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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 12: Kendwa to Kodoti
Sunday, February 28, 2021

Today: 6617 steps/5.15 km/3.20 mi/57m
Total: 287590 steps/218.85 km/135.91 mi/42h 10m

The unfortunate death of Vice President Maalim Seif resulted in my taking a too-thrilling boat ride and participating in an annual tradition I was supposed to have missed.

Every year on February 20, the Mnarani Natural Aquarium (sometimes known as the Nungwi Mnarani Aquarium or Mnarani Turtle Conservation, depending on which sign you look at) releases green sea turtles that have been under its protection. It's a celebratory event, with performances and speeches. Out of respect for the mourning period following the vice-president's death, it was postponed a week.

Foreigners and locals alike were in attendance -- I even saw a few of the staff from way back at ZALA Park. The fee for foreigners was $35 (or the equivalent 80,000 shillings); it was a bit cheaper for Tanzanians. Part of the turtle release took place at Kendwa, so I spent the late morning walking back up to Nungwi along the beach and then would be back at my lodging at the end of the festivities.

The events were due to start at one-thirty but were delayed because of the regional commissioner's late arrival. During the wait the people in charge spent a good bit of time rearranging the children sitting behind the lectern so they all had space, while a disc jockey blared Tanzanian pop at ear-splitting, distorted levels. When the performances finally did begin, the first one was aborted due to sound problems.

By that point everyone just wanted to get on the boats and head out to release the turtles, but first there were speeches. The first was in Swahili on the turtles' conservation, with the speaker blocked from the audience's view by eight cameras on tripods (it was no doubt important stuff, but one would have sufficed).

The best performance was a group of acrobats, who spun around, built giant human pyramids, did multiple somersaults, and had the good foresight not to rely on the sound system. A troupe of dancers and drummers was sadly hidden by the cameras. The videographer in front of me sometimes turned his camera around to get shots of the audience, and I covered my face with my program. Sorry, bud, you don't get to record me when I've paid admission and you're blocking my view.

The regional commissioner spoke at the end, without a working microphone, but by then most of the audience had left to seek out their boats or to watch the children jumping into the water from the aquarium's wall. By now it was high tide, and the stairs I'd walked up earlier were submerged. I followed the beach around with everyone else and found the boats.

There were around six of them, bobbing about. There would be some wading to get to them. Mine was called Malaika, a dhow with seating on the main deck and a smaller upper level accessed by a wooden ladder. It heaved violently as its passengers approached it, and the metal ladder used for boarding sometimes fell off when people grasped it.

Clothing Arts Pick-Pocket-Proof Convertible Travel Pants are a lot of wonderful things, but waterproof isn't one of them. Back in Kendwa I had considered bringing a Ziploc bag for my phone and leaving the wallet and passport in the house, but the idea never made the leap from thought to action.

I watched the others board and started wading. The water was only up to the bottom of my shorts, but the waves meant splashes up to my chest. Fortunately, the aquarium staff were behind me, and one of them offered to put my valuables in his waterproof bag. A member of the boat crew took my sneakers. A rope attached the dhow to the shore, and I clutched it for support as I stumbled to the boat. I climbed the ladder and, once I yelled at people to get out of the way, thrusted myself on deck.

It was crowded. There were about 40 of us, plus three large green sea turtles crawling around on the floor. We headed out to sea for what seemed a long time, maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30. The water was extremely choppy and sometimes it sloshed into the boat. I was glad the staff member with my belongings had chosen the upper deck.

I was holding onto the hull as if my hands were glued to it, but the Tanzanians loved the ride. They were jumping and dancing and stomping and singing. It felt like chaos onboard, and I had to exert effort to avoid people landing in my lap -- and the confused and possibly scared turtles, whose flippers sometimes coincided with my feet and were sharper than they looked.

Where were we going? I almost wished I hadn't come on this unpleasant journey. We pulled up next to another boat -- we were doing enough bobbing and I very much did not want us to crash -- and a few people transferred into our already crowded space. I knew we wouldn't capsize, but I didn't want to tumble around.

I distracted myself by trying to read the foot tattoo of a passenger opposite me. "You'll never walk alone," it said in cursive. I hadn't thought about that song since I began the Abecedarian Walks. It certainly didn't apply to me. Maybe I'll rewrite it as "You'll mostly walk alone." What is so bad about walking alone, anyway?

Finally, at the designated spot, the crew took the three large turtles, one by one, and placed them in the water. Fortunately this happened on the starboard side, where I was sitting, and the last of the three was dropped in right next to me. I'd been irked by the mayhem but suddenly felt a pang of emotion as the turtle merrily dove deep, away from the boat, through the clear, turquoise water, to begin the next chapter of its life.

There was noisy celebrating, and a few people dove into the water -- some from the top deck -- for a swim before hoisting themselves back on. We headed back toward Nungwi but then turned to follow the shore south to Kendwa. The large adult turtles had been kept at the sanctuary because they had been injured or caught in fishing nets; when released out at sea they knew instinctively where to find home. The babies would be released on the Kendwa beach.

Our trip parallel to the shore was not nearly as uncomfortable. I joined in the singing; the words were repetitive enough that I could master the brief phrases of Swahili. One song was a tribute to our boat, Malaika; another was the folk song that starts with "Jambo" and ends with "Hakuna matata." And then there were chants of "Baa, baa, black sheep" and "Twinkle, twinkle, little star," in English, the latter at a tempo more suggestive of a solar flare.

