The Things Up North


This blog entry about the events of Monday, May 17, 2004 was originally posted on May 22, 2004.

DAY 212:  When Kazim took us to the beach as part of the Spice Tour the day before, there were two British guys that refused to go in the water.  Their reason:  they had spent some days up at the beaches in the north and after that considered anything else inferior.  I, along with Jess, the American girl I also met on the Spice Tour, was soon to find out what all this hype about the north was all about.

THE JOURNEY TO THE NORTH started in Stone Town, located in about the geographic center latitude-wise on Zanzibar’s Unguja Island.  At breakfast at the Jambo Guesthouse, I ran into the Israeli couple that Jess had met on the ferry.  They too were headed up north (via taxi) and so we decided to meet up there at some point.  The guy at the Jambo mentioned the Sunset Bungalows on the north coast and so that became our designated meeting place.

Jess, whose twenty-first birthday it was, was wearing the Harley Davidson shirt she slept in.  She was going to change it until she realized how fitting it would be for our transport up north:  a little two-wheeled Vespa rental.  However, when we went to Grace Tours to pick up our ride, Willie didn’t say anything when I asked if the Vespa parked outside was ours.  Inside the office, his boss Mr. Ali was waiting for me. 

“There is a problem,” he told me.  “You don’t have a class on your license to drive a motorcycle.”  Apparently I was only qualified to drive a car and driving a Vespa wasn’t permitted.  Without proper class documentation, I only set myself up for many police bribes on the way.  After sorting out the details, the only thing that could be done to fulfil the spirit of adventure and need for speed was to just go rent a car, even though Jess said it wouldn’t be as fun as a Vespa.  However, Mr. Ali showed us the car and it wasn’t a boring little sedan — it was a little Suzuki Sidekick-type jeep, a fun little number to zip around Zanzibar with. 

“Alright, it’s fun again!” I told her.  “Happy birthday!”

With a temporary Zanzibari license to drive, I hopped behind the wheel on the right side of the car.  We threw our bags in the back and followed Mr. Ali in his Vespa to the nearby gas station to gas up.  After filling up the tank, it was time to fill up our wallets at the new Barclay’s Bank just outside of town.  To my surprise, the ATM there actually took MasterCard ATM cards.

“THIS IS SO SURREAL,” Jess said, sitting in the navigator’s seat.  She was referring to being in a car again, simply to go cruising.  That and the fact that she was on the other side of the car.  I enjoyed the novelty too; however, it was weird for me to stare straight for longer than five seconds.  (I hadn’t done that in a while.)

“Do you remember how to drive?” Jess asked me.

“Don’t worry, it will all come back to me,” I said.

And it did all come back to me.  Driving up on the paved road was a great experience and I felt like I was back in the game again.  And since I had been so accustomed to being on the left side of the road in buses and minivans, that it didn’t seem odd at all. 

“So you said you slaughtered a chicken once?” I asked Jess while staring out the windshield.  She had mentioned to me before how, although she came to Africa a vegetarian, she respected the local customs — particularly the one where it was her honor to slaughter and prepare a chicken for a family she stayed with.  I was intrigued because for some reason I’d always wanted to experience the slaughter of a chicken myself.  As some vegetarians say, if you’re man enough to kill it yourself, you’re man enough to eat it. 

Jess described the experience to me, how she stood on the chicken’s wings to hold it down and then sawed the neck in a slow and gruesome manner with a small knife since a big cleaver wasn’t available.  Sawing the neck through its flesh and bone spewed blood all over her sandals and feet, but she managed to grin and bear it.  “I figured I’d take one for the team,” the vegetarian on hiatus told me. 

I continued driving and listening to Jess’ anecdote — after the neck wobbled around, she boiled the chicken to remove the feathers — just as two chickens were crossing the road in front of me.  I slowed down for them to scuttle away, but then we felt the tiny bump under the wheel.  Outside the window I heard the crackle of bone and afterwards in the rear view mirror, I saw a half-flattened chicken twitching in the street.  Some nearby villagers went to investigate and started pointing fingers after the accident. 

