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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 3: Fuoni to Unguja Ukuu
Monday, February 15, 2021

Today: 28201 steps/21.65 km/13.44 mi/4h 6m
Total: 55944 steps/42.78 km/26.57 mi/8h 10m

A positive effect of my uninspiring room at the Fuoni Lodge was that I was ready to leave by eight in the morning.

I soon came to Fuoni's vibrant and colorful produce market, where hundreds of vendors lined up their fruits and vegetables. It was vaguely arranged with like items together: cassava, eggplant, mangos, limes, coconuts, watermelon, tiny peppers, bananas as small as a baby's hand or as long as a ram's horn. And sacks of rice and beans of various shades. Most of the sellers sat on the ground, having unloaded their hefty parcels from trucks.

The road became less busy and shadier from mango trees. As I approached the T-intersection at Tunguu, I was keeping pace with a biker who honked his horn continually, advertising the contents of two small white buckets he was transporting: sardines.

I turned right at the intersection and made my way southeast. The occasional car, motorcycle, dala dala, or bicycle passed, and usually there were people within view or earshot: women in bright green dresses carrying babies, groups of men lounging around, construction workers building new brick houses. But sometimes I had the whole road to myself, with only the sounds of my feet, the birds, and MapMyWalk announcing the conclusion of each kilometer.

The road was in good condition for all: well-paved for vehicles, ample walking space for those of us on foot. Children yelled out "Jambo!" as I passed; sometimes the young men and I would exchange a thumbs-up. The women usually did not regard me, a testament to the Muslim protocol for communication between unrelated people of different genders.

I reached the village of Unguja Ukuu, the site of Zanzibar's first settlement, a busy port that was established sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries and abruptly ended around the tenth. Excavation still has a long way to go, but there is evidence that this early Swahili settlement traded with Persians, Indians, and even Chinese. There also is reportedly a secluded cave where people whose prayers have been answered leave offerings of thanks -- in the form of Coca-Cola bottles.

What little remains of this settlement is hard to find, scattered over a large area, and not well-known even to people who live in what's now a small fishing village. There are some stone ruins along the main road -- the open walls of a building about 300 years old -- and the rubble of a 15th-century house along the beach, but it takes one of Unguja Ukuu's few experts to locate anything older.

Yesterday Booking.com sent me to a hotel that was closed; today Hotels.com sent me to a hotel that does not accept reservations from Hotels.com. The new owners of the Menai Bay Beach Bungalows take bookings only through Anex, a tour company based in Russia and Ukraine, and all their guests are Russian. So the funds from my prepaid, nonrefundable reservation have probably gone to the former owners, and in ten years -- as long as Erdal and his brother have managed the hotel -- they have never gotten this corrected with the booking agencies, despite visitors' arriving every few days claiming they have confirmed reservations.

Fortunately they had one room to spare, overlooking the sea, and they charged me the price I'd paid, thereby keeping me whole...sort of. This payment was in cash, and when I no longer have the benefits of American Express points, cash back from whatever shopping portal I booked through, and Hotels.com's stay-ten-nights-and-get-one-free deal, paying cash is about 25% dearer than using a card for the same amount.

Tides are extreme in east Africa. When I arrived, just after noon, one could walk at least half a kilometer out to sea without getting wet. By dinnertime, the water was up to the wooden steps leading to the hotel property.

In between, I walked along the beach a short distance until I heard a bit of commotion just inland: the fish auction. Women sat on the ground and men stood behind them or off to the side. Three of the four auction platforms were in use. The auctioneers would hoist a single fish, or a group of the same kind of fish, or even a collection of unrelated fish, up onto a hook or hold them out in their hands as they went through the rhythmic chant. Subtle signals from the bidders ensured that the process went quickly; I made sure not to scratch an itch on my forehead or wipe away sweat, lest the movement be mistaken for a bid.

Erdal saw me there. He doesn't know Swahili -- his chef does the bidding for the hotel -- but he goes to see what's on sale. The auction happens daily, after the morning boats come back. Erdal prefers big fish rather than sets of smaller ones.

"The problem is, the prices change daily, but I have to put fixed prices on the menu," he said. I explained market pricing, but maybe that wouldn't go over well with his crowd.

Between the auction and the sea, boys in their early teens scaled and gutted the fish, sometimes supervised by women.

When I told friends I was coming to Zanzibar, one remarked that as of the time of her visit a year and a half ago it had been overrun by Russians. This was evident in Stone Town and even more so in Unguja Ukuu. Erdal is Turkish and speaks fluent Russian; he speaks to the staff in English and the staff speak to the guests in English.

The menu is first in Russian and then in English, and the Russian tendency to ruin salads with mayonnaise extended to the shrimp cocktail, which was in a giant heap of the hateful stuff, like pudding. Fortunately the mango salad was spared it. Erdal's chef had acquired a nice red snapper at the auction. It was grilled well, but the portion was skimpy, the plate heavy with fries and light on fish.

I'm certain that tomorrow's hotel exists and will honor my reservation, as I've already been in contact with them regarding my booking of two nights in different rooms, since there was no individual room available for both nights. Perhaps their bookings will change, and I won't have to move. But Zanzibar seems to be about going with the flow, a flow as wide as the tide.

Go on to day 4