22 February – 13 March 2013
Our first Indian Ocean escape was a campsite called Peponi which is located between Tanga and Pangani, north of Dar es Salaam. It had been recommended to us by a couple of people and we’re very glad it was as we’re not sure we would have found it otherwise. It’s a fantastic little resort owned by a lovely older couple who were born in England but have lived in various African countries for most of their lives. As well as bandas they have camping spots each having their own shelter and electricity (always handy). Our spot had a fantastic view out over the ocean and was a mere 20 meters from the swimming pool: a particularly nice luxury to have as it was incredibly humid and the sea was very shallow for some way. We also shared the camp with several vervet monkeys, bats (who hung out in the tree next to our tent during the day … or, in one instance, on the side of our fridge!) and bush babies.
We’d originally intended to stay there for two or three nights before heading over to Zanzibar, but it was such a nice relaxed environment that we stayed for five (not counting the three when we got back!). From there Dennis (the owner) organised us a dhow over to Zanzibar. Unfortunately as there wasn’t anyone else to share it with us it was a bit more expensive then we’d hoped. However, when we looked into the difference between this and driving to Dar and getting the ferry, it was worth it for the lack of hassle and knowing that Charlie was going to be left somewhere safe. A day or so before we left, Floris and Anneke and Gabrielle and Evo caught us up, so we enjoyed catching up with them and hearing about their experiences in the Serengeti.
And then it was time for a taste of island life. We were up bright and early to get a taxi to Pangani where we were to get the dhow. It was a relaxed, if slow, way to get to Zanzibar. The trip took nearly four hours, but it was very peaceful sailing across the clear blue water watching the birds diving for fish. As we approached the north-west shore we were greeted by miles of white sand and views of bright red starfish on the seabed. Just the tropical island feel we were hoping for.
After a much-needed lunch having missed breakfast, we decided to go to Stone Town first, then come back to the north coast afterwards. After some negotiation over the fare, with some comedic starting prices of $50 (eventually down to $25), we got a taxi driven by Mr Big (!). As soon as we started driving through the village that fact that the island is predominantly Muslim was very apparent with all the schoolgirls with white headscarves as part of their uniform. Something we hadn’t seen for some time now.
Once we arrived we had a wander around and organised a tour of the city for the following morning. We then headed to Africa House Hotel for sunset, as recommended by our guide book … and everyone else’s as it turned out! When we arrived it was just us and two other couples, but when we turned around as the sun started to set, the place was heaving with people armed with their cameras, eager to get that perfect sunset shot.
After the sun had disappeared below the horizon we went to check out the seafood market not far from the House of Wonders. There were stalls and stalls full of various fish kebabs, prawns, crabs, lobsters and calamari with various types of bread and salads to go with it. As soon as we arrived we were inundated with guys wanting to show us what they had to offer and why their stall was better than the practically identical stall next to it. We chose a selection of kebabs and coconut bread and tucked in, but we have to say it looked better than it tasted and the many cats nearby got a small treat. It was definitely an experience though so we’re glad we gave it a try.
The next morning we were met early by our guide, Elvis. (We were liking the names in Zanzibar!) He showed us around the various sectors of Stone Town and explained about the Indian and Arabic influences and how they were reflected in the architecture, especially the doors. The doors in Zanzibar are particularly ornate: large wooden contraptions, with intricate carvings, elephant spikes and elaborate metal fastenings for padlocking them.
He then took us to the site of the old slave market, which was closed in 1873. We first went into the basement of what is now St Monica’s Guesthouse, where there are two small rooms where the slaves were kept chained up before being sold. The larger of the two small rooms apparently kept up to 75 women and children, and the smaller, 50, men. It was sickening. They would have had to lie/sit on top of each other and the channel in which they defecated was reliant on high tides to wash it clean. We then walked the short distance to the Anglican Church, where the alter stands on the site of the old market’s whipping block, with red marble representing the blood that was shed there. It was horrific to think about what took place there. Hearing that on average only one in five slaves that were tricked or kidnapped made it through the journey to the market alive goes some way to showing how little the traders valued the slaves’ lives, despite the fact that they were a commodity to them.
Once the tour was over, we went for lunch and then a welcome refreshing dip in the ocean. That evening we opted for the Livingstone Beach Bar/Restaurant for sundowners. This was a favourite spot for us in Stone Town: as well as its good location on the beach, it had a really relaxed vibe about it. We then enjoyed a fantastic dinner at the Silk Route, an Indian restaurant – definitely the best meal we had in Zanzibar.
