At times writing is effortless. Other times nightmarish. But it's always therapeutic.

Remembering Zanzibar and Bagamoyo

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This is end of February and I’m in Tanzania. The job stay has been extended and here is a weekend. No need ask. I’m going to Zanzibar. Every honeymooner in Kenya – well, not every – goes to Zanzibar. What is there? I’m no honeymooner but I can do reconnaissance. You never know. I decide to go see the historical town Bagamoyo, first, on Saturday, and Zanzibar next day.

Bagamoyo: The Unesco world heritage site built in late 18C. Quiet, calm, stagnant, fish mongering, boat repairers, tourists and clean empty beaches. You never quite spot the action. I wish I hired a motorbike to rev all the way. I strip – 90% – swim for 10 minutes, dry the body, and visit some old tombs. Back to town I spot a museum, pay the fee and get the usual parroting from the curator. Bagamoyo is a true historical town with a very interesting story behind it. I learn stuff. Honestly.

Sunday: I’m at the Dar Ferry station. Drizzle, people, cars, noise, cargo. I spot Sea Bus ticket office but not before a walking office spot me. You know them. He has black market cheap valid tickets. He displays them from inside his coat pocket and does marketing. “MV Flying Horse aka MV Flai Ngozi is leaving right now. Only a few seats left. I’ll get you first class if you want and cherry on top; no queuing.”

I bite the bait but just as I’m about to swallow the hook too, I imagine myself being discovered mid sea by ferry guys. They lift and offer me to sharks, eels and snakes. Better, I touch Zanzibar and I’m received by Jeshi la Polisi la Jamhuri ya Muungano ya Tanzania [TZ police]. I ask the guy to join me in thanking God for the rain and could he please have a good day. Bye bye.

Sea Bus office: “You need a passport.” ‘What do you mean? I didn’t carry it.’ I can’t believe this guy wants to deny me a ticket. “Hey man. I understand but as a citizen of a friendly country that has for decades conducted bilateral trade for mutual geo – economic and social political blah blah blah…” “OK, no problem but you’ll pay in KES.” No problem too. I flash my KES dollar, 2800/= and get a return ticket.

Heavy but warm rain. At the waiting bay I discover refreshments are catered for in the ticket fee and indulge. I’m so hungry and behave the feeling; 2 croissants, a sausage, 2 tiny samosas, Kilimanjaro branded orange juice and coffee. The 2 white guys across the bench get incited. They pamper themselves. The people around are beautiful. Involuntarily beautiful. I appreciate it aesthetically. Good feeling.

An hour later we board Sea Bus. I can’t believe I’m off to Zanzibar. Yes, I wanted to one day see the place but so soon so easily? Never imagined it. I’m so excited that I smile at the next passenger. She smiles back and just as her cheek bones start to get emphasized by the forming smile, I lean and give her 4 successive pecks, like quick snake bites. I’m kidding.

It’s 12:30. As per schedule we hit shore at 1pm. My Plan: discover the island for 2 hours. Board the ferry at 4pm. Hit Dar at 6:30pm. Go back to hotel. Do a jig of gratefulness to God. Download the photos. Have dinner. Watch a movie or 2 or 3. Sleep. Those are human plans. Shock on to me because I’ll spend this night at sea. 10 clean hours in the Indian Ocean my goodness.

I sail on the rails to get a good view of the ocean. I’m so happy. All is serene. The huger machines cut the waters and leave lines of a trillion bubbles behind. I wind surf. A school of shark babies [I think] dive in and out about a 100m behind us. A special welcome performance.  It’s a great feeling and God is good. I start chatting people up.

First is a very humorous TZ dude. He is meeting a businessman from Dubai in Zanzibar to close a deal and be back same day, same ferry. ‘Bahari ina milima, misitu na mabonde. Usione hivyo. Tupo mlimani sasa ndo twashuka. The sea is like land and we are now on a mountain going down, he says.

Next is a Namibian guy with this huge camera. He wants some photos of himself. I do the honours. He’s in Dar for a conference but came early to check Zanzibar out. Stories die and I get the fizzled Coke from my bag and sip it in abandon. I decide to leap into the sea and race the boat, swimming alongside it. You don’t believe that.

