A Travellerspoint blog


20. Discovering The Serengeti

The famous great migration

The Serengeti is the most famous of all the African national parks and game reserves. But visiting the park is expensive. I have no idea until Eddie presents us with our permit of entry, itemising the amounts. We have already paid our share in our payment for the whole trip, but it is interesting to look at the details. The entrance fees for our group of six people for two days are $720, the cost of taking three vehicles into the park is $240, and the camping fees for 6 people for 2 nights are $360. All in US dollars. That’s a total of $1320. It’s enough to make you catch your breath and determine to value every moment in the park.

The whole Serengeti region includes the national park itself, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. To reach the park, we need to travel through the Ngorongoro area. We leave a cold wet Mto Wa Mtu early in the morning, and climb the road up the escarpment to a viewpoint where we look down on the blue of Lake Manyara and the green of the national park forest. The land slopes gently from the top of the escarpment, green and leafy with subsistence cropping, shrouds of mist covering the hills. We travel through a series of wet muddy villages and towns, each with their rugged speed bumps, and we stop to fuel up. Martin does the refuelling and I have time to observe my surroundings.

Only the main street, lined with small shops, is sealed; I wonder what conditions were like in this weather before the tar sealing; it must have been hard to escape the mud. The local people, shoppers and traders, are dressed for winter with warm jackets and coats. It is the first time I have noticed this in Africa. A tuk tuk struggles up the hill, overloaded with passengers. Several land rovers full of Europeans, probably overseas tourists on their way to Lake Manyara, race through town. They, like us, are in their own little comfortable world, cocooned from the life of the town and its dirty footpaths and maize porridge for dinner. Locals pass by our vehicle, unaware of my observation, intent on their cell phone to their ear. As one woman chats animatedly to her unseen friend, I wonder at how readily she has adapted to some aspects of the modern world.

As we reach Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the rain falls more heavily. We enter thick jungle on both sides of the narrow winding gravel road. Eddie and Jan have already warned us in ‘team talk’ time to proceed with great care as the road is poor and other drivers leave a lot to be desired in their highway manners. As we climb to 2200 metres, it is impossible to see very far ahead, for thick mist blankets everything. But I can just make out a dozen olive baboons clustered in the middle of the road, content to sit there until our vehicle is just about on them. We stop at a viewpoint along the crater rim, the large volcanic caldera within the conservation area, and stare into the soupy fog, not a vestige of the grassland crater below to be seen.

In the mist we pass the cairn to Michael and Bernhard Grzimek. Father Bernhard was a German zoo director and conservationist who did much to highlight the need to conserve the Serengeti. His film and best-selling book, ‘Serengeti shall not die’, became very popular and contributed to the creation of the Serengeti National Park. His son Michael followed him down the conservation track, but died in a plane crash in the Serengeti in 1959 and was buried on the Ngorongoro crater rim. When his father died some 30 years later, his ashes were placed there too. The words to Michael read: ‘He gave all he possessed including his life for the wild animals of Africa’. We remember we are still in Masai country, for we meet several groups of Masai herders and their goats and cows along the road. Land in the conservation area is multi-use and unique as the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while allowing human habitation and subsistence cropping.

The mist and low cloud begin to lift, and by the time we reach the turn-off down into the crater, we can see part of the wide grassland basin and the crater lake. We stop to take a photo but do not descend into the crater, for our destination is the Serengeti. The landscape changes dramatically: from luxuriant green jungle to savannah dotted with acacia trees to dry open grassland, some of it sparse and overgrazed. We pass zebra and wildebeest and in the distance several Masai villages, upright staved fences encircling the humped mud huts and red clad women gathering their cloaks around them as if to fend off the cold. The view opens to a broad sweep of extensive grassland, across which wander lines of grazing brown and black cattle. We pass some on the road, their protruding ribs evidence of insufficient feed.

The weather is now fine and sunny and the dusty road descends towards the Serengeti plains. We see a group of majestic giraffe, then some Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Finally we pass under the Naabi Hill Gate into the park and stop for lunch. The grassland becomes longer and more luxurious and we spot more wildlife – gazelles, wildebeest, buffalo, zebra and elephants.

Wikipedia says the Serengeti, established in 1951, is the jewel in the crown of Tanzania's protected areas, covering 14,750 square kilometres of savannah, forest and woodland. Today the park protects the greatest and most varied collection of terrestrial wildlife on earth, and one of the last great migratory systems still intact. It is the migration that makes the Serengeti so famous. Over a million wildebeest and about 200,000 zebras flow south from the northern hills to the southern plains for the short rains every October and November, and then swirl west and north after the long rains in April, May and June. And we are among the more than 90,000 tourists that visit the park each year.

