Thursday, March 27, 2008
Zanzibar - Nungwi
We headed to the northern tip of the island to spend two nights in a cottage by the beach. En route, we stopped at Maruhubi ruins, a palace built in the late 19th century by the sultan ruling Zanzibar. It was amazing to see the extravagance of this palace that was built and used so recently (late 1800’s). According to the man guiding us, it was the sultan's retreat to spend time with his 99 wives (oy vey!) The guide kept expressing his exuberance for the king’s carnal prowess – he had these wives massage him in these rooms, and he had other wives smooth oil on him in these rooms….” Hillary was neither impressed with the sultan’s prowess nor with the guide and walked off with Bodie toward the beach.
We continued driving an hour north, viewing incredible white sand beaches stretching into clear turquoise water. But in order to see the beaches from the road, one peers through dilapidated thatched shacks, abandoned rusted vehicles, or past piles of accumulated rubbish. It is a jarring tension.
We arrived in the town of Nungwi and found our cottage. The tide was out and it left a vast swath of shallow, knee-deep clear turquoise water stretching out a half-mile. Women, wrapped in brightly colored khangas were barely visible in the distance, walking through the waters well off shore scanning for small fish, shells or octopus.
Nungwi is a small fishing village. Dozens of dhows were perched on planks in the low tide, or leaning on their hulls, many in various states of disrepair. Boats ranging from 40 foot wood hulled vessels looking much like primitive houseboats, to small canoes carved out of a single log with lashed on outriggers, had men swarming over them, hammering, chinking, and repairing them. The boats all looked like they’d been repaired with any available wood for many decades.
We spent the day swimming in turquoise water, passing Bodie back and forth as he “swam” from Hillary to me and back again, and lounging. One insight emerged at the end of the day: lovely pale Irish-origin skin is not a good match for the strong sun of an equatorial beach. For some reason, Hillary didn’t seem to appreciate my flattery that she is now both lovely and perhaps useful at night, not unlike Rudolph the Reindeer.
When I dropped Hillary at work on Tuesday morning, a colleague of hers had just returned from climbing Mt. Neru, a trek that he woke up for at 2 a.m. to summit the mountain and climb back down before sunset. He asked how our break was. The most harrowing thing we could muster was a tricky rollover maneuver from back to stomach on a somewhat tenuous hammock.