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Nungwi Stone Town

5th March 2013

A Trip to the Tailors, Feeding the Turtles and Candlelit Dinner on the Beach

Fishermen's Beach Where the Dhows are Kept      (please use scroll bar)

Dhows in a Downpour
    My spine laden foot had not troubled me through the night. I woke early and had a gentle walk by the sea. Sally joined me, shortly followed by Dan. The sky was a mass of ominous looking clouds with the odd patch of blue, and out across the sea broad grey rain squalls could be seen traversing a sea turned to a milky mist by a torrential bombardment. There were no such thing as weather predictions around here.
    After breakfast, Sally managed to establish internet connectivity between power cuts, and chased up the status of the Kenyan elections. It was early days yet, but thankfully there had been no further killings.
    Dan and I toyed with the idea of a seven hour trip by boat to nearby Mnemba Island lying in a beautiful atoll, where we could enjoy a barbeque and snorkel. However, judging the skies, we aborted the idea. Later rainstorms proved that to be a wise decision.
Threatening Skies
    Sally was hoping to swim and enjoy a massage. Dan needed his luggage case stitched up, the zip had been ripped off somewhere in his travels. So Dan and I went off to search for a tailor while Sally was still absorbed on the internet. I remembered passing a tailor as our cab had driven down the dirt track through the warren of buildings to our hotel, so we headed off to find it. Knowing what a maze the town appeared to be, I made a mental note of landmarks as we passed them. Walking through the town, I noticed more of the "hinterland" than I had from the cab. Within 30m of our walk we stumbled across an open rubbish dump whose primary constituent was plastic water bottles. There was no boundary to this eyesore, it just blended into the surrounding tracks. Once on the main dirt track, we had chance to take in the small one room businesses: shops, barbers, beauty salons, building suppliers, cycle repairers and numerous non-descript buildings, which were mainly dingy affairs inside. Rubbish littered everywhere alongside the track. Hens strutted about scratching the dusty earth and young bullocks trotted along the tracks hauling small carts with drivers sitting or standing. Off the main track, small alleyways, which were cleanly swept to reveal a compacted earth surface, led off to numerous small, stone and concrete single-storey buildings, presumably residential quarters. Women entered and left these alleys, many with babes in arms. The women had dignified, gentle ways with laughter like silver bells. One very old woman hung on a stick. I passed one hovel, which had a fire burning inside and a woman on the floor preparing food. It is unfair of me to call the lean-to a hovel. To the woman and her family it might have been a cherished home.
Skies Now Cleared
    Everybody was friendly and exchanged the usual greeting, "Jambo, habari!" I couldn't get over the tiny children, tiny tots in their bare feet, all with broad smiles, waving and calling, "Jambo," in angelic voices. I wanted to take pictures, but was afraid to do so. Sally had warned me that it probably wouldn't be appropriate for me to take pictures of people in general. "After all, how would YOU feel if foreigners entered your space and started taking pictures of you?" she stressed. She had a point, but at the same time I felt a need to record the world.
The Sawing a Lobster in Two Trick
    We found the tailor shop I had seen the previous day. It was closed. Neighbours thought he might open at 11am, and there again he might not. Unperturbed, we carried on, and stumbled upon another tailor sitting in an open front dwelling, who greeted us with a toothless smile, put aside his task in hand, and immediately proceeded to repair Dan's luggage.
    Meanwhile, I sat outside under the fierce sun, on a convenient trunk of a felled palm, and watched the world go by, hollering, "Jambo!" to all and sundry. I examined the ground around me on the roadside outside the tailor's shop. It was a jumble of stones, shells, corn husks, broken coconut shells, pieces of plastic, bottle tops, a rusty tin can, a bicycle valve still attached to a fragment of inner tube, and the inevitable deluge of flattened discarded plastic water bottles. Yet when I thought about it, this is a land where each day is a struggle to survive. There is no money pumped into a centralised fund to pay for road sweepers and the like, much more important things lay on people's minds.
    In a short while the beaming tailor was done - 2000 Tanzanian shillings, about 80p!
Dhow Being Built
    We carried on in the direction we had been walking, and I was painfully aware that white people didn't seem to exist in this part of town. But folk were friendly and we never felt threatened. The road brought us out to the sea, closer to the northern tip of the island. A flotilla of dhows was anchored off shore, and a bunch of guys were hauling their nets ashore. Many nets were spread out a short way up from the beach.
    Just past the Hilton, the northernmost hotel on this coastline, we could see Gerry's Bar. I don't know how, but the scorching heat drove us to seek refuge there; a cool delicious, gingery Tangawizi went down a treat. Dan was in his element, replays of Premiership football were being shown on a T.V., between power cuts.
Spot of Lunch
    Within minutes, the heavens opened and the outside world was transformed into a mist. The lashing hard shower whitened the air askance. A chap we had often seen with a monkey on his shoulder, sprinted up with his pet to take shelter under a nearby shade. I wondered how the little primate felt being constantly captivated by his tail which the guy clung on to. When we got back to base, Sally had already left for a massage. The heavens opened up yet again. Yes, this was definitely the start of the wet season.
    Afternoon was spent taking Dan around the arts and crafts market where he made a few purchases, followed by swimming, yes swimming in the rainy season. On our way swimming, we came across spine squeeze man again, who enquired after my foot. He took a long look at it, and then asked if I'd like the medical treatment again. Since I was about to take to the sea, I thanked him and suggested later might be a better time. I was touched by his genuine concern.
Green Turtle - Can be Green!
