Monday, April 6, 2009

Exotic Zanzibar: Humans

After a busy day at sea (and, happily, no sign of pirates), the breaking dawn found us in the second-to-last stop on our voyage: Zanzibar.

Just say the name out loud: Zanzibar. Doesn't that conjure exotic images?

Zanzibar is part of Tanzania -- indeed, it put the "Zan" in "Tanzania" -- but maintains an autonomous feel. Our visit began with a landing in Stone Town, where the mix of cultures -- African, Arab, Indian -- provides fascinating architecture spread through a maze of alleyways.

We particularly enjoyed the intricate carved doorways (sorry, no photos). Some doors had chain carvings, reflecting the history of slavery. Other had conical spikes which are allegedly traditional elephant protectors from India. Happily, there were no elephants running through the alleyways of Stone Town when we visited. The motor scooters and human-pulled carts were dangerous enough in the narrow passages.

Situated strategically in the midst of the trade routes, Zanzibar built its early success on spices, ivory, and slaves, the key commodities of the age. Tourism is the big draw today, but the spice trade is still going strong. Farms produce a wide range of spices -- on our visit we saw Cacao, Cardamon, Cinnamon, and Cloves -- and that was just the "C"s. There were also Kapok, Nutmeg, Black Pepper, and Ylang Ylang. (Not to mention the Banana leaves that could be twisted into spice carriers.)

Perhaps the most beautiful was the "Lipstick Tree" whose bright red fruit generates a tasty orange / red paste. You probably know it better as Achiote (if you dine Mexican) or Tandoori (if you dine Indian) or, perhaps, as Annatto Seed.

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