We fly low over the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, getting our first glimpse of what we think of as the real Africa. South Africa felt European, not African. Morocco, where we have been, feels middle-eastern, not African. Tanzania, from a hundred feet up looks like Africa. Orange dirt tracks, thick vegetation, small cinder block houses, sun glinting off the tin roofs. Animals, both domesticated and wild. We see a team of oxen pulling a plough and a small herd of impala grazing nearby.
I’ve lost my yellow fever vaccination card and am in a bit of a panic at the airport when we land. But no problem getting a Tanzanian visa, even though the yellow fever card is a requirement. Hmmmm.
At the Dar es Salaam airport we jump in a taxi and name a hotel from our guidebook. It is closed, the driver tell us and takes us to a more modern and expensive hotel, the Peacock. A 3 star gem in a one star town. At $US75/night, it is more than we want to spend, but the room is air conditioned and clean and the hotel restaurant has the only decent food around. The one nicer place, the New Happy Hotel, houses a roof top bar that is straight out of a bad B grade movie with a seedy plot.
The morning fish market stinks. The beach is filthy. We quickly tire of the place that will become #2 on our top five worse travel destinations. El Jadida, Morocco is #1. Craig has Bandung, Indonesia on his list, but I thought it was fine.
From Dar, we take a ferry to Zanzibar, the “Spice Island”, arriving in Stone Town in a rain storm. Our hotel, the Marine, is by the ferry terminal and the port. Not the best ‘hood. It rains torrentially, lots of thunder and lightning. The power goes out for most of the day. Stumbling onto the much cooler tourist and shopping neighbourhood on the last day, we find the “Biet al Aman” (House of Peace) guest house and book it for our return to Stone Town after our beach week. It is an old swahili mansion, converted to guest house. Gorgeous breakfast room on the second floor.
Stone Town, now mostly supported by tourism, was once an important trading port for all manner of Indian ocean commerce, but most notably spices and slaves. Part of what is known as the Swahili Coast, it is mostly Arab. Mosques, veiled women, dhows, morning call to prayer from minarets. The architecture is typical of this part of east Africa: stone, small alleys, fortified walls.
Freddy Mercury, the late front man for the rock group Queen, was from Zanzibar, we learn. Who knew? At a bar on the waterfront named for him we enjoy lunch and drinks. Ice cold beer. Curried chicken. Great people watching.
A tout arranges a ride in a mini-bus to the northwest tip of the island to a beach town called Nungwi. We are picked up the next morning by two local men driving a 6 passenger van. We pick up two more men, neither of whom have any luggage. Both locals. I feel nervous. Four Arab men, Craig & I. We don’t know them. There is no company logo on the outside of the van. Its an uneventful 3 hr drive. They drop us off in Nungwi. My worries were completely unfounded. As they so often are.
Nungwi is a hippy colony. A traveler’s way-station. Lots of incense and tie-dyed clothing, hand-made jewellery, dreadlocks, beards, leather sandals and baggy cotton pants. Great food. A huge, pristine beach. We find a concrete bungalow at “Paradise” for $35 a night. A perfect place to stop and rest for a few days.
Back in Stonetown, checked in to the Biet Al Amman, we enjoy our new ‘hood. Craft shops, cafes, the Serena hotel with its pool on the beach and $5 day rate. We’ve moved up from stealing towels and trying to look like we belong to just paying the nominal day rate.
From Stonetown we fly to Arusha. We’ve met some missionaries from Cote d’Ivoire – Mormons from Alberta! – at the Biet al Amman guesthouse who recommend the Outpost hotel in Arusha. We get a room and within a few hours two safari companies have been to visit us and give their pitch. We pick one, Shidolya, with what we think is the best deal. $100/day for a 5 day camping safari. They pick us up the next morning.
Jonathan is our cook. Peter is the guide. There is a french man named Jean-Paul and an English girl named Katy in the truck. Six of us altogether. After a short stop to buy a big bag of cooking charcoal, off we go to Lake Manyara, our first stop.
Approaching the park, our guide explains that we may see tree lion here, adding that in his many years of guiding he has yet to see any, but they are around and are seen from time to time. No sooner are the words out of his mouth than there is a tree full of reclining lions directly ahead of us and to the left of the road. The guide is more exciting than we are. We’re just happy to see them and get a few good shots.
Elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and flamingos are plentiful along the shore of Lake Manyara. Baboons everywhere. Other primates as well: spider & vervet monkeys.
