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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 9: Marumbi to Kiwengwa
Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Yesterday: 27477 steps/21.22 km/13.18 mi/3h 59m
Total: 231672 steps/175.88 km/109.22 mi/34h 2m

With a buffet consisting mostly of heavy bread products, a queue for the omelette station that brought to mind the immigration experience at the old Tel Aviv airport, and undefined juices I hadn't experimented with since summer camp, the Paradise Beach Resort's breakfast supported my decision not to spend a second night. I was tempted by the large pool, but there would be plenty of water up ahead.

I followed the tar road north, past some of Zanzibar's posh resorts, which were hidden behind landscaped casuarina forest. This area was more developed than the Paje road, with frequent huts selling snacks, sodas, water, and other basic everyday items. Yellow weavers, mnana birds in Swahili, flapped their little wings rapidly and merrily as they tended to their many nests -- a single tree could have dozens.

I heard thunder but the dark clouds were to the west; I had my sunglasses on for the first hour. A light, refreshing drizzle began as I approached Pongwe, where the road bent slightly westward. The rain became steady, and I ran ahead a bit, but by the time I reached the next overhang it had nearly stopped. The weather remained cool and cloudy, excellent for walking.

The rain started again, abruptly, during the six-kilometer stretch between Pongwe and Kiwengwa. There was no proper shelter, but the sign for the Tikitam Palms hotel had a small roof, where I waited it out for a few minutes.

At Kiwengwa, I turned toward the beach and found children in white tops and green bottoms on their way home from school.

"Ciao," one said. By entering the north region I'd crossed from Russia to Italy; many of the hotels in this area were established by Italians. One souvenir hut's sign read "Benvenuti Emporio Giorgio Armani da Ciccio Bello Maikol Jordan." Another, crudely painted, said "Gucci di Zanzibar."

At the southern end of Kiwengwa a fishing dhow was unloading its haul a few meters into the water. Men were carrying their purchases back to shore, wading the short distance. A young man clutched an octopus that had such long, dangling legs I mistook it for a mop. I sat at one of the beach restaurants and had a snapper ceviche and octopus in coconut sauce. Behind me a couple ordered prosecco.

I was eager to spend two nights in the same room, just not at that all-inclusive. I hadn't slept in the same bed twice since the beginning of the trip in Stone Town -- at Paje by Night and ZALA Park I'd had to switch rooms. After finding apparent availability at a cozy-looking place called the Lazy Beach House I'd messaged them directly rather than entrust another reservation to Booking.com.

I located the building but there seemed to be no reception area, so I inquired at the affiliated restaurant -- not much more than a hut and a grill -- and they found the manager. On the grill were tempting lobsters ready to feed a group of Russians sitting at a picnic table with a bottle of gin. The manager walked me upstairs to the communal terrace that doubled as a reception area.

The hotel preferred payment in dollars and I received $10 back from my $120: a five, three singles, and a $2 bill. I was shocked. I hadn't seen a $2 bill in regular use in more than 15 years. "Where did you get this?" I asked.

The manager was surprised by my reaction. "I get these all the time," he said. But from whom? The bill read "Series 2013." I didn't even know they made them that recently.

"I wonder if it's real," I said to Debra and her mother later. They were visiting from Switzerland and had just been on a safari on the mainland. They had also climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. There had been a heavy amount of snow, unusual for this time of year.

"We could see nothing from the top," said Debra's mother, who preferred to be known to me as Mama Debra. "Just white, all around."

"But you know what you accomplished," I said.

We sat together at dinner, where we were encouraged to order an hour in advance. No problem at the Lazy Beach House; there wasn't much to do after sunset but contemplate the sand crabs and the shallow sea. ("Don't walk into the water where it's dark," the manager had told me. "There are rocks and urchins. Instead, go around," he said, gesturing the way to the sandbar maybe 50 meters out.)

I had a lobster; it was rather tough and not as tasty as the one at Paje. Lobsters are usually best unadorned, but maybe I should have ordered it with the pilipili sauce instead.

"May I have some mango juice?" I asked the woman who brought my meal. She seemed not to register the request.

"She won't talk to you," Debra said. "Muslim women can't talk to men."

"I knew that rule, but I'm surprised it applies in a restaurant." I respected the custom, of course, and I made my request of the man in charge.

"One of the advantages of being a woman," Debra said. "I can talk to everyone."

There was a moderate breeze, enough to keep the mosquitoes away. At night the strong fan in my room had the same effect, though I let down the jellyfish-like netting anyway.

Breakfast was copious, with a fruit plate, an omelette, chapatis, and crepes. The bees loved it. Debra and her mother had gotten up long before me, and they had already run along the beach and eaten by the time I saw them.

"So many bees at breakfast!" I said.

"Yes, but we put some honey to the side and they stayed away." Why didn't I think of that?

It was time for laundry again, and the manager at the Lazy Beach House said the cleaning staff could do it "if it's sunny." Cleanliness was more important to me than dryness, and I prepared the bag with virtually everything I have with me, tossing in the shirt I was wearing and both pairs of trousers. I was going to be on the beach all day anyway; a swimsuit would suffice. It never got sunny, but it didn't rain.

I took a swim in the warm Indian Ocean, routing myself around the rocks and sea urchins. Even at moderate tide, I could walk a few minutes out and barely be chest-deep.

By noon a fishing dhow had come in, and people were carrying buckets of fish from its location a short distance into the ocean to a small but bustling haggling area. It didn't take long for everything to be sold off and taken away on foot or a truck overloaded with people. At least a half-dozen hung off the back, much as they did on the dala dalas between towns.

Once the market action drew to a close, Kiwengwa's primary activities included swimming, strolling the beach, watching Russian men photograph their bikinied girlfriends with the ocean as a backdrop, and avoiding the coconut sellers and souvenir vendors, who seemed less aggressive here than elsewhere on the island. I spent a good part of the afternoon figuring out which subset of the menu items a beachfront grill had on offer and then picking at a kingfish fillet that had so many bones I contemplated bringing them home and constructing an ossuary chapel.

They promised my clothes before dinner and delivered with a little prodding. They were slightly damp, but my room had plenty of hangers. Some of those hangers got their first use -- I had to remove the cardboard packaging from around the set of six.

I turned the fan on toward the clothes and went outside. Next door there seemed to be a party; people were dancing next to an outdoor bar in front of a house with a pool that, from what I could tell, was both in use and under construction. The dinner was a seafood buffet, and it was open to the public. It wasn't great food, but the group was having a blast, seated around round tables and on chairs covered in removable white linen of the sort found in banquet halls. The restaurant and bar were public but the house was private, built by a man from Poland who had had enough of Polish winters. He welcomed me and thanked me for joining his guests.

I nervously booked a couple of accommodations for the next week via Booking.com, encouraged by recent reviews suggesting the reservations would be honored. Both properties responded with confirmations. The final stretch of this walk will be from Kendwa, near Zanzibar's northernmost point at Nungwi, back down the west coast to Stone Town. It could be done in a grueling 56-kilometer day, but splitting it into three will be much more pleasurable, and I'll get to stay at some less-visited places on the way.

Getting to Nungwi from Kiwengwa is another matter. It's about six and a half hours of walking -- either two easy days or one long day. I've opted for the long, allowing me to spend two nights in Nungwi before heading down to Kendwa. Besides, there aren't many places to stay once I leave the eastern coast. There don't seem to be a lot of rooms to let in Nungwi either, but there's at least one hotel by the beach with availability. And they have dogs. As long as they're friendlier than Aruba's, I'm happy.

Go on to day 10