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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 6: Paje to Makunduchi
Thursday, February 18, 2021

Today: 23074 steps/18.55 km/11.52 mi/3h 14m
Total: 129605 steps/100.81 km/62.60 mi/18h 40m

The seating is communal at the African BBQ in Paje, on either side of each of two long, wooden tables resembling dhows' hulls and around the perimeter of the restaurant. The place attracts locals and tourists alike, and it's open around the clock.

I sat next to a Zanzibari named Ahmed, who was visiting from Stone Town to do a little business and have a little relaxation. "For the next seven days, we are in mourning," he said.

Somehow I knew whom he was talking about, even though I hadn't heard the news.

"Our vice-president," he continued.

"Maalim Seif?" The politician whose posters had festooned Jaws Corner had lost his sixth presidential election, but he had been made vice-president. "I knew he had gotten Covid." That had happened at the end of January, but it's unclear whether the virus was the cause of his death yesterday. He was 77.

I enjoyed a grilled lobster in a subtle, spicy marinade and then went into one of the souvenir shops across the way. The day's walk along the beach had subjected me to a blazing sun whose strength and focus were so overpowering that I'd sometimes taken ten or twenty steps at a time with my eyes closed. I hate having things on my head, but those rays had broken me. I was going to buy sunglasses.

The seller had a bunch of cheapies attached to a board. They were all pretty much the same except for the frame color, and all, or at least the two I asked about, had an initial asking price of 20,000 shillings ($8.62).

While I was pondering, my server from the African BBQ found me: She'd made a mistake on the bill and needed an extra 10,000 shillings. I'd noticed the mistake but thought it was perhaps a nightly drink special -- there was a posted list I couldn't see. Anyway, I didn't mind giving her the extra money.

"Wait," I said. "Which sunglasses should I buy?"

She picked out a pair with brown frames and I eventually selected something similar that fit me a little more securely. He let them go for 15,000.

Hotels.com got me again -- shame on me twice, I know. I wasn't sure how much walking to commit to today, but I had settled on -- and booked -- something called the Makunduchi White House Apartment in the far southeastern part of the island. I'd messaged the owner with my estimated arrival time, but this morning I received a response that he doesn't take Hotels.com bookings. This is really some scam -- the old owner lists a property, the would-be guest makes a nonrefundable booking, and then the new owner rejects the reservation, leaving the guest or the agency on the hook.

There aren't many places to stay in Makunduchi or in Kizimkazi, on the other side of the peninsula. Hotels.com showed a few possibilities but I wasn't about to trust them again. The one listing of theirs that I felt sure about was several kilometers out of the way.

Eventually the owner of the White House Apartment said he had a few other rooms in town. Most cheaply, for $15 I could have a bed in a dormitory room in a shared house, but no one else would be staying in that room tonight. That was fine with me.

I showered and then made myself feel all gross again with a thick layer of sunscreen. I kept my shirt off, put on the sunglasses, and set out down the beach.

The temperature was around 90. The sunscreen instantly became runny with my sweat. The sunglasses helped significantly, but they slipped with all the moisture cascading down my cheek. I mopped my face with the end of a toilet roll I'd taken from the Hyatt.

Within 20 minutes I was blinking sweat away and my torso was patterned in vertical white stripes. I needed a reset, and I found an outdoor hotel bar and asked for a Sprite.

The drink cooled me down, and I took napkins and wiped away the sweat. I didn't know whether any of the sunscreen remained to give me protection, but feeling dry was heavenly.

I also paused because I had just reached a point in the beach where a hotel property came up to the water's edge. I knew that in 20 minutes the tide would go out enough for me to continue walking along the beach. I could have instead walked along the road, on the other side of the hotel properties, but it may have been less interesting, and I had heard that the stretch of road between Paje and Jambiani was a bit of a hotspot for muggings (although Ahmed had assured me that any mishaps happen at night).

Everything felt different after that Sprite. There was a breeze, and I was no longer suffused with sweat. For the next hour I walked cheerfully, mindful of the presence of others. The beach was by no means crowded; there were always a few people ahead or behind: children, Russian tourists, and Maasai men dressed in deep red, looking to sell beaded bracelets or shells. With the tide so far out, some found tide pools to sit in, a few minutes' walk toward the waves.

It's kind of surreal to walk five miles along a beach. It was never quite the same view, but it was never quite different, either: just the receding tide on my left, with the associated bumpy sand and tide pools, and the string of bungalows, kite-surfing outfitters, and seafood shacks on my right. Other than the hotel jutting out near where I had my Sprite, there was no intersection or major feature to break up the stroll.

About halfway to Makunduchi, the beach edged seaward, and I took a break for lunch at the Sweet Beach restaurant. The seating was upstairs, with an open view of the beach and the kids making their way home from school in yellow tops and blue bottoms. Some of them sang. I had a fantastic fish of thick octopus in coconut sauce, and I nervously asked for the side of vegetables -- it was a hearty stew of tomatoes, onions, peppers, and carrots. They could show Paje by Night a thing or two about making vegetables exciting.

As I started eating, the server asked if I'd mind paying right away.

"There is a funeral today," he said.

"Maalim Seif."

"You know about him?"

"Yes. It's so sad."

"I'm not going to the funeral, but my coworker wants to go, so I have to look after things."

"It's no problem at all."

Paying early made it easier to eat and leave quickly: I was due to meet Eminem at three, and I still had ten kilometers to go in just over an hour and a half. He was coming from Stone Town and I didn't want to be late. I saw that the shape of the beach was going to undulate and it would be quicker to walk along the straight road.

I walked fast -- the kilometer announcements came on the sevens this time -- but the road lacked the breeze of the beach, and the second half of the journey seemed much hotter. The tar road had little traffic and wide shoulders for walking. There were stretches of a minute or more where I saw no people or vehicles. I hoped my face wasn't becoming the color of the Maasai dress.

Several people offered me lifts, in cars and taxis and on motorcycles. One man was cycling slowly enough that I could see how weariness; yet he invited me to hop on.

"Too hot!" they'd say.

"I'm almost there!" I'd answer.

"Almost" lasted a long time. I finally saw the apartment complex that marked the end of the north-south road, but it took its time getting closer. I was still walking quickly, but my body was drenched in sweat and I kept rubbing my eyes and face with my shirt. There was no way any of the sunscreen was still on my face, but I assumed any reapplication would immediately roll off.

At the end of the road, I turned left toward the sea again. I didn't know which house I was to report to, so I found a supermarket and guzzled a soda. I said I was looking for Eminem; everyone in town knew him, and the shopkeeper pointed to him waiting for me, just a minute's walk back toward the Paje road.

Eminem brought me to the house, where I met the relatively long-term resident Gino, who's been visiting from Germany since October. Throughout the afternoon and evening I came across a couple of Russians and a child and a dog, and I was never sure who was associated with whom.

I told Eminem of my walking plans, and he suggested I be cautious when doing anything out of the ordinary in these parts: In the 1990s an American and his family took up residence in Makunduchi. He taught at the school, he spoke Swahili, and he helped his son integrate with the local children by building a sandbox. But he had a second life as a spy, and in 1999 he was deported with 24 hours' notice.

I had a brief beach stroll -- there's very little on the beach at Makunduchi -- and headed back to the supermarket, where a group of people were watching a soccer game on the TV set outside. Attached to the supermarket was a restaurant that served me splendid kingfish and a date shake (which sounds like a dance from the '50s).

Makunduchi is very dark at night, and I missed the turnoff back to Eminem's house. I headed up someone else's driveway instead. But I think I stayed sufficiently under the radar to walk another day on Zanzibar.

Go on to day 7