Lazy day in Zanzibar

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The long lazy days stretch out before us, yawning into eternity.

We drag our bodies out of bed and make the arduous journey of a few steps for breakfast.  The menu is limited when compared to North American standard, though the choices are less taxing for lack of choice.  The Indian Ocean is our view, every colour of blue represented. The beach has ashtray sand, though covered in seaweed.  The  bugs are drawn to the kelp and as such we are not.  Humans do not  lounge on the beach, though cows enjoy the sun and soak up the rays.  There is however much activity walking back and forth,  this is our grand plan for the day.

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We discover Dhow boats being constructed during our trek.  My Carpenter husband is enthralled with this ancient craft.  There are entire families that camp while the work is completed on the boats.  I think about my husband who travels to work and is gone for weeks at a time.  Here it is a family affair and while not everyone is working directly on the boats, having family close, eliminates the sacrifice.  How clever to have priorities clear like crystal.

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The boats are beautiful, joints seemingly invisible, no caulking required.  The work is done with hand tools, the craft passed down through the generations.  My husband recognizes the medieval tools that he has only seen in a book, here they are transferred into the 21st century.

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The boards are bent in a curious way, forced around nearby trees to achieve the desired shape, then placed in the fire to dry the inside while the outside is kept wet thus achieving the desired shape and curve required. It is amazing how the craftsmen know exactly the bend that they are trying to achieve without tools to guide the process.

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We walk slightly off the compound to peruse shops.  The items are different from what we have seen, haggling is part of the process.  We find a painting of a lion that we are told was painted by the Uncle of our shopkeeper.  It reminds us of the safari and seems a good choice.  It is taken from the frame and rolled for our long journey home.  Its interesting that there are several identical paintings of the same lion and I wonder if the Uncle is churning them out, or if a factory is doing the work.

We plan to rent kayaks.  Our friend speaks the language and we order boats for later in the day.  We arrive, western time at the predetermined hour and wait.  The men arrive with one kayak for 8 of us.  They begin the process of scrounging up more boats and life jackets. Like the Titanic there are too few of both.  They scurry up and down the beach in a haphazard way, their efforts do not increase our fleet.  A few of our group decline the adventure to free up resources.  My normally placid husband snaps and voices his displeasure, it changes nothing.

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We embark on the water with a portion of our group, some opting for no life jackets to free up the resources for those who are not good swimmers.  We paddle around and the delay has allowed us to witness the most glorious sunset on the Indian Ocean.  I’m glad at this moment we were detained. I sit back in my kayak and marvel at the beauty of the world.  There is a lesson–good things come to those who wait, or  perhaps its go with the flow? Or when in Africa, shake off the timetables, calendars and clocks of the Western world and just be…

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Grateful, Thankful and Satisfied in Zanzibar

We spend the day relaxing, lazing around our room, reading and relish in the option of stretching out on the bed or sitting on the couch, so many soft surfaces to consider. Such a change from the last few weeks where a cozy spot was not possible as we moved from one place to another, comfort just beyond our reach.

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We pop open a can of Pringles,our staple in this continent and nibble on the salty snack. We wash it down with ginger beer, a tasty refreshment that has kept nausea at bay these last few weeks as we climbed Kilimanjaro and bounced around in Safari vehicles.
Options abound for dinner, there are restaurants and choice that surround and its difficult to choose. Our group plans to dine together and we set out in our clean clothes to peruse the many options available.
The night is dark and stars sprinkle above us, lighting our way as we walk sandals in hand in the cool sand. We find a lovely spot just a short distance from our resort. A table is set on the sandy beach. We sit and our chairs sink into the sand as we hunker down for the duration. Candles abound and the soft lighting is magical. Menus arrive, we are bombarded with choice, drinks, entrees. We decide after considering all our options and I close my eyes and take in the moment. I can hear the waves lap the beach, coupled with a lively band that strums out its chords.

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The food and drinks arrive and we eat and drink relishing each sip and bite. After days of stews, Milo and unbuttered bread, our taste buds explode. It occurs to me how much we take for granted in life and only when its taken away do we realize how fortunate we are. I make a mental note to always be thankful though know that in time the memory will fade.
Satiated, we begin the walk back to our beach bungalow. How lovely to know that there is a permanent structure waiting for us, complete with a comfortable bed and the ability to sleep for as long as we choose.

