Sunday, January 3, 2016

Spice Tour and Prison Island, Zanzibar

When I say I had rough night I mean it.  I was up 2-3 times to the bathroom not knowing what was wrong with me.  When we eventually all got up to get breakfast I thought I had passed through the worst of it and was able eat a decent amount of food, once again at the Tea Room up a hot flight of stairs.  I had coffee and a little bit of juice as well.  I took some Cipro and headed out with our guide on our scheduled Spice Tour, a 30 minute drive away.

The AC on the drive kept me feeling fine but as soon as we got out and started the tour with the Spice Farm guide Joseph I knew I was in trouble.  I made it to the first spice and the description of it but as soon as we started walking blackness started to close in and I told Emily I was going to pass out or throw up.  I could still see the van so I told Eric and Emily to continue on and I would go back to the van to lay down.

Back at the van I stretched out and reclined the back seat to stretch out, opened the doors to get as much breeze through as possible and finished water little water I could find in Eric’s water bottle.  I knew exactly what was happening.  I was overheated, and dangerously dehydrated from the heat of the island, drinking last night and not drinking any water.  Our driver seemed like a very nice person but was clueless to my needs when I kept whispering in desperation that I was “very thirsty” and needed “water”.  Eventually he ushered me to the front seat which had a slightly better breeze going through it.  Basically, I was a mess.  

There was a local dog outside the van but when I leaned to pet it I got a growl warning in return so I backed off and continued to lie still hoping time would pass faster.  Eventually a young man came up to me with a crown and tie made out of tropical leaves.  At first I thought he was looking for money in return and I kind of told him annoyed I had nothing and wasn’t feeling well.  It took me a couple minutes to realize he was part of the tour and just kindly bringing me my “souvenirs” that I wasn’t able to accept with Emily and Eric who were busy watching the “butterfly man” mock climb a tree for a coconut.  (none in the tree, all on the ground - clearly a show for the tourists).  

Emily and Eric later told me about the very odd tour they were on.  Instead of relating the spices to foods or medicine Joseph, rather proudly, told them how each spice could be used to control a woman’s urges!  Yes.. no lie… a spice to make a woman horny, a spice to make a woman forget, a spice to induce an abortion!  To us, this was the clearest evidence of how this 3rd world Muslim culture viewed women and their bodies.  To them, it was totally normal to talk about things like this, but to Emily and Eric it was a bit disturbing.  If there was one tour for me to miss on the “Spice Island” of Africa, the spice tour was definitely it.

After the spice tour we headed down the road to the Kidichi Persian Baths of Zanzibar built in 1850 by the first Sultan of Zanzibar (ruler of Zanzibar 1804-1856) as a gift for his wife.  Here we went inside and checked out the different rooms were royalty bathed and were catered to by their slaves.  Rich history but again, not really my thing.  Before heading back to town we also drove up the street, thankfully stopping to buy me a huge water bottle, to a local woman’s house for a traditional Muslim lunch.  They had mats on the floor where we sat and she brought out a bunch of curry dishes for everyone.  With my stomach feeling terrible I refused as politely as I could to not offend.  I also asked our guides to explain to her that I had food poisoning and couldn’t eat.  I did finish the huge bottle of water and drank as much as the woman brought to us as well.  Starting to feel better….

With stomach still in random, painful cramps I asked our guide and driver to please stop by the Emerson Spice so I could grab some shot blocs, electrolytes and more water to bring with us on our boat trip out to Prison Island which I definitely didn’t want to miss.  Our guide didn’t look too pleased at this request, in fact, he looked a little annoyed.  When we got close to Stone Town again I had to ask the guide to escort me back to the Emerson Spice as I didn’t remember the way… again, seemed annoyed.  When I got back to the hotel I asked the staff for a jug of water and they ran off to get me the same giant bottle of water, but this one was ice cold and absolutely wonderful.  Walking back through the fish and meat market feeling as I did back to the van was one of the worst experiences ever….

We then drove to the town shoreline where we were told to grab all our stuff.  Our guide then informed us snorkeling was possible (why hadn’t he told us that earlier?) and why hadn’t he mentioned that we would be walking knee deep into the Indian Ocean to board the boat, especially when I’m carrying clearly expensive camera gear?  It felt like he declined to tell us these things so the tour, and thus, his job would be shorter/easier.  

When we boarded the boat and started moving it was windy and there was blasts of saltwater coming over the bow towards us and our camera gear.  We struggled to look for anything to shield our electronics and finally found some plastic bags to put them in underneath our seats.  

I must say that our experience with this guide from Eco & Culture wasn’t that great.  He seemed to only put in the minimal effort and certainly didn’t make any of it a personal experience for us like Duma did on the mainland.  Everything seemed very scripted for him.  When in position at the right time he would go through his thing, otherwise he pretty much ignored us and played on his cell phone.  I’m pretty sure him and the boat driver were joking about us on the way out to the island and neither made any effort to communicate with us.  Even while on the island he played on his phone and when giving us a quick tour of the island walked far ahead of me despite knowing that I was feeling very ill… (never asking me how I was doing either) almost pushing me to move along, and it’s not like I was crawling… just very pushy and very scripted, no warmth, lifeless.

The giant tortoises on Prison Island were pretty cool and we got to feed them although a sign clearly said “no feeding or sitting on them”.  Each had numbers painted on their backs representing their ages.  The oldest I saw was 192 years old!  There must have been 30-40 big tortoises wandering around what appeared to be an enclosure for them with a walkway through it for tourists.  We learned they definitely were not native, but instead were brought to the island as a gift to a British resident in Zanzibar from the Seychelles in exchange for some Zanzibar tropical plants and spices.  After too many were being stolen from the main island of Zanzibar the British decided to move them to Changu Island (Prison Island) where they currently are.

Watching our guide arrange for our boat to pick us back up from the island was amusing.  It looked like some of the local boat attendants were giving him a lot of shit or making fun of him.  When our boat finally arrived we jumped in and I enjoyed a breezy ride back to town which helped me feel a bit better.  We grabbed our stuff from the back of what appeared to be one of guides buddies vehicles at the beach and rinsed our feet in some sketchy water that Eric actually avoided.  

From there it was a short walk back to the Emerson Spice where our tour ended early of course and our guide suddenly came to life and became very friendly, obviously expecting a tip.  Annoyed and still hurting I walked right past him without a word into the hotel and left it to Emily and Eric to decide his fate.  I’m sure he walked with more than he deserved.  I’m sorry, but in a country where everyone is struggling to survive, if you have a job as respected as a guide for tourists you put in some effort or let someone else (like the young man from Lake Manyara) collect our tips.

Back at the hotel I pretty much passed out until 6:30pm when we went downstairs for dinner at the hotel restaurant.  Each of us got the wonderful looking seafood platter which I trusted was cooked and it turned out to be delicious.  Like every other place in Zanzibar it took FOREVER to get the bill.  Once served no one really checked on us or asked if we were done.  This was common everywhere on the island and weird to us.  Eventually, we just stood up and of course someone ran over with a bill for us to sign to the hotel.  

It felt great to get back to the air conditioned room and after eating I was feeling a bit better.  Overall, this day was the worst for me for the whole trip.  The heat, our mediocre guide, rotten fish smell of the market, crowded streets, and spending two hours severely dehydrated in the back of a hot van with food poisoning… well… it just wasn’t my day I guess.  I was definitely looking forward to heading north up the island to our Sunshine Paradise Eco Resort where I was hoping to relax in a pool with a cool ocean breeze!

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