Ocean Rain

LET me paint you a picture.

As darkness falls over the beach in Nungwi, Zanzibar, to my right the local beach boys are playing their nightly sunset game of football (pretty skilled, very competitive, but low scoring given the small size of the goals), silhouetted against the still waters of the Indian Ocean.

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Pre Match – The sun starts to set over our beach retreat on Zanzibar

To my left is a tall, cold, almost empty Cuba Libre – about to be replaced by another one before working out exactly where tonight’s dinner is coming from – while the sounds of reggae and the whizzing of the barman’s blender are drowning out the sound of Tanzanian TV blaring out an old episode of ALF.

Sadly, the chances of getting Gloucester’s European play-off final with Bordeaux-Begles on the screen are slightly slimmer than they were for last night’s FA Cup Final but, hey, can’t have everything?

Just to balance things out, our few days away from the African mainland on the spice island of Zanzibar have seen our first major rain since the opposite coast in Angola while we were still heading south and had yet to begin our journey across the continent from west to east.

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Lopsided – How to confuse weighbridges, put all the weight over one end

But between the showers, downpours in some cases, we have had a few truly memorable days, largely from activities which never had me that bothered beforehand (and even had me jumping off the upper deck of a boat, never mind tasting particularly pungent fruit).

Thankfully, the rain waited until we were on the island and safely ensconced in rooms, rather than sleeping in tents and, for much of the early going in Tanzania, in bush camps.

Since rolling into Swakopmund halfway through our first passage through Namibia, bush camps, so common all the way through West Africa, have been few and far between.

We are a pretty well-oiled machine when we roll into a bush camp, heading off into the trees to (among other things) collect enough fire wood to cook both the evening meal and breakfast and, as darkness falls, putting up our tents, settling down for the evening meal, packing the kitchen away and either settling around the fire to chat or taking advantage of the early “bush camp bedtime” to catch up on some sleep (especially if an early start beckons the next day).

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Narrow Streets – Getting lost in Stone Town

The vast majority of us are now pretty comfortable with the lack of facilities – although one person has made it this far without resorting to the shovels – and have our own routines. Personally, it is to sneak off before breakfast when it is usually still dark enough to provide some extra cover and not everybody is up. Consider that crucial advice for any prospective overlanders.

If the rural idyll, particularly the rolling hills through the tea and banana plantations after crossing the border, gave us a gentle introduction to Tanzania (which was greeted with a little dance on the back of the truck for reaching my 50th country) and rolled towards the coast, all that was forgotten as we hit the roads heading into Dar Es Salaam.

Forewarned, as soon as we rolled to a halt in the first of a series of traffic jams – or was it one long jam? –  we were up and leaning out of the sides on the lookout for opportunist thieves trying to make off with something from off or under the truck. Or we were trying to buy peanuts and ice cream from the myriad of vendors, dependent on who was leaning out.

Our reward for crawling through the notoriously choked city streets for a couple of hours on a stifling afternoon was a return to the beach, for the first time on the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean (well, for the first time since Cape Agulhas in South Africa, where it meets the colder waters of the Atlantic and you don’t really have quite the same urge to jump in).

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On The Waterfront – Down by the harbour in Stone Town

Not that we had too much time to get wet or sample the delights of the bar at Kipepeo Beach (gave it a good try mind) as we packed our bags, grabbed haircuts as Sam set up an impromptu salon and prepared to wave a pre-dawn farewell to Nala for a few days.

Spending quite so much time at the bar was maybe not such a good idea as we headed off along the coast road and into more traffic, first vehicles and then human as we fought our way onto the ferry across the harbour and then, rather more sedately, the boat to Zanzibar.

Met at the other end by Daniel, our guide for our opening 24 hours or so on the island, we were whisked off into the heart of the alleys which wind their way through Stone Town to our hotel for the night and then out and about to get our bearings.

Not that those bearings were any use as, having opted to leave the others as they ate lunch and strike out on my own, my usually reliable sense of direction got thoroughly scrambled and carved a haphazard route through the back streets and alleys. Much to my benefit as my explorations unveiled a town full of life and colour.

There was more life and colour as we headed out for sunset cocktails overlooking the sea and on to the night market to indulge the penchant for street food most of us nurtured on the west side, the night rounding off in Mercury’s bar where we would have coasted to victory in the pub quiz. If we had only bothered to enter.

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Beachfront Property – The walk up the beach at Nungwi

Another early start – probably too early, given the amount of faffing around getting money and fixing phones that went on before we even left town – sent us out on a tour of a spice farm, one signed up for with hesitation but turned into a real gem.

Daniel and his sidekick Moussa steered us through the range of plants on offer with a series of smells and tastes to sample, before we were treated to a wide choice of fruits, including the notorious durian fruit which did not smell as bad as feared, but also did not taste as nice as hyped.

A quick example of how to climb a coconut tree, despite the rain, was followed by a quicker example of how not to do it from Michael, before we were bussed off to a sublime lunch at Daniel’s house and charming rendition of the Tanzanian national anthem from his daughter before we headed north to Nungwi and the beach.

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Dressed To Impress – Well, one of them was

Despite the rain, we settled into a weekend on the beach which is winding down to a relaxed finale (bar Gloucester blowing a 16-point lead and losing to a last-kick drop goal – rather different than Arsenal fan Matt’s enjoyment of the cup final).

Some have headed out on dives, most of us at least wandered up the beach while the majority ventured out on a booze, sorry, sunset cruise which featured plenty of throwing ourselves off the roof of the boat into the welcoming ocean. Some more athletically than others.

And that is that for Zanzibar as we head out early to head back to the mainland and start winding our way north and back inland and next weekend in the Serengeti.

So, another quiet week ahead then.

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