Before reaching our camping ground we take the opportunity at the park centre to peruse the informative material about the wildebeest migration. The centre is sited beside one of the kopje or rock formations, common in the area, where the hyrax or dassies run in and out of the rock crevices. They are small cute mammals a little larger than a guinea pig, but apparently related to the elephant family.

Despite the substantial fees, our campsite, Nyani, consists of three very simple but sizeable concrete block shelters – a kitchen, a toilet and shower block and a dining space where we provide our own tables and seats. In the middle is a rough sparsely grassed area for erecting tents; there are no fences and wild animals are free to wander through. In fact, we don’t see any, though we hear the jackals and hyenas at night.

On our first and second day in the park we have three expeditions to view the game, in the late afternoon, after setting up camp, at 6.45 the next morning until early afternoon, and then later in the day from mid-afternoon until early evening. That gives us plenty of opportunity to see a variety of wildlife. The park is not overflowing with specimens as you might imagine from watching nature documentaries, but there is enough to hold our interest. The best area with the highest concentration of animals is along the river, on both sides of which run gravel roads, allowing easy access to the water.

It is fascinating to watch the numerous groups of elephants, sometimes clustering together in a protective huddle under trees, other times walking in a long line one after the other through the grass. The babies are so appealing and always well looked after by the herd. Among the most common of the antelopes are the Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, slender and delicate like the South African springbok. The Thompson’s gazelle is a prettier animal with a black stripe along its flank, while the Grant’s gazelle is slightly larger and generally plainer but with its white rump patch coming up higher above its tail; their horns are also more lyre-shaped.

There are warthogs, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, baboons, dik dik, mongoose, hippo and buffalo. Two that I don’t remember seeing well in previous parks are the hyena, five running through the grass one after the other, and the topi, a reddish brown short horned antelope with dark blotches on the face and above the legs and a hump above the shoulders. As in other parks, the lions are a highlight. We see a number of different groups, some with cubs, some with a male lion. We watch as the king prowls around, finds an elevated dirt hillock and settles down to survey his kingdom. The females gather around and relax in his presence.

Later toward evening we witness a little drama. Across the river, I see a herd of buffalo running, all in the same direction, their lives dependent on escape; we stop the vehicle and I realize they are being pursued by three lionesses, fast and determined. As they disappear from sight, I see the male lion following more slowly behind; then he stops and looks across the valley towards us. Written on his face is the question: have they made a kill and will I enjoy a meal shortly? Night is falling and we need to be back at our camp site by 7.00pm, so we decide not to further follow the spectacle; but it is wonderful to be an eyewitness of nature in action.

On our final morning we leave the park via the western corridor, driving 150 kilometres to the Ndabaka Gate. It is there that we see the wildebeest migration in operation. As one golden plain gives way to another wide valley, the landscape is dotted with thousands of wildebeest, all on their way to the Masai Mara in Kenya. Black dots moving slowly against a background of green and brown savannah. They are strange looking creatures, with their humped shoulders, scraggy manes and goatee beards, short curved horns, and darker stripped coloration on their neck and body. We come across a lone confused young wildebeest, obviously separated from its mother; it runs and runs along the road in front of our vehicle until we overtake it; poor thing, it won’t survive long.

Zebra are part of the migration too, with their rounded rumps and clean black and white strips. A long line of zebra cross the road in front of us, following one behind the other like a procession of children organized by their teacher. Sometimes a few are scattered in amongst the wildebeest, sometimes they form large groups by themselves. It is so tempting to take yet another photo for the record. Eventually the numbers of migrating animals thin out and we are soon at the end of the park with half an hour to spare before our required departure time. We are so pleased to have been witness to part of the famous migration.

Posted by rhinospin 18:05 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

19. Among the Masai

A Masai Village and Lake Manyara National Park

The young man introduces himself as Jonathan and invites us to accompany him. He is dressed in a red check cloak, wrapped around his strikingly tall slim figure and he wears black leather sandals with soles made from rubber car tyres. He is a Masai warrior, from the tribal groups that live in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya.

We walk together to a nearby Masai village where he has arranged a visit for us; we pass several large vegetable plots and some donkeys laden with harvested grass for cattle fodder. “When I went to South Africa,” he says, “people at the airport offered to buy my clothing and my shoes. The colour of our clothing indicates our stage of life.” He tells us he had the privilege of visiting Nelson Mandela who showed great interest in the Masai people and their culture.