We bid good night to our friends, making loose plans to meet up tomorrow. Perhaps we will snorkel, kayak, or wander the beach, its difficult to decide at this moment of relaxation. I am not interested in further adventure at this moment, liking that time has stood still for a time.
In many ways this part of the trip is a typical beach vacation and we could be anywhere in the world in our safe, gated community. As I watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, I am in this moment and content to have the next unfold without plan.

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Hakuna Matata

We arrive at the Langi Langi beach bungalows, a charming resort perched above the beautiful, blue Indian Ocean. We will spend our final few days of our African Odyssey relaxing. The day yawns in front of us, there is no agenda, no place to be, we can finally unpack as we will spend several days at the resort.   We happily unpack our belongings, stretch out on the bed and plan our next move. 

In this moment of relaxation, I realize I’ve left my purchased spices on the bus. Frantically, I bolt upright encircling John in my panic and we propel forward and bolt out the door, relaxation shattered in the moment. We spend several frenetic minutes searching for the bus,then learn it has left. We are informed that a bag of spices was removed from the bus by one of our group members. We are given a Guide and begin walking to the next resort.  The Guide is on Island time as he slowly walks. I’m pushing the pace without knowing the destination and clipping his heels to move quicker. He stops, scans my face and effectively reads the situation. “Madam, this is the Spice Island, we do not want your spices. Hakuna Matata,” he says. His words resonate, the absurdity of my panic crystal as I chuckle to myself. 

We are reuninted with our spices and retreat back to our abode where we resume relaxing.  We sip ginger beer, munch on Pringles and plan.  We know from our walkabout that we are in a gated community, separated from the African people. We are warned of the beach boys who wander the beaches selling their wares. I’m happy the beaches remain open to the people who call Zanzibar home.  Still, our resort is off limits and I imagine the uproar this would cause at home. It is unimaginable that a tourist would have more freedom in my country.

We set out to walk the beach. Soon we are approached by a Beach boy. He has many items to sell. We listen to his pitch and politely decline. We wait for the hard sell that never arrives. He shrugs his shoulders and states, “may-be tomorrow?”  We nod our agreement and continue down the beach. It’s refreshing to just walk the beach, enjoy the scenery and not feel guilty.  Perhaps we will buy tomorrow?  For today, we will enjoy this moment and the next. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Spice of Life in Zanzibar

  

Reluctantly, we leave Stone Town. I would happily spend weeks exploring its nooks and crannies. Our bus idles outside of the Dhow Palace and we board for our tour of a spice farm, Persian baths and a home cooked meal.We arrive at the spice farm, a short drive from Stone Town. We are introduced to our guides who will inform us in words, tastes, touch and smell the reason Zanzibar is called the Spice Island.

We stop at an unknown plant. The young man cuts a piece for us to touch and smell. It is now clear, lemongrass. The tour is an education and delight. We learn that there are male and female nutmeg trees. Only female trees bear fruit; however the sex of the tree is not determined for six to eight years. I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless. In an attempt to make up the sterility of the male tree, the female tree bears two spices, mace and nutmeg. We sample each. Mace has a slightly sweet taste while nutmeg’s is earthier.

I imagine how disheartening it would be to care for a tree for many years only to have it worthless.

We smell a plant with a flowery aroma, mlangi langi. We are told it is used to create perfumes. We carry it with us loving the scent. We sample a plant used as natural lipstick and adorn our lips. While walking, the men have been weaving palm fronds. At first I think they are only passing time until they present us with their talented creations. We are adorned with bracelets, rings, necklaces, hats and ties, a memento of this day. We are very fancy as we continue our walk through the Plantation.

  

We pass an Islamic school where the employee’s children are educated. They are as curious of us as we are of them. We take their picture and they take ours. Their families live in homes just behind the school. The plantation seems like a nice place to live, work and play among the spice, though I wonder about the isolation of this life.

We reach a small clearing and stand among coffee plants. A flash mob of vendors descend selling homemade soap and perfume. Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle. We dance the haggle dance and I leave with my fair priced goods.

