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Getting Spicy in Zanzibar

Author: Aimee Cebulski
Date of Trip: November 2009

Getting Spicy in Zanzibar

By Aimee Cebulski

A warm breeze hit me when I stepped off the small turbo-prop onto a palm tree dotted-runway and I instantly knew Zanzibar was unlike any place I had ever been. I traveled in November 2009 to this small community off the coast of mainland Tanzania, an ancient island full of flavor, spice and history. Over the centuries, this small island has been dominated by Persian, British and African cultures, and the result is a unique feel of old-world colonialism with a tropical vibe.

I wanted to come to Zanzibar to feel like I was truly on the other side of the world. The trip was part of a larger round-the-world journey that took my boyfriend and I through Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. Zanzibar gained prominence as a major trading hub and good access the trade winds between Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, lemongrass and countless other fragrances fill the air, wafting down small alleys and between the crumbling buildings of Stone Town.

We spent about a week and a half on the island, splitting our time between the historical center of Stone Town and the tropical beaches of the north.

Each day we would wander the maze of buildings in Stone Town, visiting historical sites and taking in some great shopping. Historical sites like the House of Wonders (former home of previous sultans ruling the island) and the Old Fort were great examples of the diverse architectural influences over the years. Stone Town itself was like walking through a living museum slowly falling apart from the inside out. Zanzibari leaders have made efforts to preserve the architecture and building techniques, but the area remains a jumble of repair work cobbled together over the years.

Several evenings we followed the locals to the night market at Forodhani Gardens right on the waterfront. It was a kick to see chefs in white coats and hats grilling up fresh seafood from the day and local delicacies like a Zanzibar Pizza (more like a quiche filled with meats, cheeses and spices). At an average of one or two dollars per item, we ate like kings for almost nothing!

Since Zanzibar became famous for its spices, I had to go on a tour to a local spice farm to see how cloves, vanilla, peppers, cinnamon, pineapples, breadfruits, coconuts and more are locally grown and various harvest techniques.

Sampling is mandatory along the way and I got to enjoy a burst of real fresh peppercorns and some of the sweetest pineapple on Earth.

Our tour also included lunch at a local home, featuring spiced rice (with ingredients right from the trees) and various sauteed vegetables and sauces. I hunkered down on the floor and enjoyed a home cooked meal prepared by a true master, coming obviously from generations of instruction.

After the maze of Stone Town, we headed to the northwest coast for spectacular scenery and an even more laid-back scene. Our little over-ocean hotel room in Nungwi was blessed with a gentle breeze and right out our room were brilliant turquoise waters in more shades than I could count.

There wasn’t much to do in this region besides dive, swim, snorkel, lounge and eat; which is exactly why loved it! As divers, we were attracted to the intense biodiversity of sealife and pristine coral reefs combined with warm, clear waters filled with countless tons of large sea turtles, a personal favorite of mine.

Zanzibar is a place where things move at their own pace — “Pole Pole” which translates to “Slowly Slowly” in Swahili. It’s a favorite expression on the island, and really, why would you want to hurry up through such a one-of-a-kind locale?

Author Aimee Cebulski is a freelance travel writer and photographer and is currently photographing women around the world for “Finding Forty” (, a study of what it means to be 40 on a global scale.

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