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Alene Ivey

"You like UB40? I can get you tapes very cheap!"

Our acquaintance with Abdullah was based on UB40 and a rendition of "Sherry". We had arrived in Zanzibar that afternoon and had booked into Mtoni Marine Centre for the night and now we were down on the waterfront choosing our evening meal.

Photo: Alene Levy
Out in the harbour, dhows swung lazy at their moorings, silhouetted against the African sunset. Little boys were diving off the stanchions at the water’s edge, splashing water over the braziers of vendors trying to cook kebabs, samosas and Zanzibari pizza. The noise was deafening, the smells intoxicating and we were having a ball.

We gorged ourselves on Zanzibari pizza – tiny circles of pizza dough filled with egg, minced onion and chilli and cooked over a charcoal brazier. A battered old tranny was belting out "Sherry" by UB40. (Reggae is very popular throughout East Africa.)

"You like UB40? I can get you tapes very cheap!" (CDs haven’t made it to the back streets of Zanzibar) Abdullah sidled up to us with an disarming grin. Abdullah, we were led to understand, could do anything. We need look no further – Abdullah would organise our meals, our drinks, our tours of the island, any legal (or illegal) drugs we wished to procedure – Abdullah was our man!
By this time, we had realised it was either Abdullah or Abdullah’s clone. There was no way we were going to be allowed to wander through the bazaar without a clutch of would-be guides offering their services. And at least Abdullah knew the words to "Sherry"!

So off we went into the night, following Abdullah down one of the many tiny, twisting streets of Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar. Passing walls that had been standing during the slave trade, we made our way upstairs to an open air courtyard where Abdullah organised beer and curry. Generously, he agreed to let us pay for his beer and meal as well. What were friends for? We declined his offer of various mind-altering substances and confined ourselves to another beer or two.
"Where are you going tomorrow?" asked Abdullah. We had been reading our guide book and decided we wanted to go to the beaches further north but were somewhat dismayed at the cost – about A$40 each.
"No, no, no!" cried Abdullah. "For my friends, I can organise a special deal. I can get you to Nungwi for $6 each."
"Can you arrange accommodation? Where would we stay?" I asked
"Accommodation at Nungwi is very cheap, very cheap. Only $20 for two. You will like it. I will arrange everything."

It must have been the feeling of adventure that Africa pours into the blood, but suddenly we were agreeing to meet Abdullah in the morning to be taken to the other end of the island to stay in an unknown fishing village.

The next morning found us doubting our courage of the night before. But we hadn’t parted with any money, so we sat down to breakfast to make plans for the day. As we were spreading clove and cardamon marmalade on our toast, there was a call from behind "My friends, my friends, it is Abdullah. I bring the bus for you to go to Nungwi!"

True to his word, Abdullah had organised everything and we were poured into a mini-van with about a dozen locals. These mini-vans are known as dalla-dallas and are the local form of transport. A van which in Australia would hold eight at the most can carry over twenty people if a little careful cramming takes place. Our backpacks were distributed around the van and I greeted our new travelling companions, "Mambo!"
"Poa, mama!" came the reply.

The $6 journey to Nungwi took an hour and a half. As we drove the length of the island, we chatted to our companions. They were delighted to meet tourists from Australia – apparently not a lot of Aussies go to Zanzibar. They all knew Sydney from the Olympics and were anxious to remind us that Kenyans were the best runners in the world.

The roads, we thought, were not the best. Huge potholes kept the speed of the bus down to the low 40s and the occasional police check (followed by "tea money" payments) found us reaching the Nungwi turn-off about lunchtime. But now we really found out what a bad road was. Close to the beach, these roads were made of coral and the huge gaping holes had to be skirted carefully. I’m sure some of them would have swallowed us whole. The bush on either side closed in on the single track and I wondered what would happen if we met a vehicle coming the other way. Luckily, it didn’t happen.

Suddenly, we turned a sharp corner and the aquamarine of the Indian Ocean spread before us. Tiny whitewashed cottages thatched with coconut fronds clung to the edge of a limestone cliff crumbling over the white sands of the beach We had arrived in Nungwi.

Everyone hears tales of beaches of pure white sand but coming from Western Australia, we reckon we know a good beach when we see one and this was certainly one of the best. On the northernmost tip of Zanzibar, Nungwi is a fishing village and dhow building centre, with a small tourist complex which was currently almost empty. It was the beginning of the rainy season and the tourists had returned to Europe. We had the Amaan Bungalows to ourselves.
Shown to our "villa", we found it was indeed $20 a night, complete with cold water shower and a couple of friendly spiders to eat the mosquitos. We unpacked and wandered up to reception, ready to deposit our valuables.
"Do you have a safe?" we enquired.
"Doesn’t your door shut?" asked the man in horror, "I will get it fixed immediately."
On explaining that the door did shut, he assured us that we needed no further security. If the door was shut, that meant no one would go in. Amazing!

So we walked across the road to the Fat Fish Bar and Restaurant for lunch. Sitting out on a balcony hanging over the beach, we selected prawns piri piri and calamari to be washed down with a Tusker lager. We had arrived in Paradise.

© Alene Ivey August 2002

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