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14 November 2015


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There's a decent range of unflavoured (in the apple, peach etc sense) non-alcoholic German style beers available in Iran now, Richard.

Tried, but didn't finish one of the peach varieties: better to stick with pomegranate juice, and keep the prostate in good order.

The father of our tour guide (himself an intelligent, articulate anti-cleric who referred to young women wearing the black chador as 'ninja chicks') still tends vines adjacent to his chicken farm on the outskirts of Shiraz, waiting for the day to return when he'll be able to convert the fruit to wine.

Not likely in his lifetime, alas. But not improbable in his son's.

Like Comrade Sir Edwin we too travelled for a fortnight in Iran and battled through 14-15 days of no alcoholic beverages with dinner. or lunch, for that matter.

The non-alcoholic beers which Sir E. enthuses about come labelled as peppermint beer, or apple beer or peach beer: that sort of tosh.

But sadder than that we visited Shiraz as I'm sure other Oz visitors have done. There we were in the city and province -- the region which epitomises the finest red wine grapes in the world.

The French nicked cuttings back in the day to create their own massive Shiraz wine industry.

What could we do in Shiraz? Oh, yes --- try a few grizzled raisins taken from the revered vines.

Our guide generously offered to take us to a sampling of his nation's reds but we couldn't allow that as we were sure the secret police would haul him away for a breach of the nation's laws.

But we did get to visit an apple orchard and vineyard on the outskirts of the city of Shiraz and marvel at the rows and rows of vines, watered by a clunky old WW2-era pump sending water from an aquifer down some aged pipes.

And when was this? May 2011. We'd just come from 9 days in Syria where the civil war was about 6 weeks in but alarming enough for 90 coaches to be re-routed as the Japanese tourists who were to ride in them cancelled their planned itineraries.

But we have seen Palmyra in all its glory before its bombing into virtual oblivion by ISIS.

Keith, your story of the American lady is both funny and sad. But you should also not fall into the trap of calling Zanzibar an 'Islamic state', with the implicit allusion to all the prejudice we can read daily in the news.

You should know that Zanzibar is part of the United Republic of Tanzania, a country composed of Muslims and Christians (roughly 50-50) and that both the people and government (of the Muslim-dominated Zanzibar islands) have been very tolerant towards outsiders with other beliefs.

As a regular work & leisure visitor to Zanzibar since 2004 (while living in mainland Tanzania, before moving to PNG), I have however observed that tourists coming to the island often lack even a modest amount of understanding and appreciation of local values, do's and dont's.

While it has never been a problem to get a cold Kilimajaro or Safari beer in one of the many restaurants in Stone Town or along the beaches (even 'hard liquor' is not banned from the island), or sun-bathe in your swimsuit on one of the beaches, groups of tourists wandering around Stone Town in their bikini holding a beer bottle have really stretched the locals' tolerance to the limit.

As a result, stronger restrictions have been put in place both for foreigner and for locals. A Zanzibari lady (60, teacher, divorced, regular gym-goer) once told me that she was fearing for all the freedom she had because the bad example of foreigners was undermining the tolerance of the locals.

Like PNG, Zanzibar is an extremely interesting and complex place with many exciting things to discover - and as in PNG, this is best done alone or in a small group with locals rather than in a large crowd.

Be it in Madang or Stone Town, you just don't quite get the essence of the place in a sort visit with so many others. It's a pity that you apparently couldn't appreciate the place as much as I do every time I'm there.

(A little side note: your timing to visit Zanzibar might have been slightly unfortunate - shortly after the 2015 national elections which for the first time since independence saw the opposition party win - but were subsequently annulled in Zanzibar.)

Stick with the cruise ship bar. Sounds safer and more comfortable.

Having just spent 2 weeks travelling through Iran where, like Zanzibar, hard liquor is banned, I can well understand your satisfaction at being able to down an onboard beer or three after a 'dry' day.

I made up for a fortnight of enforced abstinence on arrival in Baku (Azerbaijan) where the bar staff of the rather excellent Park Inn overlooking the Caspian Sea were only too pleased to ply my companions and me with copious quantities of booze...

(Mind you, they do serve a rather good non-alcoholic beer in various parts of Iran and if you really need a buzz, there's always a shisha on hand.)

And there's always buai, whose narcotic properties are conveniently overlooked in some of these otherwise 'drug free' jurisdictions - KJ

Coast of Blacks - Zanzibar - Zan zi ba - Thats the bar. Enjoy your travels Keith.

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