Our third day in Stone Town we went on an obligatory spice tour. After a comical drive around town to collect other Mzungus (white people) where we ended up back where we started at least three times, we were driven north to one of the many spice plantations. Here our guide showed us not only spices, but also the teak and mahogany trees being grown, as well as various fruits. This included a giant passion fruit that we didn’t know existed, the way that pineapple grows (also very different to what we expected) and a demo of picking, followed by sampling the coconut milk and soft flesh. The plantation owners all tend to grow a wide range of things on their land, so if one thing dies or has a low yield, there should be other crops that they can rely on. Amongst the spices we were shown cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, chillies, vanilla, and nutmeg. It was fascinating to see them in their pre-dried form, many of which we would never have been able to identify ourselves.
The next morning we headed back up north to the fishing village of Kendwa where we stayed at the Sunset Bungalows. The village has obviously had a lot of development over the last few years, but is still pretty quiet, particularly compared to its neighbour Nungwi. The rainy season started to show itself when we were there as the mornings were pretty wet. However by early afternoon the sun came out and we were able to enjoy the idyllic views of the sand, sea and fishing boats. The cost of the diving was pretty steep, so we settled for our masks and snorkels and were pleasantly surprised by what we found just off the shore. Although not quite in the abundance you see when diving, we saw domino fish, clown fish, sea horses, starfish, an octopus and also a Spanish dancer.
All too soon it was time to get the dhow back to the mainland. When we got back to Peponi, Colin and Diana were there to greet us. We also met another lovely couple in a Landie (Ollie and Lisa) who were travelling north, as well a few others who were escaping Kenya during the election. After three nights, information-swapping and the best seafood platter we’ve had on the trip so far, we finally left the haven that is Peponi and headed down towards Dar es Salaam to stock up on supplies. We stopped for another very sticky night in Bagamoyo at the nice enough, but overpriced, Travellers Lodge just north of Dar meaning we wouldn’t have to drive right into the city.
We were up early (not least because of the blaring music that had been pumping out from the town all night) and made our way to the Shoprite mall on the outskirts of Dar. Several full shopping bags and $ later, we were back on the road to start the journey across Tanzania towards Malawi.
Our first stopover was on the other side of the Mikumi National Park. As the main road runs right through the park you don’t have to pay to transit through it. We started the drive through the park mid-late afternoon and took bets on what we might see: some impala, gazelle, and the odd giraffe and elephant if we’re lucky were our hopeful guesses.
After driving for about half an hour and not seeing so much as a gazelle we were starting to think all the animals had gone to a meeting on the other side of the park. However, after a while longer we saw a warthog, followed by some impala and gazelle. Then a little further on we spotted some elephants in the distance. Cool. Then turning a corner we came upon a herd of elephants grazing right by the road. We could now see why someone had commented on how much smaller the elephants are in this park – apparently no one really knows why. After watching them for a while we drove a little further and were greeted by a huge herd of elephants, far more than we’d seen before. We then noticed close by a big herd of giraffe, with zebra, buffalo and wildebeest mixed in for good measure. We couldn’t agree more with our fellow travellers Dale and Laura who’d come this way a few weeks before us that it was a fantastic end to a long day.
We spent the night at the Tan-Swiss camp, a nice place just outside the park. We then made our way to Iringa to check out the Neema Craft Shop, staffed entirely by deaf and disabled youngsters that would otherwise be unable to find work, and onto the Old Farm House (Kisolanza Farm). We’d heard great things about the Farm House and being able to buy meat and vegetables farmed there, however our timing was unfortunate as the day before one of their friends had been by and cleared out their stocks. However the owner gave us a great tip for the following day. We had intended to stay the night in Mbeya before crossing the border into Malawi, but she suggested we’d be better off going further to Tukuyu, meaning we could get to the border much earlier the next day.
On route we turned off towards the Kitulo Plateau which is known as the Garden of Eden of Tanzania and very different to what you will come across in the rest of the country. However, after half an hour on the horrendous road we turned back to return to the tarmac. As Marcello put it: “It’s not worth it just to see trees and plants and shit …”. This turned out to be an even wiser decision as we made our way along the road next to it and saw the dark clouds and heavy rain moving in above the hills. It was still a very pretty drive along the main road though and nice to see the change in the terrain.
When we got to Tukuyu we decided to treat ourselves to a room for the night and stayed in the Landmark Hotel. A proper towel, not having to climb down the ladder for a pee and being able to set off early without having to pack up in the rain seemed well worth a few extra dollars.
It was hard to believe we’d spent a month in Tanzania. We had some great experiences and yet there’s so much more we could have and wanted to do. We also feel that perhaps we didn’t get as close to the local culture here as we have in some other countries, but this is possibly also because we’re more accustomed to East Africa now. Taking all these things into consideration, we don’t think that this is the last we’ll see of Tanzania!