Oh why, oh why did the chicken cross the road?!

“What do we do?  Should we stop?” I asked.

“Just keep going.”

“But isn’t that someone’s food source?”

“Well, they have lunch now.”

“Okay.  Runaway, runaway!”  I sped off, leaving the half-dead chicken and the curious villagers behind.  Jess said she wouldn’t be surprised if on the way back, they’d set up a police checkpoint to stop us.

THE ROAD TO THE NORTH was supposed to be a smoothly paved road all the way up.  At least that’s what it said on the map.  In reality, the paved road turned into a pretty bad road, the kind of road where the percentage of potholes to pavement is about 90:10 — at times it was just preferable to ride the shoulder.  I zigged and zagged just to find the optimal way, and it was something out of a video game.  The road eventually got so bad that we questioned if we had made a wrong turn somewhere, but luckily with Jess and her acquired knowledge of Kiswahili, we were able to ask directions and realize we were on the right track after all. 

Our off-road adventure continued northbound about another 40 km. as we tried to give a nickname to a car — “The Sultan,” “Jafar” or my favorite, “The Magic Carpet” — until we arrived at the northern tip of the island at Nungwi where we couldn’t help but stop and admire the beauty of the north that the two British guys had told us about.  They were right; once you’ve been in the north, everything else near Stone Town was inferior. 

We looked around for the Sunset Bungalows to meet up with the Israelis, and a nearby dive center directed us back the other way to the village of Kendwa.  Getting there involved taking The Magic Carpet on a short, but extremely bad road — so bad it’s labeled “bad road” on the map — the kind of road that you would even question riding a full-suspension mountain bike on.  Our Suzuki Magic Carpet roughed it and brought us to the end of the road to find the Sunset Bungalows — but not the Israelis.

We parked to investigate.  Jess walked the beach to see if she could spot them, while I investigated my options at Scuba Do, a local dive shop on the beach.  I explained to Chris the owner how my diver certification card had been stolen in Cape Town, but that I still wished to do some sort of diving.  He said he’d figure out something within the rules.  In the meantime, his wife and partner Tammy was setting up two clients with scuba equipment to go on a dive in the next ten minutes.

“Care to come for a snorkel?” she asked me.  I was skeptical, only because Jess was out of sight and we hadn’t exactly checked into the bungalows yet.

“Come on, be spontaneous,” Tammy egged.

“Okay, let me go see if I can find my friend real quick.  Jess wasn’t far at all, just across the way. 

“There’re some guys going snorkeling right now if you wanna go.”

“Okay!” said the Birthday Girl. 

Sooner than either of us had anticipated, we all of a sudden found ourselves in a boat with a young American named Emily and her mother Sarah from just north of San Francisco; Mike and Mark, two guys traveling from Holland; Skipper Ben, Divemaster Tammy and the captain of the vessel, a Captain Morgan named “after the rum,” Tammy explained.  Captain Morgan was lending his boat and services to Scuba Do because recently their own speedboat had been stolen.

The captain brought us on a wavy ride, passed stationery boats near shore (picture above) and dhows sailing across the waves, through the very salty sea spray to the dive site off the coast of Mwana-na-Mwana Island, where drivers Emily, Sarah and Tammy submerged their bodies, wetsuits and air tanks below.  He took the rest of us near an island where we waited for them just below the surface of the ocean with snorkels.  Excited to be out there on the water instead of in an angry mob arguing about a half-flattened chicken, I jumped right in — only to land in a school of small jellyfish.  Luckily their mild stings didn’t last long. 

Visibility was fair but still good enough for Jess and I to see what the ocean had to offer:  several tropical fish, some shrimp, and the highlight of the day, a brown speckled moray eel hiding under a rock.

“I JUST WROTE ‘THINGS ARE REALLY GOOD RIGHT NOW,’” Jess told me as she stroked a pen across the pages of her journal.  Back on shore, we had just checked into one of the Sunset Bungalows overlooking the beach for $20, as the sun began to lower itself into the hazy horizon.  It became the prelude to a night to celebrate her twenty-first birthday.