    Dan enjoys his swimming, so he remained in the sea for a while, and why not, the rains were disappearing. In the early evening, Sally and I gazed at the row of dhows running noiselessly with a file of pale shadow-sails close to shore, the fishing fleet leaving en masse for a night shift far over the horizon, and then walked past Gerry's Bar towards the northern tip of the island to take in the lighthouse and hopefully a look down the eastern coast. Just before we reached the lighthouse, we passed by the Mnarani Natural Aquarium ("Mnarani" meaning "place of the lighthouse" in Swahili). Hmmm.... this could be interesting we thought. We were soon engaged in conversation with a young fellow, who used his smiles and charms to lure us to a desk where we were confronted with a dour, grumpy character, the first we had encountered in this country.
    "5$ per person, 7500 shillings per person," I gradually deciphered from his broken English. Not all Tanzanians can speak English. "Do I get discount for being an old man?" I joked with him and the young man. I find the Tanzanians have a good sense of humour, and for some reason they really chuckle at my warped Cumbrian sense of humour. The older guy behind the desk simply stared at me in disbelief, or perhaps he had not understood a word I said. After a few more minutes of trying to make his face crack, helped by translations from his younger colleague, a cog clicked and the broken message came across to me, "You don't walk with a stick, you are not old." I laughed and paid up, and the young chap took us into the compound.
    The aquarium was created around a large, natural, tidal pool in the coral rock behind the Nungwi beach. The young man took us across a walkway which reached out into the pool, and very knowledgably explained that the aquarium had been originally set up to rehabilitate and study turtles that had been caught in fishing nets. The aquarium project expanded to ensure that local north coast baby turtles were also protected. Two main species of turtles existed around these coasts, the Green Turtle and the Hawksbill Turtle. The pool contained Green Turtles, which were kept for at least a couple of years before being released. The Green Turtles started life by feeding on seaweed, algae, insects and fish, but after about one year they preferred to feed only on algae and sea grasses.
    Our guide climbed down some steps and held out some weeds. In a very short time, large, dark Green Turtles glided out of the depths, like submerged flying saucers, to hungrily grab a mouthful of weed and greedily devour it. Sally climbed down to the water's edge and was totally enthralled in feeding the turtles herself.
    The young man went off to collect a tray of fish pieces and hurled a handful across the water. I watched mesmerised as a wide trail of ripples launched itself across the pond, the spearhead of it directly tracking the flying fish above, and as soon as the pieces of fish touched the pond's surface there was a violent frenzy as dozens of fish guzzled the readymade meal that had just dropped from heaven. This was repeated a few times, and I was captivated by the uncanny tracking capability of the submerged fish.
Our Final Nungwi Sunset
    Our guide then took us to look inside a large tank containing three small Hawkshead Turtles with beautiful scaled backs. Separate enclosed pens contained a python, tortoises, a monitor lizard and a couple of small Nile crocodiles.
    Apart from the inevitable collection of turtle shells, we were introduced to the skeleton of a Humpback Whale once washed ashore near here. Another display featured scores of dolphin skulls. Apparently, one year, a huge pod of dolphins swam into a lagoon a little further down the west coast. They were ravenous after a long sea trip, and thus stayed rather a long time in the lagoon hungrily feeding. Sadly, they hadn't noticed the tide receding, and 400-600 died. They were later washed ashore near Nungwi, where they were buried in a mass grave. The collection of skulls is a reminder of the incident.
    We enjoyed our visit, and thanked our guide. Just as we were leaving I asked him how we got to the lighthouse which was visible 40m from the far side of the pool. "You can't go over there, the area belongs to the military," he replied.
Late Dhow Returning
    Disappointed at not being able to reach the most northerly point, we turned back to go find Dan. The sun had already sunk below the horizon, and dying embers kept the sky glowing. It was a glorious sight.
    As we strolled back along the beach, all the young African children were pouring out of town and going for a swim. Many young ones gave us a chorus of "Jambo," and high fives, one group being particularly fascinated by Sally's fair hair. It was interesting to note that these kids only swam after sunset, and in this particular area. Parents were quite happy to let them go without supervision.
    In the evening, we walked in the dark along the beach, had a couple of cocktails and a delightful meal. For me this was barracuda stuffed with cheese and tomatoes. The beachside restaurants had put all their tables and chairs out on the beach; a romantic and really beautiful setting. The tide slowly came in, and the large group of Italians on the table next to us had to shift back from the sea by a couple of metres. Ten minutes later they had to shift by another couple of metres. We bantered with Mohamed, our warm, friendly waiter, who excitably chatted about the imminent Manchester United/Real Madrid football match, and he advised Dan where to watch it and when.
    To top it all, the power was cut once again, and there we all were on the beach in candlelight. Now, without light and music, we had a serene setting with the now visible constellations above us, waves gently kissing the shore, and a playing warm breeze sweeping loose sand in a low whisper.
    By 10pm I was shattered. I usually awoke before dawn and it was all catching up on me. I mentioned to Dan that I couldn't manage to stay up to 1am with him in a bar watching football; I needed sleep. He was a bit peeved at this, and wouldn't go to a bar by himself, so he resigned himself to missing the match.
    We walked back to our base in the starlight, passing dark shadows. Instead of the usual lively, "Jambo," the dark shapes remained silent, patiently waiting for the return of power. Once back in our room, Dan found he could watch the match on terrestrial T.V., so problem solved. I watched the first 15 minutes, and then despite the apparatus blaring out above the din of the air-conditioning, I sank into unconsciousness.

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Nungwi Stone Town
Last updated 9.4.2013