HITCHHIKING IN ZANZIBAR – PART I

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“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.

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

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