Zanzibar Part II: Kendwa Rocks and the Sound of El Son

Our short time on the white-powder Zanzibari beach coincidentally coincides with (1) a lucky rare break in the low-season rains and (2) a free Friday night performance by Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son, a Cuban musical group near the end of a 40-day African tour, who is staying and playing at Kendwa Rocks, our home for the weekend. The result is an incredible cultural collusion of salsa, sun, and sand which, on the first night, tastes of roasted crab and curry, washed down with a nostril-tingling bottle of “Stoney Tangawizi” ginger beer.

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Our short time on the white-powder Zanzibari beach coincidentally coincides with (1) a lucky rare break in the low-season rains and (2) a free Friday night performance by Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son, a Cuban musical group near the end of a 40-day African tour, who is staying and playing at Kendwa Rocks, our home for the weekend. The result is an incredible cultural collusion of salsa, sun, and sand which, on the first night, tastes of roasted crab and curry, washed down with a nostril-tingling bottle of “Stoney Tangawizi” ginger beer.

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Friday afternoon, under an intense equatorial sun under which I dare not venture, Los Jovenes (having performed at the Old Fort in Stone Town last night) smear sunblock on variously smooth and hairy bodies, and take to the wide, white pitch of sand in front of our wood-and-thatch banda, (a fully equipped, but slightly rough en suite affair, whose low-season price of $35 a night is extravagant after Asia and India). After a year in the East, upon seeing a bat and a ball, I assume they are going to play cricket.

But as they take their positions—wearing nothing but tight, plum-smuggling bathing suits and sunglasses—and begin their bawdy chatter, I realize that this is the first baseball game I’ve seen in over a year. Incredibly, they sweat out a full nine innings as I watch from our porch; it is classic Cuban comedy, with their smack-talking, fake-announcing, and Spanglish baseball-ese (“Dos out!” “Jonron!” “Cambia el pitcher!”). The scene is so American, so Latino, and so familiar, reminding me a great deal of the times I toured Nicaragua and parts of the U.S. with Los Mokuanes, my similarly hilarious Nicaraguan musician friends.

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After the game, I join them, bobbing in the Indian Ocean, where I make a joke about “sopa de Cubanos” and thank them for the afternoon show; they laugh and chat and catch me up on world baseball news. They tell me how Cuba just placed second (lost to Japan) in the world championship; and they relish in relating how the U.S. was eliminated, even before the finals. When I tell them I’m from New York, they rattle off all kinds of names and stats of the Yankees, and their fast-paced Cuban Spanish and unfamiliar trivia flies over my head, into the sun which is beginning to sink toward the African mainland.

Later, Tay and I walk the beach for over an hour, watching a monumental day’s end as it languorously develops and climaxes, and which we vote the best of the trip (along with “best beach” and later that evening, “best live musical performance”). The scene is striking as medieval dhows ply the horizon, their sails like shark fins against a fiery rainbow of reds and oranges on the water, yellow into rich blues of the high sky.

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Next day, we cannot justify spending $100 per person for a two-tank dive (double the price of SCUBA in Central America)—so, apart from a group of cavorting dolphins seen from our breakfast table, we are content with above-water pleasures. Including right now, a henna-painting session on our banda porch. Tay’s feet are adorned with the brown herb for the first time since her birthday in Birpara, as I type into my lap until it is too hot and time for lunch.

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With the money we save by not diving, we’ll board a puddle jumper to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro tomorrow, avoiding a two-day overland journey. There, in the town of Moshi, we have an appointment with a friend of a friend, named Mohammed, who is arranging our next adventure: Serengeti safari, at the peak of the annual wildebeest (and zebra and gazelle, and various predators, etc.) migration.

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Our short time on the white-powder Zanzibari beach coincidentally coincides with (1) a lucky rare break in the low-season rains and (2) a free Friday night performance by Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son, a Cuban musical group near the end of a 40-day African tour, who is staying and playing at Kendwa Rocks, our home for the weekend. The result is an incredible cultural collusion of salsa, sun, and sand which, on the first night, tastes of roasted crab and curry, washed down with a nostril-tingling bottle of “Stoney Tangawizi” ginger beer." />