Sunday, January 16

Breakfast today includes bread. This morning, we are going on a "Spice Tour". Zanzibar has the ideal climate for growing all kinds of spices and they are one of the main exports. Bruce charges $10 per person for arranging this. We are picked up by his minibus and driven to Buda Spice Farm, where tour guide Rambo (honest!) awaits us. Bruce and his guest Paola from Italy are along, and Rambo speaks fluent Italian (as well as, apparently, Spanish, though we don't test this).

On Spice Tour with Rambo, the multilingual guide
The spice farm is in a jungle of palm trees. We walk a bush path, stopping at isolated plants which are explained to us. The actual working spice production is on larger fields which we also pass. Rambo has a teenage assistant, who cuts plant samples and distributes them for sniffing or tasting. Several smaller children are running around as well, playing with an old bicycle wheel.

We see cinnamon (which is actually the bark of the cinnamon tree, which is cut down to harvest the bark and then used for firewood), the "lipstick tree" whose seeds are intensely red and used for their colour, aloe vera, sisal (used to make tequila), ginger, tumeric, breadfruit, cardamon, the "Dorian" tree (whose fruits taste great but smell so bad that it is illegal to eat them in public in Singapore), lemongrass, cassava, pineaples, mango trees, cloves (the "King of the spices" here -- cinnamon is the queen), limes, passion fruit, guava, vanilla (a creeping vine), nutmeg, and black pepper. Not all of these are spices of course.

Palm trees are everywhere. The teenage kid takes off his shoes, ties his feet together with some plant fibers, and shimmies up a palm tree effortlessly. He drops down several coconuts which are still green, and then expertly cuts them open and hands them around. The coconuts are hollow and full of water. The water has a very slight coconut flavour. On the inside of the nut, there is about 1/4" of the white substance that we associate with coconuts. When a coconut is ripe, the outside becomes brown and fibrous. We see these coconuts being processed. A man impales them on a metal spike, rips apart the husk, and tosses aside the core, which is maybe 4" in diameter. We have seen those same cores sold at market in town.

Almost got a picture of a Dhow under sail
We are presented with hats, neckties, necklaces, goofy glasses and rings, all made out of palm leaves. Then we are led to the spice store, an open-air booth where they sell plastic foil packets of the finished product (I don't get the impression that they are all from this farm though). The prices are noticeably higher than at market in town (where all prices are negotiable). Nevertheless, Caroline comments on how affordable saffron is here, compared to at home.

We are out of cash. To pay for the last night's hotel and our airport departure taxes, we need another $200. It is my turn to get some. Bruce assures me that the money changers at the airport are as good a deal as anyone in town, and it is Sunday and the places in town would be closed. So I resolve to ride the Dala Dala to the airport.

At the central terminus, I just shout "Airport?" and am directed onto a particular vehicle, which indeed zooms off in the right direction. But after a while, there seems growing unease with me pointing at the airport on the map, and I am given to understand that I should be on another line which branches off on another road. So I get off and wander over there, but no Dala Dala comes. Instead I am collared by a kid who wants to give me a taxi ride. Sure, why not. Even though I could walk to the airport from here, I agree to be driven there for $3. Almost immediately, the kid fends off another hopeful taxi driver who has stopped. I am led across a vacant lot to the most decrepit Toyota you ever did see (which has long ago shed its muffler) and the kid says something about OPEC. I assume I didn't hear right, but... we drive up to a small boy holding a 2L plastic jug and sure enough, the contents of this jug are funnelled into the gas tank. Then off to the airport, where the kid has only a 1000 shilling note to his name, so he ends up getting $4 because I don't have anything smaller than $5. I wish him luck and tell him to get some more OPEC.

The arrivals hall is deserted as usual. Only one of three money changers is open, and he is not the one who takes credit cards. Indeed, the one who does has a sign saying closed on Sunday. But never fear, they say he'll be there in a few minutes. Meanwhile I wander out the other side of the building and watch the planes.

I finally get my $200, and walk back out front, where I am accosted first by the official taxi drivers, then the second tier gypsy cab types 20m further away. I'm walking, I say. After all, it's only a few hundred meters to where the Dala Dala line (the one I was on, which was the right one after all) passes. The offered price goes from $5, to $4, to $3 for a ride downtown. Oh what the heck. But this time I want change for a $5! A man helpfully offers to change my money and hands me back three $1 bills and a $2. I've never seen one of these, and pocket it to keep.

