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"Queasiness turns to shock as a large topless Italian lady in a g-string appears out of the palm trees and wobbles towards us.."
- Gemma Pitcher

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Not quite "The Beach"
by Gemma Pitcher, 26, London, UK
Mar 15, 2000

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Sitting in the beach hut at our hostel on the Zanzibar coast, you can see two desert islands shimmering on the horizon. On one of the last afternoons of our Christmas trip a group of us decide to take a boat trip out to the nearest one, Bowe. We can snorkel there, apparently, and there's a cafe for food and beers. All we have to do is go down the port in the island's capital, Stone Town, early in the morning and sort out a boat. Simple - we'll be there by twelve.

I've just had my hair braided and hands and feet hennaed in preparation for the Iddi-al-Fitr celebration and fancy myself as another Bo Derek wading statuesquely along the perfect white beach in '10'. We duly arrive at the little jetty and watch boatloads of tourists depart in smart, efficient vessels for Changu, the larger of the two islands just past the mouth of the port. We smirk pityingly - Bawe is off the beaten track, deserted (apart from the cafe, that is), wild and a much more original choice of destination as one would expect from far out, hardcore travellers like ourselves.

We wait expectantly for the boat we have arranged, chatting and laughing in our streetwise, no-flies-on-us way. Finally we hear an asthmatic wheeze, and the oldest boat in the world, powered by the oldest outboard engine in the world, staggers around the head of the jetty. The skipper is red-eyed, catatonic, and wearing nothing except for a pair of worn, yellowing World Cup 1992 y-fronts. We wait while he half-heartedly attempts to bail out the two feet of water currently sloshing around in the bottom of his boat with what appears to be the lid of a mineral water bottle.

We set sail, and spend an hour and a half convinced that death is imminent as our dubious craft jumps and lurches in the rough sea, the port of Stone Town dwindling away and the island not appearing to come any closer as we rear up and slam down over the waves just like a speedboat (except in slow motion). We finally make it to the island and stagger up the half ruined steps and causeway to find the remains of what once might have been a cafe, now derelict and deserted. Queasiness turns to shock as a large topless Italian lady in a g-string appears out of the palm trees and wobbles towards us, shouting insanely about water and salt being hotter than water on its own. We beat a hasty retreat towards the beach, but not before she has turned her back to us and bent right over, feet away from the crew of the boat and their assorted hangers-on. Stunned silence prevails.

Is Gemma Pitcher really Alex Garland in disguise?

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