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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 13: Kodoti to Chuini
Monday, March 1, 2021

Today: 50423 steps/39.29 km/24.41 mi/7h 15m
Total: 338013 steps/258.14 km/160.40 mi/49h 25m

Chiara's dogs had been well-trained not to come inside, but they whimpered and wriggled their morning greeting from the doorway facing the pool: three tan ones, one of which was missing a leg, plus a fluffy white one left by a previous guest.

I left at ten minutes to eight. The sky was reassuringly overcast, and the temperature was not too hot. Less than an hour from Chiara's were the remains of two large 16th-century houses. The smaller but better-preserved one (Fukuchani) was locked behind a wall, and I could see only the top from outside. At the larger one (Mvuleni), a man named Mcha found me.

"I'm a guide," he said. "We can do a walking tour: the ruins, two caves, and a village. Twenty dollars."

I knew he was full of it. "I just want to see the ruins."

He had me sign a guest book and indicate my country. "Ruins is free. You can see the caves for ten thousand shillings." About $4.

I would have paid him a couple thousand to show me the ruins, if he really knew anything about them; my guidebook mentioned a cave just behind.

"I'll give you five thousand to see the one cave."

"No," he said. "It's the government...." But I never believed there was a legitimate admission fee to the house or caves. "OK," he relented after a moment.

He sputtered bits of information of dubious truth. "This was a Portuguese house," he said. That was long believed to be true, but research has revealed that it was probably Swahili. "Made of sand, wood, coral, and limestone."

The house had pretty archways and niches built into the walls. "What was that for?" I asked, pointing to one of the niches.

"Fruit, mango, banana, knife, to make that," he said. I had no idea what he meant, but perhaps those were items stored there. It seemed an unlikely place, though; it was a small, lonely rectangle, the kind better suited to keepsakes.

"These rooms for sleeping," he said, walking me through quickly. "This one special to make the spears and the guns. See the holes in the walls? Those were for shooting dangerous animals."

"What animals?"

He thought for a moment. "Lion." There are currently no wild lions on Zanzibar and it's unlikely there were 500 years ago.

He brought me around to the cave. A stairway led down to blue water. There were a few boys, one of whom was washing clothing. It would have been a refreshing swim, but I didn't want to take the time.

"This cave is connected to the ocean. Salt water. It changes with the tide." This much was correct. "You can pay now," he said.

"All right, I'll give you five thousand to leave me alone."

But he didn't. He followed me back to the house. "This room toilet," he said. He gave me a piece of the coral rock. "It's very light."

It was, surprisingly so.

I explored the house's interior some more. Some rooms had shelves neatly built into the walls. "This room also for sleeping."

When I'd seen and heard enough, I headed back toward the road. "Where are you from?" he asked.

"Go check the book!"

He laughed. "USA!"

After about two and a half hours of walking I descended to the fishing village of Mkokotoni. It was a brief but intense affair; suddenly there were businesses and a market, behind which people were carrying buckets to and from the dhows parked a low tide's distance toward the sea. Octopus and silver fish were on display and being attacked by flies. It didn't seem a particularly large market, or even a busy one (perhaps the bustle had died down from the early morning), but it was noisy.

The street was busier. Someone sold watermelons out of a truck; stores sold basic food; stalls sold clothing. I bought a pineapple soda and took it all in. If only Mkokotoni had a hotel; it would have been a vibrant place to stay.

The road west toward Mkokotoni then bent south toward Stone Town, and I had to climb up the altitude I'd given up on my approach. The clouds were gone and I donned my sunglasses, but I couldn't muster the enthusiasm for sunscreen. I had at least four more hours of walking, and I couldn't bear the thought of doing them with a mix of cream and sweat drooling into my eyes. There were more clouds in the distance; surely they'd drift my way.

At kilometer 21 I stopped for a liter and a half of cold water -- guzzled it all in about five minutes -- and continued onward. These middle hours of walking were particularly unpleasant. The clouds never arrived, and a steady stream of noisy, clunky trucks kept barreling past me, stirring up dust and wind. Their wind was a mixed blessing: It provided a brief breeze, but it was strong. I held my sunglasses to my head whenever a truck approached.

I might have stopped for food, but none of it was appealing. There had been no real restaurants since Mkokotoni. There were no proper markets. The little roadside huts had an unpredictable supply of nonperishables. There was plenty of fruit, but I didn't want to commit to eight bananas again or dig into a messy mango.

Some vendors had display cases of chips, salad, and skewers of chicken bits that had been out all day. They also often had bread products such as doughnuts, but they always looked bland and unsatisfying. A few put out a pot of hot soup, the last thing I wanted on this scorching day.

I wasn't particularly hungry anyway. At kilometer 30 I had another soda, this one of the grape-berry variety. I stood up, and my right foot felt as if it were walking on pins. It did not want to continue.

I limped along and eventually the foot caught up. The sun was still blazing. Just another hundred minutes, I thought. I'll make it.

Finally I turned onto the dirt road leading to the Mangrove Lodge. I felt every rock through my shoes. My pace slowed considerably; my last kilometer took over 14 minutes.

I arrived at the hotel and was shown to my half-bungalow. The receptionist pointed out various features of the room, including the most immediately important, the ceiling fan and the air conditioner. If only the electricity had been working. "Maybe in one hour," he said.

I usually try to rinse off so as not to flop my dirty body onto a clean bed, but I couldn't help myself. I lay down and didn't move for half an hour. Then I had a brief shower.

The electricity came on according to schedule. I went to the pool, walking so slowly to induce a suspicious dog to bark. (We later became friends at dinner.) Five people were at the pool, including two from Germany whom I'd remembered meeting at the Cholo's party back in Nungwi. Two of the others had been born in Morocco but lived in Amsterdam. "Were you at the full-moon party?" one of them asked.

"I was."

"Maybe you saw me. I was dressed as a yellow Power Ranger."

The fifth was a Tanzanian basketball player from the mainland. He had planned to fly to the U.K. last year to further his training; now he's unsure whether he'll ever get to go.

One of the Moroccans was reading us questions, some reasonably thought-provoking, some bordering on the absurd.

"Would you rather wear winter clothes in the summer or summer clothes in the winter?"

"Would you rather have one day of free shopping or a free two-week vacation?" (I always look for the loophole. Can I spend the shopping day buying frequent-flyer miles? No, it has to be clothes, he said.)

"Would you rather spend five years in jail and be rich when you come out or never go to jail but be poor?"

"Would you rather use toothpaste made from chili peppers or toilet paper made from sandpaper?"

"Would you rather be able to play all musical instruments or speak all languages?"

"Would you rather have a partner all your friends hate or be hated by all your partner's friends?"

"Would you rather have to sing everything you say or have to wait two seconds after each word?"

And the easiest one for me: "Would you rather get paid for walking or for talking?"

Go on to day 14