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Bwejuu Nungwi

4th March 2013

Travelling in a Cab with a Loose Wheel, and Painful Encounter with a Sea Urchin

    Sitting sipping coffee whilst waiting for the others to join me for breakfast, I watched the Swedish couple take the larger fishing boat out to the snorkel grounds. The morning air was as clear as crystal.
    The four fisherwomen returned again, and I observed as they dragged their net in, alive with fry 3-4cm long, flapping about on the sand, with a murder of crows hanging around for a tasty snack. The Indian House Crows were introduced to Zanzibar from India over a century ago by misguided British civil servants, who assumed the crows would help keep Stone Town clear of edible litter. They were correct in their assumption, but had underestimated the domineering nature of the birds, which had now spread to the mainland.
Fisherwomen Pulling in Their Net
    This morning we were leaving this idyllic piece of paradise and heading up towards the northern tip of the island, Nungwi, to widen our appreciation of Zanzibar.
    We had considered our options for getting there. The dala-dalas would be an experience, but it would be ever so slow, and if it rained, as it did, our luggage stored on top of the vehicle would have drowned. The next option would be a shared taxi to Stone Town and then another up to Nungwi. These tend to operate on a two hour window departure time, stretching travel time. Besides Stone Town would have been a bottleneck. Since time was precious to us, we opted to take a cab all the way. Renato kindly booked this for us.
Sally's Last Paddle at Twisted Palms
Small White Fry
    By 9am, we were all paid up, thanked our hosts, bade farewell and were on our way, driven by Ali. Within 30 seconds the heavens opened. As we slowly picked our way through the white mist bouncing off the roads, cows trundled along the side of the road to unknown destinations. People cowered under whatever shelter they could find.
    After passing through Paje, our driver stopped at a garage for fuel. The forecourt attendant was not going to come out to operate the pump. Ali shouted an angry exchange to him, but the attendant stubbornly stayed in the dry, so a disgruntled Ali drove off.
    I heard something loose towards the rear of our vehicle. Was it a wheel bearing or a brake pad catching part of a rusty, distorted disk? A few miles further on Ali started to notice the noise, and pulled in. Fortunately it had stopped raining, giving us chance to investigate the problem. It transpired that the wheelnuts on the rear inside wheel were loose. Ali scratched his head, and then scoured the floor of his cab for a wheel brace. He couldn't find one, and called up one of his pals. Meanwhile a congregation of children from a nearby school had gathered at the spectacle we must have presented. We then emptied the complete boot, our luggage and piles of other stuff unceremoniously dumped on the road behind us.
Coconut Tree at Twisted Palms
    A strong gust of wind snapped off a palm frond across the road from us, and it crashed down heavily from its lofty origins, broken end first. If anything had been under the bough, it would have been skewered.
    Eventually Ali retrieved a wheel brace out of the depths of his boot, and between us we tightened the nuts, and proceeded on our journey.
One of Twisted Palms Maasai Lads
    The heavens opened again, and rivers streamed down the strips of dirt between the road and small groups of buildings occasionally encountered. When the road started heading north, we came across a police control point, one of many across the island. The official demanded to see Ali's documentation, and he wandered off with this. A short while later he returned and interrogated Ali. It was noticeable that Ali never looked the official in the eye. Sally later told me that in East Africa people tend to avoid eye contact with officialdom as a mark of respect. We negotiated one more checkpoint before we reached Nungwi.
    As we passed through one small village, all the inhabitants seemed to be out on the street. Ali explained that it indicated someone had died, and sure enough some metres further on we passed a waiting empty grave.
    On reaching the northern outpost of Nungwi, Ali had to stop and seek directions. Street names were non-existent and routes are described by landmarks. We were directed off the road down a dirt track through a ramshackle fishing village of derelict looking concrete buildings, all laid out in a haphazard manner. Some were shops and businesses, some I guessed were residential, and some seemed to serve as both. The conventional western four walls and a roof principle wasn't followed here. Often the walls stopped at hip level and the roof sat on pillars. Some folk had little vegetable stalls by the dirt track, others ran their shops, and were either actively engaged in business, or sitting hoping that business may come their way at some time in the next decade. Some people chatted in the street, and one old man sat in the shade idly staring into space. This was certainly different to the Twisted Palms Lodge.
Smiles Beach Hotel Front      (please use scroll bar)

