Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Zanzibar: Spice Farm Tour

Zanzibar, lying just off the coast of Tanzania is famous for spices.

As you walk around the cramped streets of this island's capital, Stonetown, you do get a waft of various herbs and spices emanating, for the most part, from tourist shops. On our first full day on the island we took a trip about 25 km north of the capital to check out a spice farm. One thing that struck me immediately is how poor everyone appeared to be. Houses are quite ramshackle, people and literally living in mud huts, even as state schools exist in the most basic form. And for some reason I imagined the people of this exotic, tropical island was somewhat wealthier. The trip into the hinterland to visit the spice farm takes about 30 or 40 minutes depending on how many off-road adventures you have to avoid roadworks and diversions. At some point it felt like we were on safari again! The farm itself is a collection of mud huts and rattan structures hidden from the road among some banana palms and other assorted bushes.

To a city boy these all appeared very similar in size and type. To someone who knows about herbs and spices it was an income. We spent more than two hours in the Plantation, stopping at different plots to sniff the crushed leaves of each different spice plant, taste its fruit and then try to guess its name. all of us in the group were a little bit sceptical when we first started because the operation, such as it was, appeared very flaky. However, having tasted our way through a variety of spices, eaten our way through a pile of tropical fruit, and drunk half a litre of fresh coconut, all done while wearing handmade hats, neckties and frog pendants (all made from palm leaf) we decided that we'd had a thoroughly good time. Not only have we learned a lot about what these almost commonplace spices looked like in natural habitat but we learnt a lot about their commercial value too. It was a thoroughly interesting and value for money afternoon.

From the top: 
Nutmeg peeled
Nutmeg fruit
African 'lipstick' spice
African 'lipstick' spice applied
African 'lipstick' spice applied on one of the farm boys
Vanilla beans on the vine
Ylang Ylang flowers
Peeling ginger root
Peeling local oranges
Green peppercorns
Cardomons at base of tree
Cinnamon bark 

And finally, Alan Stern looking distincly native after too many coconut cocktails, your truly shooting someone else with a wacky hat and chewing a bit of sugar cane. Very nice!
(more pics to follow once I get them from the group.)

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