Thursday 23 August

Bit of a restless night – R kept stealing the blanket, but it transpires in the morning that I have most of the sheet.

Pack before breakfast. Fruit juice (presumably instead of yesterday’s banana) with toast and omelette. We are at the bus station by 8.35 am and step inside the shop where we bought the tickets yesterday. The shop’s main trade seems to be in islamic audio tapes and toilet rolls. The bus is not in yet and the shop owner indicates that we should wait here. After what seems an age, listening to a tinny quavering voice chanting from the Qur’an, the bus arrives and the shopkeeper shows us to it. It is a large minibus-style vehicle and our luggage has to go on top.

We are about half an hour late departing, during which the driver impatiently toots the horn, revs the engine, and occasionally inches forward, so that by the time we actually do actually get underway we are already about a hundred metres down the road from the bus depot. Just before we do leave, a new driver relieves the one behind the wheel.

It turns out that this bus operates on a similar principle to the daladalas – stopping anywhere and everywhere with the sole aim of cramming as many passengers on board as possible. R and I have a double seat near the front but I rapidly become aware that the seat and my bottom are not compatible. It is not going to be an altogether comfortable ride.

We wind down the hill back to Mombo, then on to Korogwe, a large bus depot, Segara, Mukeze, and finally Tanga. At its fullest I count thirty-two passengers. For part of the route R and I are pressed close together as four people cram onto three seats. R doesn’t seem to mind.

We arrive at Tanga around half past one after about four hours on the road, a little earlier than we had guessed. The sprawling suburbs contain the first real industry that we have seen – a cement factory and flour mill. At the terminal the bus crew help us to the Pangani bus, and we are away again remarkably soon.

We are in a huge ancient and decrepit bone-shaker of a bus. Through holes in the floor we can see the road beneath the bus, and we are sitting at the back, where every jolt and bump on the unpaved road is magnified. We follow a narrow track past mangroves and palms. Strike up conversation with an English woman teaching in Moshi, another English woman from Birmingham, and a dreadlocked Tanzanian man from Lushoto. They are all together and seem the most unlikely of travelling companions. He promises to make sure we know when we get to Peponi.

(magnify) Peponi Beach Resort

I disembark first, grabbing one of the bus crew and indicating that he should help me to retrieve our bags from under the bus. Rachel follows and we stand together underneath the Peponi Resort road-sign watching the bus disappear down the dirt track into the distance. The sun blazes down from a clear blue sky. It seems like the middle of nowhere.

After a short pause, we hoist rucksacks and head slowly down the track to the resort.

They are expecting us (to our great relief) and we have a wonderful banda that would comfortably sleep six, consisting of two bedrooms, a spacious bathroom, mesh windows and a thatched roof. Apparently they are not full at the moment and so are happy to rent out one of their large bandas at the rate normal for a double. We decide to take separate beds in order to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s blanket snatching incident.

(magnify) Indian Ocean

I can hear the ocean from the veranda, which lies just beyond a palm-fringed beach. We wander down together, turn right and walk to the far end of the beach.

Went for a super walk along the beach (although hot). Beach is clean with okay sand and water – not a good shelf though for swimming. There are some rocky bits and local fishing boats, and palm trees. Sea is beautifully warm. The funniest thing about it is there are loads of crabs from tiny up to hand-sized. They scuttle everywhere on their hind legs.

Later I paddle out into the sea for a swim, but the beach slopes too slowly and my feet hit hard against hidden rocks before I am even knee deep, so I give up on that idea. Apparently the swimming is better at high tide.

Dinner is in the “Wreck on the Rocks” restaurant. I have a firm-textured fish in tomato, quite tasty, with slightly greasy chips. Unfortunately R’s boiled potatoes are undercooked and hard. I ask for some butter to put on them. The waiter looks puzzled, but then brings me a finger bowl. We try again. Butter. Longer pause, and a dish of garlic butter is produced. Rachel mimes spreading butter on toast, which results in a frenzy of conferring between the staff. Suddenly the penny drops and R gets her butter.

Absolutely divine gooey chocolate brownies for pudding.

While we are eating the owner Denys and a British-Kenyan couple join us at our table. They live in Kenya it seems because they have a lot more freedom and the cost of living is much lower. They seem to know Denys very well and are evidently regular visitors, and have strong opinions on a range of matters. R and I, not quite seeing everything from their point of view, are careful not to start an argument.

Finally we make our excuses and walk down to the beach. A half moon is casting its silver glow across the ripples in the sand and the tide is far out. We turn right as before. Rachel seems to have something on her mind as she strides purposefully down the beach, and the thoughts in my own mind are spinning around, trying to find words. I ask her to slow down and we return to a more leisurely pace. We exchange fragments of distracted conversation. Is it now or never, or …?

We turn around near the end of the beach and start walking back. I can’t seem to put words together. I had something worked out, something jokey that we could easily laugh about if it wasn’t right, but now the words seem far too complicated.

We are nearly back at the resort. I wonder how many times we will have to walk up and down this beach before I manage to say what I want to say. I stop.

“Rachel. I’ve got a silly question.”

She stops.

“I was wondering, if you had room in your life for a boyfriend, and, well …”

The setting was ideal, in fact romantic, and it was a lovely evening. We walked along the rest of the beach hand in hand and prayed too, which was very important. Then sat on a sun lounger very unsure what to do and both quite shocked, yet excited and thrilled.

That night I lie awake in bed, elated yet fearful, my mind going back over moments from the past few weeks, trying to put pieces together and wondering at it all.

So many thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and worries and excitements buzzing around my head. I still can’t take it in or believe it is real!