    We reached our hotel that we had booked the day before, were courteously received and shown to our comfortable rooms, and without further ado we set off to explore the beach to the south of our residence. Here we came across a stretch of guesthouses, bars, shops, restaurants, bikini-clad backpackers, and scores of Italians in their budgie smugglers, a marked contrast to the maze of run down dwellings we had just passed through to reach here. We strolled a way down the beach, but soon stopped to take shelter in a bar from an almighty downpour. Sally had stayed in Nungwi a few weeks back with her cousin, and knew the bar to be run by a Polish woman, who fell in love with the area and took out a five year lease. Being an architect, she designed the building, and then brought her daughter out here to live. We sipped juices, watching a waterfall cascade down a corner of the thatched roof and rapidly disappear below the sand below. We were surrounded by lots of young people of Sally and Dan's age; a paradise for backpacker's, gap-year students, ageing hippies, and cool dudes at this area of the island. Where do I fit in that category?
Fishermen Returning to Nungwi
    While Dan went off to explore the northern part of the beach, Sally took me round an alley she knew to be full of arts and crafts shops. Each was stacked to overflowing with paintings, batik, banana leaf pictures, wooden animals, carved masks, beads, necklaces, spices and an Aladdin's cave full of knickknacks. As we walked past the small shops, each owner would approach with a beaming smile, "Jambo! Come inside and see my shop." I bought a batik in one for my youngest daughter, mind you only after I knocked him down by 50%. The proprietor wanted to talk about tomorrow's football match between Manchester United and Real Madrid. Tanzanians are keen on football and many support U.K. teams. Sally bought a baby blanket for one of her pregnant friends.
    We returned to base where we met Dan, and we all opted to swim. I set off early, wading into a warm cobalt blue sea, and finding myself walking over small stones and shells in the shallows, I decided to float out on my back into deeper water. A fair distance out I thought I was in swimming depth, and flipped over onto my front to swim further out. I felt my right foot scrape the seabed, and wallop!
Strolling on Nungwi Beach
    I almost saw stars, an excruciating pain filled my right foot, and I could tell immediately from the burst of individual pain sensations that I had kicked a sea urchin. I was filled with a mixture of anguish and anger, anger because I knew that this would have an impact on our Zanzibar break. I floated back to shore to avoid more of the little brutes, and hobbled up the beach to a recliner where Dan had fortunately plonked himself on. "Dan, see if Sally's got some tweezers, will you," I shouted as I approached. "Why?" was his unsympathetic response. "I've just kicked a sea urchin, and I want to try and remove some of the spines." He now understood the situation and dashed off. In a short while, Sally arrived, quite concerned, and horror struck when she saw my foot. Now local swellings were appearing on my toes where spines were buried. Pointing to the three spines that could still be seen poking out of my toes, "Can you pull those out please?" I implored. She gingerly tried, but they snapped off at the skin's surface. I could count eleven tell-tale signs of spines under the skin, and there were probably more under my toes that I couldn't see.
    "Let's ask reception what the best approach to this is," I whinged. I was more concerned about the buried spines than the pain. I hobbled off with Dan and Sally in attendance. The chap at reception was totally unfazed by this, and was full of good humour with a ready smile. My God was this guy a sadist? "Hakuna matata, no problem. This is Africa and we know how to deal with such things," he beamed. "But the spines are still in there," I blurted out. "That is OK, don't worry. If you go to the hospital, they will charge you $100, but we can treat you here for nothing. We have medicine. This is Africa," and with that he barked out some instructions to one of his employees, who disappeared off, and returned with a small container of kerosene.
    While I sat on a stone step, the employee squeezed around each submerged spine in turn, hoping to ease them out. Instinctively I tried to grind my left foot through the centre of the earth. Nothing seemed to be budging. Then the reception chap appeared with a papaya, grinning ear to ear. Spine squeeze man proceeded to puncture the papaya, and apply the oozing milk over the spine entry holes. After a few minutes of this treatment, he repeated the process with the kerosene. I thought the next step would be a lit match, but no, the man said the foot would be fine in an hour, and the spines would come out in a week's time. I showered the guys with plentiful "Asante sana"s, and hobbled off.
Sunset at the End of a Rainy Day
    The restaurant had a small dining area by the seafront, and this is where I parked myself. I instructed Dan and Sally to go swimming further along the shore where a sandbank extended out into the sea, while I drank an endless supply of soft drinks. After much cajoling from me, they went off and I watched the world go by. An hour later they returned, and the pain in my foot had greatly subsided. With a little convincing, Sally persuaded me to dispel my demons and have a swim with her and Dan in the safer waters of the sandbank, which I did after a hobble or two.
    After a lovely swim, we returned to the hotel which had power restored (yes power is a hit and miss affair all over this island), and Dan got Al Jazeera news on T.V., the first we'd had in our African adventure. I learned a little of the Kenyan elections taking place today. It seemed that people in Kenya still believed in the system and democracy, with a turnout of 85% in Kisumu. Sadly, it had already been marred, near Mombasa, by militiamen armed with machetes and spears, attacking some security guards, killing 19. These 200 or so militiamen were supporters of the Mombasan Republican Council who wanted to stop the voting.
    Meanwhile Sally had been having a whale of a time in her room with flying ants that had been getting in her hair. One wall in her room was crawling with the 1cm long creatures, and the join between the wall and ceiling was just a bubbling mass of ants. Several dozen were using her bed as a trampoline. The receptions remedy for this was, "Here is a can of ant spray." We waged war over this marauding army, and soon the floor was carpeted with seemingly thousands of dead ants.
    Come the evening, we walked a short way along the sea wall to a nearby restaurant, and enjoyed an excellent meal outside under trees all lit up by fairy lights. A lady, presumably the owner, periodically wandered around table to table chatting to the customers. She was British, and had spent five years in Kenya when her husband worked there for Lloyds Registry. She now split her time between here and her children in the U.K. How lovely.
    On our return to our rooms, cleaners had been into Sally's room and shovelled out the ants.

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Bwejuu Nungwi
Last updated 9.4.2013