We arrive at the rudimentary village, a collection of circular and oblong mud-walled dirt floored huts, home to the one husband, his five wives and their 30 plus children. The older siblings are away at school but about a dozen little ones, some with obviously runny noses, cluster around us, the bolder ones wanting to hold our hands or be picked up. One small child hovers close to his older brother, afraid of the white strangers in his village. Most of the children have their heads shaven, but wear western style clothing. Jonathan tells us that this village is relatively small, for some Masai men may have up to 30 wives and 300 children.

“How many wives have you?” we ask. “Just one, and that’s all I expect to have, as I am a Christian,” he says. “I had to pay 15 cows as the bride price for her.” So far he has one little child.

Jonathan invites us into one of the houses and we sit on the couches learning more of the Masai culture. Cattle are highly valued, the basis of their wealth and their currency, providing a diet of meat, milk and blood. The village includes a circular fenced kraal where the cattle are kept at night; in the day, it is the job of the older boys to wander with the herd, finding grazing for them. He explains that boys are circumcised at 15; girls used to be, but it is now illegal. Jonathan implies that it is a practice of the past, but I have read that it is still carried out in places and valued as part of the culture. With all my heart, I hope that custom is soon dead and gone.

Jonathan tells us about a bush camp he attended where he ate herbs to clear his system. He walks everywhere, like his tribesmen who are used to walking long distances; however I see a young man arrive at the village on a motorbike and wonder if the long distance walking could be changing. Another force for change and modern tool is the ubiquitous cell phone.

Outside again, eight young men, attired in bright blue and red cloaks, arrive to entertain us with energetic song and dance. Their repertoire includes the athletic jumping dance, when one or more dancers leap high into the air as if they were springing on a trampoline and not on the hard bare earth. At the end they invite us to join them in the dance and one of them wraps his cobalt blue garb around me for a photo. Jonathan takes us through the small cultural museum near the camp site and explains more about their semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Beyond the campsite there is a cattle market which seems to take place over several days. We wander along the metal kraal railings, looking at the specimens for sale. They are domestic zebu or Brahman hybrids, with humps on their shoulders, drooping ears and large dewlaps hanging down below their chins; their ability to tolerate high temperatures makes them most suitable for the Masai environment.

In the evening we sit in the camp bar and listen to Ma tells how she and her husband, BJ, came from South Africa to Tanzania 20 years earlier, bought some land and established a snake park. One day an overland truck stopped by with vehicle problems and they asked if they could stay the night. So began the overland camping business; for some years they gave accommodation to many trucks, though the numbers have declined more recently.

We travel on through Masai country, with its herds of cattle and goats attended by check-clad minders. It is evident that overgrazing is a problem with little grass growth available for pasture. We are told that the Masai are reluctant to limit the size of their herds, symbols of wealth and prestige, but with modern land usage curbing the extent of their lands, overgrazing and erosion have resulted.

Our main purpose in camping at Mto Wa Mtu village is to visit Lake Manyara National Park. But there are other highlights. We buy a painting in the Tinkatinka art work style – in bright colours, with naïvely drawn caricatural African animals, particularly the big five. The style began in Dar es Salaam and has spread across the continent, aimed especially at the tourist market. But we like the cheerful humourous style.

A row of huts full of art sits along the main road near the camping ground entrance. But trade is poor at the low end of the tourist season. No wonder the eyes of the traders light up when we appear in the late afternoon.

“Come and look, Mama, come to my shop,” the second vendor implores after we have shown interest at the first booth. We wander on, keen to see if we like anything better. “I haven’t had a sale for two days,” says another. With the few tourists around, I am sure what he is saying is true, but we can’t please them all. At the last shop we turn around and return to the first hut. The in-your-face salesman introduces us to Sulemmi, the artist, who by way of contrast is shy and gentle. We negotiate to purchase two works, a small one for a grandchild and a larger piece for ourselves, both featuring elephants. We ask for them to be removed from their frames so we can roll them up in our cases.

In the evening two tuk tuks pick us up in the dark and take us to a village home for dinner, part of a community development project. We disappear off the main tar seal road and down an unlit uneven dirt lane. Where are we going? I wonder. I reassure myself that the expedition has been organised by our guides, so it must be okay. We splash through some puddles and a group of dogs bark in the darkness.

