave market once stood. There’s a stone disc just in front of the altar where the tree where slaves were whipped once stood. In the basement of a building next to the cathedral are two chambers that remain from those times, where slaves were stored before they were auctioned off. And there’s a monument outside the cathedral to the slaves. It was a powerful place to visit, since all that history is on that site. This was also the first Anglican cathedral in East Africa. (In the back of the nave are 12 short marble pillars for the 12 disciples. When the cathedral was being built, the bishop took a vacation and returned to find that these pillars had been installed upside-down, which is how they remain today.) Finally, we made another stop for coffee before we had to head to the airport to come home.
It was a fun weekend in an interesting place that’s rich with various cultures and history. The food was good – lots of Indian food and curries – as well as great coffee, scones and spices! It was also nice to be where it’s warmer. We’re wearing long sleeves these days in Nairobi, and the weather has been drizzly and cloudy most days. So it was good to return to summer weather and to see the ocean again.
A word on how Lexi is traveling these days: It had been a while since we had taken Lexi on a trip that involved flying somewhere. In the ensuing months, she has grown to be more mobile and to have constant energy and motion. Although the flights down there and back were only about an hour and a half long each, it took constant attention and a lot of energy from two adults for every minute of that time to keep her entertained and happy. This seemed to be the most challenging part of the trip with her, since airline seats are confined spaces, and we can’t let her crawl around and roam free like she does at home. But also, because she likes to be part of the action all the time, and there were exciting things to do and see on the trip, she didn’t take her naps during the day at all, and she stayed alert late, past her usual bedtimes, both nights we were there. And she woke up at her usual time or earlier each morning, even after getting less sleep than usual. We’re really wondering how she will do next month when we meet my sister in South Africa to tour the country for a full two weeks! Most of all, we’re dreading the longer plane ride down there!