Leaving paradise we headed for Stonetown, the capital of Zanzibar, for a spice tour and a look around the remnants of the slave market.
Our guide, Daniel, was great but spoke very quickly and baffled me with too much information.
Stonetown is full of Arabic styled architecture, unsurprising as Zanzibar was once ruled by the Sultan of Oman (this history of the rule of Zanzibar is complicated and I’m not even going to attempt to relay it here for fear of getting it wrong!).
Behind the waterfront are a souk-like labyrinth of alleyways crammed with souvenir shops. We didn’t have long to explore but soon found ourselves wandering the alleyways and being enticed into a multitude of shops.
The day started with a spice tour. Daniel took us around a government spice farm giving us lots of information about the different spices and fruits grown. We saw everything from cooking bananas (a type of banana that can only be eaten cooked) to a kapok tree. Plus ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, coco, coffee, pepper, cloves (the national crop of Tanzania and the only spice they sell commercially on the international market) and more.
We were able to sample most of these things in their simplest form. Sucking on coco was a bizarre experience, the seeds are white slimy and soggy. Just holding the Turmeric root left my hands yellow for days and boy was the ginger spicy! I was also surprised at how cinnamony a cinnamon tree is. Just rubbing the trunk left the fragrance on your hands.
After the tour we were able to sample many local fruits including soursoap, star fruit (too sour for me), jack fruit (tastes like a bizarre combination of banana and pineapple, but is delicious), grapefruit and oranges.
Sampling a fresh coconut involved an elaborate display from a local who climbed a very tall tree and cut down some uber fresh nuts, we drank the water and tasted the flesh inside. It was the softest most delicious coconut I have eaten.
As we gorged on coconut Anna, the youngest girl, and Miguel, the only boy were presented with headdresses and necklaces made from banana leaves. Earlier us three girls had been given beautiful rings made from banana leaves and a beautiful flowers found growing amongst the herbs.
Lunch was at our guide’s house. A modest brick built house in the middle of a typically African village. We took our shoes off before entering, the front door leading into a large front room covered in mats containing nothing but one threadbare sofa in the corner. We sat on the floor to eat a meal of rice, spinach, beef and soup made using the spices we’d just been looking at. It was delicious, the best meal I’ve had so far in Africa and the first time I’ve felt as though I was eating genuine African cuisine. We all left absolutely stuffed.
Daniel took us back to Stonetown and gave us a tour of the old slave market. The market was the last in Africa and was not closed until 1873. Two dingy unlit dungeons remain showing the horrific conditions slaves were kept in. The concrete rooms contained a platform and a pit below that served as a toilet, the small space held 75 people.
We also paid a brief visit to the market, an eye opening experience. In the fish section an abundance of flies adorned the goods, the meat area was filthy with huge slabs of meat dumped on the squalid floor before be hoisted onto dirty concrete blocks and either sold as it is or chopped up with a meat cleaver.
Looking at the conditions the food is kept in it is no wonder Africa gives most travellers a dickey tummy for a day or two!
After the tour we made the most of the few hours of site seeing available and headed to the museum, one of the most bizarre museums I have seen. It was the palace of the last Sultan of Zanzibar (exiled in 1964) and reconstructs some of the rooms from different periods in its history. The guide book says it has little pulling power unless you have a furniture fetish, and they are right! I think these pictures capture its oddness better than I could explain.
At sunset the whole group relaxed at a rooftop bar before heading to the fish market for supper.
The fish market was crammed with locals picking their dinner from a number of stalls, us foreigners were hassled to buy something at every turn, a good deal being promised by everyone. Fish, squid, octopus, prawns, lobster and more adorned each stall where you bargained for a good price ordered, then waited while you dinner was barbequed. The marked was alive with the buzz of people ordering and enjoying their food, bright lights lit each stall and around the edge of the market locals mixed with foreigners as they ate.