“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.
“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.
It 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.
So 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.