I stood up and held onto the mast. We traveled without a sail. A few people banged ballast buckets like bongos. Now the ride was glorious, with a clear view of the walk I'd done several times between Nungwi and Kendwa -- only at this hour of high tide, the beach was flooded, and the paintings of tigers, zebras, dhows, and African people had been moved up onto the cliffs.

Exiting the boat was much easier than boarding, and I reclaimed my items. About 15 baby turtles were placed on the sand, facing the sea, as if lined up for a race. Some started flapping their way toward the water immediately, while others got turned around. A few guests tried to help reorient them.

"Please, don't touch the turtles!" a staff member admonished. "They have to know that this is a safe place where they can come back and nest." These very turtles were hatched from eggs laid in this area; due to the human presence the eggs are brought to the sanctuary until the hatchlings are born, and then they're taken back to the same beach to be released a year later.

As each turtle reached the ocean and was collected by the current, we cheered. Most people boarded the boats to go back to Nungwi; I walked the short distance back to my house. I had a sunset swim in the ocean (how wonderful to control my own immersion in it), showered, and prepared to find dinner and then head to the Kendwa Rocks hotel for its monthly full-moon party.

Other people in the house were just sitting down to dinner at the dining table. "Come, you must join us!" the chef said. "Blowfish!"

"Blowfish?" I asked. "Really?" The deadly fugu, prepared by specially licensed chefs in Japan?

Eventually it transpired that she had been saying "bluefish." It was an enormous creature, stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and peppers. How could I say no?

Irina, the chef, was visiting from the Lake Baikal area, where she had her own eatery. She had been on a safari back in December, where she'd met the four guides who were her guests at dinner. She'd gone back to Russia but then returned to Tanzania to escape the Siberian winter, this time renting a room in this house for a couple of weeks.

We talked about my visit to Baikal five years ago. "I'm sure you came in the summer," she said.


"You must visit in the winter! It's exceptional."

We ate the fish and salad quickly, only for yet another bluefish to be taken out of the oven. This one was not stuffed and had been baked by one of the guides. It was devoured just as fast.

My dining companions were headed to Kendwa Rocks as well, and we walked the short distance along the beach together. Michael, my Maasai friend, was due to meet me there. He had hesitated at first, balking at the 20,000-shilling entry fee, a little under $9. I told him I'd be happy to cover it.

Catering to Russians from the '80s who miss queueing multiple times to buy something, Kendwa Rocks had an annoying setup that required people to acquire and load a money card in order to purchase drinks from most of the bars. My request for a gin and tonic was met with a gesture toward the 25 people waiting to start the process.

Fortunately one bar accepted cash. It sold only beer, soda, and bottles of spirits, so I resolved to make my way through the night buying 375-milliliter bottles of Russian Standard vodka for the equivalent of $26. I'd get better value that way anyway. They even provided ice in flimsy paper cups that dissolved into mush by the time a pour was finished.

Michael arrived with another friend and two German women he had met in Nungwi. No one had visited Maasai World all day. Michael was happy to drink Russian Standard on the rocks, as was one of the Berliners.

"Engishonaiado!" I said.

"You remembered!"

The party area was vast and well-lit with spinning lights. There must have been several hundred people, but it never felt too crowded. The music was a world mix, including one catchy song I'd heard many times on Zanzibar. I liked it.

"What is this song called?" I asked Michael.

"Sukari," he said. "By Zuchu. It's about a woman who doesn't want to be alone." It turned out to be more about giving a love so sweet ("sukari" means "sugar") that it's dangerous. This is the music video, with English subtitles -- https://youtu.be/CCmItvVgn6Q -- and with all the backup singing I never realized it was as personal and mildly suggestive as the translations proved it to be.

Straight vodka was the way to go: Apart from feeling a bit tired I was in good shape for today's brief walk to Kidoti, the first of three segments to get me back to Stone Town. Tomorrow's is the longest walking day of the trip, almost 40 kilometers. I'd have preferred less of a variation in the lengths, but there's nowhere to stay between Kidoti and the Mangwapani area, almost all the way to Stone Town.

With a hammock, swinging and lounge chairs, and a warm pool overlooking a horse farm and the sea, today's house was an excellent place to relax before tomorrow's long walk. My Italian hostess, Chiara, lives in one part of the house with her boyfriend. I have my own apartment, with a full kitchen and ample cooking utensils. Those came in handy, because Kidoti lacks a restaurant.

Chiara brought over eggs, bread, peppers, a large mango, and cooking oil; from nearby convenience huts I added an orange, a small mango (which seemed sweeter than the large one, but my comparison was hardly scientific), little fried fish, four tomatoes (apparently that was the minimum purchase), eight bananas (the same), cassava chips, and soda. Chiara had also offered dry pasta and tomato paste, but that was more of an effort than I wanted to make. I cooked the eggs and bread together (ostensibly to create "eggs in a basket," but the bread fell apart) with the tomatoes and ate everything else by itself throughout the day.

The electricity was erratic, and for that Chiara forgave more than half the rent even though the malfunction wasn't her fault and didn't affect me much. There are four large, friendly dogs and a great sunset view; what more do I need?

Go on to day 13