Sunday, September 16, 2007


Few places in the world captivate us with a flavor and aesthetic, a comfort and a beauty that makes us yearn for return. Zanzibar does. Unlike any other place I’ve seen, Zanzibar has a vibrance that brings culture, color, history, and religion to life.

The second day of Ramadan, we arrived by charter plane in Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam. For $50 each way, we hopped a 12-seater that crossed the narrow channel between mainland Africa and the former Omani slave-trading island of Zanzibar.

Evocative of the Middle East, Africa, and a Johnny Depp pirate film, Zanzibar is as exotic as they come. Palm fringed, green-water beaches curl their way around the island. Dolphins jump offshore. The call to prayer echos through the aged, historical streets of Stonetown while men in white shuffle to and from the mosque. A tourist melange ambles through the colorful streets, but the culture is untarnished. Arab dhows idly drift as white silhouettes on a blue-green horizon. Doorways into unknown worlds are framed by intricately carved Zanzibari wood. Beards, vibrant hijabs, jewels, crooked teeth and big smiles, deep green foliage, and dirt roads paint life outside of our car windows.

“Shukran” and “salaam” are as common as” Jambo” and “Mambo,” as the Arabic legacy lives now mixed with the Swahili coast trading language. In Zanzibar we incorporated my patented bargain-your-way-to-the-most-expensive-resort-and-use-their-concierge strategy. We taxid for $1 under par, and entered the lobby at the Serena Hotel. We booked a Spice Tour, and tour of the former Slave Caves on the Northwest coast. An all-day expedition, we paid $35 for a private car around the island.

Our Spice Tour took us to an authentic local village. As we ambled our way through the huts, callling “Jambo” out to smaller, smiling faces, we were able to see a number of spice plants. From cloves to ginger to pepper to cinamon to menthol to nutmeg to vanilla to tumeric to lemongrass, we crushed the leaves of each plant and learned of its scent. Most spectacular was the cinnamon bark. A knife to cinnamon bark revealed Ruby Red and a craving for cinnamon gum, or at least a bite of the bark. The root of the cinnamon tree has a menthol scent.

Magical, encapsulated in time and color, Zanzibar is truly incredible.

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