Monthly Archives: March 2015

ISLAND VIBES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“You wanna come to the island?” Rahim asked, stirring me to wake at 07:30 in the morning.

“Island?” I grumbled through crackin’ eyes. “Yeah, sure.”

I rose slowly to my feet, completed the morning’s regular routine and we headed out in the cab he had arranged along with Stephi, a marine biologist by trade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached Menai Bay, a marine conservation park without any resort hotels destroying the beach views. The hour-long drive through torrential rains had us in a sleepy fishing village just as the rain stopped. Even the sun came out to greet us.

It seemed that Africa’s rainy season was chasing me through each country, starting from Zambia. I didn’t mind. Saved me showering.

We hopped on a motorised dhow that chugged us towards Nyememve Island where Rahim had been contracted to build a restaurant. The island was a mini jungle of small trails, coconut crabs, sand crabs, some birds and thick shrubbery – a rock out in the bay surrounded by reef.

The dhow dropped us off on the island’s sandbank and continued to other islands where the Minister for Land Survey went to conduct his surveys (as in, collect bribe money). We explored the jungle but the heat of the day was getting to me. After walking for about half an hour through the shaded jungle, I was ready to hit the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Ja, me too,” said Stephi (she’s German).

We suited up with fins and masks and swam out. I came across some sea grass and a blanket of sea urchins. Visibility wasn’t at its best as I dived down a bit and suddenly, there in the grassy bed, a snowflake moray eel was hunting the crab holes. I froze, floating, watching at a respectful distance as it slid through the grass and attacked into the holes until it found one and eventually disappeared through it. It had either taken on a crab that had other plans rather than being eaten or it had found a new home.

I snorkeled on, noticing small clutters of reef spread along the grass. Within a hundred years it’ll be providing life for the abundance of tropical fish, starfish and anemones that were already claiming real estate.

The water was warm and after about an hour, I swam back to the island, spotting two cuttle fish flashing colours as they swam a mating ritual. Along with Stephie we had a snack and went off to explore the other side. A large storm brewed and coloured the horizon grey over Unguja, Zanzibar’s main island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was surprised to discover that the water was much colder on this side. Visibility seemed to be cloudier. I dived down and found more fields of sea grass and sea urchins until I came across a 200-year-old yellow porites which is a genus of stony coral, characterised by a finger-like morphology.

On its top was a large hole blocked by a giant moray eel. I couldn’t see the head as I dived down and swam carefully around as morays are notoriously aggressive, territorial and have teeth that would make a vampire jealous.

With the water becoming murkier I decided to head back to the sand bank just as the dhow appeared and picked us up. We returned to Unguja to try and get some octopus for dinner at the local fish market which is auction based but we missed out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I noticed a local scrubbing three small octopi in the sand.

“What are you doing that for?” I asked curiously.

“It softens the flesh,” he answered, allowing me to take a photo.

Huh, maybe I should try it on my sunbaked flesh.

 

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, The Indian Ocean, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN ZANZIBAR – PART III

P1020676“You can stay the night,” Sheby said over the phone.

I had arrived in the Promised Land, a beach-side bungalow on Zanzibar’s southern most point on the main island. From here you can go on unethical dolphin tours, snorkel or the other usual tourist traps of spice tours and the likes.

Me? I just wanted to explore somewhere else on the island. I’ve been north to Nungwi on a dhow, I’ve been east to Paje and Jambiani for an epic jam session at Red Monkey Lodge. And Stone Town has been my home base for the past five weeks.

This weekend started with one of my best gigs at Demani Lodge where I opened for DJ Andy Newman, one of the few DJs on the planet that can get me moving to deep house music.

He even organised a ride for me to get to Paje on the east coast with some cool cats like my buddy, Rahim.

“Do you know why they have all these mango trees here?” Rahim asked.

“Do tell,” I played along.

“The story goes that there was a woman who couldn’t decide on a husband so she slept with all the men in the area. The next morning she’d cut off their heads and bury it. On top of each head she planted a mango tree.”

Huh.

“What do you think?”

“I think there’s a lot of mango trees on this road,” I grinned.

We arrived at Demani Lodge where Issa said, “You’ll get free bed and drinks but food you’ll have to pay for as I don’t know what you’re capable of.”

Fair enough. I thrived off beers and then jammed my set after the bush band.

“You’ll get free breakfast,” Issa said, coming up to me to shake my hand after my set. Which just happened to be one of my best gigs to date. Andy came up after me and had me and everybody else movin’ and groovin’ to his deep house beats. His good on the decks. A resident DJ in Ibiza and Thailand, he knows his shit.

The party died at about three in the morning. I wasn’t happy with the aftermath of gettin’ thrown into the pool. I hate pools. I’ve always lived by the ocean. I can’t do pools. It’s too artificial. Even on splintering hot days where you can fry an egg on the side walk, I’d rather a cold shower than the chlorine piss-pot that is a pool.

The next morning I hit the road after breakfast and was assisted with a free ride from a taxi all the way to Jambiani. From there I hiked about a K before a car came flyin’ down the road and pulled over.

“Get in,” the bald-headed foreign driver declared.

I threw my gear in the back and hopped in.

“Igor,” he introduced himself. “From Serbia.” He was a sales rep for an American poultry company. Been in Zanzibar for just under a year. “I’ll go back to Greece, to my old job as a hotel manager,” he said. “Zanzibar just isn’t for me right now.”

We talked about religion mostly, both of us being of the belief of good energy, positivity and that kind of thing. “I don’t understand how someone can force me, or believe they can force me, to believe in what they want rather than let me choose,” he said as we sped along at about a hundred and a prayer. “I would like, one day, to put into a room a priest, a rabbi, a Hindu priest, a Buddhist, a mufti and tell them, ‘Now come up with one solution and whatever that solution is, I’ll follow it.’”

I liked the way this guy thinks.

He took me 15 K’s out of his way to drop me off at The Promised Land, “Otherwise, no cars are on this road and it’s a long walk, my friend.”

We shook hands at the gate and I bid him farewell and good luck as he did me.

A huge storm was to shake the southern part of Zanzibar and indeed, it shook. I only met Sheby the next afternoon where he decided that a barter wasn’t on offer. I thanked him for the one free night and hiked up the road where I passed Marogo Gardens (Marogo means decorative).

“Mambo!” called out a voice from inside one of the buildings. I peered in and the voice was followed by a rasta. “Karibu,” he welcomed me.

I walked in. “I’m Assani,” he introduced himself.

I bumped knuckles in the rasta way and explained my ways of travels in Ki-Swahili.

“You are welcome to stay,” he invited me in. “We are still building but you are welcome.”

“I’ll help you build,” I offered. “In exchange. That’s how I survive.”P1020680

I found myself doing some gardening over the next three days while the rains persisted. Assani fed me, gave me a place to stay and I worked alongside Ali, a mid-40’s man who was a chain-smoking pot beast.

If he didn’t have a joint rolled up and flaring he had a cigarette. I haven’t smoked so much pot in three days since the first time I introduced the substance to my body some 11 years ago. I moved rocks, chopped down plants, cleared out clearings and jammed on my guitar while the rains kept coming, the heavens cracking open with sky-splitting thunder.

