Gran Spice Turismo

Having survived Stone Town with its numerous nocturnal challenges it was time to take a "spice tour". At 900 hours a van came to pick us up from our "hotel" and we headed for the central parts of the Spice Island. After about 45 minutes of all kinds of roads we arrived at the plantations. The government owns 95% of the plantations, which guarantees their conservation and the plantations that we visited were, therefore, a kind of mosaic of different plants, grown for tourist and research purposes. Although, as far as I could tell, the research consisted of a bunch of teenage boys climbing the trees, peeling the fruit and the plants, and crafting all sorts of accessories and gizmos for the visitors, in hope of a few shillings. One dude even weaved an ornate frog-shaped necklace out of palm leaves, which he gave to an ignorant German girl, who took everything they made (the necklace, rings, drinking cups, bracelets etc.) and was appalled and thoroughly flabbergasted when the kids politely asked if the lady cared to spare a few coins for their efforts at the end of the tour. (never hit a woman...never hit a woman...) Our cheerful guide, whose name is impossible to pronounce without dislocating one's jaw (there's a silent g somewhere in there), took the charge and proceeded to tell the story of a fruit that smells like old hell but tastes brilliant. It turns out that, if one is not too fond of the copious amounts of prostitutes that will invariably surround the said person at any Tanzanian night club, one should eat a couple of these bad boys and the problem solves itself. (will try later) After a good chuckle the guide started the tour and we naturally followed. We walked around narrow paths and gravel roads marveling the different fruit and spice trees and bushes. Some personal favorites were:

The mysterious "hairy strawberry" that was mostly used for its color as lipstick, in food, and on the forehead of Indian women.

The Egg Nog fruit, that has been used in East Africa as an aphrodisiac for women for centuries. Should men try to take a bite, they would shortly fall asleep, we were told. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to subject this uncanny fruit to empirical testing. Oh, and it's other parts make for outstanding chili.

The palm tree. There are three different varieties on Zanzibar which are all used differently. One is good for building houses, other's coconuts taste better, the third one's leaves are the thickest and provide excellent raw material for building durable roofs. According to the guide, the palm tree is the most useful plant of them all, because every part of it can be put to significant use and it thrives in a wide variety of surroundings.

We also found out that clove tea cures diarrhea and papaya seeds constipation, so that one can play stop'n'go games with ones stomach, if need be. Moreover, papaya makes for brilliant booze, although its production is now illegal, since it can turn you blind on random occasions. A cheaper "light" version of Russian Roulette, anyone? Ginger turned out to be quite a plant, too. All of its parts smell and taste different, AND it's root IS Chinese "tiger balm". Smells exactly the same and has the same effects, who knew? Finally, when I discovered that I have been lied to all my life and that black, white, and red pepper are all the same plant, I could safely conclude that I had learned more during the previous hours than during all of the home ec./cooking classes combined.

After the tour we got to visit an old cave, where an Arab sheik had kept his slaves after slave trade was banned in Zanzibar. It was damp, painfully hot and breathing in the cave was like breathing through a straw. The lad who told us the story of the cave also told us that it has two fake exits, made by the vindictive Mother Nature herself. The first one, crowded with spiders and other nasty creepy crawlies, ends in a dead end after becoming narrower and narrower all the while, so that one eventually suffocates to death. The other one is perhaps even more cruel. Similarly, it goes on for ages, until there is a part where one has to crawl down an extremely narrow hole. The good news: after this the slaves could witness the light of day coming from ahead. The bad news: the hole is in a vertical cliff, dozens of meters from the ground, and it is impossible to climb back, so the only option is to base jump without parachute. And perhaps the most grim part of all of this is that the other slaves had no way of knowing whether their comrades had managed to escape, other than following them, to which you already know the result...

You can imagine that we were rather relieved to be able to take the stairs on the way out, and even more so after spending the next hour on a hidden paradise beach, half a mile from the demonic cave.

[tags]spice, island, exotic, food[/tags]

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