We just spent 3 days in Zanzibar and it was another great experience. There were a variety of choices for excursions from snorkeling at a resort, tours of national parks, the old town area of Zanzibar to name a few. My choices were the Jozani Forest and Nature Reserve with a large population of monkeys. Day 2 was a walking tour of Stone Town which is the old town of Zanzibar with narrow streets, shops and food vendors. Last day was a tour of a spice plantation which may have been one of the best tours.
For those of you back in the states, I’m 8 hours ahead of my normal eastern time and when I checked my ring camera this morning, I saw it was snowing hard with a temp in the low 30’s expected to go lower over night. Here in the Indian Ocean, we’re averaging about 88 degrees with a water temp of 84, so not bad.
So day one, we docked in Zanzibar about 9:00 am and were informed by the port authorities we would need to do a PCR test before going ashore. This delayed getting off the ship for a couple of hours, but after that, there were no issues. At 1:00pm, we boarded a bus to the Jozani National Forest and Reserve where a large group of Colobus monkeys live. It took a little over an hour to get there and one of the interesting things is getting in to the countryside like this to see how the people live here. Upon arrival to the park, we were met by our guide who took us on a brief walking tour of a huge Mahogany forest filled with red and white Mahogany trees over 100ft tall. Then we went in search of the monkeys which were not difficult to find. There are two types of them here a blue and red Colobus monkey. The blues are supposed to be a little more standoffish than the red ones, however my experience was that was not exactly correct. To see them, the guide would take us down some trails in to the forest and you would see a group in the trees and suddenly seemed like they were everywhere. I’ll add a photo of the one I had a run in with. It seemed he took a liking to my hat and kept coming down to the branches over my head and was trying to grab it from me. After completing the tour it was on the bus back to the ship and some cool air.
Day 2 was a walking tour of Stone Town which is the original Zanzibar and is called Stone Town because all the buildings are made of coral stone and a concrete mixture. Zanzibar has a rich history of being ruled by Sultans from Oman, and was actually the capital of Oman for a time until the Sultan and his brother decided to split Oman and Zanzibar with each being a Sultan over there own kingdom. With that in mind, there were a couple of buildings on the tour that we could only see from the outside. The first being the Sultan’s city palace which is being restored and turned in to a museum. The second is a place called the House of Wonder. It was built in the late 1800’s and was the tallest building in the eastern part of Africa, had the first elevator, electricity and running water. It was built next to the palace and served as a place the Sultan would entertain large parties. Unfortunately, it had fallen in to disrepair and part of it collapsed a few years ago and is currently undergoing a full restoration, so most of what you saw with the palace and House of Wonder was scaffolding and construction equipment. Another highlight on the tour was the house Freddie Mercury of the group Queen was born. His father was a British diplomat to Zanzibar and he lived here as a child. Last, Zanzibar was one of the largest slave markets in eastern Africa and made many people, including the Sultan’s very rich. Learning the history was very interesting as most of the slaves were captured and brought here by rival tribes. Then when sold, they would chain them together in threes but make sure they were from different tribes so they couldn’t communicate with each other and plan an escape. There was a lot more information that I’ll share with people when we talk. We also did a quick walk through the old Portuguese fort. Most of these places in the Carribean, South America and Africa were ports conquered by either the Spanish, Portuguese, British or French in the 1500’s and of course they all built forts to protect their interests from pirates and other countries. I’m now in the “if you’ve seen one 1500’s forts you’ve seen them all mode”
Day 3, ruins of Maruhubi Palace and spice plantation. The palace ruins we stopped to see is the palace the 3rd Sultan kept his girlfriends at and he would visit, and as our guide said in Swahili to Giki Giki, Boonga Boonga, I’ll let you decide what that means. She did take time to make sure we could all say it correctly. So in addition to that I learned Jambo which means hello and Hakuna Matata that’s the extent of my Swahili. The palace was destroyed by fire and then weather many years ago. What used to be the beach in front of it is now a boat yard where they build and repair their Dhows. It’s in pretty rough shape now, but as our guide showed us, it would have been pretty impressive in it’s day with running water through a series of canals and indoor pools and steam room. The boat yard was very interesting because when you first look, you think look at all the wrecked boats, then realize they are tied up to trees on the shore because when the tide comes in, they still float.
After the palace we went to a spice plantation. This was special built for tours as it was just a sample of all the spice trees and plants they use so they can take you through and show how they grow, what they smell like and what they are used for. There was a huge difference in some of these spices when experienced fresh from that what we see in a market. For example, they cut off some lemon grass and it was very soft and smelled exactly like the inside of a lemon. Much different from the dried form we see. The next big surprise for me was the cinnamon tree. We’re all familiar with the look and tasted of cinnamon but what I didn’t know was the leaves also smell strongly of cinnamon and are used in teas and medicines. The bark is where you actually get the cinnamon we know but the root was the real surprise to me. The root is where you get menthol, like Vic’s Vapo Rub, and that’s exactly what a piece of the root smells like when you scratch the surface. Here, they take the roots and boil them then hold their head over the steam with a towel over their head for a stuffy nose. The tour included many spices from cloves (one of Zanzibar’s biggest exports), cardamon, ginger, whole peppers which we ate from the tree, to nutmeg and many others. To wrap up the tour, they had some young guys who would demonstrate how to climb a palm tree to get a coconut by just grabbing on and climbing. Afterwards, they opened coconuts for us to drink the water then eat the coconut inside. The flesh of a fresh coconut is completely different from anything I remember of the dry coconut you get from a grocery store after breaking it with a hammer. The flesh on a fresh one is very soft and almost a little bit chewy with a very mild sweet taste that is much lighter than we’re used too.
Last night was “Africa Night” in the dining room with a menu of typical African foods. It was outstanding and my entrée was “bunny chow” which is nothing like it sounds. It’s a mixture of vegetables, and maybe some meat, in curry served in a bread bowl and is a staple in south east Africa.
So next stop is the Seychelle Islands in a couple more days. One bit of great news was as we were leaving Zanzibar, we had about 35 passengers rejoin the ship who had gone on a short safari in the Serengeti along with a few new crew and entertainers. So another PCR test and the answer is: The entire ships crew and passengers are covid free!!!!
Hakuna Matata ya’all