Spice Tour and a night in Stone Town

October 3rd – Day Nine

This morning was our failed attempt to get a nice breakfast due to a lack of cake. Once we had all eaten what we could it was back into the minivan and off towards Stone Town. Along the way we picked up Ali, our guide for a Spice Tour. The minivan was constantly pulling into petrol stations and getting turned away due to a lack of fuel. This eventually had the result of the van running out of fuel, thankfully only a few metres from our spice farm stop. We all got out and phone calls were made to arrange for a fuel drop off and then we were on our tour.

This attractive girl was happy to pose.
This attractive girl was happy to pose

This young girl followed us around the farm.
This young girl followed us around the farm

We started with a Henna plant, Ali telling us about the process of extracting the brown ink used for the Henna tattoos. We then proceeded to wander around the farm stopping at a number of different plants for Ali to explain what each one was and what they were used for. We saw bread fruit, iodine flowers, banana palms, pineapple, coconuts, cardamom, vanilla vines, cinnamon trees and passion fruit. There were many other different plants and spices which I’ll have to list at another time.

Helen reliving a Monty Python moment to amuse a local child.
Helen reliving a Monty Python moment to amuse a local child

Cardamom.
Cardamom

We sat down and had a number of different teas, all very nice, and then sampled different fruits which were delicious. For most of the time we were followed buy a number of local kids who were more than happy to pose for photographs and play as we walked. The last thing we were shown was the nutmeg fruit which, when split open, revealed the black nutmeg nut with it’s bright red mace coating, a very attractive fruit. The tour was over so we piled back into the now flush with diesel minivan and drove on to Stone Town for lunch.

Sampling tea during the spice tour.
Sampling tea during the spice tour

Lunch was had at a local restaurant and consisted of fish, beef or chicken with rice mixed with a number of the spices we had just seen growing. It looked a bit dodgy but tasted very good. After lunch we filed out, collected out bags and took the short walk to our accommodation at the Sahara Hotel.

We had a nice big room and rested for a while before heading out for a bit of a walk, our destination being Africa House, a hotel with shore views and the best sunset lookout in Zanzibar, or so it is said. Jacques led us around the crumbling shoreline buildings and through some of the nicer streets past the site of the evening food market. We saw lots of the famous wooden doors of Stone Town, rounded tops for the Indian ones and square for the Arabic ones. Stopping for an ice-cream at an Italian place we rested for a bit and savoured our snacks, I recommend a mix of coconut and cinnamon ice-cream myself.

The streets of Stone Town.
The streets of Stone Town

Diving from the shore in front of Africa House.
Diving from the shore in front of Africa House

Africa House was literally next door so a few steps later up the spiral staircase attached to the side of the building we were at the Africa House terrace sitting and ordering cocktails. While waiting for sunset a few of us played pool in the most colonial english room I’ve been in for a long time, cricket and other sporting mementoes sharing wall space with old weapons and historic photographs. The projector and screen showing music videos on the far wall was very much out of place in this room of old wood and history. People started arriving and as sunset arrived there wasn’t a spare seat to be had. The view of the sunset was great but was spoilt somewhat by the decision of someone to erect a large clock on a pole in the green area in from of Africa House. To get away from this eyesore a few of us went back down to ground level and took photos of the sunset from the shore line.

A dhow sailing by as the sun sets on Stone Town.
A dhow sailing by as the sun sets on Stone Town

Jacques had promised us a dhow to sail in front of the setting sun but it never arrived, so the sunset was a bit of a damp squib. Back at the terrace we were finishing drinks when everyone starting noticing an increase in the number of flying ants. Within ten minutes there were scores of the little guys flying everywhere making sitting and relaxing impossible. There was a mass exodus as everyone tried to escape the flying terror only to find that the problem was just as bad down below. Our next destination was the food market we had passed earlier so we set off pronto, hoping to find relief from the swarms along the way. Jacques took us into a hotel foyer and we relaxed in stone seats admiring the hotel pool lit up as the evening descended. The ants were mostly staying outside, even though the foyer was open to the stars. We stayed for a while and by the time we exited the number of ants had reduced considerably and we were able to continue to the market free of insect annoyance. Keryn and I stopped along the way to buy some postcards and the friendly store owner informed us that the ant swarms normally heralded rain the following day. With this knowledge we rejoined the group and continued, finally reaching the market as the last light faded from the sky.

The night food market in Stone Town.
The night food market in Stone Town

The next hour or so was spent wandering the market and sampling some of the food on offer. Most of us had something that was a cross between a pancake, fritter and omelette. Food was purchased, people had a few arguments about proper change for the Tanzanian Shillings paid out we watched the hustle and bustle of the people moving through the market, once we’d eaten our full it was off back to the hotel. John had returned to the hotel and Steve realized he had the room key so he followed and then unfortunately tried to take a shortcut. We caught up with him an hour or so later and he related a story of wandering the dark streets of Stone Town while very much lost, meeting locals, being propositioned by a lady of the night and generally having a slightly worrying time. He took it all in his stride and headed back to the market with Maria and Will to have something to eat. Those of us arrived back at the hotel and we went up to the roof bar for some more refreshment. Coffee was available but not a lot more so a few of us talked about going back out for some night photography. The decision was made and a few of us got our cameras and tripods and headed back out into the night.

A happy stall holder at the night food market.
A happy stall holder at the night food market

Night photography in Stone Town.
Night photography in Stone Town

We were joined by Will coming back from the market with Maria and Stephen and set up for the first shot of a lightly lit door facing the water on the port road. There was a guy sitting to the left of the door and he hardly moved an inch for the twenty minutes or so we were there taking photographs. We set long exposures and Jacques took his torch to light up darker areas of the door while the shot was taken, painting the door with light. We all took shots and then set off to try and find another interesting feature to photograph. Just past the market was a road tunnel through a building and we spent a while taking photos of cars entering the tunnel from a walkway above the road. Back at street level we were taking more photographs when we were warned by a passing local that taking photographs was illegal and we should stop before the local constabulary caught up with us. We scoffed and continued, only to be warned by Helen a few minutes later that a large group of heavily armed police were coming down the road towards us. They were all dressed in tan overcoats and large floppy hoods and looked very intimidating. We quickly and packed up and shuffled away, keeping a distance while attempting to look normal and just like a group of tourists out for a walk. Attempts to find any further photographic targets failed so after a bit more wandering we were back at the hotel and now ready for bed.

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