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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 10: Kiwengwa to Nungwi
Thursday, February 25, 2021

Yesterday: 44236 steps/34.09 km/21.17 mi/6h 25m
Total: 275908 steps/209.97 km/130.39 mi/40h 27m

Tumble out of bed in my humble little guest room,
Eat some fruit, pack up, use the restroom,
And calculate the hour when I'll arrive.
Loaded with vim, now my trek is startin'.
Now if you'll kindly pardon my Parton,
Forsooth! I'll be on the road from nine to five.

Walking nine to five:
What a way to get to Nungwi!
Feelin' so alive,
Keeps us fröhlich und so jung. We
Take it step by step,
Through the percolating drizzle.
Best enjoy it, for the
Afternoon will sizzle!

The day was divided into thirds. For two hours I followed the coastal road up to Matemwe, past the grounds of the posh Melia hotel, which seemed to go on forever, and then other only slightly less luxurious lodging. A light drizzle turned into a mild, pleasant rain. Several people offered me a lift -- including the manager of the Lazy Beach House, headed north on a dala dala -- but I kept my steady pace, taking shelter only once, at a convenience hut where a pair of cats lazed on a checkerboard and a man introduced himself as King Solomon.

The next two walking hours brought me from the east coast to the west coast. The rain had stopped but the sky remained cloudy. I turned left and soon dealt with a phenomenon I'd forgotten about, for it didn't exist along the coast: hills. They were brief, though, and soon I was in the thick of the highland villages.

What Google Maps showed as a substantial road turned out to be a bumpy dirt track, and the villagers were suspicious of me. Some seemed to indicate that I shouldn't proceed; others indicated that it was fine. Children cried out "Jambo!" and I answered the same, waving at everyone I could to show I was harmless. Still, a few people followed me out of the village, including two on bicycles.

The track became bumpier, suited toward only the hardiest vehicles. I felt the rocks under my soles. Somehow the bikers kept going. At one point the trail led across a soccer field, directly through the goal areas.

One by one, the group retreated to their village, until just one person remained, one of the cyclists. He dismounted and walked with me in order to better match my pace.

Twenty minutes passed before either of us said anything. I asked his name: Sele. He looked to be in his late 20s and wore a T-shirt in shades of brown that said, "Be free."

We came to a crossing. I bought a warm Sprite and sat down. I offered Sele a drink, but either he didn't understand or he wasn't interested. I thought he might ask for money, but he never did.

"And now?" he asked when I stood up again.

"I keep going," I said. My route was to continue along the dirt track on the other side rather than turn onto the road. Sele didn't follow me; after I'd crossed I was no longer of his concern.

The next hour was marvelously peaceful; normal cars couldn't drive this track, and I had the place to myself. It remained mostly cloudy, and large trees provided further shade. It seemed unlikely that this road would suddenly intersect with the busy road from Stone Town to Nungwi.

It seemed even more unlikely that, of all things to appear out of nowhere on this isolated trail, there was a cultural museum devoted to the mainland Maasai people. Maasai World (horribly named; I hear Something World and picture wide-eyed kids gazing upward through aquarium windows) is a new attraction, containing informational plaques, specimens of Maasai everyday items, and a resident troupe of Maasai who are enthusiastic about educating passersby on their history and customs.

Michael and a few of his friends established Maasai World in late 2019 and then, of course, had the misfortune to have to close it for most of last year. The Maasai came from the Nile Valley in the 15th century and were (and still sometimes are) nomadic, building short houses with wood and cow dung and moving their cattle when necessary to find new grazing land.

Unlike the Bantu (Swahili-speaking, to overgeneralize) people of eastern Africa, the Maasai (which translates as "speakers of the Maa language") were never enslaved. This was due in part to their warlike reputation; the characteristic red clothing, swords, and walking sticks ensured that they were left alone.

Traditionally, boys and girls underwent circumcision at around the time of puberty, after which the men took their role as warriors for 15 years. These days the ages have gotten younger. Michael is 28 and has a wife (chosen by his parents) and a five-year-old daughter. They live on the mainland; because of Michael's devotion to Maasai World, it will be a few months before he sees his family again.

Maasai historically had no formal education, but that is changing. "The old plan was, what can I do to have a thousand cows?" Michael said. "Now we can work in business or technology."

Maasai are becoming less nomadic and building taller homes as a result. Body modifications, such as clan-identifying cheek branding, are no longer required (Michael didn't have them but at least one of the other Maasai World staff did). And an earlier requirement for marriage -- that the man prove his worth by killing a lion (men would go out together and sing to bemuse the great beasts, but only one would get credit for the kill) -- has been replaced by a payment of cows to the bride's family.