The community development worker introduces us to the home owner, a Moslem woman who has three children and two grandchildren. He tells us the village is a mixture of Moslem and Christian families living amicably side by side. Long may it stay that way, I think to myself. We are invited to see the kitchen where the cooking takes place. As we enter the small dark circular room, a woman stoops over some terracotta pots on the floor, several sitting on rocks over small fires. She stirs one of the pots and looks up at us with a smile. I wonder if anyone trips in the heat and darkness and burns themselves in the fire. I think of my kitchen at home with all my mod cons and determine never to grumble again about my cooking conditions.

There is electric lighting in the dining area where there is a table for the dishes. We sit on benches around the walls with members of the family, chatting pleasantly with the aid of the development worker. The very acceptable meal consists of about ten dishes, all vegetable except for the beef dish which is perhaps a little tough. Most of the dishes are very tasty, though I am not sure I could acquire a liking for ugali, a solid porridge-like substance made from millet or maize, widely eaten in this part of Africa. Someone brings in our hostess’s little granddaughter and Martin takes the opportunity for a cuddle, a substitute for the grandson born just before we left home, whom we haven’t seen yet. The tuk tuks arrive to transport us back to the camp ground and we agree it has been a most memorable evening.

Lake Manyara is the first of two Tanzanian national parks that are on our itinerary, the other being the Serengeti. It is a narrow stretch of flat land comprising forest and savannah lying between the shallow soda lake and the Rift Valley escarpment. The day is overcast and showery but I enjoy the self-drive trip immensely. We see lots of baboon, wildebeest, zebra, African buffalo, antelope and warthogs. The Masai giraffe there are the largest subspecies of giraffe and the tallest land mammal; the spots on their bodies have a jagged appearance and the dominant males tend to be darker, almost black from a distance. A family of banded mongoose play in the road dust until the noise of our land rover scares them and they scamper away. We spot a shy Kirk's dik-dik in the undergrowth; it’s a petit antelope, only 70 centimetres high.

A group of six large impressively tusked elephants pass us on the road, so close that we can reach out and touch them if we dare. As one overtakes the vehicle in front of us, he turns around and swings his trunk menacingly towards it. I watch as the couple inside, with their pop top elevated, instinctively duck as if to avoid him. If it was me, I would be petrified. Fortunately the animal backs away and turns to follow his companions. What amazing creatures they are!

The highlight is a group of tree-climbing lions. We round the bend and there they are, relaxing in the branches of a large tree beside the road, surrounded by several vehicles filled with open-mouthed captivated humans, all snapping their cameras. There are at least nine lions including two or three cubs up in the tree. We are entranced. From time to time they stretch their limbs and shift their positions a little, but mostly they are at peace, enjoying the afternoon warmth and unfazed by their audience.

The bird life is varied and Martin enjoys focusing his lens on species like the saddle billed stork and the grey crowned crane, the national bird of Uganda. But it’s the 1000s of flamingos that particularly attract our attention, even though we can’t get close to them. Standing in the shallows of the lake they form a pink band of bright colour across the blue water. Lake Manyara NP may be small, but it is really beautiful and well worth a day’s visit.

Posted by rhinospin 17:38 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

18. Out of Dar es Salaam

Traffic mayhem on the city streets

The heavy rain continues all night and by the time we take the tents down (left up during our stay on Zanzibar), everything is sodden. We line the land rovers up in the ferry queue about 7.30am for an early start to the day, but the streets are gridlocked and nothing is moving. No one knows what the problem is and after waiting for nearly an hour to board the ferry, Eddie decides we will drive the long way around. It gives me plenty of opportunity to observe city life from my elevated land rover perch. Join me on a journey through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city of nearly 4 ½ million people. Literally its name means ‘harbour of peace’, but driving through is anything but peaceful.

In the countryside wide areas of low land are flooded after the recent rain and muddy puddles abound. As soon as we reach the outskirts of the city, throngs of people converge around the bus stops and the mini buses overflow with passengers; three wheeler taxis dodge between the buses, and motor cycles, bearing three or four passengers, weave precariously in and out of the trucks. We pass a bicycle truck loaded with sugar cane, hanging wide over both sides and out the back, vulnerable to any small bump or accident.

Football is highly valued in the culture, for we pass two huge circular stadiums dedicated to the adoration of the sport; a team of yellow T-shirted young men jog by, singing as they go. Goats browse in the rubbish piles beside the road and a man sleeps with his feet on the tarmac, oblivious of the traffic mayhem.