By Tuesday the skies had cleared and I was ready to go back to Stone Town as I had a gig lined up at 6 Degrees South. Assani, Ali and I hiked along the road for about 3 K’s before a daladala pulled over and took us the last 2 K’s to the junction where our ways split.

“Thanks for everything, kaka,” I thanked Assani for hosting me as a brother.

“You are welcome anytime, kaka,” he said as we hugged.

I began my hike in the 93% humidity of the day towards Stone Town that lay 70 K’s away. The only vehicles on the desolate road were the daladalas.

Could be a long walk but I immediately switched back to the whole, someone-will-stop vibe that I’ve adopted throughout my travels. Even if it takes an hour or four, someone will stop.

An hour later an Italian neuro-something-or-other pulled over and took me all the way to Stone Town. We discussed how the Western world causes ulcers, how the food is killing the people because of all the chemical additives and how a simple life is much easier and causes more happiness than a piece of paper with a number on it.

She dropped me off within walking distance of 6 Degrees and I just managed to beat the rains and prepare for my evening set.

I just hope there’ll be people.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DHOW SAILING

AG

Free-diving, sailing on a dhow and eating squid:

http://africageographic.com/blog/sailing-and-snorkelling-at-mnemba-island/

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SAILING ON WISDOM

P1020453I was almost shaken out of my hammock. We were running late and the tide was heading out. Buya shook me awake frantically. I hopped out, unstrung my bed and watched as the others went about their duties. Along with Ana the Spanish girl based in Lamu who had sailed down with the dhow, Casper and Barney had joined us for the trip to Nungwi, the northern tip of Zanzibar.

Once we were under way and the single sail was up, we were cruising. I sat grinning, staring at the crystal turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, old lovers reunited.

“We don’t sail at night,” Useless Yousef explained. “We anchor somewhere and sleep.”

And so was the case that evening when we pulled into a beach where a South African and his Italian partner welcomed us. We built a bonfire and we jammed some tunes, Yes Rasta and Yousef on the drums, everyone else on vocals, although Captain Omar wasn’t much for singing he had a wide enough grin to express his contempt.

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I strung up my hammock on the balcony of the gazebo and slept peacefully, without a swing. In the morning we headed out. Our first stop was Mnemba Atoll, a marine reserve where most of the scuba diving courses in Zanzibar are done and some great snorkeling to be had.

Entry to the island isn’t allowed.Unless you were of that ridiculous uppity, snobby and nauseating class of the rich and famous, willing to spend $1,500-a-night on the only lodge on the shores.

The last time I snorkeled was in Chagos Archipelago. That was the 2014 New Year’s. We anchored and I jumped in with my mask and fins and promptly swam towards the reef. I love being underwater. It’s a second home for me. I feel as comfortable in the wet as I do on land, sometimes moreso in the blue. I was greeted by an abundance of colourful fish, the standard of most reefs: Angelfish, clownfish, parrotfish, unidentified fish, coral, sea urchins and a cliffside wall that dropped to unimaginable depths.

I noticed the scuba divers at about ten meters below me (visibility was at 15 meters). I dived down and surprised them. Here they were, weighed down with weight belts, a fire hydrant of oxygen, mask, hoses, wetsuits and booties, and here I was, like a reef fish, swimming between them with a huge grin on my face.

Sure, they didn’t need to surface after two minutes to continue to live but it just seems so cumbersome. When I’m in the water I want minimal gear. That’s why kiteboarding has never attracted me. Laying out lines, pumping air into the kite, getting someone to help you launch. Gimme a surfboard and a wettie and I’ll be wiping out on five waves before the kiter has even touched the wet.

And then I discovered underwater heaven. I swam above the divers and their bubbles encased my body, exploding like Aero chocolate, tingling all over, making me giggle underwater. I dived down into the stream of the rising suds, slapping at the huge bubbles that exploded into a million smaller ones.

Forget the reef and fish, this was the new underwater sport.

After a few hours of splashing about we headed up to Nungwi, lunch being cooked and served on the way. The wind was down so we motored out and anchored just past Kendwa, south of Nungwi. The beaches were a disgusting, overdeveloped sight of resort after monstrous resort.

P1280901I was going to have a tough time enjoying this place but it was the sacrifice I would have to endure for my passage to Kenya.

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Sailing, The Indian Ocean, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

HITCH HIKING IN ZANZIBAR – PART II

P1020428There are two Teddy’s in Paje, both next door to each other, both similar in style. The story goes that Teddy had a falling out with his partner who quit and opened an identical hostel right next door to the original, calling it New Teddy’s, forcing the old Teddy to change his title to Original Teddy’s.

Original Teddy’s hosts parties on Wednesday nights. I had arrived in Paje on Tuesday and had tried to barter for a bed in exchange for a gig.

“I want my guests to relax for the party tomorrow night,” Teddy had said over the phone.

“Well, what’s more relaxing than a chilled-out acoustic guitar session at sunset?” I replied.

“No, they must have energy for the party.”

I was beginning to collect some weird no-gigging responses in East Africa. In Arusha I wanted to jam at the local backpackers for my birthday. The manager in charge had somehow set it in his head that I had booked the place for a birthday function even though my exact words were:

“I’d like to play for your guests. I’ll bring some friends and we’ll have some drinks.”

I found myself sitting in his office and for the next hour as he drilled me who was going to pay for all the food he had ordered for the party.

“And the cake.”

“Cake? I never asked for a cake,” I said, exasperated by the man. “I just wanna play some tunes and have some drinks. I never said anything about a party or hiring you out as a venue.”

“What about the $60 for the food?” the manager asked.

After an hour of sitting with the schmuck, I told him it was his loss and stormed out of his office. Some people just don’t know a good thing when they have it right in front of them (I say it in all modesty).

Hanging at Teddy’s I made friends with two young Brits, Casper and Barney. I gave them all my tips for Malawi, Namibia and South Africa and later that night I brought my guitar ’round regardless of Teddy’s unwant of it and jammed for the few guests that were hanging around.

A musical rebel fighting the establishment.

The next day, having no bed, the boys let me leave my gear in their room. We then went to grab some food at a local eatery. Towards the evening I had bumped into Lucy, a girl I met in Malawi who was now travelling with her mother.

And it was Lucy who had pointed out the boat.

“I met those guys in Stone Town,” I said. “Cool blokes.”

P1020585The boat, named ‘Wisdom’ was a traditional dhow, “Built in Mozambique,” Buya, the owner, explained.

They had sailed down from their home base of Lamu Island in north-east Kenya. They sail down every year for the Sauti za Busara festival and then wait for the winds to change in April, which was perfect timing as my visa ended in April.

I swam over and was warmly welcomed aboard. I explained my travel ways and Buya told me how they wanted to build a website to advertise their cruises.

“I can build you a website,” I said. “In exchange for passage to Lamu. I’ll help get you people for sunset cruises and market the boat.”

“Let me talk with the crew and if everyone is OK with it, then you are welcome,” Buya said.

