Paradise on the Spice Island.
Zanzibar, The Spice Island. Even the name sounds exotic, bringing to mind images and aromas of heady exotic spices.
For centuries merchants from all corners of the world came to the island in their wooden vessels, carrying away spices, ivory and slaves and leaving their mark on the history, culture and architecture of the island.
Once the world’s largest producer of cloves, it remains their leading domestic product; but other countries like Madagascar have now surpassed its volumes. Zanzibar’s tropical climate and fertile soil continue to support the production of other spices as well, like nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and cardamom.
We are enroute from Stone Town to Pongwe Beach on the east side of the island and stop to take in the mandatory Spice Plantation Tour. Numerous plantations offer tours, we are vising Kizimbani Spice Farm. Knowledgeable guides escort us throughout the grounds identifying the various plants and explaining how each is grown, harvested and used. We learn that in the case of pepper we use the seeds, while in cardamom and ginger it is the root and cinnamon is the bark.
Spices, from left to right, above:
Ginger Root, Nutmeg, Cardamon
Vanilla Bean, Cloves, Black Pepper
Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Turmeric
We culminate our tour with a demonstration of climbing a coconut palm (tip, please),
sampling local made cosmetics and fragrances
and fresh fruit tasting (another tip please).
And then we bid farewell to our guide (tip!) and his trainee/assistant (yet another tip).
While it was interesting and informative and such an important part of the fabric of the island, the constant outright expectation of continued tipping can spoil the experience.
Paradise at Pongwe Beach.
Zanzibar Island has no shortage of beach destinations. We have decided on Pongwe Beach on the east side of the island. It is our last stop and we have two nights in this idyllic location. I have heard much about the beauty of Zanzibar beaches and I am excited to experience them for myself.
It is late afternoon when we arrive at Pongwe Beach Hotel, a charming resort consisting of 20 thatched roof suites. We are greeted warmly by Heidi and her team and escorted to our semi-detached beachfront villa-style suite. We step outside and the view stops me in my tracks. The soft, powdery white sand rolls gently toward the spectacular waters of the Indian Ocean, ribbons of every shade of blue and green imaginable. There are shades here that even Crayola has not yet discovered and named. The crystal clear waters reflect hues of pale soft blues, turquoise, azure, jade, cobalt – every color in the palette.
A large patio at the front of our unit holds two welcoming loungers, facing onto the beach. Just steps away a small path leads us onto the white sand beach. The heat of the sun beats down, soothing. Swaying palm trees edge the beach area and brilliant blue loungers hide under thatch-topped umbrellas, offering shade from the tropical sun. Hammocks are strung between palm trees, inviting a nap in the afternoon heat.
The white sand is just below the surface; the water so shallow it is warm as a bathtub.
As the day draws to a close we wander to the central dining room where we are treated to generous servings of exceptional food and doted on by our own designated server. We sip a cold glass of South African Sauvignon Blanc as the moon rises in the dark night sky.
Day Four: Pongwe Beach.
I stir in my king sized bead, pulling aside the filmy netting that encloses me, like an Arabian princess, in my cozy cocoon. The huge Zanzibar bed boasts ornately carved headboard and footboard, bedazzled with tile and stone. The sun peaks in through the shuttered windows.
Morning dawns on a low tide on Pongwe Beach, an extraordinary site. Snow white sand dunes lay bare, the shallow water receding far back toward the reef. We kick off our flip flops and wade in, the water barely around our ankles.
The beach is uncrowded, only small groups of local women draped in flowing cotton garments, searching the tide pools and beaches, buckets in hand. Slowly they move back and forth, stopping, stooping to pick up a shell here or some seaweed there. They are gathering food. Once full, they carry the heavy buckets on their headsthe multicolored .
Young Maasi men approach tourists, attaching themselves, offering to take them to the starfish or on a snorkelling trip, hoping to garner tips in return for their guidance.
We come upon a series of plots where local women tend gardens of seaweed, another food staple for their families.
We wander in the shallow water, searching for shells and on the lookout for starfish. I cannot image a more restful way to spend a morning. And as the tide returns, we retire to the comfy blue loungers on the beach to wile away a lazy and relaxing afternoon, readying ourselves for the arduous journey home.
Pongwe Beach Hotel is a small, private complex consisting of 13 beachfront rooms, semi-detached or groups of three, including one clifftop family unit. In addition there are 3 garden-view units and four deluxe seaview units with individual plunge pools.
Guests gather in the spacious central dining room and bar or cool off in the sparkling infinity pool in the heat of the day. Bicycles, kayaks and paddleboard are available for the more adventurous. Massages, tours and activities can be arranged through the front desk.
The mandate of Pongwe is to provide a quality guest experience in an authentic Zanzibar setting with good food, good value and ample relaxation. If you are looking for five star luxury, go next door. But if you are looking for a small, intimate hotel that treats you like family, this is the right place.
From historic Stone Town to paradise on Pongwe Beach, Zanzibar was the perfect ending to a once in a lifetime adventure in unforgettable Africa.
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