Some of their traditions remain, though. They start fires by swishing a stick of the engoholo tree into a base of the same wood. They make a beer from honey, aloe root, and water. They remove two front teeth so that medicine can be administered in the case of a locked or clenched jaw -- Michael underwent this procedure at age 12.

Maasai World contains several typical houses, entered through brief, curved passageways and containing the slimmest of window slits -- it was very dark inside. A house consists of a pantry area with a raised bed on each side, one for the woman and one for the man, with cowhide coverings. Cooking may be done inside or out, depending on the weather.

Game hunting was demonstrated using archery targets and I was allowed to practice shooting a "hyena," "leopard," or "lion," depending on how close to the center I got -- it took me about five tries just to hit the target, but by the eighth I had a bullseye, deeming me fit for marriage. Michael and the rest of the staff also performed a brief jumping competition and a duel, and they invited me to join in.

I spent two and a half hours there. It was almost four o'clock when I left and I still had just over a third of my walk to complete. Michael was going to be in Nungwi at night, and we arranged to meet up.

I completed the stretch of dirt track and turned north onto the busy Nungwi road. I picked up my pace, but this was a long two and a half hours. The last kilometer was through the dirt lanes of Nungwi village. Google Maps had me turning seemingly after every building, and the villagers were asking where I was headed.

"This way!" I'd say, only to turn again immediately. But the directions were clear, and I soon was on the last few steps. The hotel was called Casa Umoja, but there seemed to be no sign of it.

Nine to five:
Where's my accommodation?
Got to self-revive
Once I find the right location.
Getting hot and tired,
And I'm sweaty and I'm dirty.
It's long past five; in fact it's
Near six-thirty!

I approached a mini-market and picked up a bottle of cold water and a Mirinda grape soda.

"Do you know Casa Umoja?" I asked the shopkeeper.

"This is Casa Umoja!" he said.

I took my drinks and he led me through the shop and into the hotel's courtyard.

"We don't have a sign from the road," the German owner said, "because sometimes the tax collector comes, and he forgets to stop at our place! That's the real reason. We just have a sign coming from the beach."

She led me to my room, upstairs opposite her yoga studio. It had a small Zanzibari carved door -- I had to bow my head a little -- that was secured by a padlock around a latch that squeaked so noisily the entire guest population would surely know when I was coming and going. The room was on the dim side but comfortable, and the overhead fan was strong.

It was sunset by the time I exited the property toward the beach. Candlelit tables were set up at Blue Sea, next door. Beyond that were more restaurants, hotels, and curio shops. People were enjoying the last rays of light. It seemed like a fun, easygoing town and I was glad to settle in for two nights.

I showered and took a table at Blue Sea. Michael arrived by dala dala and joined me.

"Where will you sleep tonight?" I asked.

"I'll go back to Maasai World." I was initially struck by the distance -- it had taken me two and a half hours to get here from Maasai World, but it was really a short drive away.

"There are dala dalas late at night?"


We shared a mango-and-avocado salad and I had tuna steamed in a banana leaf.

"What did you order?" I asked.

"Beef." But when it came, he sent it away.

"What happened?"

"It should be rice." They had mistakenly brought French fries. "Chips are too oily."

The dish came back with the proper side. He tried it.

"How is it?"

"Great!" Michael said. "When I eat beef, I really feel great!" Like most Maasai, Michael doesn't eat fish or seafood. Cow meat, milk, and cow blood -- pricked from the neck and siphoned into a calabash -- constitute the bulk of the Maasai diet.

"How many people did you have at Maasai World today?" I asked. "I saw one other couple when I arrived." They had been nearing the end of the tour, the jumping contest.

"Just three. Them, and you."

The admission fee was $10. The staff of nine or ten people, who had given me a private show after Michael finished our tour, had collected just $30 for the day.

"Maasai World is wonderful. I'll have to tell people about it," I said. "It's not in my guidebook." The book predated the museum's opening.

"Yes, please do." There was a sign from the main road, but other then that there weren't many ways for people to hear about Maasai World. And it wasn't likely to get much foot traffic.

I asked him about cultural appropriation as well. There had been Maasai-style beaded bracelets for sale at Maasai World. "What do you think about someone like me wearing a Maasai bracelet?"

"There's no problem," he said. "We like it."

"Or wearing your clothing?"

"Also fine," he said. It surprised me. The red Maasai dress is so specific that I would think a non-Maasai wearing it might be inappropriate. I'd feel self-conscious in it, but I'd have no right to judge others for doing the same. We agreed that a cheek modification would be crossing the line, however.

We took a short stroll along the beach, and then he walked me back to Casa Umoja and went on his way. It had been a long day, and my feet needed an early rest.

And yes, the dogs are very friendly.

Go on to day 11