It is a world of traders. Beds for sale are laid out on the rough grass next to stacks of timber. Vendors come along side our vehicle at the traffic lights, offering a myriad of merchandise – a red emergency triangle, a fire extinguisher, a mini vacuum cleaner, ear phones, and soda drinks, anything you need as a driving accessory. When a young man offers to wash our windscreen, we yell, ‘no, no’. But he goes ahead and we agree that it does look good, much better for snapping photos. I hand him a 1,000 shilling note, the smallest I have. Cyclists risk life and limb to sneak across the traffic lights between the changes.

I watch in amazement as one woman helps another lift a package on to her head, an item so heavy that the pair struggle to raise it up to head height. The heat inside the land rover increases as the sun comes out, raising the humidity in the damp environment. We pass churches and mosques. Women dressed in bright colours, covered from head to foot against the dust, sweep the road edge. Another worker wields a grass slasher with one hand, expertly mowing the centre verge.

Martin frowns behind the steering wheel, intent on his driving, refusing to give an inch to the other vehicles. He goes through a red light, fearing to lose Eddie in the lead vehicle. In front a man struggles to peddle his bicycle, laden with bulging bags of charcoal, one on top of the other, so heavy that the rider can hardly steer – I count nine bags. Another cyclist carries trays of eggs, ten high on his back carrier, balancing between the buses and trucks. White uniformed police beckon the traffic onwards, seeking to disperse the congestion.

In the chaos, we come to a halt behind a truck, broken down in our lane. As other vehicles nose in from the left, Martin, perspiration increasing, attempts to change lanes to the right and pass the truck. As he crosses the line, a bus driver gives him a loud blast with his horn and rumbles past; no one voluntarily lets another into his space. Other motorists seize the moment of opportunity to gain a few feet. Half a dozen police start pulling all the buses over to the side of the road, but they wave us through. The heavy traffic temporarily easies and we relax a little.

We turn onto another main arterial route and recognise it as the one with the new bus shelters that we travelled on five days earlier. We find ourselves unintentionally in the concrete bus lane and forced to stop behind a bus that has broken down. No, it seems it has run out of fuel. Martin extricates himself from the stationary line and rejoins the slowing crawling traffic, only to find we are at a standstill again behind road works. Everyone fights to change lanes again. A truck load of bananas strewn over the road adds to the chaos. A truck ahead spews out thick black evil smelling smoke. We pass him and breathe again. Then six army Leyland trucks drive towards us on our side of the road, adding to the bedlam.

The dual carriage way ends and the congestion increases on the old road. The trading on and off the road is endless – local tomatoes and potatoes, plastics from China, newspapers, bikes, bananas. I note a building with the grand name of ‘Glory to God Miracle Centre’; it carries a cross, so it must be a church. We swerve around another broken-down vehicle, this time a petrol tanker. We are almost in the country now, surrounded by plots of maize, but travel is no faster at 25 kilometres per hour. At last we reach a ‘Safari Njema’ sign, announcing farewell and bon voyage. We are officially out of Dar es Salaam after nearly three hours of driving. And hallelujah, there’s a weigh bridge into which all the trucks are issued. The road clears and we speed up. Another sign announces ‘Nende Polepole’, ‘slow down’, a timely reminder.

It is a long day. It takes another lengthy day of driving to reach Meserani Snake Park beyond Arusha, where it is a relief to do our washing and dry off our saturated gear after more wet weather. Debs from Africa Expedition Support has driven down from Nairobi to meet us and give our guides our Serengeti documentation. We talk into the night on a range of absorbing African topics – poaching and conservancy, the overland tourist business, politics and the impact of international aid and development. They are all thought provoking subjects with no simple conclusions.

We are in Masai territory, looking forward to learning about these remarkable people.

Posted by rhinospin 17:39 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

17. Zanzibar – a Different Africa

Stone Town, Slaves, Spices, Snorkelling and Shopping

We abandon our camping way of life for three days of comfort on Unguja. It’s the main island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous series of islands off the mainland coast of Tanzania and East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

We begin the colourful journey from the camping ground on the mainland to the hotel on the island by cramming ourselves and our gear in two miniature three-wheeler tuk tuks for the trip back to the harbour ferry. There we join the surging mass of humanity crowding onto the boat as walking passengers for the 10 minute crossing. The din of voices and motors, the pungent body smells, the vibrant colours of the women’s attire – all threaten to overwhelm one’s senses, but I actually do enjoy it. A taxi takes us from downtown Dar es Salaam to the Zanzibar ferry. I am relieved, in the light of some recent ferry disasters, to see that ‘Kilimanjaro 3’ is a fine looking modern tourist ferry, which should cope well with the two hour trip across the reasonably smooth water.

