EPIC Group Travel Writers: The Scent of Cloves

Cloves scenic

This is the third in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.

It was late afternoon when Glenn and I left our hotel, the Serena to tour Stone Town, the main city on the island of Zanzibar. As we crossed the lobby we paused to look at the telegraph equipment from the days when the building had been the British Consuls’ residence, and where the ghosts of 19th century explorers dressed in khaki and solar topees seemed to haunt the halls. Earlier in the day we lounged on our balcony overlooking the harbor watching dhows with patched triangular sails glide by, bringing the day’s catch to the quay.

Women in bright-colored cottons called kangas rushed to finish their shopping. Knots of men in skull caps and long white robes squatted on the sidewalks brewing fragrant coffee in conical brass pots over tiny charcoal fires that glowed like small beacons. The aroma of coffee lingered in the heavy tropical air. The men gathered near heavy wood doors of old palaces built of mold-stained coral blocks. The huge doors, set in intricately carved stone frames, were studded with brass knobs to ward off war elephants. There are no elephants in Zanzibar, but the Indian merchants and builders followed the style of their homeland, a remembrance of ancient trade routes to Oman, Persia and India.

open door


Emerson House, our dinner destination, was originally built in the 1820s as one of those palaces but was enlarged fifty years later to add several floors in Anglo-Indian style, complete with Gothic arches and Indian ornamentation.

We lounged like a sultan and sultana on silk cushions under a rooftop awning listening to Mozart on the CD player while savoring our dinner of curry and prawns. The pervasive scent of cloves, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and vanilla awaiting shipment in nearby warehouses enveloped us. As the sun slipped below the horizon a sudden explosion of sound startled us. First, the Hindu temple directly in front of us erupted in the sound of bells and cymbals to begin their evening service.

cloves temple

When the clanging stopped, the Anglican cathedral, built over the ruins of the old slave market, began to ring its own more mellow bells. The sound reverberated through the spice-scented air to call their faithful to evensong. As the bells slowed and quieted we heard that most evocative sound in this part of the world, the muezzin’s call from the minaret of a nearby mosque as he beckoned his believers to prayer.

The power went out and it was time to leave the restaurant. We stumbled down steep stairs by candlelight and slowly felt our way down the hill to our hotel, worrying about falling off the foot-high curbs built to keep the walkways above monsoon rains. We came to a mosque and paused to look in the open barred window. The imam preached to the kneeling men by the light of a kerosene lantern. The rapt worshippers looked up, their beards pointed towards him as the age-old words of the Prophet were retold.

Asalaamu alekum. Peace be upon you.

— By Judith Works

As an offshoot of EPIC’s Monday morning writing sessions held at the Edmonds library, the EPIC Group Travel Writers meet at Savvy Traveler once a month. Participants of this fluid group love to travel and write stories about their journeys. You are invited to attend on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30-5 p.m. Free to members and non-members of EPIC Group Writers. 


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