I’ve only ever built my website based on WordPress’s easy-to-use platform. I figured I could do the same for these boys. That evening I came back with the Brits for the sunset cruise, having also roped in two girls, a sure sign of proof that I was capable of bringing in clientele. After the cruise Buya said the magic words:

“You are welcome. Tonight you sleep on the boat.”

“Sweet!” I couldn’t believe I had just secured passage to Kenya. And on a dhow.

I was getting a bit tired of travelling overland. I was missing the water the way one misses a lover. I moved my gear to the boat and we went out for a few drinks at Paje By Night where I recognised the local guy that had wanted to throw me down the stairs back at Tatu in Stone Town.

“I want to buy you a drink,” he approached me.

“Won’t say ‘no’,” I grinned.

He apologised again for his behaviour that night. “It’s all good, rafiki,” I patted him on the shoulder. “I knew you didn’t mean it. That you were drunk. I also know you have a good heart. That’s why I came to make peace at the festival.”

I went back to the boat and strung up my hammock between the two masts at the stern. I had no idea what the weather would be like that night. I certainly didn’t expect gale force winds that had me swinging over the deck, threatening to dunk me into the galley beneath me.

I barely slept that night although the points where I was awake I was staring at the Milky Way.

It’s been 10 months since I saw the ocean and swam in it. It had been 11 months since I left the sailing yacht, San Miguel that had taken me from Thailand to Africa on the very waters I was now swinging above.

It felt good to be home.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Sailing, The Indian Ocean, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

JAILBREAK

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Except the police.

“I have a joint,” Simba spoke in a hush, just enough to be audible over the sounds the DJ pumped through the speakers at the vast beach-side bar known as Candy Rubbles. Simba was a crew mate and I had known the guy for about two weeks. It was his birthday and we were celebrating it in style at the beach party. “You know where we can smoke it?” he asked me.

I looked around and remembered the corner where the beach shower was, next to the volleyball court. It was in dark shadows, a perfect spot to hide our joint-smoking expedition. And also a perfect spot to hide in the shadows if you’re a bribe-grubbin’ police officer, about 50 meters from the dance floor.

“Over there,” I motioned and lead the way.

Simba lit up just after we sat down on the beach-bed, our beers between our feet on the sand. He toked a few times in silence before passing the happy stick to me. It smelled strong, unlike the usual over-stuffing of tobacco that he usually rolled.

Suddenly a dark form moved in the shadows and a large hand reached out and wrapped itself around my wrist, pressing lightly enough to not hurt but strong enough to let me know that this wasn’t a friendly grab.

“Tanzanian police,” the deep voice that belonged to the hand spoke through the darkness. A large African man stepped into the lighter shadow, revealing himself to be about 6”4 with large eyes, a bald head and dark clothing. “You are under arrest for smoking marijuana.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Mate, I’m only holding it,” I chuckled. “You haven’t even given me a chance to toke.”

“You will come with us,” he said, his voice hinting that he lacked any patience for my jovial ways. He then turned towards the darker shadows and spoke in Ki-Swahili. Before I knew it, the cold metal of heavy handcuffs were slapped around my wrists.

“Jesus, mate,” I stared at the silver metal. “It’s only a joint. I haven’t killed anyone.”

“Come with us,” the policeman’s hand started to pull on the handcuffs to try and get me to stand.

“I’m not going anywhere until I see some ID,” I said with a smile. The cop stopped and stared at me.

“I am the police,” he said. “You will come with us over there to discuss this issue.”

“I’ll come once you’ve proven yourselves to be Tanzanian police.” Cause slapping handcuffs on my wrists didn’t quite cut it.

Exasperated, the officer called out to his fellow copper who provided the ID, a flimsy blue mini-booklet that held a black-and-white photo of one Constable Rashid.

“Cool,” I said. “Thanks. Now we can go.”

I was lead ten steps before ordered to sit in a beach lounge chair under the fluorescent light of the outside area of the dive centre. My less than half empty beer bottle was placed at my feet.

“You are in big trouble,” Rashid began.

“Uh-huh,” I couldn’t help but grin.

He blinked, surprised that his words unphased me.

“Nice to meet you,” I held out my right hand – now locked to my left – to shake his. He took my hand, a look of surprise on his face.

“You know it’s illegal to smoke marijuana in Tanzania?” he leaned in, failing to put the grip of fear in me.

I grinned, looking at the other officers sitting around me, slouched back. I could pick up the vibe of what they were after and that this wasn’t a well-thought out attempt of getting money from a white tourist. Especially one that survives on barter.

“Lucky I wasn’t smoking then,” I said.

“What?” Rashid sat up. “Bullshit. I saw you smoke it.”

“No, you saw me hold it,” I threw back at him. “I call bullshit on your bullshit.”

His eyebrows orbited. “No! I saw you smoke it.”

“Mate, you can smell my breath. There’s only alcohol on it. I don’t have any marijuana in my system.” Speaking of alcohol, “Is it alright if I finish my beer?” I asked, eying my bottle of Kilimanjaro ale.

“No,” he responded automatically.

“Come on, mate. I’m Australian. I can’t leave a beer unfinished.”

“No.”

“It’ll get warm. I can’t drink warm beer.” I was lying. I could drink alcohol at any temperature.

“No.”

“Come on, rafiki,” I said. “It’s an offence to drink warm beer in Australia. There’s not much left. Just let me finish it.”

Rashid stared at me, unable to establish how I wasn’t squirming in my seat or shitting myself unlike Simba who had pulled a Michael Jackson, going from black to white. “If it keeps you quiet, drink.”

Damn straight it’ll keep me quiet – between the sips.

“Tonight you come with us to the police station,” he explained. “Tomorrow is Sunday so no court. You sleep in the cell and Monday go to court where the judge will sentence you.”

I didn’t even attempt to suppress my laughter. “You know the judge will be pretty pissed off that you brought me in on a charge of holding a joint.”

“You were smoking ganja,” he said.

“No,” I repeated. “I was holding it. I’m drunk but I’m not high.” Yet.

Rashid sat back in his chair, scratching his head. “You can help us help you.”

And there it was. “I understand what you’re saying,” I began. “But here’s the thing.” After I explained my bartering ways I offered to get, “My guitar from behind the bar and play for you.” Only two hours passed since my set that earned me a plate of food and a couple of beers.

“No money?” Rashid blinked then exploded into laughter as he translated to the other officers who also erupted, lightening the mood. I grinned. I looked over at Simba who had been sitting quietly, with a look on his face suggesting he was witnessing lions going in for the kill. I winked at him.

“Sing us a song,” Rashid demanded.

“I need my guitar,” I said. “It covers how bad I actually sound.”

“You cannot survive without money,” he leaned in. “Help us and you can go home tonight.”

“I am going home tonight,” I smiled, leaning towards him. “And I can survive without money. Look, you can search me,” I offered. “I only have condoms.”

“Get up,” he ordered and proceeded to empty my pockets of the lint and sand that I had collected. He pulled out three condoms and threw them on the floor.

“You’re attempting to have sex in Tanzania,” he said without a smile. “That is your second offence.”