The island presents a very different Africa, with the Arab and Moslem influence unmistakable. Although Zanzibar is today mostly inhabited by ethnic Swahili of Bantu origin, with some Arabs and Indians, more than 99 percent of the population are Muslim. I look forward to our tour later in the afternoon around Stone Town. It’s the old historic centre of the city, now a World Heritage Site. We are met at the ferry terminal by Tim, who is to be our Zanzibar guide, and we head for our three-star hotel, Mtoni Marine, four kilometres from Stone Town. It proves to be a very pleasant and comfortable place. The swimming pool is splendid and we enjoy a wonderful dip between lunch and the tour, the first of a number of swims.

Our visit to Stone Town is a walking tour, so we have the opportunity to get up close and personal to the sights, sounds and smells. Tim walks us through the meat and fish markets. Plenty of beef, goat, sheep, but no pork. The strong smell of fish fills our nostrils – and attracts the buzz of flies, but we are fascinated by the variety of shapes and sizes of fish including the numerous squid. The black eyes of the vendors follow me as I inspect their wares, aware that our worlds are so very different. I wonder if they mind this daily intrusion into their everyday activities.

With the teacher’s permission, Tim invites us into a nearby primary school and says we can take photos of the children in their blue and white uniforms, but most of the girls, their hair scarved in white, duck down under their desks to avoid being caught on camera. I glance around the walls and note the absence of colourful stimulation, a taken-for-granted item in any New Zealand school.

In the narrow back streets Tim points out several of the 50 mosques around the town and shows us the difference in the beautiful doors that issue straight on to the street – the Arabic doors have square tops and the Indian ones are rounded. We walk through the Old Fort, now a centre for craft stalls, and past the house of Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with a German merchant. More on her story later.

We arrive at the harbour front and the huge National Museum, closed for renovations. There’s a fascinating story around every corner. We see the house that used to be the British embassy. David Livingstone’s servants brought his body, salted and dried in the sun, here before it was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey. Freddie Murphy of Queen fame was born nearby. We see the beautiful interior of one of the sultan’s palaces with its Arabic décor, now an up-market hotel.

It’s all so interesting, but perhaps the most remarkable, and certainly the most sobering monuments are the remainders of the former slave markets. The slave trade in Africa goes back many hundreds of years, but in more recent times, after several centuries of Portuguese influence, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman in the late 1600s. Arab traders continued the lucrative slave trade, leading expeditions into the interior to acquire villagers; they were often used to caravan ivory to the coast, and then sold in the slave markets for good profits. By the mid-19th century, thousands of slaves passed annually through the port.

Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire, part of the political impetus being the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, against which David Livingstone was a prime force. In 1873 the British forced the Sultan to abolish the trade in his territories, resulting in the closing of markets and the protection of liberated slaves; in 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate of Britain, gaining its independent in 1963. Subsequently it merged with its mainland neighbour to become Tanzania and though the archipelago remains a semi-autonomous region, its recent politics have been marked by tensions and violence between rival groups.

We sit in one of the restored slave holding cells, where up to 50 men or 75 women and children were kept on arrival at the port. Our party of five seems to fill half the narrow low-ceilinged room. How could that many people possibly fit in here, I wonder. I am reminded of my visit to Auschwitz several years earlier, and the horror of man’s cruelty to his fellows. Too dreadful to contemplate. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral has since been built in the slave market grounds. We are shown a wooden cross inside, apparently fashioned from a tree under which David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Nearby is a poignant memorial to the slaves – a sculpture of five figures standing in a pit, manacled together around the neck.
The memory of the dark past of Stone Town lingers as we end our walk at Africa House in a much more pleasant setting, joining Eddie on the terrace overlooking the harbour. We watch the sunset and enjoy a dinner of prawns and avocado fried in bread crumbs, a delicious end to a day filled with such a range of experiences and impressions.

The archipelago is sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands, for one of the main industries besides raffia and tourism is spice production, particularly cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. So a visit next day to a demonstration spice farm is part of the expected tourist undertaking on Zanzibar. We are introduced to numerous spice plants, including turmeric, cardamom, ginger and star fruit. A young man entertains us by scaling a towering coconut palm with great ease to provide us with a drink of coconut milk and the visit ends with a sampling of some of their beautiful fresh fruit.

On the third day we take a dhow to Changui or Prison Island and snorkel in the clear turquoise waters below the island cliffs, viewing the coral and small fish. Later we land on the island and wander through the old prison, built in 1893 but apparently never used for that purpose; instead it housed cholera and yellow fever victims. Today the island’s most well-known inhabitants are tortoises, originally brought from the Seychelles Islands, given refuge and allowed to multiply. Most of them have their age painted on their backs and the eldest appears to be 155 years. Goodness, that means it was born in 1859! If only it could tell us about its world then.