Next is this red haired lady. She is French from Le Mans but lives in Mayote Island, near Madagascar. A teacher. Ah bon! C’est trés cool. Rapid fire French and it can’t get better. I don’t let her go till we reach Zanzibar. She is visiting friends and could she have a good day. Oui, enchantée. Bon séjour Amuse-toi. I promise to visit Mayote. I’m serious.

3pm: We’re late. I have 30 min only to see Zanzibar! It’s not enough. For a small fee a kind near incoherent old man, offers to saddle me around on his bike. Straight to the market for souvenirs. 3 belts, a soup scooper… In 30 min I’m back to the boarding tier where drama awaits.

The ferry is full. No more passengers and this is the last Sea Bus ferry of the day. You will hit Dar tomorrow. Which tomorrow? I’m supposed to be sitting with the client at 9am tomorrow!! I’m not alone. Apparently they sold more tickets than space. There is another ferry by another company on its way out. I rush there and explain my case. We also oversold, they say. Like a rat I ran back to Sea Bus.

A pink cheeked, sombrero wearing, lady in black is standing across the gate, hands firmly on the rails. Eh eh! Hamna, hamna. No, Nothing. A white dude comes dragging a huge brown suitcase followed by his girlfriend, I guess. He is denied pass. The girl is not having it. She lifts the lady who tumbles and releases the rails, shouting profanities. The girl grabs the boyfriend’s hand and pushes her way inside. They are inside. Love does compliment indeed. He pays for the holiday, she provides security. The rest of us rush to get in but the ladder lifts. Sea Bus is gone. I can’t believe it.

The other ferry has also left. I now have to find sleep where I know not, without enough money. After all I was to be here for 2 hours max. We circle each other mumbling like bulls. The manager tries to explain but we eat him alive; Almost, I mean. He redeems his heart by saying Sea Bus has a smaller boat that can take us to Dar and he wants to call the company owner to release it. He is lying of course. He goes to a corner and makes the call. I’m sure he calls his girlfriend and books dinner. “Za jioni mpenz. Nakupenda kishenzi, si wajua. Haya, tuonane Inshallah. Mwaah!” Swerie, I love you. See you later.

He comes back and says it has no fuel. He is sorry. However, we’ll get our refunds straight away. I go to him and tell him refund is nothing but time is. I then tell him about company image. Then I start reciting the IMO passenger treatment rules. I get my refund and double the same amount as a massage for the trouble. I’m rich.

I forget my troubles and hit the road to discover Zanzibar properly now and buy more souvenirs. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t worry especially when things have happened. Tomorrow will come. Whether I find a place to sleep or not, it will dawn. Another walking office spots me. He says MV Flai Ngozi, is travelling tonight and will be in Dar at 6am. Really? Yeah. But it could be full by now. You need to hurry up so that I book your seat. I know the captain. I work here.

This guy knows I’m one of the passengers left. His chances are high. How much? 17K TZS. OK. Here you go. Bring the ticket. He disappears and comes back with one, shows me the official stamp. I’m good and safe now.

He offers me a guided trip round Zanzibar famed Stone Town, plus stories on anything of interest to a visitor. I must say he does me good. Impressive. I’m grateful for the free tour, when we finally part. He has a month old kid to go see. We agree to hook up later at 8pm. I buy him a Pepsi and we’re done. “Be at the boarding bay by 8pm sharp or else you’ll find the ferry full. You’ll see me there, anyway,” he says.

Loaded, I buy a watch, a red and gold Swahili mat, more belts, big mangoes and sweet bananas, drink madafu and even surf the net. I then go to Bustani to watch the sun set on the ocean. I’m that romantic. It’s very beautiful and I now understand the honeymooners. It’s all peaceful at the Bustani, a green well manicured park by the sea, and next to the glorious House of Wonders aka Beit-al-Ajaib built in 1883 by Sayyid Barghash, the 3rdSultan of Zanzibar.

Bustani has an everlasting carnival mood. All kinds of seafood on sale, lovers drooling over each others’ chests and shoulders, captivating boys diving acrobatically into the sea. It’s dark now and life just began. I discover why Zanzibar is Zanzibar.

7:45pm: I make for MV Flaingozi. On the way I meet a crazily perfumed and made up sister. She splashes a smile, struts like a Mnet face of Africa finalist, says hi [Za saa hizi Kaka?] and throws her head backwards. Wow! A perfect performer. A wise business lady. The night nurse. I say hi and move on.

