Beach rhapsody and the hangover

Wooden dhow boats ply Tanzania´s Indian Ocean

A source of beauty - and lunch

Suddenly I come to the delicious realisation of exactly what I am doing. I am walking down a white sand beach, barefoot, the gorgeous green water of the Indian Ocean still dripping off me, heading towards two wooden dhow boats that less than three minutes ago floated past me in the sea – about to buy fresh fish for my beach BBQ lunch.

Perfect? You bet. This was the beginning of what, for me, was the most chilled-out, fun afternoon of the trip so far.

This afternoon fell smack-bam in the middle of our enforced week on the beach – but more on that later – let me continue with the afternoon’s festivities.

Walking with me to the fisherman’s little collection point and mini fish market on the sand is a South African named Will.

He drives an overland truck – that is a massive touring truck for package-holiday groups of westerners travelling through many African countries. It’s faster and a heck of a lot easier than public transport and, after this week experiencing our eighth bus breakdown, I can definitely see the appeal.

Will’s group was on Zanzibar Island so he had a couple of days to his own devices and he is the one who suggested a BBQ.

Overlanding is mostly a camping holiday so Will’s truck had everything we needed on board – including rum for 10 litres of punch!

We were two couples to begin with (later joined by an older third) and, yes, it descended into a long, boozy, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes philosophical, yummy, late lunch.

There was even music streaming from the internet straight onto our Tanzanian palm-bedecked beach thanks to the wonders of mobile phones connected to laptops.

I helped clean the fish and then cleaned the jumping fish scales off my swimsuit by taking them back to whence they came. When the friendly Tanzanian boys became annoying I reveled in the fact that I was a stronger swimmer than them and could simply swim away into the turquois beauty.

Lisa decided that we couldn’t have the fish without fresh local piri-piri spices so she walked 10 minutes to the local market to obtain them and that was perfect too (and a perfect accompaniment for barracuda fillets).

It ended night swimming with Steve under an impossibly bright almost full moon – for me the best possible end to a beautiful afternoon.

The next morning, however, as the realisation of a hangover set in, so too came the realisation I had lost 10,000 shillings – or more accurately had it stolen from me by a confidence trickster.

The guy’s name is Kevin. As mentioned earlier we were on this beach for a week. It wasn’t planned. It was an enforced break because the Mozambique High Commission in Dar Es Salaam claims to have two charges for visas. It charges 45,000 shillings (approximately $32 US) for single entry visa which takes five days to process and 90,000 shillings for an ‘express’ version which appears on your passport the next day. Seeing as this ‘express’ fee was nowhere to be seen in the documentation available and seeing as the empty, except for us, High Commission was obviously not swamped with work, we considered this ‘express’  fee to be highly dubious and refused to pay. We waited instead in a tent at a beach resort a few kilometres south of Dar.

The setting was stunning and our timing was great. The Muslim Eid was being celebrated so the beachfront was crowded with locals wearing their colourful, festive best, having a ball.

I loved watching them and I loved the fact that I got into a summersault and cartwheel frenzy with some local kids.

All this was the good stuff. The bad stuff was Kevin.

In Tanzania there are people who walk along the beach trying to sell you stuff. A pretty useful service most of the time. Problem is they come from the school of hard-sells and a Tanzanian technique is the fake befriending.

We looked at buying a painting off Kevin. This opened the door to two days of friendly conversation, the first night over beers, about all and sundry – politics, relationships, the works.

At the end of the conversation on the second night Kevin asked if he could borrow 20,000 shillings, about $13 US. He said he had a commission for a painting but didn’t have enough money to buy the materials he needed.

In the end, against Steve’s wishes, I leant him 10,000 shillings. To be honest, I knew from the outset it was a risk. It was an experiment – I wanted to be pleasantly surprised.

Instead – as we woke up on the second day after the loan had been given and realised Kevin had not showed up yesterday as promised – I was bitterly disappointed. I was hurt, more than a stranger should be able to hurt you, and I was bloody angry. Not because of the amount but because of the way it was done. I was angry with Kevin, and I’m sorry to say, I was angry with all of Tanzania as well for letting people like Kevin ply their trade. That feeling has passed but I’m still hugely upset about its proliferation of people looking to take advantage of tourists in so many different, everyday, ways. A whole section of society, who I’m sure do not consider us as fellow human beings but instead as alien wallets.

We asked around and apparently we weren’t the first white tourists Kevin had stolen from in this way. Critically examining some of his statements there were warning signs I should have seen, and perhaps would have seen, if I hadn’t been lulled by the beachfront into believing this place was paradise.

It wasn’t. But it was the scene of one hell of a good afternoon.