We round a bend and find seating. We rest and are soon treated to a remarkable display of athleticism. A young man attaches a foot rope with a loop for each bare foot and a length of rope in between. He uses the rope to inch up a large palm tree and we watch him climb about 50 feet from the ground. He barely breaks a sweat and even sings and dances. We shake our heads in disbelief. He brings down a large coconut, breaks it open and we all share the sweet milk, and soft meat. I have eaten coconut before though it’s clear that today is the first day I’ve actually tasted coconut.

We sample Jack fruit, a blend of banana and pineapple. It can grow up to 100lbs and when less ripe tastes like chicken, making it an alternative for vegetarians. It’s an odd looking plant, appealing to photograph, as I snap one picture after another trying to discover its best side. We watch the ease of Cassava planting, sticks put in the ground, the woman barely breaks a sweat as she sows the row. Cassava is incredibly versatile. It can be baked, boiled, fried, steamed grilled or mashed. We learn that it must never be eaten raw as death by cyanide poisoning will occur.

We are motioned towards an open air spice shop. We peruse the many options, haggle and buy. We likely have bought too much, though the understanding of the various spices, coupled with their fresh taste, has our taste buds dancing with the possibilities of the dishes we will create at home.

Momentarily, it strikes me as odd to buy goods in the bush, then I shrug my shoulders and move closer for a better look. Bartering exists in the jungle.

We soon arrive at our next destination, a family home. We open the gate and are greeted by the lady of the house. We are all made welcome at her home, and find a spot on the concrete patio covered in rugs. We pass around the pots of stews, rice, and naan bread and share family style. We learn about her life and the food that we are eating through our guide who interprets. It has taken several days to create this menu. We learn more about the food with its savoury broths, simple ingredients and exotic flavour. We feast on fresh naan bread, rice, meat and vegetarian stew. Gluten free options are also available.

During our Zanzibar travel time, we pass a hat to collect a tip for this meal and great service. Interesting, in Tanzania tipping for food is not common and each time seems unexpected. Yet, tipping for directions, music, advice, or any number of services that we would not tip for in North America is expected.

We walk away from the home, follow a short path and arrive at a Persian bath. These baths were built for the Sultan Said’s second wife. They were used when they were hunting in the area. Sadly, the structure has not been maintained, though it is still possible to find the typical Persian motifs of birds and flowers. There is a domed roof, massage tables and a bath to inspect.

I imagine life at that time, how dear water was and is in this country. How lovely after a day of hunting to relax in this place. Still, I wonder about the rest of the people who spent the majority of their day in search of water and how they felt about this privilege. 

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Stone Town, last look

We have been informed that Stone Town is a great place to purchase Tanzanite, a perfect souvenir to commemorate our Kilimanjaro climb. Tanzanite is a beautiful gemstone. Its colour changes from blue to violet in different light.  It was discovered in Northern Tanzania in 1967 by the city of Arusha and Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was named by Tiffany and Company in 2002 for Tanzania where it originated.

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We wake early to peruse the many shops selling this stone.  In Canada and Hawaii I have seen a few examples of the stone, though here in Stone Town the options are more plentiful, the deep colours more prevalent.  John remarks that they aren’t giving them away and the price is dear.  We are worried about what we are buying as we have been told to purchase from the government where we can be certain of the quality.  It is a gamble and we decide we aren’t Gamblers.

We walk down to the water and see a group of cats waiting patiently.  They are waiting for the Fishermen to bring their breakfast.  Its comical to watch them, their fear of water overriding their hunger.  There are many cats in Stone town roaming the streets.  I suspect they keep the vermin under control and are fed collectively for their efforts by the people of Stone Town as they are not scraggly or thin.  Still, they look more street wise than our pampered cats in Canada.

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We stop at our favourite coffee shop for our final latte.  There are no chain coffee shops here and we are thankful for the reprieve.  This shop is located in a bookstore, adding to its ambience.  We peruse the dusty tomes and over priced bric-a-brac and settle into the comfortable chairs and enjoy a most excellent latte.

Too soon its time to gather our too many bags and haul them down the too many stairs.  We have enjoyed our time in Stone Town a great deal.  We wish we had more time in this magical place.  We cast a look behind, hoping to return this way another day, then set our sights on what comes next.

