And so we continue our journey through the Land of Karibu… ‘you are welcome.’
Having dribbled our way through the west and the south of Tanzania, we finally arrived at the east coast. And if you have read my last blog post or if you follow our journey on Instagram, you may well know that the arrival at the coast was one we could hardly wait for – the promise of dry weather was just too exciting! And truly, it has been amazing to be dry for more than one afternoon at a time! And to wear clothes that are dry and don’t whiff of damp. And to climb into bedsheets that don’t feel sticky with moisture, etc etc etc…
Lindi was our first stop. Arriving in the dark we drove to the only place indicated as a spot we might be able to put our heads down for the night… a bar on the beach, that also advertised itself as a place to camp.
Having driven through the town, which illuminated itself to tacky-seaside-nightlife-vibe, we arrived at the bar. Literally a [noisy] bar, on a crab infested beach. Here we sat and breathed in the humid breeze of the cost, and took in the shadows of palms leaning over the sand, partially blocking the colourful lights of the town behind it. Given some daylight the following day we drove around the town, and discovered it to be full of neglected old German and Omani relics. Once a town that thrived on
the trade of humans and ivory to the global market, now a small forgotten seaside town, right at the southern most point of Tanzania’s east coast.
We left the same day in search of the road less travelled, with high hopes of finding a deserted beach where we could enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean. To our utter disappointment we soon discovered (i.e., we got stuck 😬). that a large amount of this coast consists of mangrove swamps. Which, besides being a huge and vital part of the ecosystem, is completely unapproachable. Extracting ourselves from swamp, we humbly made our way back to the tar road. Too late however to make it all the way back in one go, we found an abandoned quarry to put our heads down for the night. Packing up to get going the next morning, we were confronted by three men. They spoke very little english, but we understood that they were most unhappy with our presence there. Eugene kindly offered to phone the authorities to help us sort out the issue, to which they responded by leaving. Our guess is that they probably wanted to try their luck at getting some money out of us? Who knows? Wild camping always carries a risk.
Settled with the fact that it would be better to avoid getting knotted up in mangrove swamps, we decided to stick to the tar road up the east coast as far as Dar es Salaam – actually we had no other option, as there is very little in terms of alternative roads along that coastline… I guess at least now we knew why!
Stopping just short of Dar es Salaam, we found one an exquisite place… Kambiji Beach. Not in any way a tourist destination, but rather a place where [middle class] locals from Dar es Salaam might come to for a weekend away. This is a place where a sand bank causes a lagoon to form on the beach. A lagoon full of the clearest, calmest and warmest seawater. The owners of this place have a few basic chalets here, and room for a few campers. They have a bar, and a restaurant whereby they simply cook up the catch of the day, and serve it to you on the beach. Needless to say, we stayed here a few days, catching up on some work, and just enjoying the charm and the peace of the surroundings.
Here we met a handful of beautiful people… one of whom was a Tanzanian lady, Victoria. She calls Kimbiji Beach her home, and she was kind enough to let us know that just 200m down the beach, 130 turtle eggs were going to hatch the following afternoon. We were absolutely privileged to watch this remarkable event – it was utterly unique and phenomenal actually. Protected by the government, these eggs were released by a designated worker. Wearing gloves, he pulled back the sand, and out came squirming these tiny little turtles… each one knowing by instinct the way over the sand to the ocean. This ‘great trek’ is nothing short of a miracle. Knowing that they wouldn’t all make it past a few metres of being in the water was heartbreaking. But equally, knowing that a few would live to well past 100yrs old, was mind blowing.
The other people we met at Kimbiji was an older German couple. Easy to chat to, we had some interesting conversations. Together they have been coming to various parts of Africa for over 10 years. They told us how not once in that time did they take any medication to protect against malaria – they took a chance, and it worked for them. That is, until 2019. When they both contracted malaria in Uganda – the husband had it so severely that he almost died… he was told that it was a miracle that he had survived. This was a hugely sobering story for us to hear. Unfortunately, one does get into a frame of mind that if you’re careful, it won’t ever happen to you – invincible 😉 Not so, obviously. For those of you who don’t know, malaria prophylaxis shouldn’t be taken for longer than a 3 month period. So we need to choose which sections of the year we would most likely need the most protection. On hearing stories like this one, this decision suddenly becomes quite difficult, and one becomes a little less lackadaisical about the simple precautions. Sometimes we need to know that these stories are literally a Godsend.
On leaving Kimbiji, we headed for Dar es Salaam. Actually, we were heading for Zanzibar… for which one obviously has to go via Dar es Salaam. For Zanzibar, we had to book as we were told that even despite COVID, Zanzibar remained busy with tourists. Having no idea where we should head for, but knowing that we wanted to experience both Stone Town and the beach (PLUS avoid mass tourism), we scoured the internet and asked the advice of several people, and this was our experience…
In order to go to Zanzibar, our car and trailer had to be left in Dar es Salaam – we were lucky enough to have the contact of a South African working there, and he was happy for us to leave it all with him. So filling a backpack each, we left our tiny home in a strangers yard, and headed for the centre of the city. Here we stayed one night in a Backpackers (Eugene’s face when he realised he had to stay in a bunk-bedded dorm room full of who-knows-who was classic), before heading off first thing in the morning for the ferry terminal. Now the ferry between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar leaves 4 or 5 times a day, and has the capacity for over 600 people. For each and every trip it makes, it is packed full – evidence to the fact that trade between the two places is still very much up and running. The ferry terminal was literally chaos… there were people and cargo and bags everywhere! 🤪
We were eventually herded onto the ferry and upgraded to VIP class (that will tell you just how many passengers there were, and the fact that locals pay a fraction of what we pay as tourists). After just an hour and a half and a super smooth boat trip, we were in the historic town of Stone Town.