I laughed. He didn’t. I still couldn’t stop laughing until he eventually broke his deadpan face and smiled broadly. He chuckled as he returned the condoms to my pocket and directed me to sit back down as did he.

“OK, we go to the station now,” he said without making a move to get up.

“Cool,” I grinned. “I just have to go to the bar and let my friend know that you’re taking me.” I, too, didn’t make any moves to get up.

“No,” he said. “They will figure it out.”

Now it was my turn to blink. “OK, no one figures out that there friend has been arrested after disappearing at the bar. So to save them worrying –” and having someone I trust know that I’m under arrest – “I’m going to the bar to tell them.”

“But you are wearing handcuffs.”

I raised my hands. “You’re welcome to remove them.” They were quite heavy and starting to annoy me, like Rashid’s mindset. “Or you can come with me to the bar. I’ll cover them.”

“No.”

I sighed. “OK, Rashid, here are your two options: one – you can call the Australian consulate right now and inform them that you have arrested an Australian citizen or we can go to the bar and tell my friend that I’m going with you.”

He blinked. He looked to his friends, unbelieving his inability to intimidate me. He conversed with his peers in Ki-Swahili and they decided to let Simba go to the bar. When he was out of earshot I turned back to Rashid.

“Listen, he’s a kid. You can see he’s scared. Put the blame on me and just let him go. Do you think that’s possible?”

Rashid looked me up and down. “Put the blame on you?” he repeated.

“Yes. I’ll say that I smoked even though I didn’t if you let him go.” Simba was a young twenty-something, whole-life-ahead-of-him smiling kid who was now shit scared. He came back with the bar manager.

“What’s going on?” she looked at me.

I showed her my handcuffs, proudly grinning. “I’m under arrest for holding a joint.”

She turned to the officers. “What are you doing here? Where are your uniforms?”

“We are intelligence officers in civil clothes.”

I bit my tongue at the claim of intelligence.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

She returned a few minutes later with Sam, a local friend I had met that night who seemed to be connected in the right places. He sat beside me and in slow Ki-Swahili asked the officers to let us go. From the little I knew of the language, I figured out he was basically saying, ‘This guy really has no money. You won’t get anything from him and the judge will just give you shit for wasting his time.’

I think. Either that or, ‘He’ll chew your ear off all night.’

After ten minutes of talking Rashid got up and stared down at me, fumbling for the handcuff keys, motioning me to raise my hands.

I couldn’t help but grin. I had fought the law and I won. “What about Simba?” I asked Sam.

“They’ll let him go in a bit,” he assured me. I shook hands with the officers.

Rashid held up the joint he had confiscated. “You want this?”

“Well, if you don’t want it,” I grinned as he waved me away with a smile he failed to hide.

“This was fun,” I grinned at blank faces, shaking the officers hands. “Thanks for the experience.” Turning to Simba I said, “Don’t worry, bro. They’ll let you go.”

“Hakuna matata,” he said, less scared seeing that I was free.

As I walked with Sam back to the bar he said, “Next time just smoke it over there,” he indicated to the area where a strong aroma of Bob Marley smoke was conquering the dance floor.

“Sure,” I said as a local friend approached me with a hash joint. A few puffs later and Simba appeared, relieved and happy.

“In Kenya the police would have beaten you until you paid at least 500 Euro,” he said.

“Serious?” I blinked. Sometimes I forget that not every country will have a police force that can be laughed with.

Or at.

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Zanzibar | Tags: , | 4 Comments

HITCHHIKING IN ZANZIBAR – PART I

P1020431

“You should come Monday night,” Mark suggested after telling him of my bartering ways.

I was introduced to the owner of the Red Monkey Lodge based in Jambiani on the festival’s Sunday afternoon. “We’re going to have a huge jam session with some of the musicians from the festival.”

Sold.

Monday afternoon came around slowly. As slow as a day comes when you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in four days. I hit the road which began with a ride while still in the narrow alley ways of Stone Town.

The pick-up truck was trudging along and I figured, what harm would it do if I just asked the driver where he was going?

“Halfway to Jambiani.”

He took me on board. He was holidaying from Oman. There are quite a few Omanis around since Zanzibar was a former colony of the Arab state.

“Look at the roads,” the driver complained. “When Oman was still in control everything was beautiful. The roads were good. There was no rubbish. The people were happy.”

The people were slaves. Oman had capitalised on the slave industry, giving it up only in the early 20th century. Freedom for bad roads? I’d take that. I was dropped off in the middle of a small village and within five minutes I was riding with Eddie.

“I own a resort just off the beach,” he said. “I need someone to do marketing.”

I sensed a job opportunity and after a quick discussion I was offered to stay for a year to help out.

“A year is a long time,” I said. “I’d have to think about it.”

He took us to his partner’s resort, Upendo, just opposite a restaurant called The Rock (it sits on a huge rock you can walk to at low tide).

“We’re going to Jambiani later if you wanna chill,” Eddie offered along with a passionfruit shake.

“I’ll chill,” I said.

An American couple came up and together with Eddie we drove out to see the sun setting behind clouds. Back at the lodge I met Eddie’s partner who told me that, “Blitz is staying here tonight. After he arrives we’ll head to Jambiani.”

Within a few hours I found myself chatting amiably with Blitz The Ambassador. We talked about music and the festival, our favourite acts and his dedication to his art after performing a set which he claimed was only at, “40% of our ability. It’s what happens when you come directly off a 20-hour flight.”

“That was 40%?” my eyebrows orbited. “Dude, you’ve re-invented hip-hop for me.”

“I’d love to see you guys at a hundred,” Eddie’s partner said.

Jambiani time came and I ended up sharing a ride with Blitz. We conversed the whole way about the way the world was going downhill and his dream of creating a solar-powered Ghana, his native land. We arrived a half-hour later and I bid Blitz farewell, “In case I don’t see ya later.”

The place was jammin’, packed with people. I found Mark who seemed pleased to see me. Or just high. On the beach a stage was set up and a line of musicians awaited their turn to play. I wasn’t going to play that night but it was nice to see the other musos join up and jam (although the sound system was slightly, how to put it… fucked).

I met Dane, the manager of 6 Degrees South, a high-end restaurant in Stone Town. “Bru,” he said in his South African accent, “come down and play. I’ll feed you. I even have a spare room for you in the house.”

I then caught up with Megan who lives in Nairobi. We exchanged details. “You’ve got a couch to crash on in Kenya,” she said.

Then I saw Tcheka, the guitarist\singer from Cape Verde who had such a soulful presence on the stage with just his guitar.

“Tcheka!” I called to him. I shook his hand. “Obrigado,” I grinned. “For the music.”

Tidal movements on the Indian Ocean are quite sudden. There’s no slow entry. Rather a sudden surge of water. That very surge threatened to short out all the equipment on stage as everyone within arms-length scrambled for the safety of the lodge. The brave few, including yours truly, stuck around to disconnect and unplug at the speed that would have any professional roadie impressed.

With the official jam session over, people began to disperse until a select few remained. Sitting on the beach I found myself in a circle with Tcheka, his American-based manager and a few other folk. I whipped out Ol’ Red and jammed some tunes. A Danish woman wailed the blues like Janis Joplin. Elvis, a young lad from South Africa also hit on Red. Pretty soon the party moved from the beach to the top of the lodge where some more people were hanging around. Mark, the owner, brought out a case of beer and a bottle of Johnny Walker Black.

