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Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Africa (iii): Nungwi, Boats, & Prisoners

After a morning of exploring Stone Town and the Dharajani market, I hired a car to take me the roughly 45 minute drive to Nungwi beach at the northern end of the island. I'd become used to having to take cabs anywhere I needed to go and almost everyone I'd encountered so far spoke serviceable English, but this guy could barely communicate. I'm pretty sure the only word he really understood out of my mouth was "Nungwi." There are a lot of tour packages and guides that shuttle tourists to this beach with detailed itineraries, but I had no interest in that. I just wanted to check out the beach and relax for the afternoon. So my non-English speaking cabbie and I set off on increasingly unpaved roads to the north.

I didn't know precisely where my driver was taking me. I just knew that Nungwi was supposed to be a nice beach. He ended up dropping me off in a clearing just off the beach with nothing else in sight. I tried to ask him if there was anything nearby of interest, but the only thing we could seem to communicate effectively was that he'd pick me up in three hours at that spot. So I began just walking up the beach to find something to do. I passed a few small hotels and resorts with mostly older European tourists sunning themselves. Among all the tourists that passed by, there were a few local families led by veiled women. The contrast was striking. 

Eventually I came upon a small, charming beach bar with reggae playing softly from the back. I grabbed a few Tuskers and sprawled out on one of the handmade wicker benches. Tusker is a Kenyan lager that I found to be surprisingly enjoyable. It's light, fizzy, with a strong barley malt aroma. It's subtly sweet and has a caramel finish. Great for the equatorial heat and dryness. I watched as groups of fishermen climbed aboard their moored boats and set off. It was quiet, warm, and pleasantly anesthetizing. I barely moved from that bench for two hours and it was exactly how I had wanted to spend that afternoon. When the three hours were up, I headed back to the empty lot and found my driver waiting. I got back in the car after dusting my feet for sand and promptly fell asleep in the smothering, soporific heat.

When I got back to Stone Town, it was right before sunset and I headed toward The Africa House, a hotel with a popular, westward facing terrace. From there I had a Coke and watched as the sun arced slowly down toward the Indian Ocean as sailboats drifted lethargically along the coast. I shared a table with two other travelers and made small talk about our experiences in Zanzibar. For the rest of the evening, I found a small restaurant for dinner, Lazuli, that had excellent, fresh sandwiches and wraps. Then I sat on the roof of my hotel for a bit to use the wifi (it was strongest there), while a band whose singer could barely speak English butchered Bruno Mars and Enrique Iglesias songs.

The next morning, I took a small boat out to Prisoner's Island, one of the smaller islands in the archipelago and so named for a historic slave market on the island. The only other passenger on the boat was a girl, named Andra, who was a freelance journalist from Germany. I had to catch my flight back to Nairobi in the early afternoon and she had to make a ferry back to Dar es Salaam, so we would only be staying on the island for a couple of hours (most tour groups spend half a day there). The ride to Prisoner's Island was fairly choppy as we were going against the wind.

On the island is a tortoise sanctuary populated with the giants, some of which were over 100 years old. They are accustomed to humans and actually like to be petted. If you scratch their necks, they extend them up and out. They also will eat anything you put in front of them out of your hand. It's amazing to think of the things that have happened during these ancient tortoises' lifetimes, but how little it has affected them.

The rest of our brief time there was spent enjoying a small, pristine beach where Andra and I took turns taking pictures for each other. Before long we headed back toward the main island (a much smoother ride this time) and parted ways. I headed back to the hotel to collect my stuff and took a cab to the airport. After that first week of sitting in an office in Nairobi and doing little else, my brief time in Zanzibar was a welcome respite. It made me wish I had more time to explore while I was in Africa.