Monday, February 16, 2009

Mangroves, monkeys and a spice tour

On February 2, still jet lagged, we were up at 0445A just in time to watch the second half of the Superbowl, broadcast live in Zanzibar on ESPN - without the commercials. What a game! Breakfast at the Serena dining room overlooking the ocean, consisted almost totally of local items, such as pigeon peas, fried banana, sweet potato, rice cake, Swahili donuts (mandazi), and sesame bread. Just after 0700A we departed with Fauz via a couple of small towns, en route to Jozani Forest. Driving in Zanzibar is an otherworldly experience, especially early on a weekday morning, when everyone seems to be on the road at the same time. At any stage, the narrow road would be replete with dozens if not hundreds of bikes, many with passengers and other loaded to the hilt, swarms of overloaded matatus (minibuses), and hundreds of pedestrians all seemingly hell-bent on crossing the road as soon as possible and in the most unpredictable manner. The effect is a ballet of traffic mayhem, performed in double quick time, with bandits flying at you from every angle. The impact is somewhere between frightening and hilarious, comical and suicidal, insane and inane.

At Jozani Forest our plus minus 3 hour outing included a stroll to the Mangrove Forest, some excellent Red Colobus monkey sightings, and a walk through an astonishing mahogany gallery forest. Our guide was an accomplished herbalist, and provided us with detailed information about a dizzying array of plants and their medicinal uses. The Mangrove Forest was particularly interesting with many species of tiny crabs, fish, and plants adapted to the saline water environment. The journey to Jozani is definitely worth the effort just to experience the lovely walk along an elevated boardwalk through the thick mangrove forest.

This elevated boardwalk winds through a portion of the mangrove forest at Jozani Forest Reserve in Zanzibar


Another view of the mangrove forest showing the peculiarly adapted tree roots, typical of mangrove forests throughout the world. These trees are keenly sought for all types of construction, boats, furniture and a myriad other uses, making them (and the forests themselves) a very threatened habitat type


At the Jozani Forest Reserve, the 'must see' mammal is the endemic Red Colobus monkey. There were many of them moving low down in the brushy vegetation between the mahogany forest and the mangroves.

I took quite a few pics of these attractive and very relaxed animals


This particular specimen did not seem to mind getting quite close to me and the camera


The colobus never stopped feeding on what seemed to be berries and flowers.


One last monkey shot...


From there, we took a short detour to a small local ocean village resort, with rustic bandas overlooking a simply gorgeous and semi-deserted beach. If this were Miami, there would be hundreds of beach goers spread out on the sand. Here, there was barely a handful of people strolling along the soft white sand.

The beaches on Zanzibar's east coast are wide and clean with soft white sand.


It wasn't the best time of the day (near noon) for a photograph but the beach looked pretty good nonetheless


Kathleen strolling along the beach. The glare was blinding - take your darkest dark glasses


Close-up of some colorful bougainvillea flowers in the resort garden


The highlight of this day was a Spice Tour. I didn't know quite what to make of the Spice Tour idea in advance of going. It sounded rather touristy, and I anticipated a visit to a factory or spice outlet, looking at different types of packaged spices. The tour instead turned into a fun and highly educational experience, with two young, enthusiastic local guides showing us where spices really come from. For example, we saw a pepper tree with green, red and black berries all on the same tree. We were treated to handling and smelling fresh turmeric root, lemongrass, cinnamon tree bark, some roots with a menthol (Vicks) flavor and several others. And of course the tour would not have been complete without Zanzibar's signature spice – cloves. We saw it right on the tree in three stages: immature, green with a small bulb (best for picking), and reddish mature. Along the way there were many kinds of fruits which we got to sample, including lychees, mango (green), banana, the weird Jack fruit, and fresh young coconut, from which we enjoyed both the juice and soft pulp. Finally, there were some vanilla beans on the vine and then a nutmeg demonstration. This was really amazing. You are shown a nondescript fruit, somewhat like an apricot in appearance. When split in half, it reveals a hard nutmeg kernel (the way you and I would buy it in a bottle), but here still surrounded by a red plastic-like sheath.

It is quite a feat, if you'll pardon the pun, to tie one's feet together and clamber up a coconut tree to retrieve a few coconuts for the tourists


The local guide peeled and then split the top off this fresh young coconut


The young guides worked hard to earn their tips; even here in remote Zanzibar the worldwide economic recession has had an impact. There were more guides sitting around than there were ones with clients to guide.


The Queen of Spice Island


This is where a nutmeg kernel comes from before it goes into a 'Spice Island' bottle and gets slapped with a $6.95 price tag...


Dhows like this one and a variety of other small ocean-going vessels are a common sight along the beaches of Zanzibar


We were sad to say farewell to Zanzibar. Next time we will spend a few days in one of the coastal resorts on the East or Northern part of the island.


For dinner that evening, Kathleen and I wandered down a narrow alley in Stone Town (it is quite safe) to the Al Johari Restaurant, where she enjoyed some grilled prawns while I had a herb perfumed vegetable medley with a side order of spicy couscous. It was altogether quite pleasant, in an attractive room which was air-conditioned, an important consideration in Zanzibar at this time of the year.

Malaria is definitely an issue in Zanzibar: our driver-guide Fauz and the Jozani forest guide both mentioned multiple bouts with malaria; even their children have had to deal with this scourge.

The next morning (February 3) we had an early breakfast, and were then driven to Zanzibar Airport (like so many things in Zanzibar it really needs some work!) for the short 25 minute flight to Dar Es Salaam. From there, a friendly Canadian lady pilot flew us by Caravn (30 minutes) to Selous Game Reserve, where she dropped off a couple of passengers and picked up two more for the 1 hr 15 minute flight to Jongomero in the Ruaha National Park. Our Tanzania safari adventure was about to begin.




2 comments:

johnking said...

awesome photos! Im just glad the Spice Tour didn't involved the 90's group The Spice Girls!

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing - I love the monkey pictures, they have such dear faces.