Stone Town, well what can I say? So much to love. And some things not to like so much. To us, the experience of staying there was magical. True… it was hot and humid, there were lots tourists (and the culture of ‘hounding’ tourists at every turn), it is not the cleanest city, it can be noisy and it can be expensive. Also true, there is a strong Muslim presence in Stone Town… the people, the buildings and the sounds all attest to this. What we very much picked up on is that some tourists do not heed the advice given to dress appropriately. It doesn’t seem fair therefore that the locals get accused of leering and hounding, as it seems that a lack of mutual respect has been cultivated over the years.
However, for all of it’s downsides, Stone Town is culturally astounding… especially after the intense daytime heat wears off and the cool of dusk lays its sultry veil over the city. And as with every African city we’ve ever been to, it comes to life… food vendors, home based restaurants in little alleyways, children playing the streets. I think the beauty of this city, is that when one remembers it wasn’t designed for tourists (which I guess one could be forgiven for thinking it was, as it does look like the Disney set for Aladdin), but it is indeed home to many Tanzanians and has a huge cultural history which gives it context and substantiality.
This was specifically brought home to us when we visited the Slave museum in Stone Town, which was an extremely rich experience that had a huge impact on us. Here’s what I wrote on Instagram about it;
‘Today we visited the East African Slave Exhibit in Stone Town. The site was where a little over a century ago slaves were ‘stored’ and then sold. The exhibit was nicely done – informative, honest.
But I left feeling like I had been hit between the eyes with such an honest truth that should I ignore it, I would be as bad as the slave traders of old… the truth that is modern day slavery – these 2 pics will inform you a little bit more. Whilst I salute the abolitionists of days gone by… David Livingstone, John Kirk, William Wilberforce (among others) I am wondering who will be today’s abolitionists? I don’t have the answer to the question, except that I am left with the distinct impression that if we don’t each accept responsibility, we won’t see abolition of modern day slavery any time soon. Because the bare fact is this – PRODUCTS MADE BY MODERN DAY SLAVES FLOW INTO THE GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN AND EVENTUALLY INTO OUR HOMES LEAVING MOST OF US UNAWARE OF OUR CONTRIBUTION IN SUPPORTING IT (quotation taken straight from the exhibition).’
After three nights in this beautiful city, we jumped in a taxi, and mosied our way down to Kizimkazi, on the south-eastern shore of Zanzibar. We had been advised that if we wanted to avoid the typical tourist destinations (particularly north of the island) then this was a good place to come. Driving there, I realised there is nothing about Zanzibar that sets itself apart from mainland Africa, besides the fact of course that it is an island in the Indian Ocean, hence the azure ocean waters. Zanzibar, at it’s most normal, is merely an extension of mainland Africa.
Kizimkazi was indeed a very relaxed place. It had the clear warm snorkelable waters, the palm trees and the local fishing boats. The place we stayed in had a restaurant making fresh local food which we enjoyed so much – we spent three days doing pretty much nothing (which, if you know us, wasn’t a easy task!)
Our journey back to Dar es Salaam was much like the journey to Zanzibar, but in reverse. And without the upgrade. And in the pouring rain 😬. On our return, we went to fetch our car and our mini house (funny how such a thing can actually start to feel like home), and went to grab some lunch at a restaurant on a beach in the city, where we discussed what next.
Realising that we needed to stay in the city for a couple of days to get some admin done, and realising that are literally no places to camp there, Eugene went and asked a couple of guys sitting at the bar if they knew of anywhere. They gave us a number of a guy who might be able to help. We phoned the guy who said that they were quite central, and that we were welcome to camp in his yard for a small fee 👍🏻. On arriving at their property, we met the very lovely owners and learnt that they run a play school from their home, and they hoped we didn’t mind children! 😂 Not minding children at all, and thankful for a place to camp, we decided to get our admin done as quick as we could… we were literally taking up playground space! 🤦🏼♀️
Now Dar es Salaam is an interesting place. It has the malls and the high rise towers of every other city we’ve ever been to. But being on the ocean, it has a lot of port activity and some hotels that take advantage of its beach frontage. The playground we were staying on was in a house whose property was a 5 minute walk from the beach. Yes, you could walk to the hotel there and enjoy its lounge area. But you could also turn the other direction which would lead you (in a rather unconventional way via a sort of rubbish heap), to a small beach known only to locals. Here there was a restaurant and bar, and a few shops that definitely did not exist for the tourists. We spent a very happy evening here, getting to know the locals of this little community talking about politics and the history and the people of Tanzania. The lady who owned the restaurant let Malachi into her kitchen and help her prepare food, the boys played pool with the guys hanging around there, and we listened to local music. We took our own bottle of wine, which they were totally relaxed about (not sure they even know what corkage is) – definitely an evening of authentic connection and experience that we won’t easily forget.