Three girls, two from Norway and one from America were sitting with us. One of the girls had the world’s smallest guitar, the other a violin. All three possessed vocals that would stop the most hardened criminal in his tracks and make him draw a tear.

Suddenly an eclectic jam session was happening. I couldn’t believe that I was playing alongside Tcheka and other talented musicians including a South African on saxophone.

Breakfast was served at sunrise. We had been jamming for six solid hours. I thanked Mark who seemed delighted by the evening’s turn out and I hiked up the beach towards Paje to look for a place to stay. I was escorted by a local rasta who shouted me a breakfast of goat’s soup and a loaf of bread which I didn’t want but forced down so as not to offend.

Seven K’s later, blurry eyed and dead on my feet, having been refused a bed at every lodge on the way due to lack of guests to play for, I finally scored a bed at the Kitete Bungalows. It was your typical resort, a pool graced its entry surrounded by duplicate bungalows. The restaurant sat at the top of a large building that housed a café at the bottom – five meters from the water.P1020429

That is, when the tide’s in. When the tide’s out, you have about a 3-K hike to reach a swimmable depth.

That night I slept like a baby in my en-suite, air-conditioned room (I used the fan. Not a fan of air cons… see what I did there?), still struggling to believe that I had jammed with Tcheka, made friends with Blitz The Ambassador, scored a place to stay in Nairobi and another gig in Stone Town.

Expect nothing, always get something.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SAUTI ZA BUSARA

P1020377DAY 1

Sauti za Busara means ‘Sounds of Wisdom’ in Ki-Swahili. The festival was in its 12th year, being held at the Old Fort, just in front of Forodhani Gardens which was just on the seawall separating the Indian Ocean from the island.

Tickets were $50 USD for tourists or $5 USD for locals and residents. We walked in at 15:00 to take advantage of the free entry until 16:00. At 17:00 the shows started.

 

P1020401The first were a Rwandan-Angola duo. Aline Frazão sang and played guitar while her partner played a beautiful red beast of a six-string. The songs were in Portuguese and the girl had a sultry voice that plucked the strings of your heart.

Their set was followed by a reggae band from Madagascar, which was then followed by another band from Madagascar, Mpamanga, also playing reggae. Both bands were awesome and had me doing a reggae dance despite my left knee still being out of whack. The power of music compelled me to dance.

Rwandan Liza Kamikazi and Band, led by a female singer with a smile that could make the sun blush hit the stage with a contemporary dancer dancing out the songs. You couldn’t help but not fixate your eyes on the male dancer. He was in it, in the moment like no dancer that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen some dancers).

Then a South African Zulu band, Ihhashi Elimhlophe, hit the stage and it was here that I had a realisation. That even though bands from the western world can fill up a stadium and rock out, none of them, at least, none of the ones I’ve seen, could ever convey the emotion that their music brings out in them as the performers.

African bands not only play the instruments but the members line up and choreograph some dance moves that have you wondering how they don’t miss a note. The Zulu band wasn’t short on dance moves in traditional Zulu attire of leopard pelts and loin clothes. Kicking up high as I had attempted when I visited Shakaland in South Africa, falling to their backs and all to the sounds of modern electric guitar, bass and drums.

The last band to perform were Sarabi from Kenya. All dressed in white they took to the stage as though it were a cloud and boy, did they rock it from the heavens. They danced, sang, told the story of their songs that seemed to reach in and grab me from within the deepest depths of my inner soul. I couldn’t stop dancing, and when I did stop I stood and stared, unbelieving that my eyes and ears were witnessing this incredible playing of music.

“I can’t believe I’m witnessing this,” I’d repeat over and over to Enya and anyone who was willing to listen. And even those that weren’t. The after party spilled out to Livingstone Beach Bar where Andy rocked the house.

I’m not one for electronic music. To me, the majority sounds the same. Especially when partaking in party favourites. But Andy played Deep House that simply destroyed my feet as I danced until about three.

“Let’s go to the local reggae club,” Bushman suggested.

We hiked up to Tatu (which means ‘three’ in Ki-Swahili). It had three levels of reggae. We headed straight up to the roof top where I made friends with a girl from Chile. As we chatted and danced, a local guy, built like a gum tree, whispered something in her ear. Her face went from being happy to upset.

I escorted her outside.

“He just called me a bitch and a prostitute,” she said, not believing that that was exactly what had happened. “He offered me a drink so I took it. Doesn’t mean I’m about to sleep with him.”

There goes that plan. I gist, of course. I offered to hug her, which she accepted and I tried to console her, taking her mind off the incident when the insulting guy came down the stairs. He continued to aggravate her until I told him to, “Back off, mate. She’s not interested and it ain’t cool of you to upset her.”

He turned to me. He had a psychotic smile as he said, “You want me to throw you down the stairs?”

“Why do you want to throw me down the stairs?” I asked as some rastas had gathered around, ready to intervene on my behalf.

“Because I’m stupid,” he said.

“And whose fault is that?” I know there are times that I should keep my mouth shut but I can’t help myself. He grabbed me by the throat and I calmly grabbed him by the wrist and twisted his hand until he let go. The rastas jumped in between us.

“Look man,” I said, “I don’t want any trouble. I’m simply asking you to stop hassling the girl. We can be rafikis (friends).”

“No,” he said, the psychotic smile still on his face. “We cannot be friends.”

The girl had escaped down the stairs and was waiting for me. “OK, how’s this, I’m gonna go down there. You’re not going to push me and maybe tomorrow we can make peace. Sauwa?”

He stepped aside and lit a cigarette as I headed down and gave the girl my contact details.

“Thank you,” she said shyly. “Are you hurt?”

“Hurt?” I grinned. “Nah, the guy’s drunk. He won’t remember.” We parted ways and Bushman, who had disappeared and reappeared took me to a local club where the girls propositioned themselves without shame. As the sun rose, Bushman and I finally headed back to his home in a dala-dala (local bus).

DAY 2

Joseph is from Mwanza, a friend of Bushman’s who came down for a holiday and was crashing with us at Bushman’s home. The routine was the same as the day before: enter the festival at three and chill out until the gigs started on the main stage.

Except that today, “I need to swim,” I told Bushman. “It’s time to get reacquainted with my old love, the Indian Ocean.”

We agreed to meet inside the Old Fort as I hit the warm waters of the very body of water I had spent five months traversing on a 47-foot sloop with two Frenchmen. Diving in I felt back at home as I skimmed the sandy bottom, going deeper to cooler waters for what must have been a minute. I’m no free-diver, but I can hold my breath and swim for a time that would have most lifeguards worried.

As soon as I got out of the water, my knee felt almost at the point of healed. It’s as though kicking in the water had some sort of physiotherapy effect. I headed over to the Old Fort and caught up with Bushman and Joseph, Tony, Curt and Enya.

