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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 11: Nungwi to Kendwa
Friday, February 26, 2021

Today: 5065 steps/3.73 km/2.32 mi/46m
Total: 280973 steps/213.70 km/132.71 mi/41h 13m

Long a hub for dhow building, Nungwi was among the last of Zanzibar's fishing villages to be built up with tourism. The beach sprawls for a few miles all the way down to Kendwa, although it's not always passable: At high tide the water comes up all the way to the coral wall and there's nowhere to walk. However, the tidal variance is not as wide here as along the east coast, and as a result it's always possible to swim without heading far out.

Nungwi is very popular, and the beach teems with visitors -- now mostly Russian -- and Zanzibaris selling fruit and art or offering massages (and, barely less conspicuously, drugs). There are zillions of animal paintings, some enormous, splayed on the sand, waiting to be sold; the supply has got to far exceed the demand.

Nungwi's touts have a notoriety for being aggressive, but I was never bothered; perhaps my sunglasses discouraged eye contact. Indeed, sellers and Russian beauties alike left me alone; no doubt my six-dollar shades, artfully uneven tan, and runny sunscreen patterns rendered me far too sexy to approach.

Before Nungwi became a major tourist destination, it was a prime breeding area for green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles, which were hunted for their meat and shells, respectively. Mnarani Turtles Conservation, at the northernmost point of Zanzibar island, allows the turtles to hatch and grow in a protected setting before being released; people who find turtles or nests are rewarded for bringing them to the sanctuary. The turtles' memory is so acute that, when released, they instinctively return to the beach where they nested, even if they were hatched at the sanctuary. Their gender is largely dependent on the sand temperature -- a higher temperature favors females -- and only one or two hatchlings naturally survive per thousand, due to predation.

After visiting the turtle sanctuary I happened upon Nungwi's afternoon fish auction, a more raucous affair than its counterpart at Unguja Ukuu. Large bucketsful of like fish were emptied onto the ground, and the auctioneer pointed at each with a stick while chanting the numbers. Many people shouted at once, whereas at Unguja Ukuu people had bid silently.

Nungwi's restaurants line the waterfront; by day they put out loungers, and at night they replace them with tables, many lit by candles. It's a peaceful place to dine, even with so many people. There's a lineup of late-night parties whose locations change based on the day of the week. Yesterday's was at Cholo's, and whom should I run into but Michael, my guide from Maasai World?

"It's so good to see you!" I said. "I got your text messages, but I didn't know if you were getting mine." His follow-ups hadn't been consistent with my answers.

"Sorry! I didn't have my phone," he said, or maybe there had been a problem with it. Mainly I didn't want him to think I'd been ignoring him.

I'd been drinking something they called a Gin Freezy, their version of a gin fizz but with lime juice. I bought him one.

"Cheers!" I said. "How do you say 'Cheers!' in Maa?"


That ranks right up there with, and perhaps alphabetically adjacent to, the Hungarian toast, "Eg├ęszs├ęgedre!" It took me a few tries to say it, especially after more than one Gin Freezy.

The party had started off calmly, but by midnight it was rocking, with a bonfire, plenty of people, and bartenders who couldn't keep up. The attendees were mostly non-Tanzanian, but there was a significant contingent of Bantu and Maasai alike, including a few prostitutes.

"I can help you find a girl," Michael said.

"No, thank you. But I appreciate your offering."

"I might find someone for myself. Such a long time away from my family."

This surprised me, but I had no business judging his customs. In the end, though, we closed the party down, and he walked me back to Casa Umoja. "Umoja" means "unity" in Swahili, and there was certainly plenty of that in Nungwi.

After checking the tides, I determined that I should time my brief walk to Kendwa so as to arrive at noon. This was also consistent with a sluggish morning following a beach party. The checkout time at Casa Umoja was ten, but I fell asleep in the hammock for an hour after that.

My guidebook had mentioned that muggings weren't unheard of along the beach between Nungwi and Kendwa, and I'd asked Michael about it, stressing that I'd be walking during the daytime.

"One hundred percent, you will have no problem," he'd answered, "except the one time it happens."

I'd done a trial walk for much of the distance without my bag, and with people flocking the beach almost continuously along the stretch, plus all the vendors set up with their paintings, I couldn't imagine anything going wrong. There were always plenty of people around, at least in the daylight. Perhaps my Bradt guide, published four years ago but apparently the most current Zanzibar-specific book out there, predated the rise in activity.

Today was even busier, and I reached Kendwa sooner than I expected to. My lodging is a private home known as Pumzika Kendwa Villa, sort of like Eminem's house back in Makunduchi. It's a pretty house, with flowery molding along the ceiling edges and white and sea-colored walls. When I booked it a few weeks ago, I didn't consider the possibility of other guests, but I'm somehow comforted by their presence.

The beach is wide and white at Kendwa, and the sea gets deep close to shore. The water is marvelous, warm and clean, and the dhows cruising by at sunset are the stuff of romantic paintings. At six-thirty, the sun and the almost-full moon appeared to be the same size and the same height over the horizon, mirroring each other and watching over us. Of all the places I've seen on Zanzibar, Kendwa might be the prettiest.

Go on to day 12