Three weeks in Tanzania
Vail, CO, Colorado
Get ready for 30-plus hours of traveling … each way. But oh, the adventure.
A friend and I began our journey by flying from Denver to London, London to Nairobi and Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania), where we would stay with a friend from college.
The city center of Dar Es Salaam is really not much to see in and of itself. But, just north of the center, we could walk to the Msasani Peninsula, weaving in and out of the dirt shoulder as cars, bicycles and trolleys with bananas and palm leaves precariously jockeyed for space. With a fantastic craft market, gelato shop and a handful of restaurants, the peninsula is something of a tourist oasis in Dar. From there, we took a boat to Bongoyo Island. About 30 minutes from Dar, Bongoyo contains nothing but a few sun shelters, a glistening beach, a cook shack and a thick thatch of jungle. Although we never found the numerous shipwrecks that supposedly surround the island, the snorkeling revealed a number of colorful fish, coral and dozens of spiky black sea urchins. The cook shack, despite being constructed of sticks, had some kind of refrigeration system because cold beer was available (African beer … not bad) and also grilled fish, served whole and very fresh.
After getting our bearings in Dar for a couple days, we returned to the airport to set out on our first safari. Those of you who have ridden in a Piper (dual engine airplane, equipped for four passengers), can attest to how it’s not unlike flying inside of a metal mosquito. You feel every gust of wind and every teeter of the wings. It’s enthralling, but more so when you find yourself landing on a strip of dirt with nothing but jungle as far as the eye can see. Just to be sure the landing was as smooth as possible, the pilot did one pass over the landing strip before bringing us down, turning the plane around at the end of the dirt, just a few feet short of the Rufigi River.
A safari vehicle took us to our camp. Along the way, baboons lumbered past and skulls of various animals lined the rutted dirt road.
With one of the camp guides, we embarked on an afternoon walk through a village called Mloka, consisting of about 4,000 inhabitants and a number of dwellings, all made of earth and sticks, the more opulent of which were equipped with metal roofs rather than palm leaves. Within three minutes of strolling through, waving and exchanging “jambo” (a Swahili hello to and from tourists), we were flocked by about 20 small children, all shouting “mzungu” (Swahili for white people), wanting to hold our hands, wear our sunglasses and look at our photos. Our guide, like at least half the staff at the camp, was from this village, and had a sweet rapport with the kids, laughing and joking with them before telling them they couldn’t follow us all the way back to the camp.
We set out on our first safari through Selous (the largest game preserve in Africa) in a big open Jeep. We spotted the first herd of elephants peeking at us from behind the dry, grey trees. When we stopped and turned the engine off, they slowly emerged.
There were about 12, including a baby and a large bull bringing up the pack, flapping his ears and never taking his eyes off of us.
This sight became almost as common as seeing squirrels in the Rockies.
The real jaw-dropper brought creatures of a different ilk. Our vehicle bounced around the corner of a large lake, and we stopped dead in front of an entire pride of lions.
They were lounging under a tree, intertwined through the roots and using each other as pillows. We parked about six feet from them. Initially, there was a bit of anxiety knowing that any one of them (one male, four females, some adolescents and a cub) could decapitate us in a single leap. It became apparent, however, that they were too hot and sleepy to make any quick moves.
Two days later, we found the same pride under a different tree looking lazier than ever, with full bellies. One lioness was sitting apart from the group, protecting the remains of breakfast ” a zebra head minus the eyeballs (we were told these are always eaten first), a couple of legs and a rib cage stripped to the bone. The surrounding trees were filled with vultures, waiting their turn.
We also did a couple of walking and boat safaris down south. As is customary, a park ranger with a rifle accompanied us on the walk. He said a water buffalo ” the animal everyone proclaimed was the most dangerous ” had charged a group of walkers a few days earlier. Our journey was free of such surprises.
The guide taught us how to identify various animal tracks, showed us an empty hyena den and one of the hippos’ thoroughfares to and from the river.
At night, the hippos’ talk rang out like laughter: “haw-haw-haw,” in a cacophony of calls from hyenas (“ooo-oop”) and the crashing and breaking of branches as elephants trudged through the camp.
The next leg of our adventure took us to the island of Zanzibar. The fast ferry from Dar took an hour and a half. Even from a distance, Stone Town sent a certain air of personality and history across the water. The hub of Zanzibar, Stone Town is a bustling city of beautiful old buildings criss-crossed by a labyrinth of narrow roads. The island is very Muslim, and the local women strolled the streets covered from head to toe in all-black, with only their eyes peeking out of slits in their burkas.
We got lost in the maze many times taking in the remarkable architecture. This included an enormous cathedral built on the very site that once served as one of the world’s largest slave markets, trafficking something like 40,000 human beings per year.
Despite its dark past, Stone Town delivered the most delicious food of the whole trip – fresh fish, rice and vegetables flavored with local spices (lemongrass, cloves and cumin).
The beaches of northern Zanzibar have got to rank among the most beautiful in the world, with crystal clear turquoise water and powdery white sand.
The irony of the northern beaches is that the coast is lined with a strip of fancy (and mediocre) bungalows and hotels, but behind what is literally a wall lies the dilapidated village of Nungwi. It is from this village that men build Dhow boats along the beach every day ” wooden sailboats that look exactly as they must have 1,000 years ago. The women emerge from the village every morning, walking directly into the surf in their long dresses, some wearing metal pots like hats. They catch fish by hand and walk out of the water with the full pots on their heads as the tide goes out.
The last leg of our adventure took us to Arusha and Moshi up north, the gateways to Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. As mentioned before, we chose to do our safari in smaller parks, where we stayed in a camp that, like our camp in Selous, featured permanent tents equipped with flushing toilets and showers. Our tent in Tarangire offered a view across the entire savannah, where hundreds of elephants, zebras and wildebeests congealed in the late afternoon, providing a kind of patio safari.
On the driving safari, we witnessed dozens of mammoth-sized elephants taking a mud bath, a lioness perched in a tree, baboon babies at play and the odd flirtations of ostriches and giraffes (both species play hard-to-get, but the female ostrich first puffs out her feathers to look sexy if a male is nearby).
To end our trip in relaxing and somewhat extravagant fashion, we spent the final night near Moshi at Makoa Farms, a working coffee and animal farm, horse stable and animal rehabilitation facility run by a couple of German veterinarians. From our luxury tent there, we awoke to the sight of Kilimanjaro, which, in the thick haze of heat, was only visible just after sunrise and before sunset, when the air was cooler.
The Germans ” Lazlo and Elizabeth ” regularly fund continuing education for local school children who prove worthy, and one such young man gave me a tour through the local village, during which we discussed everything from banana beer (never tried it … too many floaties) to government corruption (it takes on a whole new scale over there).
The farm served up an array of farm-fresh cuisine, including bread and cakes baked in the chimney.
From there, we made our way back to the city. After our final cab ride in the familiar old Nissan with broken door handles and non-working windows, slaloming down the main drag as people walked the streets selling everything from bracelets to furniture, we arrived at the Dar Es Salaam airport for the last time.
For more details on the trip, visit Shauna’s travel blog site: http://chasedbytigers.blogspot.com.
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