On our final morning Martin and I sneak a visit to the large rambling ruins of the Mtoni Palace, next door to the hotel. Earlier I referred to Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with the German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. She was the youngest of the 36 children of Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid, Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman, and spent her early years in the palace. While living in Stone Town in 1866 she became acquainted with her German neighbor. When she found she was pregnant to him, she fled on a British ship to Aden where she married him and the two relocated to Hamburg. She later wrote ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’, telling of her adventures.

We wander into the ruins. The first guard we meet allows us to continue when we say we are staying at the hotel. Most of the roof has disappeared, but tall walls surround spacious rooms, issuing from one to another through high Arabic arched doors. Smaller rooms contain steps and bathing pools for washing. Just as we are enjoying our visit to the past, another guard interrupts us to say we should have purchased a ticket. But by then we have seen as much of the site as we need to, and we retreat to the hotel, happy with our tour.

Our Zanzibar visit is rounded off with a bit more retail therapy at the Memories shop where every price is stipulated and you know what you are going to pay from the beginning. Not so on the street. As it begins to rain, a young vendor waves in front of us a highly coloured piece of fabric bearing African motifs. A scarf, a table cloth, a beach wrap – so many possible uses! He wants 28,000 Tanzanian shillings. We offer 10,000 and then feign complete lack of interest, walking into Memories to undertake some straight forward shopping. He is still there when we exit and he comes down to 20,000.

“No,” I say, “12,000 is as high as I will go.” We walk away, knowing that is what Judy paid the previous day. He really wants this sale and calls out 15,000. We keep on walking.

“Okay, 12,000,” he says, and the deal is done. We are learning how to trade in Africa.

As we arrive at the ferry building for the return to Dar es Salaam, the rain intensifies, thundering down on the tin roof and drowning out our conversation. I look at the rough surface of the sea, take a travel pill and sleep for the two hour ferry journey.

Posted by rhinospin 17:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

16. Into Tanzania: The Road to Dar es Salaam

Trucks, traffic and speeding tickets

From Lake Malawi it takes us four days in the land rovers to reach the continent’s east coast and the city of Dar es Salem. It is a distance of about 1150 kilometres, which includes repeating 100 kilometres into one town to find vehicle parts. It’s a long way on some of the busiest roads in Africa, where we constantly compete for space with the many trucks and buses. The weather becomes very warm, and as we near Dar es Salaam we are continually sticky and hot.

From Malawi we cross into our sixth country, Tanzania. Organisation on the Malawi side is chaotic; we meet Margreth and Werner again, trying to understand the complications of passport control, and we are grateful for our guides who lead us slowly but smoothly through the bureaucratic process. The Tanzanian side is more straightforward and we are away into the damp hill country of southern Tanzania and the town of Tukuyu, high enough to be out of malaria territory. With more rain threatening and the ground soggy, I am pleased we are not camping and have a hotel booked for the night.

The Landmark Hotel is an establishment with a few glitches; my shower is fine, but by the time Martin takes his, the hot water has disappeared; there is no toilet seat and the door of the room is hard to shut. Later Eddie reports that in his room there is hot water going into the toilet. He orders dinner on our arrival to make sure it is ready at 7.00pm. In the meantime Martin and I wander into the town; only the main roads are sealed and the rest are very muddy with the recent rain. In the narrow lanes of the semi-permanent market, everything is dirty and everyone is a trader. The labyrinth of lanes goes back into a tangle of roughly built shops and constricted passages, and we retreat to the road, afraid of getting lost.

Dinner is good and very cheap – the equivalent of $5NZ each. Over the meal we discuss the various Europeans we have met in Malawi and their adaptation to the African way of life. It seems that the men can adjust reasonably to living in Africa, but it is the women who struggle; after some years, they return home, unable to cope with the lack of congenial company and the loneliness.

Day two provides us a lovely drive at about 2500 metres above sea level – clear mountain air, clouds on the peak tops, pretty hydrangeas, rugged judder bars, and lots of people along the road sides. When we turn east onto the main road to Dar es Salaam, the volume of trucks increases dramatically; many carry wide loads and huge pieces of machinery, which we presume are for the mining industry.

