As I bribe the immigration official to let me off the island, it dawns on me that that last beer may not have been worth the mad dash to the crowded port. In the space of five minutes I have sweated out every last drop of alcohol and I am just as dehydrated as I was before.
From dodgy drug dealers in crack dens with antique doors, to the ever present Tusker, Sauti Za Busara and by extension Zanzibar, has it all. One thing however which might bother an habitual abuser of the liver like myself is getting a hold of alcohol. Over the past weekend it hasn’t mattered which town we were in, getting sloshed has been a constant challenge. The closer we get to the ocean and it’s Arab/Swahili past, the harder it is to find that ka-liquor store. Seeing a tired, frustrated Kenyan wandering the streets of Stone Town trying to find his way to the liquor store is not only common but expected.
I have to hand it to the Tanzanians though. For a very conservative society they sure do have a large selection of liquor (once you find the shop that is). Stepping into the liquor store there is like a journey into heaven. Far from the four beers that here in Kenya we like to call premium and the overpriced craft beers crafted exclusively for expats, Tanzania has at least 16 different beer brands and one of the worst was sent over there by us.
Here’s quick run through of the beers you can find when you set out to locate a liquor store as an alternative to passing out from heatstroke and being nibbled incessantly by sand fleas on the Zanzibar beach. Safari is Guinness’ ugly little cousin that tastes like someone dunked a shot of brandy into a lager; its 5.5% alcohol content made it an obvious choice for most of us trying to maximise our high and reduce our costs. Buying a Safari was never really about the taste, if you wanted to get drunk you’d grab one. Kilimanjaro was another favourite among our group, Kenyans have the odd habit of asking for the beer that tastes closest to Tusker when abroad and some wily local waiter lied to us that this was it. It’s not as strong as a Safari but it has a nice bitter finish and starts of with piney notes before it goes down.
The third beer on our list is Serengeti or Chui Mfalme, Tanzanians rave about it but I honestly feel like it is drink syrup added to beer. Sure the bottle is pretty but near black bottles tend to look better than green/brown. Another popular beer in Tanzania is Tusker but it tastes like piss over there so I won’t bother expounding.
As we reveled our way into the night, of course we moved from beer to the harder stuff. In Tanzania this is inevitably Konyagi, a local spirit which essentially tastes like a “pimped-up” chang’aa. Despite a reputation for having a wonderful taste, Konyagi is not a drink to be trifled with. Gregg Tendwa, of Santuri Safari fame, ploughed me with four of these during Mim Suleiman’s performance and all I recall is wandering back to my hotel, completely missing it and ending up on the wrong side of the city. Greg still raves about it actually, his last three posts on his Facebook page are about the percussion discussion, his rooftop sundowner with Iddi Aziz and a bottle of Konyagi captioned with praises.
To sum it up, I am glad that I made an effort to get to know the culture of the country that hosted me for such a brief time. Don’t go to a foreign country and drink the exact same thing you have day in day out back home, explore with your liver not just with your mind.