So I get into an ancient Mercedes owned by a guy who speaks pretty good English. The first stop is, you guessed it, a gas station, where my $3 are handed over and 3.21 litres of gasoline are put into the car. This is not enough to budge the gas gauge off "empty" or extinguish the warning light. The driver says hopefully there are no cops because he is not a licenced taxi. I offer to duck if any are in sight. I ask to be dropped a little ways short of downtown because I want to walk up the seashore and explore some more.

Typical street scene in central Zanzibar Town
I admire the panorama of fishing boats, once again fail to get a picture of a Dhow under sail (because they take the sail down while I fumble for the telephoto lens) and walk on the beach until several people tell me to get off and go inland. Why? People at big house don't like anyone on their beach! See, police! Sure enough, I see a silhouette of an armed policeman sitting there. So I go through the gate that is indicated. I am next to a small building with a lot of junked hospital equipment in front of it. I go back out with my camera in hand to take a picture of the beach, and this does not please the men who are standing around. Apparently they are doctors on break. We thought you are leaving? No photography on hospital grounds! OK OK, only one quick picture of the fishing boats, then I am leaving! It turns out that I am in a large and very much operational hospital complex.

Walking onward, I pass an Indian and then an Italian restaurant that look pretty good (both very close to the ritziest hotel I've seen, the Serena Inn), and then emerge in the heart of Stone Town again. I now have a mind to buy some banana leaf pictures, and earnestly look at a couple hundred to pick out four that I like. Haggling for the price is done with a calculator. It starts at $28, and I start at $10. We meet at $15, which is probably a few dollars too high because I didn't take the penultimate step of walking away and waiting for the seller to catch up with his lowest offer! Another seller gets so excited at having a live customer around (apparently Sunday afternoon at this time of year gets a little slow) that he offers me stuff from other people's booths. I would actually buy a huge packet of saffron offered for $4, but the owner of the booth objects (it is marked at $8).

I pass an internet cafe. The price is 50 cents for half an hour, and the machines are ordinary Windows computers; your money gets you into a room and then you can use them as you please. In the "My Documents" directory there is a Word document which is a letter firing someone from his job for negligence. Instant messaging works too and I manage to chat with a couple of people. My brother Matthias tells me he's just getting ready to go skiing. It is, of course, 8 hours earlier in the day, and the opposite season back home. I compose the fifth and last of my on-the-road emails to friends at home.

The Fish Market
I take some pictures in the central market, which attracts the attention of a self-appointed guide who wants to shield me from anyone who might get annoyed by my photography. Naturally, this entails a tip. He wants $1, but all I have in change is 600 shillings. Sorry.

Back at our beach house, I am thirsty for soda pop, but there is none left in the fridge, so I grab two empties and walk up to the main street. Both the stores where I've usually bought pop are closed, but seeing the empties, a man immediately leads me to another kiosk a little distance away, where sure enough, I get what I want, for 25 cents a bottle as usual. I love drinking pop (Fanta and Sprite usually - this is Coca Cola country) out of the tall, skinny 350ml glass bottles they use here. Few places have cans, and the cans cost much more.

Vegetable stands in the market
I don't even have time to go swimming today, because everyone is ready for dinner. We are all tired of the slow service at Bruce's restaurant, and I remember a restaurant I walked past earlier, so I suggest we go there. By Dala Dala of course. The restaurant, which turns out to be the waterfront "La Fenice" Italian Restaurant, is very good, and very Italian too. The menu has amusing spelling errors, like "three bools of ice cream", and "whishies" and "whines" in the drinks section. The food is good, and the ice cream is superb, some of the best I've ever had. I ask where it is from, and I'm told they make it in house with a very expensive machine from Italy. Without a doubt, the flavour ingredients are locally grown. When we pay -- we run up our highest restaurant tab in Africa, $80 for the five of us -- Yi manages to snag another crisp US $2 bill that I spotted in the cash box. And of course it's cash - this restaurant doesn't take credit cards either.

Our ride home is a minibus taxi. Without any haggling, the price for the 10km ride for the five of us is $7.

All pictures for this day

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