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Spice tours and rainstorms

TANZANIA | Tuesday, 22 December 2009 | Views [490]

Today I woke up bright and early and went on a spice tour, a six hour adventure through the spice plantations further inland.  There were maybe ten of us, including two American girls who just graduated undergrad from Princeton and were both working with aid organizations in Africa.  Jess is doing something with water and engineering (though she’s a biologist) in Burkina Faso and Wen-Li is working with HIV Prevention Strategies in Capetown, South Africa.  They decided to meet up in Zanzi for Christmas, and they were wonderful travel companions.

We spent two hours wandering through a private spice plantation (as opposed to a government-run farm, which is used more for research than commerce and generally grows only one or two crops instead of a full gamut).  All within one farm we discovered cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg (my favorite), cardamom, hot peppers, green chili peppers, pineapples, mangoes, bananas, bread fruit , and a range of trees from teak to mahogany.  It was amazing!  They picked things as we went and had us smell and taste everything straight from the tree.  The pineapples were the most delicious fruits I’d ever had! 

The whole while there was a ragtag group of boys, all around 8-14 years old, following our tour, cutting up samples to taste and weaving things out of fallen palm branches.  They made bracelets, frog necklaces (see pictures on Picasa), little purses that looked like pineapples, beanie hats, and ties for the men.  At first they were a bit annoying since they were constantly underfoot and shoving things into our hands without telling us what it was first.  But the guide said something in Swahili, and they starting telling us things before giving them and gave us a little more space.  Of course they asked for nothing at the time but made sure to get us each alone toward the end and plea for a little “help for school”.  We all tipped them a dollar or two.

Before leaving the spice plantation they had samples to buy, and when Jess mentioned the prices were the same as in the market I decided I might as well pick up some cinnamon and cloves and a concoction called “coffee masala”, which is supposedly a mixture of coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  We’ll see if it’s any good when I get home. 

Then they bundled us back into the vans and took us to a little hut in a nearby village where we ate a lunch of spiced rice, coconut sauce, and stewed spinach while sitting on colorful mats on the floor.  It was delicious!  At this point we were planned to go to an old slave cave and then on to the beach, but it started raining.  And while they promised it would be a “quick rain” it just kept pouring.  We drove to the slave cave hoping it would lighten, but there was no break in the downpour and while none of us were too keen on getting soaked, we thought it a shame to miss the cave when it was so close.  So we stashed anything valuable in a corner of the van and made a run for it.  It was totally worth it.

The cave was this natural cavern that is completely invisible from even 100 feet away and then all of a sudden you look down and there is a gigantic hole in the ground.  They recently built cement stairs for the tourists (though in the rain they were quite slippery) and we descended maybe 30 steps into the cave.  They used to keep 50-100 slaves at a time, often up to four weeks in this cave while the trader (himself the son of a slave) found buyers.  Apparently the cave has a trail that goes out to the beach, about 14 km or so, and they would sneak them in from a boat that flew a French flag to avoid detection.  While slave trading was made illegal in the late 1870s in Zanzibar, it still continued through these underground channels until this trader died in 1907. 

Now completely soaked we opted to return to the hotel since the rainstorm was holding strong and the sky still quite dark with clouds.  As we ascended from the cave we took our time: we were already wet, we had nowhere to go, and as Jess said, when was the last time we jumped in puddles as an adult?

Back at the hotel we said our goodbyes, though I may run into Jess and Wen-Li tomorrow on a snorkeling trip.  I packed my things and headed to the other side of Stone Town where I checked into the Flamingo Guest House, a lodge definitely more Spartan than the Zenji Hotel.  I have a private room for $10 a night, but most interestingly, no towel.  And for the first time in my travel history I did not pack one either (no room in my bag!).  So we’ll see if I can be creative after my shower in the morning… =)

Until next time, my friends!

Tags: spice tour, stone town, tanzania, travel friends, zanzibar

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