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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 5: Paje to Bwejuu and back
Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Today: 18253 steps/13.81 km/8.58 mi/2h 41m
Total: 106531 steps/82.26 km/51.08 mi/15h 26m

Paje by Night includes breakfast in the room rate and annoyingly asks people to commit to their meal choices the day before, even though the limited variety doesn't justify the lead time. Bored of eggs and not in the mood for granola, I'd picked the vegan option, thinking that a hotel presenting a somewhat cool vibe -- lounge beats after midnight, electric outlets bearing converted metal boxes advertising Indian businesses, a ceiling-to-floor image of James Brown at the Apollo in my shower, a TV set playing the old Nickelodeon game show "Double Dare" (I do not know whether this was for the kids or the Generation X-ers) -- might find something interesting to do with vegetables.

What arrived was a wispy crudite consisting of dry, chopstick-thin brownish celery stalks, similarly blotched carrots, and zucchini. The pitted dates and cashews offered something of a diversion in sweetness and texture; the fruit cup was a standard amalgam of banana, watermelon, and mango; the chickpea crepe was the most interesting item but there should have been more of it and it should have been warmer.

What was most disturbing about the experience was that the meal took 45 minutes to arrive. I wolfed most of it down and left the remains of the crudite to the flies and bees, the latter of which were so persistent that they drove at least one other diner away and arrived by the hundreds to attack any unfinished fruit.

Paje's windy beach is ideal for kite-surfers (Paje by Kite is the hotel's own recreational agency) and the half-moons of different colors number in the dozens over the sea. I walked north along the beach to the next town, Bwejuu. Fronting the sea are hotels and bungalows catering to various budgets; just inland is quite a different world, a tangle of traditional houses densely packed together and linked by a haphazard network of dirt alleys and footpaths.

Many of Bwejuu's women are involved in the seaweed-farming business, which was implemented deliberately some years ago after the natural supply ran out and men sought more-lucrative endeavors. Mwani Zanzibar is an organization that employs around 20 of these women (at above the village rate, to the jealousy of some) to plant and harvest seaweed and manufacture it into health and beauty products. They also run a shop, of course, and tours to the farming locations.

These tours happen only at low tide. Today that was between noon and 2:30pm; the tidal variance is even more pronounced here than at Menai Bay. Three of us and our guide donned shoes appropriate for a few inches of water, and we headed out about 100 meters from the shore.

The farming operation starts with the purchase of 100 wooden stakes. Each pair is connected by two or three meters of rope, to form 50 rows. To these ropes are attached plastic ties a few inches apart; to each tie is attached a small piece of seaweed ripped from an existing plant.

The seaweed flourishes in areas where there is constant water; due to variations in the sand level, pools remain even when the tide is out. Each day the farm is inspected to make sure the tide hasn't carried it away.

The seaweed grows quickly and is collected after two months. It is set out to dry for a few days, and it may turn purple or white, depending on its iodine content. It emits a pungent, salty smell. A kilogram of dry seaweed, the result of about three rows of farming, normally fetches just 1,000 shillings, around 43 cents.

When all of its water has evaporated, the seaweed is ground by hand, either roughly (for bar soaps) or finely (for liquids). It's mixed with coconut oil, beeswax, and other oils or spices, depending on the products being made. For soap, it's then cut into pieces and stamped, after which it's placed in a cool room, labeled, and aged like wine for several weeks. The entire process -- grinding, mixing, assembly -- is carried out by hand.

I collected my clothes from the Paje Laundry Cooperative; they had a funny smell but did seem clean. I collected the key to my new room at Paje by Night (they weren't able to keep me in the same place for my whole stay), washed off the walk, and watched the kite-surfers wrap up the day at the beach.

Go on to day 6