“Hear that?  We’re going to have a party tonight,” Chris told Tammy earlier in the day when Jess told him about her special day.  Chris spread the word to all the other tourists in the area, which was only about ten or so since it was low season.  (In the high season, the area becomes so crowded that every place requires reservations way in advance.)  We went out to a restaurant on the beach just north of the Sunset Bungalows, which had a bar with the most incredible concept I’ve ever seen in the bar industry:  swings instead of barstools.  Before the drunken swinging, we had dinner at a table with the guests of the makeshift birthday party:  Andrew and Anna, a Swedish couple that I noticed at the Jambo Guesthouse back in Stone Town, and Janice and Jordan, two friendly Americans on a round-the-world trip, going in the opposite direction as I was. 

Having the Americans around spawned reminiscence of things we missed from home — mostly items concerning food — and familiar conversations about Michael Moore and his upcoming Fahrenheit 9/11.  Speaking about the guy on a crusade to provide the truth about Bush and the Republican regime, Chris told us a soon-to-be-related story about these two British teenage girls that he met a while ago.  The two girls had been approached by an older man in Stone Town, who asked for their simple conversation and company since he had been in seclusion in some luxury safari lodge in the Serengeti and was on his way to seclusion on the private island on Mnemba off the northeast coast of Unguja.  After analyzing his words and his situation, they all deduced that it was Kenneth Lay, the Enron guy who suddenly disappeared from America after the whole Enron scandal went crumbling down.  The two British girls actually ended up passing an expensive massage bill to his tab.

AS FAR AS BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS GO, the birthday party wasn’t as crazy as most twenty-first birthday parties go, but that was okay because Jess had celebrated before and had plans to celebrate after, and let’s just say she didn’t exactly follow the rules about underage drinking anyway.  For Jess, I told her that at least she would always remember her twenty-first birthday as the one where she discovered where Kenneth Lay was hiding out.  And as for me, I would always remember it as the day that I finally got to slaughter a chicken.

Next entry: Kendwa’d Without Ken

Previous entry: Spice Island

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Comments for “The Things Up North”

  • Erik - what’s up with you and the jelly fish - didn’t you get stung by one in Gallapagos?

    Posted by Liz  on  05/22  at  04:08 PM

  • You know, I’ve been warned that if I ever run over a chicken crossing the road in a rural area, DO NOT STOP.  Speed away, my friend.  Because the villagers might get very hostile and you’d be outnumbered.

    Posted by Cayce  on  05/23  at  05:47 AM

  • I’m going to have to go to sleep w/o knowing what the most incredible concept you’d ever seen in the bar industry was!!
    The suspense is gonna kill me! smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  10:16 AM

  • awesome picture!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  04:22 PM

  • NOELLE:  Holy crap!  Thanks for noticing…  a whole couple of paragraphs didn’t cut and paste off my memory card…  I don’t know what happened…  I’ll have to go fix that!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  05:59 PM

  • How come no one else noticed that? 

    MARKYT:  You’re supposed to be my QA!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  06:02 PM

  • HEY ALL:  Thanks to Noelle’s attention to major details, the last two and a half paragraphs of this entry are NOW AVAILABLE—I don’t know why they were missing before…

    Now the entry makes more sense—Janice and Jordan were introduced, plus there’s that discovery of Kenneth Lay! 

    Seriously, how come no one noticed the missing content?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  06:30 PM

  • ERIK - I can’t QA all the time!....good thing for the Blog Hogs!!!  Blog Hogs Rule!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  06:56 PM

  • hehe..i just assumed you were gonna fix it. (^_^)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/23  at  09:03 PM

  • Kenneth Lay!  wow…
    i guess all he wanted was “pole pole”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/24  at  12:32 AM

  • I hit a suicidal pheasant once. Feathers everywhere. When we stopped the car I was afraid to look at the front bumper… I had visions of this head & neck dangling. Eew. But there was nothing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/24  at  11:16 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Kendwa’d Without Ken

Previous entry:
Spice Island


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