The police check points continue. But there is a difference in Tanzania. Many of the police are armed with ‘hair dryers', speed guns, and they are skilled at pointing the gadget at your vehicle and recording your speed. Eddie blames the Danish government for donating a container load of speed guns to Tanzania. At one check point, the man in uniform asks if we are able to help with schillings or dollars. What does he mean? Does he want to change money into another currency? Is he asking nicely for a bribe? Martin points to Eddie ahead of us on the road and says he is our guide and has all our money. Well, it’s a partial truth, and he lets us go with a smile.

Jan’s vehicle begins to cough and splutter, and we all stop on the road side. Jan believes the problem is dirty fuel, for he has recently filled his tank from one of the emergency containers carried on the top of the vehicle; it probably had sediment in the bottom. We wait while he cleans the filter and that seem to improve matters. Meanwhile the trucks dominate the road, unceasingly one after the other.

Our camping accommodation is at the very pleasant Old Farm House, worth mentioning for some of its unusual features – stables converted to bedrooms, hot water showers heated from a fire, thatched roofs, impeccably clean long drop loos, and the mud walled café. The road continues through the Kitanga Gorge, with sharp bends and steep descents as we drop down the escarpment. The combination of lines of slow moving trucks and overtaking speeding buses increases our danger on the road. Both driver and navigator find it nerve wracking as we toss up whether to pass on a blind corner or continue the slow crawl behind a labouring lorry. Eddie and Jan in the lead land rover provide help over the radio,

“All clear – nothing coming. Safe to pass.” Or, “Bus coming; don’t pass; we’ll keep you posted,” and we sit behind the truck a bit longer.

Then it happens. Given the number of check points and ‘hair dryers’, it is bound to take place sooner or later. We get a ticket for speeding. Martin is going 63 kilometres per hour in a 50 village area. Though he drives with care, it is hard to know where villages begin and end, for the houses are often strung out along the road, and the speed zones are not well marked. I try to warn him, but this time, I am not quick enough. The male uniform and his female accomplice are very pleasant as they indicate we pull over and stop, and as they begin to write out the ticket, a large A4 sheet, before Martin can protest, there is nothing to do but to pay up the 30,000 schillings and accept the A4 document as a souvenir of Tanzania. By the way, that amounts to about $18US. One tactic, if you are quick enough before the ticket writing begins, is to claim you don’t have sufficient schillings. Then the uniform may accept what money you have, or even your US dollars, but he doesn’t issue you a receipt. Your unreceipted payment may then disappear into a grateful pocket.

Over lunch at a truck stop, we recount our experience to the rest of the group, our irritation and discomfiture vanishing in the telling and laughter. Eddie has bought us fried buns, goat titbits and samosas; the latter are very nice, but the goat is on the tough side. We pass through Baobab Valley, with its splendid large specimens. At the camp site, the plumbing is poorly maintained, with brown water flowing from the taps and broken showers. However the bar area is very pleasant, a cool escape from the draining heat, and we enjoy a drink and read for an hour at the end of the day.

Our final day to Dar es Salaam is 398 kilometres. We continue through the mountains, early morning low cloud hanging picturesquely over the steep peaks. We drive through Mikumi National Park without stopping, seeing impala, baboons, zebra, giraffe and an elephant from the road. Beyond the bush are numerous plots of bright yellow sunflowers, almost ready for harvesting. Then it is Judy and Graham’s turn to be rewarded with a traffic ticket. Their misdemeanour is crossing over a no-passing line in the centre of the road. I think all three vehicles do the same, but as they are the last in the line of land rovers, they get caught.

A hundred kilometres from Dar, the traffic volume increases and soon we slow down to a crawl. We continue our protracted travel into the city, where road works add to the traffic problems. They are constructing new bus lanes and loading stations in the centre of the long main street.

We go through the ‘United Nations’ area with its international schools, embassies and a university. Nearby is the President’s palace, surrounded by walled security, and close to the harbour, the fish market. Our camping ground is across the harbour and the fastest way is on the 10 minute vehicle ferry. The cars ease on to the ferry followed by the swarm of walking passengers and we make our way across the water.

Once the tents are up, we try to cool ourselves from the heat with a swim in the salt water pool overlooking the sea, but the relief does not last long. We are so hot and sticky and everything feels damp. We repack into smaller bags for the trip on the morrow to Zanzibar and enjoy dinner of delicious calamari rings in the camp restaurant. I am intrigued with the novel choice of guards at the camp site. They are young Masai warriors, tall and slender, in full dress with red and blue blankets, spears in hand and sandals made out of rubber tyres. They add an interesting flavour to the camp site and increase our anticipation of Masai territory in days to come. But first there is the excitement of visiting exotic Zanzibar.

Posted by rhinospin 01:44 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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