Having got all our ducks in a row, we left Dar es Salaam and headed north to the historical town of Bagamoyo. I guess I have the tendency to see things through a romantic veil, but on my goodness what a beautiful place! A sense of the surreal, fairytale, extraordinary, other worldliness. How amazing it is to be suddenly immersed into a different culture entirely, without the interruption of outsiders – it has ability to make you feel like you’re stepping back in time, or escaping to a world that few others have.
Being in Bagamoyo was wonderful, but it was also extremely hot and humid. So after 3 days of being there, we diverted inland again and headed for Arusha. We decided however to get there via the exploration of the Usambara mountains to the north.
And how glad we are that we took this opportunity. It took us through some spectacular scenery. One of these was the Magamba forest, one of ten worldwide hotspots for biodiversity – untouched and silent. Also, a view of the plains to the north of Tanzania from the Mtae viewpoint. And then quite simply the drive through the mountain pass where there is barely a place left untouched by human hand. There are villages strewn throughout the heights of the pass, the inhabitants of which farm every inch of the land on top of this extreme mountain range. It is an unbelievable sight, especially when compared to the mountain ranges at home in the Western Cape… to imagine people living and sustaining themselves on the tippity-top of any of them is unthinkable.
Then there was the drive down the mountain whose road we hadn’t been told was under construction. It took us hours to drive down, and our poor brakes suffered terribly. But it was spectacular with the most butterflies I have ever seen.
Back on tar, we headed for Moshi – the town at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Staying here for the night we barely managed to see this beautiful mountain (also known as the Roof of Africa), because of cloud coverage. We did however, drive to the very foot of the mountain… the point where hikers begin their climb and where you have to pay entry fees to advance up the mountain in any way. The drive to it’s base was great though… what we expected to be a road lined with guest houses and other types of tourist accommodation, was in actual fact just basic African town sprawl intertwined with little banana tree and coffee plantations.
Then on to the city of Arusha, which is where I write from now. Here we are waiting for a package to get through customs before we can pick it up. After which, we will head off to the Kenyan border post.
And now is a good time for me to make some reflections on our time here in Tanzania. And the first thing I can say is that it’s unbelievable to think that we have been here almost 2 months. It was never the plan to stay so long, but the road has taken us until today to complete. If you look at the map of the road we have travelled, you will notice we haven’t been to where you might deem to be the most important reason to visit Tanzania… the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorogoro Crater – the reason simply being cost. Which is a very sweet reminder that we never set off to do all the tourist things, and that it’s ok to let it go.
Another thing I think worth mentioning here is the situation in Tanzania regarding COVID… one of the first things you notice when you cross the border is the fact that absolutely NO-ONE wears a face mask. Over time, we have been able to find out the story behind this; the President in power at the time of COVID, John Magufuli (now deceased), was a COVID sceptic… not just because he didn’t ‘believe’ in it, but for much deeper reasons. The people of Tanzania (you can actually insert here almost any African country) live from hand to mouth, i.e, what they make in a day feeds them for that day… they do not live from a reserve. Magufuli believed that if Tanzania went into lockdown, more people would die of hunger then from COVID. And so he advised for people to drink ginger and lemon tea (as per their normal daily custom), to keep on washing their hands thoroughly (also customary before every meal in every household in Tanzania) and to keep their faith strong (whether Christian or Muslim)… he led them away from a place of fear. And it is truly refreshing to be in a country which is not perpetually focused on or centering their lives around a virus. Their statistics also seem to reflect this… you are welcome to check it out! (NB, I can’t vouch for the integrity of Magufuli in other areas of his presidency)
Another reflection is how we have never ever felt unsafe or threatened here – the people of Tanzania trust one another implicitly, and crime is just not an issue. Here’s an example of this… a few days ago I went into a Vodacom shop to top up with a little bit of data. There was only one man in the shop. He looked my number up on the system, and said ‘ok, just wait here’. He then proceeded to stroll placidly out of the shop and down the road WITH my phone. I was left alone in an official Vodacom shop with 3 computers and a photocopy machine. After 5 or so minutes the man in a very relaxed manner walked back into the shop and showed me that he had topped up my phone. I gave him the cash, and away I went! No issues, and utterly liberating!
The final and most important observation we walk away with, is that the people of this beautiful country are incredibly genuine and generous hearted… ‘Karibu’ really is their mantra, and as outsiders we have experienced it time and time again. And for that, we will be forever thankful. We have come and we have learnt from Tanzania, and the footprint of hospitality will be forever in our hearts.
Hello Lara. I was particularly looking forward to reading part 2 of Tanzania (after so enjoying part 1) and it certainly doesn’t disappoint!! This blog will have to become a book! Thank you for taking the time to put your adventures “out there” for us to read. Lots of love