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Trip 25 -- Zanzibar Walk

Day 14: Chuini to Stone Town
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Yesterday: 18101 steps/13.46 km/8.36 mi/2h 42m
Total: 356114 steps/271.60 km/168.76 mi/52h 7m

I stayed at the Mangrove Lodge in Chuini not just because it was the next place to sleep after Kidoti but also because the area was featured in the book "Zanzibar Uhuru." The Arab family shuttled between their home in Stone Town and the family shamba (farmland) to the north. By crossing a pedestrian bridge, near which people were repairing dhows, I must have been within a couple hundred meters of their land and the family graves.

I walked back to Stone Town yesterday. The road coming from the north seemed to be Zanzibar's busiest, the only place I ever saw traffic slow down due to volume. There was a sidewalk, but motorcycles often used it to bypass the cars.

An American-operated light-rail line ran early in the 1900s between Zanzibar Town and Bububu, just south of Chuini. Some say the sputtering of the trains inspired Bububu's name, but the name predated the line, so more likely it was the nearby babbling springs. Along the road I passed what must have been the angled posts bordering the railbed.

A house was in disrepair; the roof had collapsed and taken most of the front rooms with it. How long had it been like that? Could it have been the result of the bloody revolution of 1964? It occurred to me that there weren't many roads on Zanzibar. I'd walked most of the main ones. It would have been easy for the revolutionaries to access the far corners of the island.

I checked into the DoubleTree hotel, more or less across the street from the Hyatt, and heard someone call out, "Seth!"

It was James, the first traveler I'd met when I arrived on Zanzibar. We'd talked at the ticket counter for Sauti za Busara and I'd told him I'd gotten a VIP pass in order to have access to the seating area. It was he who had pointed out the exclusive toilet, almost as important. He and his partner had been traveling in Tanzania for months. We had time for just a few words before they were driven off to Cheetah's Rock, a kind of ambitious petting zoo where you can feed the hyena and pose with the cheetah while being lectured to by a nine-fingered woman.

The afternoon was an exercise in patience. It was time to take my Covid-19 test before heading home. The main testing center is about halfway between Stone Town and the airport, just under an hour's walk. I donned a mask for the first time since I'd bought my Zantel SIM card on February 14.

I arrived at 1:30, midway through their lunch break, which in my glass-half-full mind was better than arriving at the beginning of their lunch break. There was no indication which of the various windows and tents would be useful for starting the process. I'd heard that one must pay cash into an account at the People's Bank of Zanzibar and then bring the receipt to the testing center. I'd passed a PBZ branch on the outskirts of the city, and I'd been in and out in under ten minutes, waiting only briefly under a video screen showing an algebra lesson in English.

It is now possible to pay cash directly at the testing center, where you obtain the same yellow receipt. (It is also possible to pay by Visa credit card, but I've heard that cards from the USA are rejected because of our country's arcane insistence on using signatures instead of PINs.)

However, there is no indication of what one must do with that receipt. One would think that you could bring it to the people giving out the numbers and that would establish your place in line. Or, at the very least, that the staff returning from their lunch break would be the people who could assist with the next step of the process.

But Zanzibar now caters to Russians, and that means giving a nod to those nostalgic for the Soviet system of making one stand in three queues to get anything done. And of course the lunch break didn't end according to schedule. When the staff finally did come back, a woman and a man started handing out numbers -- but only to the people who had turned in their bank receipts for slips onto which the information from the receipts had been copied by hand.

I showed the woman my bank receipt. "You must exchange it for a voucher," she said.

"Where?" I asked.

"Over there," she said, pointing to a table under a tent near the entrance to the site.

The stack of numbers was lying there in front of me. When she looked away, I took one.

The designated table, which of course was still unstaffed after lunch, was next to the information desk. "Just wait ten minutes," the man at the desk said.

A bunch of us were lined up, ready to exchange our bank receipts. When the woman finally arrived, they carried the table over to the tent next to the numbers, and we all had to scramble into line again. This put me way at the back -- but I already had my concealed number.

I obtained my voucher and soon found myself in front of the man with the numbers. He took my passport copy and wrote down details of my stay. He tried to give me a number: 121.

"I already have a number," I said. It was 102.

"Did this lady give you a number?" he asked. I didn't answer. He didn't press it.

Behind the tent was a field with a snack bar and chairs, where the same dozens of people had been sitting since I'd arrived. I sat down and, a couple minutes later, heard a woman say, "That chair is for my friend!"

Someone had taken the empty chair next to her without asking if it had been claimed. When the friend got back with a new chair, I recognized them both: the Berliners whom Michael had brought to the full-moon party.

At 2:45, a man came out and summoned numbers "forty-one to fifty-zero." The calling went surprisingly quickly, sometimes 10 at a time, sometimes 20. The Berliners were in the 80s, and we chatted for a while until they knew they were next. One was celebrating her birthday, and they were going to party with Michael; they had been driven in from Nungwi just for the test. They invited me to join them, but I was content to stay put in Stone Town.

At 3:45 my group was announced, 101 to 120. We were brought into the main building and, three at a time, called into the testing room. Someone had been writing names onto labels to be stuck onto vials. After a bit of confusion, mine was located. A man gently and briefly swabbed the insides of my cheeks; my mouth was dry and I wonder whether he really got anything. "Finished," he said.

I walked back to the DoubleTree and haven't moved much since. I had Thai food for dinner and sushi for lunch today, on a wide patio built out over the water in front of Forodhani Gardens. In my periphery as I was leaving I noticed a familiar inebriated dance. I'm pretty sure it was Nigel, the guy who had misbehaved at Sauti za Busara. I hastened out of there before he saw me.

Dinner tonight was Ethiopian. Ox-tongue soup was on the menu but not, alas, in the kitchen. At the opposite end of the restaurant was a visitor from Brooklyn, named Jerusalem, born in Ethiopia, recently transplanted from California.

"There was a great full-moon party recently, but it happens only once a month," she said.

"I was there -- just a few days ago!"

"And there was a music festival a few weeks ago, but it's just once a year."

"I got here just in time for it."

And having confirmed we had both made the rounds on Zanzibar, we discussed Ethiopian restaurants in New York. Different pace here, for sure, we agreed. Especially with the mid-meal power outage.

Go on to the epilogue