Some of the groups that had performed the previous night repeated their gigs. The last band was another Kenyan outfit, Octopizzo and Band. It was a hip-hop outfit but I didn’t much care for their style. Especially as the lead rapper was all about his bling, with gold chains around his neck that would have impressed Mr T.

I then spied the fella who wanted to throw me down the stairs the previous night. I approached him.

“Hey, man,” I grinned. “Remember me?”

He eyed me, although smiling that same psycho smile, he couldn’t put it together as to who I was.

“Remind me.”

“You wanted to throw me down the stairs at Tatu,” I relayed the incident.

“Stop,” he said, leaning in for a hug. “I’m so sorry. I was drunk. That wasn’t me. I would never do that.”

“I know, kaka,” I bro-ed him. “That’s why I came to you so we could make peace.”

The night ended at Livingstone Beach Bar with Andy ripping up the dance floor until four am when the police came and shut down the place. We headed out to Tatu to see how it was. Surprisingly, for four am, the place was pumpin’. So we danced for a bit before heading back to Bushman’s place for a few hours of sleep.

DAY 3

It was the last day of the festival. I had, as up until now, no idea who was playing and I didn’t much care. I’ve discovered the less I know about the bands, the better the experience as I’ll have no expectations.

Expect nothing and you’ll always get something, right?

P1020393 P1020398The first group that kicked things off at about 17:00 were Tunaweza Band from the southern region of Tanzania. Dressed in traditional clothing  performing traditional songs.

 

They were followed by a group that could only be regarded as inspiring. Each member of the Mgodro Group had a disability from blindness to cleft feet to missing a limb and so on. And each member danced and sang and played an instrument regardless of their disability, proving that nothing is impossible.

It was Tcheka who grabbed my eyes and ears. A talented guitarist who played a classic six-string and sang in a hypnotic voice songs in Portuguese. He hails from Cape Verde up in the north-west of Africa. He had a beaming smile and stage presence of a king.

Other bands followed and then they hit the stage. An Algerian outfit that played traditional instruments alongside contemporary ones. Djmawi Africa played a beautiful, soulful, feet pumping reggae roots about unity not just in Africa but in the world. An 8-piece group with horns, strings and the rest of it.

The Brother Moves On, a group from South Africa had me perked at attention. They were a combination of thrash metal and Prodigy that seemed a little out of place in the laid back environment that the festival conveyed. Still, they were impressive as their songs told of the struggles of growing up in Johannesburg, perhaps one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The last performance to close the festival was a hip hop rapper that answered to the name Blitz The Ambassador. Like with the other groups, I had no idea who this guy was or what to expect. The band came on stage wearing matching black suits with white shirts and black ties. They looked like Buddy Holly’s backup band.

Except that the bass player was a huge man with huge dreadlocks and a bass guitar that could rival Thor’s hammer. A trumpet and trombone player stood to stage-right and then the lights dimmed, an announcement was made in the style of an airline pilot. We were about to be taken on a journey to the great beyond, through classic hip-hop to modern.

And then the band ripped up the stage and came to life with some hectic dance moves. The horns blasted, the bass bassed and the guitar wailed as the drums rocked a beat and Blitz The Ambassador hit the stage.

Coming from Ghana, Blitz grew up in New York. His hip hop was fluid and all about social commentary rather than the bullshit most mainstream rappers rap about. The group has played many a festival around the world including some big stages on the European scene.

I kept shaking my head, unable to comprehend that I was witnessing this phenomena. This festival, this sound of wisdom, was one of the greatest live gigs I had ever seen. And I’ve seen some big acts in my life. The Rolling Stones in Boston, Roger Waters performing The Dark Side of the Moon in a chickpea field in Israel, AC\DC, The Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Wolfmother and The Cranberries in Melbourne. None of them had what any of the acts in this festival had. These guys had soul. They had energy. They gave something that I can’t even describe.

The night ended at Livingstone Beach Bar which the police shut down – again – due to noise complaints. After everyone had left Abedi shut the doors and we ended up jamming with Jasper from Denmark and a Norwegian guy who rocked the keyboards. We were the only ones in the bar apart from two Japanese guys. One who kept dancing to our beats and ended up ripping the keyboard a new one.

At sunrise, I hit the beach and passed the time waiting for Bushman to come and collect me so I could finally go to sleep.

Categories: Africa, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

FERRIED ALONG

P1020317“How much did you pay for your ticket?” I asked Tony, a Swedish UK-based travel consultant who was going around Africa for a year.

“37,000,” he said.

“Return?” I asked.

“One way,” he looked at me. “Why?”

“I got a return for 120,000 shillings.” I may have been suddenly struck down with mild gloating but I’m not sure. I was pretty sure my deal was the deal…

Hang on… 37,000 for a one way… and why is his jaw dropped..?

“Why did you pay so much?”

Fuck. I got jibbed.

Why didn’t I barter, I hear your head-scratching motions.

My left knee had decided to stop co-operating mid-hike on the 7 K’s I was walking towards the ferry dock for Zanzibar from Q-Bar, where I had played for a plate of food, a couple of drinks and a bed. Just like that, the effects of coming down 22 K’s in a day off Africa’s fifth highest peak hit me straight under the knee cap, rendering me immobile.

Ironically, I was outside the beach-side hospital in Dar. Not being a fan of places of medical practice I flagged down a car.

Mohammed is a taxi driver but after I explained my travel ways and my newly acquired bum knee he took me to the ferry with a smile on his face. I was immediately escorted by a local who thought I would never find the ticketing offices that were clearly visible along the quay above the water. I was slightly agitated as one gets when carrying an injury – especially when it effect’s one’s walking carrying three packs and that same one is being hassled by some con artist.

“Look,” I stopped abruptly and turned to him, “I don’t need a guide so stop following me.” I limped on and hopped into the first ticketing office I saw. I was in no mood to barter or try to find a cheap ticket.

“120,000” beamed the booking officer (about $85 AUD. I know, I know.). I paid and gave him my passport. Although Zanzibar has an agreed union with Tanzania, it’s regarded as an independent autonomy with its own president, house of representatives, a flag and its own national football team. I didn’t think much of the price and I handed over the money while the guy who had followed me was arguing with the other ticketing officer, claiming that he was responsible for bringing me in.

“You know this guy?” the booking officer asked me.

“He just followed me. I told him I don’t need any help.” I turned to him. “Remember? When I said I don’t need to be guided?” Asshole.

“Are you playing at the festival?” the officer asked me, eying my guitar.

“What festival?”

“The Sauti za Busara. It means ‘Sounds of Wisdom.”

Hmm. “I’m not but I’ll check it out.”

I was then escorted down to the docks where I met Tony. We shared travel stories as he had visited the same countries I had been to. He had even come across my website when he was looking for information about finding a boat from Madagascar to South Africa.

“What are the chances of meeting the very guy and on a boat?” he chuckled as I grinned.

A local approached us just before the catamaran ferry was about to leave port.

“Hello,” he reached out his hand. “I’m Bushman.”

We introduced ourselves and after a bit of a chat and explaining my ways of travels, Bushman said the magic words:

“You’re are welcome to stay with me,” he grinned. “I live 5 K’s outside of Stone Town.”

