11 June 2009

Zanzibar - The Spice Island

A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to fit in a quick 2 nights on Zanzibar, or The Spice Island as it is commonly known. My first trip to Zanzibar was in 1995 and it was on that visit that I first understood that tropical paradises really DO exist and all those pictures I'd seen were real and not figment of my imagination!

Zanzibar is famous (and imfamous) for a couple of things: beautiful beaches, stunning corals and marine life, amazing spices and slavery. On this trip I was able to take in everything but the beaches as the rainy season lived up to its name. We stayed at the Tembo House Hotel in Stone Town which was really pleasant. The furniture is all antique and it was a treat sleeping in a 4-poster bed surrounded with a mosquito net. After a fortifying breakfast on our first morning we dashed through the rain to our first activity of the weekend - a Spice Tour. Here we were taken out of Stone Town into the countryside to a spice farm. We were shown coca, cinnamon, lemon grass, peppers, vanilla, pineapple, cloves, nutmeg and many others that I cannot remember. It was olfactory heaven (until the durian came out). During the tour we also took in one of the Persian Baths that dot the countryside. The tour ended with a delicious traditional lunch that quelled the hunger pangs brought on by all the delicious smells.

That afternoon I went exploring through Stone Town (which is a world heritage site). While I was looking for the Slave Church I marveled at the beautiful carved doors that open into the narrow streets. The Slave Church was built on the site of the slave market following the abolition of slavery. It is unique in that it has 1 of only 2 pipe organs in the whole of Africa. I was taken through the church and then in another building we looked into the slave holding caves. These were cramped cells underground where the slaves would be left on their own packed like sardines in a cruel test to see who was strong enough to survive.

The next day I went for a dive. Generally the other side of the island (east coast) is considered best for beaches and swimming, but I still enjoyed my dive off Stone Town. The visibility was great, but due to the cloud cover there was not enough light for pictures. We drifted about 1km with the current, moving from reef to reef and saw an amazing variety of creatures. Towards the end of the dive we came across 3 green turtles. Usually you're lucky to see 1, but 3 in quick sucession - that was amazing. On our second dive we swam around a very broken up wreck and saw a leaf fish which is also rare. Add to that some nudibranches, a couple of eels and shrimp and clown fish. It was a very enjoyable dive.
As much as it was an awesome trip, it was too short. In order to appreciate Zanzibar fully you should do as little as possible and just let time pass by. It just means I'll have to look forward to another trip!
For some some interesting facts about the island (such as how old the oldest carved door is) click here.


Rachel Cotterill said...

Sounds like a good trip - and somewhere you could definitely spend longer! I haven't made it to Africa yet... one day... :)

Laura Cococcia said...

Hi Kim! Thanks for your comment on the Ode to Airports! I absolutely love your blog...I haven't yet made it to Africa either, but this is a fantastic perspective on Zanzibar. Can't wait to see what comes next!

Kim said...

@ Rachel: I hope you do (and remember to take plenty of "film"
@ Laura: Thank you very much for your encouraging words. It makes writing so much easier when you know you have appreciative readers.

Dave and Deb said...

Ooh,We wanted to stay at Tembo House, but it was fully booked when we were there. I agree, the doors are beautiful and so grand. But Stone Town was so hot when we were there that we got out, and went to Nungwi. Beautiful. Zanzibar is paradise for sure.

Kim said...

@ Dave and Deb: Would've loved to have gone elsewhere, but time just didn't allow. Next time.