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Enchanted Evening in Zanzibar

We dress excited about our dinner reservation. We have booked Hurumzi, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Stone Town and on top of the elegant Emerson Hotel.

Out of respect for the many Muslims that call Stone Town home, I’m careful to cover my arms and knees and choose a dress and shawl. I twirl in front of the mirror, loving the feeling of being dressed for dinner.

We arrive at the Emerson and marvel at the stairs, each with a different rise and run. We walk slowly, carefully and concentrate on each step as we ascend.

The restaurant is small and divided. One side has proper tables and chairs, the other features a large rectangular space with floor seating. We opt for the experience, remove our shoes and stake out our pillow for the evening. Our senses absorb the surroundings. The space has Persian rugs and richly coloured pillows of varying fabrics and textures on the carpet and backrest. There are short tables throughout the space. Above our heads a canopy of silk billows in the breeze, the air perfumed. We look over the short walls and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city and ocean.

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Our waiter arrives, dressed in a white robe and a gold hat. He washes our hands with rose water and teaches us this lovely custom. The meal is set, we only need to choose between three main courses. We sip our beverage as we await our meal. The dishes are exquisite each perfectly spiced, flavourful and beautifully presented. Our hands are washed again with rose water at the end of our dining experience.

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The call to prayer is announced. In years past, the Muzim, or leader would climb to the Minaret, a slender tower with a balcony where he would announce the call to prayer. Today this task is accomplished by a loudspeaker and occurs five times a day at specific times that change with sunrise, sunset and latitude and longitude. We listen to the last prayer of the day, the sounds melodic adding to this enchanted night.

We lean back on our pillows, shifting to find comfort and watch the live entertainment. The music is called, Taarab. It is a mixture of Indian, Arab and Swahili, the result unique. The dancer is spell binding as she elegantly moves, seemingly floating, her bare feet hardly touch the ground. She effectively draws us into her exotic world.  Bongo drums play softly in the background, the silk flutters above, stars peak on either side. Beneath, the city moves and life mundane rolls onward. Up here in the stars, magic exists on this night. I close my eyes not wanting this evening to end and commit this night to memory.

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Thanks to Gilles Chartrand for the photos of this night

 Stone Town Past Preserved

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Stone town is the past preserved. Young boys chase each other through the narrow streets, adults are content to mosy. As a child I roamed my streets unfettered without a care in the world. Today at home, our children grow pasty in flesh and slack in body safe in their rooms. They scroll through a virtual world. Here in Stone town, life unfolds in real time, unplugged.

Retail is everywhere, though no big box stores exist. Quaint shops appear doorway after doorway, their items similar. The Proprieters fan themselves on their stoops and chat amicably with their competition. They beckon us to look closer. “Just look,” they say. We venture in and like the spider to the fly once in we are trapped. Haggling is the order of the day. I ask, “how much?”  She responds with a price. I recoil, suggest a lower price, she looks horrified, clucks her tongue, counters with a slightly higher price. I accept for fear of further offence. The trinket is bagged in a recycled tote and I’m released. There are shops that have inflated fixed prices. Haggling, though exhausting, yields a better deal.

We pass a group of men and boys huddled around an antiquated television complete with rabbit ears. They are watching a soccer game in the open air.  They are happy and animated, joy contagious as they cheer for their team and grumble when the opposing team has possession.  My Mom told me that years ago when televisions were expensive that department stores would display them in store windows. People would gather together to watch and share. Those days are over. In our consumer driven culture everyone seems to have at least one flat screen television, lounge chair and privacy. We trade perceived luxury for camaraderie and community.

We tour the birth home of Freddy Mercury of Queen fame. There are odd items for sale, nearly as odd as the man himself. Freddy has achieved superstardom status in the Island of Spice and is marketed for profit. He was born here though spent his youth between India and Zanzibar before settling in Great Britain. His stardom occurred years after leaving Zanzibar. The tenuous connection is a conduit for currency in Zanzibar. Still, I imagine his carefree, boyhood days on this Island a sharp contrast to the life he led as an adult

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We have learned a great deal during our tour. I’m left with a longing of times past when our life was much like this one. We have sacrificed a great deal for our modern conveniences and there is no way to turn back or stop the clock.

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