Turns out Bushman is a local guide and it’s a good thing he found us as Stone Town is full of lose-yourself alleyways.

It felt so good to be on the water again, albeit on a high powered craft but still, I was back on the Indian Ocean and soon, I’ll be swimming, free-diving and snorkeling off her shores. It takes three hours on the slow ferry to reach Zanzibar. We docked in Stone Town, birth place of Freddie Mercury, and home to the beginnings of some of Africa’s biggest expeditions led by the British, German and Dutch. It was from this island – which back in the day was colonised by Oman – that Livingstone, Burke and Specke and many others were hosted by the Sultan and headed out into the deep African interior.

In fact, Stone Town had electricity before London did.

P1020312It was also the thriving capital of slavery which Livingstone attempted to abolish. He died of a combination of ailments including malaria, dysentery and, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, hemorrhoids. His body was found by Lake Tanganyika and carried back to Zanzibar where he was placed in what is today’s Livingstone Beach Bar until he was shipped out to the UK where he rests in Westminister Abbey.

Bushman lead the way to Tony’s lodgings after we had placed my bags at a friend’s of his. After Tony got his room we headed out for dinner with new friends, Curt, an American Tony had met on the train from Zambia to Tanzania, and Enya, a Dutch girl who was about to leave but persuaded to stay another three days for the festival.

“The festival costs $50 a day,” Bushman said, coming back from the ticketing office in the Old Fort, built by the Portuguese. It was here that the festival would be held. “But if you go in before four it’s free.”

It was 17:00.

P1020354So instead of watching the first night’s performances, we watched some locals leap off the wall into the water until the police came to disperse them. I would have jumped with them but my knee was in no position for a run ‘n’ jump.

We ended up at Livingstone Beach Bar restaurant, which was right on the beach. The owner, Abedi, is the grandson of Zanzibar’s first president. His uncle was the second. Bushman introduced me and I explained my ways of travel and survival.

“Cool man,” he said. “Grab a beer and get on the stage.”

The stage had a band playing.

“I usually play acoustic,” I said.

I’ve dabbled on electric but never in public. I prefer the sound of an acoustic as I have more range to play with on it. And I’m used to it.

“Not a problem,” Abedi said. “Just get on the electric.”

I really didn’t have the confidence to play on an electric and in public for that matter. He sensed my hesitation and lead me over to the stage, practically kicking the guitarist off the guitar. I strapped in and stood in front of the microphone.

I’m not a fan of microphones. They make me sound terrible. Probably cause I am terrible but why emphasis it with a mic? I breathed in deep and began to strum, getting into the rhythm and then I started to sing.

But the sound was different. Because, in my opinion, I actually sounded like I could sing. In fact, people were coming from outside on the beach to listen. Some even danced a little as I rocked out. Abedi jumped on the bass guitar and another guy hopped on the drums and soon we were an improvised band rockin’ out the place.

“That was awesome, my man,” Abedi hi-fived me as the UK DJ Andy Newman played deep house which blew the roof off and had me dancing until sunrise. But it would be the next night that would have me jaw-dropped as the live music scene of African tunes was injected into me like a new drug for happiness.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Tanzania, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

HITCHHIKING IN TANZANIA – PART III

“You were going 83 kilometres,” announced a triumphant P1020287police officer as he peered into the Land Rover.

A day after we had conquered Mt Meru, the Aussies I had trekked with offered me a ride to Dar es Salaam, camping somewhere along the way. Although the majority of African traffic laws are only for show, the boys were driving safely.

We had just exited a village and had sped up when the officer pulled us over by waving us down on the open and relatively empty single-lane highway. We could have just kept going, really. Police units on the road don’t have police cars. They don’t have radios or even weapons. They have an outdated speed-gun from 1987 that probably displays the same speed every time it’s used.

For the officers, this was a golden opportunity to try and get some bakshish from a car full of foreigners.

“What is the speed limit here?” I asked from the backseat.

“30,” said the cop.

“30?!?” I retorted. “There’s no sign saying ‘30’.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“I don’t know why,” I grinned. “You tell me. You live here.”

On the horizon ahead of us we all spotted the SUV that appeared to be using the highway as a runway to take to the air.

“Look that this guy coming!” We all pointed at the car as it flashed past, almost taking the officer’s cap with it, practically uprooting the roadside scrub from the sheer force.

“That’s not 30,” I said. “See? No signs.”

The officer’s face fell. He realised he had lost. “OK,” he looked down to the road. “I warn you this time. Drive carefully.”

“No worries,” Ben said from behind the wheel as he shifted to first.

We had left Arusha a few hours before, stopping for lunch in a small village. The owner of the first restaurant we walked into wanting to charge us 3,500 Tanzanian shillings per person for lunch.

“Chips my-i is just 2,000 everywhere we’ve been,” I argued together with Ben.

“It’s not about quantity,” the owner said. “It’s about quality.”

“I’ll give you 2,000 for chips my-i,” Ben haggled, “but not 3,500.”

It was obvious the owner was making up prices because he figured that we foreigners were a walking ATM.

“You can make 10,000 shillings right now,” I calculated the five of us, “or you won’t make anything.”

The owner, taking a second too long to think could only watch speechless as we walked out to find a cheaper place to eat. Two stalls down, 2,000 shillings bought us rice with steamed spinach (some got beans, Ben got tomato salad), gravy and stewed goat.P1020290

After lunch the boys needed to fix the transmission that appeared to be leaking oil. Some bush mechanics were working on cars so we asked them to help us out. The pit-stop took up about two hours and then the police attempted hold-up another half-hour.

“You excited, mate?” Brenton asked as he bounced us over the 42 K’s of dirt road towards the small beach-side town of Pangani where we were to camp on the coast of the Indian Ocean almost 300 K’s later.

I hadn’t seen the ocean for about 9 months. “Frothing mate,” I grinned.

A cold I caught from the almost zero degrees atop Mt Meru was taking over my body. A late night swim wouldn’t do me any favours and I knew I’d have to pass on the opportunity.

P1020293As we continued towards the coast we reached a small ridge and there, in all her wet glory, the Indian Ocean lapped against the shores of Tanzania.

A resurrection of energy flooded me. Sea water. The sound of pounding waves. Waves of fresh water bodies sounded different. The fish tasted different. Everything was different.

But the sea? The sea made everything alright. It brought things back to reality. I had spent five months on the Indian Ocean crossing from Thailand to South Africa. It’ll be good to be back in her wet arms again.

As it grew darker, we pulled into Pangani and, after a dinner of chips and chicken, we drove around looking for a beach lodge that could offer us camping facilities.

“Is this Tinga Tinga Lodge?” Ben asked the armed guard at the gate of what appeared to be a well-kept place.

The guard eyed us suspiciously. “Where are you from?”

“Arusha,” Ben answered.

“You are wrong,” the guard replied. “You are not from Arusha.” We cracked up laughing. “This is the Sea District Commissioner’s house.”

“Is he taking guests?” I asked from the backseat.

“No. No guests. You are wrong to be here,” the guard hinted for us to leave, not seeing the humour of the moment.

We drove on down another dark road that led us to a YMCA.

