Paje and a Return to Dar.
On the eastern side of Zanzibar there’s small town on the beach called Paje. This is where we were heading. Erik, Anders and I caught a Matatu (minibus taxi) from Zanzibar city heading east towards Jozani in the morning. We stood on the side of a noisy Zanzibar City street, with all our luggage looking for a bus heading east in the chaos. We changed buses a few times before we reached the outskirts of the city. The changes were chaotic, trying not to lose anything in the rush of passengers getting on and off.
On the bus to Jozani I sat at the back of the bus, beneath a huge pile of snacks and drinks which the man next to me had bought in Zanzibar City, and was starting to leak all over me. The man, like so many on Zanzibar was friendly, and shared some of his food with us and seemed pleased for the opportunity to practice his English. At Jozani forest we got off, the same rush as before. I picked up my bags and headed towards the door, when the man with the snacks grabbed my arm and said “My friend” in that way that so many hustlers and touts had addressed me. I turned around to see he had my phone, which had slipped from my pocket in the rush, he handed it back to me and wished me a good day.
We took a walk around Jozani forest looking for monkeys, which we didn’t find. We did however find: some tiny frogs, some bees and some mushrooms. We spent a few hours walking around in the mud in flip-flops. This didn’t really amuse me too much as I find game parks and animal watching dull even at the best of times. I wanted nothing more than to get to Paje and find a cafe overlooking the water. After our walk we caught an overcrowded minibus onto Paje. I stood cramped in the taxi, unable to move. I had my bags between my feet. I had another one of those “Oh, so this is how I die” moments as the taxi rattled its way down the road. At this point I began to miss my car and started to resent public transport. After half an hour we reached Paje and jumped off, by now I was pretty tired, pretty hungry and more than a little irritated. I wasn’t accustomed to this sort of travel. Unlike Anders and Erik, I had never done real backpacking. I fill the gap between backpacking and over-landing, I have independence and freedom, but I stay at the same places as most backpackers. I can’t just roof-tent my way across a continent like the real overlanders. Also, I don’t cook, I granola my way from meal to meal.
As we stood at the side of the road in Paje, before we had an opportunity to decide where we were heading, a Chinese Jeep pulled up with what looked like a Liberian war lord behind the wheel. He asked us where we were going and told us he knew of a good restaurant nearby and he wanted to take us there. As I’ve mentioned before I have a rule about overly interested strangers, they generally aren’t out to help you out, they’re out to help themselves to some of your money.
My friends jumped into the Jeep, I followed reluctantly. He drove us up a dirt track to the sort of Kuku and Chips shop that you see all over Tanzania. It was a long shot from the cafe on the beach I had been dreaming of all morning. We sat at set of childish, plastic chairs around a small table. And here we began to wait, while our host in his 1980s Van Halen style bandanna and open vest combination. After a long wait, I can’t remember how long exactly, it was more than an hour and a half, the watery, oily chicken that he ordered arrived. Thoroughly underwhelmed and disappointed I lost my patience and decided it wasn’t too late to follow my rule, I put some money down on the table and left. I grabbed my bags out of the car and started walking towards the beach. I can’t really say what it was that made me so mad in that moment. I think it was the “Come, sit at my table, let me entertain you” attitude of the irritating man who clearly thought so much of himself. He couldn’t seem to understand that we hadn’t travelled all this way just to hear him talk. Well, at least I hadn’t. I was sure he was just trying to get a free lunch out of us. This is where the charms of Africa started wearing thin on me. This moment is my pin-point where the illusion started to fade. Also, I was getting tired of the dirty restaurant, half-assed Africa that seemed so stereotypical. After more than 20s years I knew better, that this is not all Africa had to offer. Maybe to tourists from Europe this is Africa (TIA) maybe they even get a kick out of slumming it, like this was the “real” Africa. Well, I can tell you that there is more than one “Real Africa”. Those charming ladies at The Zanzibar Coffee Company are real. So are the people at Cafe Miwa. So is the honest man on the bus. Africa is full of people who try hard, and are worth my time and more. I know which Africa I want to support, it’s not the Africa of this irritating man and that filthy bar.
I found a small cafe where I had some coffee and a decent lunch before heading to the most popular backpackers in town. I felt pretty bad about leaving Anders and Erik alone with the irritating man. They arrived a little while later, and confirmed that it had been scam after all. But, Erik, being a seasoned traveller managed to get the price down the near reasonable.
Erik left that afternoon, and Anders and I walked up the beach where we found the Dutch doctors we had met earlier, good fun. And then, by compete change we found Pascal again. He had rented a Vespa and had been scooting around the island. Somehow we found the same restaurant at the same time.
That night there was a huge party up the beach and I wasn’t up for it. I like a good party, but there’s got to be a reason for it. So I stayed at the backpackers pretty much alone, having a “What the hell am I doing with my life” moment. I got up at dawn, amongst a sea of passed out partygoers. I ran up the beach until I couldn’t run anymore, then I ran back. I knew I had to get back to Dar es Salaam, back to my car, and continue northwards.
I said goodbye to Anders, and caught a taxi back to Stone Town, and booked a ticket back to Dar.