We camp overnight at an unfenced campground with an enclosed cook house and dining room. A pit toilet & primitive cold water shower. Our tents are small, but in good shape. Our mattresses ok. Sleeping bags clean enough. Jonathan is a great cook and we are fed gourmet fare. Always a blended veggie soup to start. Mains of grilled meal with potatoes or rice. A salad on the side. All tasty.
We are warned to not drink too much before bed, to avoid having to get up in the night. We do our best, but I awaken at 2 AM with a full bladder, wake Craig up and make him accompany me to the toilet. But we don’t get far. Something roars not far away. I drop my pants, squat on the ground by the path, do my thing and quickly dash back to the tent. The next day we see lion close to the camp.
The road is terrible and the going is slow, even the main road to Olduvai Gorge and the Ngorongoro Crater. Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world and has proven invaluable in furthering understanding of early human evolution. A steep-sided ravine in the Great Rift Valley that stretches across East Africa, it is the site where Louis and Mary Leaky found evidence of Homo habilis, probably the first early human species, who occupied Olduvai Gorge approximately 1.9 million years ago. We take in the small museum and contemplate the enormity of human evolution.
The Ngorongoro crater is a near-mythical wonderland of animals who, hemmed in by the steep crater walls, never migrate. The same populations of animals have inhabited this veritable garden of Eden for centuries, cut off and isolated from the surrounding African savannah. It is lush, green, unspoilt, full of animals. Our game drives here are spectacularly beautiful.
We overnight on the upper edge of the greater rim, getting a great sunset. The camp ground shower is hot. I enjoy a long one and am coming out of the shower house, where a crowd has gathered, when I see an elephant directly in front of me, drinking out of the water cistern. Moral of the story: never go anywhere without a camera. I have it with me and get a shot.
That night we are warned again about not getting out of our tents at night. Additionally, we cannot have food in or around the tents as there are marauding bush pigs who will try to steal it. In the morning we hear a story of a young man who had gum in his pack, in his tent. A bush pig broke into the tent, while the guy was sleeping, grabbed the pack and ran off with it.
I notice my Keen sandals, which I wear everyday, everywhere, but which were smelly and got left outside of the tent to air, are gone. Craig is sure the long-haired Italian guy in the next tent has taken them. We complain to our guide. “Bush pigs” he says. But they were shoes, not food. “Doesn’t matter” he says “they’ll have taken them and chewed them to pieces”. Goodbye sandals. I have a pair of flimsy flip flops and runners. They’ll have to do. Lesson learned: never trust bush pigs with expensive footwear.
East of Ngorongoro Crater is the Serengeti plain, a large, flat, mostly arid, stretch of land inhabited by animals and a few Masai villages.
The Masai let us visit in exchange for a $50 fee. And they want all of our analgesics. Aspirin, tylenol, advil. They sell us handmade products, mostly jewelry. We buy a few pieces. Snap photos. Do a tour of a mud and wattle hovel. A two day old baby and mother lay on a pallet at the back of one such place. Feeling conscious of the germs we are exposing the newborn to, I don’t linger.
Lack of water means no one is particularly clean. But they are proudly and colourfully dressed. No one looks ill, apart from the newly postpartum mother. There is a school house with some lessons written on a black board.
Lack of sugar and starches in their diets means the Masai have strong, white, beautiful teeth. We see this all across Africa. The highly carnivorous diet provides a lot of protein and calcium and other bone minerals.
I try to make sense of their lives as we drive away. Should it change and modernize? Should it remain as it is and has been for millennia? Some efforts are being made to get the kids to proper government schools. Is this what they need? Is education the answer? What is the question? Are they happy?
The five days go quickly. Every day is a revelation of something different and unique and wild and purely serendipitous. We swear off zoos and will rarely go to a zoo in the years to come. Seeing animals living in harmony with each other and with nature has been transforming. The human propensity to build and alter and intervene is seen in a new light.
Returning to Arusha, to the Outpost, we do some laundry, soak in the pool, take showers, sleep in. From here we will take a bus north, across the Tanzania/Kenya border to Nairobi, a four hour ride through the countryside. We want to experience a land border crossing, rather than flying.
Once in Nairobi, we luck onto the Boulevard Hotel, centrally located and affordable in the heart of a city dangerous enough to be called “Nairobbery”. But that is another country and another blog. See “Kenya 2005” to continue on the Africa 2004/05 odyssey.