I find a queue. Men to the left. I don’t see my guy. It hits me and I check my ticket. 11K TZS. I gave him 17K TZS! Darn it! The bugger already paid himself for the tour guiding. Now I understand the kindness. He operates Automated Billing Services. You get the billing report after deductions. No hussle, no fight, no nothing. All the best for his baby, if he has one.

I board, survey and pick my place. Hard red seats. It’s gonna be crowded. I approach a guy in uniform. I want first class. How much? We agree on a price and up I climb. Big red mushroom like puffed couches. I take one near the TV, buy a soda and a bun and lounge. I’m so tired. It will be 6 whole hours later before we leave. 6 hours! I sleep. At 1am MV Flaingozi takes to sea.

At 5am, I go down. Vomit, vomit, everywhere. Sea sickness, I’m told. Bodies are on every floor space! Literally. Women, girls and children on mattresses, fast asleep. Men stretched on seats, stairs or leaning on rails, half asleep or dead asleep. This ferry is overloaded no doubt. I descend on the rails, careful not to fall on people. I perch myself and see what I missed while asleep. The dazing beauty of the sea at night! We pass some mighty cargo ships which are small towns themselves. Their floodlights lighting up the sea like a stadium. I feel like painting.

I get very reflective. Much comes to mind and I start getting mellow at heart. Where am I? What if this ferry capsized? Would people ever know what my last moments were? Before I start crying, it starts to rain heavily. The water drops in on those sleeping ‘out’. There is no space to move. Mattress get wet and people get restless. A mess. Children wake up crying. The rest, too sleepy, don’t twitch.

We soon hit Dar. I go up and pick my bag. Down, the queue to disembark is thick and hardly moving. Everyone is trying to push their big or small loads out. From baskets to fridges to TV sets to bicycles. All manner of stories are told meanwhile in the nice sounding Kiswahili that is music to my ears. “Mwanangu wan’binya wee!” Son, you’re pushing me too hard. Dah! Samahani bibiye. lakini anayelia ni wewe au ni kuku uliyenaye? Sorry, but is that you screaming or the hen you’re carrying? We laugh.

Finally, I’m off the ferry. I decide to write about this. The trip to Zanzibar is more than I asked for in a very fulfilling way. That’s an experience and the unexpected they come, the more the fun. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my care-free self.

It’s raining again, heavily. I walk in the rain and the puddles, soaked to my briefs, till I find a bus to the hotel. 2 hours later I’m out with the client going over the previous week’s projects, dried up and dressed up, like I spent the night in a boutique. I promise to myself to marshal friends and visit Zanzibar again, this time for longer.


Written by coldturkey

May 4, 2010 at 1:10 PM

Posted in here and there

9 Responses

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  1. Zanzibar history is connected with its earlier role as a transit market for slaves and ivory. Country Music

    Country Music

    May 4, 2010 at 1:49 PM

  2. Seriously when am I tagging along in one of your travels, you are living my dream, am jealous 🙂


    May 8, 2010 at 9:51 PM

  3. Turkey, mon chou, globe-trotting without me I see. Zanzibar sounds better than I dreamed. Bon voyage


    May 10, 2010 at 1:21 PM

  4. I love your short sentences. They sing.


    May 12, 2010 at 1:37 PM

  5. Sounds like you had an adventurous but great time in Zanzibar, when is the return trip planned?

    Are you wiser for your second time around?

    There is a really nice food market on near the ferry terminal called Forodhani gardens market, where you can buy freshly cooked foods every evening – I highly recommend it next time you are in Zanzibar.

    Zanzibar Hotels

    May 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    • 1 plan to come again August. Is that the market where boys play diving into the sea? I’ll have to eat octopus there. Wiser, well yeah but a little drama is welcome.

      Cold Turkey

      May 13, 2010 at 11:25 AM

  6. Thanks for publishing this it was helpful for a paper I am at this time writing for my thesis. Thanks

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    June 3, 2010 at 9:34 PM

  7. Zanzibar looks really beautiful from your camera! Maybe I should check it out myself…..


    June 8, 2010 at 4:58 PM

  8. Duuh..mshikaji umefanya niwe na hamu ya kwenda Zanzibar. ‘ve stayed in Dar but always postponing taking a trip to Zanzibar…what a vivid picture you’ve painted both with words and pictures.

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