We smelled and sampled a few more spices in our seat. Once the courses were underway on the fire, the one chef started cutting the coconuts. After they were opened, she used this jagged tool built into the end of the chair to cut out the meat of the coconut. We were all given the opportunity to try, and a few did. It took some practice to do it with the same ease as the chef. I was curious, but I did not volunteer. My back and my knees were asking me not to stoop that low, but it was more enjoyable watching my travel mates. Finally, when the meat was all removed, and filled up the large metal bowl, with two strong hands, she squeezed the coconut meat, and started the making of coconut milk. Flabbergasted! This how you make coconut milk by hand? What a new level of appreciation for the meal we were going to have, and for her bare-knuckle strength. The coconut milk was then added to the now slurried down stew of vegetables with curry.
We now moved on with the rest of our tour as there wasn’t much left to see of the lunch preparations, and there were lots of acreage that remained to be seen. Enticing whiffs and tastes resumed of the spices and fruits cut and pulled right off the tree or out of the soil: pepper, vanilla, bananas, tangerines, cloves, curry, ginger, star fruit, rambutan, and more and more. Hands down, the most memorable fruit and spice experience for me was the cinnamon and pineapple. I love pineapple, and had not one clue on how it grew. But I can’t say I had ever given it any real thought. Here in the middle of what felt like a jungle, was one lonely pineapple that looked precariously balanced on top of a short, spiky palm plant. It literally looked as if someone placed the pineapple onto a non-related plant, and said, “Voilà! Un ananas!” Maybe because there was only the one growing, it looked staged. Or maybe I need to learn more about the food I eat.
The cinnamon was fascinating because most of the tour was a guessing game. We were given clues to identify the fruit or spice presented, and we would shout out our answer. This particular stop was in front of a regular looking tree; nothing was blooming, or fruiting from its limbs. Mr. Spice made a quick cut of the bark, and passed some around. I examined it, and followed his instructions to chew on it. Still clueless, much like with the pineapple, I didn’t know what this was. It took me one second between smelling it, and chewing on the bark, to realize it was cinnamon. Fresh, spicy, and sweet, better than anything I have shaken out of a plastic spice shaker at home. This is why it also is available as a stick. The spice is in the bark! Mind blown (kapow).
Towards the end of the tour, Mr. Spice and his crew bumped the experience up a few major notches. The young men helping during the tour disappeared briefly and returned with long pieces of grass (or palm). They began to fashion bracelets and matching rings for all us, right on our wrists and fingers, with only a few short rapid movements. At this same time, while we were paused, there was a small basket presented with even smaller perfume oils. Mr. Spice explained that one was ylang ylang, which he said was the base of Chanel No.5. The other two were lemongrass and Zanzibar mix. After the group heard this, we all clambered to smell and as they generously dabbed the oils on our skin for our olfactory pleasure. All the women couldn’t get enough of the oils, including me. I already knew that I had a thing for lemongrass, and on the spot I discovered that I have a thing for ylang ylang. There was gentle hum of delight as we each sniffed our hand where the perfume was applied. Hand to nose, smile. Hand to nose, smile... We all bought several at time, then a minute would go past, we had more time to think about it, or to smell it where it was originally applied, then we wanted more. The basket quickly became empty, and had to get replaced while we waited. Tanzanian Shillings and American Dollars were flying. I bought one of each. We were all pretty giddy. My fellow travel mate who has a production company, and I joked about the two of us teaming up to make a documentary about trying to find a husband by wearing the ylang ylang perfume oil from Mr. Spice, since I believe he mentioned that this was a possibility. We are both the same age, and unbelievably single. The more we mocked the idea, the more it seemed like plausible and clever, and a way to come back to Zanzibar. I am putting this on my list of documentary ideas.
Our tour concluded, and all that smelling and tasting made for folks ready to eat. We were directed to one of the thatched roof structures near the entrance. Inside, everything was neatly placed upon two rugs. They waited with water for us if we wanted to rinse our hands off. Everyone removed their shoes, lining them up along the side, and found a spot to sit. Each rug was set with plates, utensils, and bottled water, circled around the large dishes of food we watched the women prepare. This was a traditional Tanzanian style meal, and a perfect lunch. We talked; sat cross-legged, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal of curry, fish, tomato stew, rice w/ cloves, and cassava. I am sure these dishes had formal names, but in the end it didn’t matter. Many second, third and fourth helpings were had. It is considered rude to leave food, and we did our best to be gracious guest. It wasn’t difficult to do, as this was one of the best meals I have ever had - the quality of food, company and environment.
Our bones and energy were getting low and relaxed. It would be time to leave shortly. There were items for sale underneath the other thatched roof structure. As we finished our last bits of food, we rambled over to browse and shop. On the long tables, you could find an assortment of teas, coffees, spices, scented lotions, and such. It was hard to not go overboard. I tend to want to buy things for other people but end up seeing much more that I want for myself. It also wasn’t an issue of what to buy; it was more of how much. I made my purchases, hoped for the best, and boarded the shuttle bus. While we drove away, I thought about how much my niece would have enjoyed this experience. She is a smeller of everything. I also thought about how I could incorporate the Tanzanian, family style meal into my life at home. I thought perhaps for Thanksgiving, or another meal during the holiday time. I have a feeling that friends and relatives may want to stick to the true tradition of heavy elbows on tables, and fat turkeys.
*There are not many images from this part of the day because a photographer was with us during the entirety of the trip. We are asked to be present in the experience, and allow the photographer to capture the day. I applaud them for reminding us to be aware. It makes a huge difference. More images are to come...