“Can we camp here?” I asked Big Mama (it’s what her workers called her. And for good reason).

“Try down the road at the next lodge,” she said, explaining that she wasn’t ready to accept guests. “If they can’t, you can come back and camp here.”

The next lodge provided us information regarding a boat heading to Zanzibar.

“It’s $150 USD for the whole boat,” Lisa, the American owner of Mkhoma Bay Lodge informed us. She called the owner of the boat. “Oh, no boats are going to Zanzibar tomorrow?” we overheard.

“Guess we’ll be camping next door,” I remarked as we thanked Lisa and headed back to the YMCA. After setting up our tents and sipping on beers while I strummed a few songs with Ben jammin’ on the harmonica, the boys went for a night swim while I battled the cold that was slowly settling in on me.

We rose early in the morning. Porridge and cereal were offered for breakfast. After we packed and thanked Big Mama we drove back down the 42 K’s of dirt road to the main road, making our way to Dar es Salaam.

As we went over the speed humps that every village has at its entrance and exit, we began to climb up the hill, barely doing 40 K’s.

“Ol’ mate’s up there waving you down,” Tim noted the officer waving his arms.

“Mambo,” he announced, almost standing at attention.

“Vzuri,” we answered.

“You are over speeding,” claimed the officer with a victorious grin. “You were doing 77 kilometers.”

Ben, sitting behind the wheel, casually shook his head. “No. Couldn’t be us.”

“No?” the cop looked confused. He raised his speed gun that was flashing 77. “It says it here.”

“You didn’t even point that at us,” I argued from the backseat.

“Now you will get a fine.” You could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes. “Give me your driver’s license.”

“No,” Ben continued in the cool and calm manner of the Australian way.

“What?” the cop became exasperated. He called his partner over and left us to sit in the shade, talking in Ki-Swahili aloud.

“You were speeding so you must pay a fine of 30,000 shillings,” the new cop demanded. “Give me your license.”

“No,” Ben said.

“No?” the cop was surprised. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“Yes.”

“Then give it to me.”

“No.”

The officer blinked. “You must turn back and go to the police station and pay the fine.”

“No.”

“Give me your license.”

“No.”

“We couldn’t have been speeding,” I said. “We came over three humps and uphill. And as you can see, the car is heavily loaded. That 77 is not us.”

A bus overtook us.

“Look at him,” I pointed, attempting the tactics of the day before. “That’s over 50.”

“That is 42,” the officer said. “I have confidence.”

“42?” We laughed.

“Give me money,” demanded the cop.

“No,” Ben said flatly.

“You are wasting your time,” the cop tried to play the other boys against Ben and I. “You two are trouble makers. Look your friends are peaceful. Why are you wasting their time?”

“We can wait,” Ben replied. “We’ve got time.” He looked over to the other Ben. “It’s OK, see? He’s reading a book. It’s a big book.”

“But you are wasting time,” the cop was beginning to lose the battle. “Give me 20,000.”

“No,” Ben continued to hold our ground. “If I break the law and I’m caught, I’ll pay. But I didn’t break the law. I wasn’t speeding. You just saw a car of muzhungos and thought you can make some money. We’re not paying.”

“No speeding, no money,” I called out.

“You must give me something,” the officer was almost begging.

“No.”

He blinked and looked us over.

“We can wait,” Ben repeated. “But we are not paying.”

“OK,” the officer sighed. “Just go. I give you sorry.”

“See ya, mate,” and Ben threw the car into first and we sped away, cracking up.

“Imagine doing that to a cop back home,” I said. We played out a scene, laughing for the next half hour.

About a hundred K’s outside of Dar es Salaam I tried to make contact with Hassani, a couch surfing host whose profile read that he lives in Dar. He didn’t answer so we continued on a further 50 K’s before trying again.

Turns out he lives in the next town, Kwa Mathias, 40 K’s before Dar es Salaam.

“Dar is too expensive,” Hassani explained when he arrived on his motorbike.

The boys had their sights on the city to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. They dropped me off at Hassani’s house and we parted ways with well wishes for future travels.

Hassani was building a house. The shell of it was up. It still needed paint, a floor, a ceiling and taps. He took me to lunch for a beer and chips my-i, my latest addiction. From the restaurant he took me to his friend’s place where I was left to rest. I woke up a few hours later with new people in the house. Alexander, the owner, is a teacher. We chatted a bit and I showed him on the globe he had my journey from Australia that had begun some 20 months before.

“You are going to Mafia Island?” Alexander enquired.

“Yeah.”

“Do you have someone to host you?”

“Not yet.”

“Let me ask my relatives on the island. Maybe they can host you.”

“Sweet,” I thanked him and an hour later he went to his bedroom leaving me alone with one of his students, a 17-year-old boy who interrogated me for three hours asking questions like,

“How do you deal with puberty? What about girls? What about peer pressure? How do I succeed in life? How do I escape challenges?”

“Whoa, kid,” I slowed him down. “Here’s the thing, life is a journey that you have to discover for yourself. I can’t tell you how to live it and what to do to be successful. You wanna be successful? Work hard. Don’t give up. Most importantly, be happy with your life.

With girls? When I was your age I was very shy. Don’t stress. The right one will come along but don’t feel pressured to be in a relationship. Have your fun but finish school first and get a career before having kids.

Peer pressure isn’t easy. If your friends try to get you to smoke and you don’t want to, then don’t smoke. If they are really your friends, they’ll understand. If not, fuck ‘em.

As to escaping challenges?” I sat up. “Never escape a challenge. Life is all about challenges. If you try to escape them you will never grow as a person. You’ll never know your potential. Embrace challenges. If you go walking and come across a river and you can’t find a way to cross it, you can escape the challenge and go back or, you can face the challenge, find a way to cross it and see what new things lay ahead.”

P1020298He nodded. Meanwhile, all the neighbourhood kids had congregated outside the open door, playing ‘Courage’ with me, seeing who had the balls to come into the house and touch my hair or beard.

I’d pretend-lunge at them and they’d run off screaming and laughing, coming back for more. I’d grab the more ballsy ones by the arm and hold on as they squealed, their friends violently pushing them into the house.

“No pushing,” I warned deaf ears.

Unable to release my locked grip they tried to pull me up. In the end I let them go and walked outside – straight into an ambush of arms and kids jumping up at me, trying to tug on my beard and hair. Some cheeky buggers jumping on my back.

I roared my lion roar, they screamed and ran off as I sauntered over to sit back on my perch. I wasn’t feeling the best. The cold Mt Meru had given me getting worse. The kids tried to pull me back as I tried to explain to them that playtime was over. It took Hassani’s sudden appearance to get them off me.

By 20:00, Hassani had taken me to a roadside eatery (two benches, a table and cooking done on charcoal) while trucks and buses barreled by. Dinner was rice with steamed spinach and fish.

“This is sea fish,” I exclaimed in the dark. “I haven’t eaten sea fish since South Africa. I love sea fish.” I preferred it over fresh water fish. It has more flavour. I sipped on my chai and then hit the sack by 22:00.

Tomorrow was going to be a day of rest and writing.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Tanzania | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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