Tanzania, Week One

While Dubai was nicely warm, landing in Tanzania was immediately oppressingly hot and very muggy again. This was to the extent that we haven’t experienced since Singapore, or maybe even Fiji. Most all guidebooks and other travelers that we’ve met have given the advice to get out of Dar es Salaam as soon as possible in order to see the “Real” Tanzania. Amid 48 hour rotating fevers from me to Luke, then Alex, we took a ferry over to Zanzibar and spent a few days there. We didn’t really get the opportunity to branch out from Stonetown to other parts of the island though. After everyone was well again we did take a “Spice Tour” for a half day, and then went to a beach on the West shore, just a little North of Zanzibar Town.

The spice tour was enjoyable and very informative. There was an incredible variety of plants and trees and shrubs that either were or smelled like their originals. These included: Lemon Grass, Ginger, Tumor, Cinnamon Tree, Chocolate Fruit, Coco seeds, nutmeg bark, vanilla beans, and sweet curry leaves. Sadly though, nothing we encountered was indigenous to the Island (or even the region for that matter). Everything was introduced from India & South America by Portugese or British settlers from the 1500’s and up. all along the walk there were several boys weaving and making all kinds of leaf adornments to give to the tourists for money. I accepted a leaf wrapped as a cone, and stitched closed with a narrow gauge twig to hold my samples in. Our children however were wildly enthusiastic about accepting all kids of neat (but un-keepable) things like rings, weaved buckets, a huge hat, a tie, and a intricately done frog on a string necklace. When I reminded them that we would have to be paying in tips for everything, they started slowing down in readily accepting everything thrown their way. Alex was still a little more discerning than Luke though. I gave them each a LITTLE bit of money to give to the children for when collection time came though. In the end, Luke gave most of his items away to some much younger children we encountered in a small poor village, much to their great delight.

After the spice tour we proceeded to a beach near where a Muslim Maharajah had a large plantation and a few hundred black slaves. When the British took over governing Zanzibar from Zanzibar town not too far away, they outlawed slavery. The evil king by then had heard about this large cave in heavy tree cover on his property. He then mandated that all slaves be kept in this cave unless working to keep them hidden from the British. There were a few hundred of them in a cavern that was only about 30m wide by 100m long covered in very uneven broken ground. There were passages at each end that one “could” get out from, but both involved swimming underwater for a little ways. Several slaves did escape but apparently most people of the era were disinclined towards dark, airless cave swimming. One passage was about 500m to another exit point (with extensive belly crawling involved) while the other was 3km of twisty turning passages. The main hole over the cavern did not have walls adjacent to it, so the guards merely had to leave some food (never enough for all) down below and pull up the ladder for the night. Thankfully there was a freshwater pool in the main cavern that everyone could draw from, but I have no idea what they did with the waste of three to four hundred people in such a small place for the five years that it was their home.

A ten minute walk from the cave entrance was a gorgeous beach with only a few other tourists. There were 20m high cliffs along this area, but stairs and a passage down through the rock had been cut (probably by those same slaves sadly) to the amazing stretch of sandy beach. Since we were on the mainland side of the island, the waves were nicely small and the water was very pleasantly cool. With the extreme heat and mugginess we had so far experienced in Tanzania (with only one reprieve in a pool thus far) it was very refreshing to be immersed in cooler (in a relative way only of course) water. After an hour and a bit of frolicking, we went next door to our hotel and bought plane tickets to Moshi for the next evening. A 55 minute flight was a welcome alternative to a 2.5 hour “fast” ferry ride for $35 each (the slow one is 4.5 hours!) back to Dar es Salaam and the mainland. After that, (and entirely depending upon the schedules meshing up) we needed to take a $15 public bus for a 10-11 hour ride North to Moshi. Thrown in there somewhere would be an extra night’s accommodation, likely in some dusty bug infested place along the way. I think Claudette finally became convinced of the preference of a flight when she kept hearing other travelers refer to the bus trip North as “The Suicide Route” referring to the irresponsible manner in which the drivers guide the 20 tonnes of metallic coffins along the highways, crazily weaving in, around and through other traffic and general obstacles.

The kicker about flying is that the Kili International Airport is roughly halfway between Arusha and Moshi, and in the evening we got soaked $60 for a 35 minute drive to our hotel in Moshi. It was a fairly new and nice place, not to mention pretty reasonable at $55 per night per room, (we needed two). It had a pool and internet in every room, but the internet connection in the office barely worked never mind the room ones. Still it beat the $65/night we paid in Stone Town which didn’t have a pool. From this hotel and walking around town a bit we caught some incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro at various times when it was un-clowded. They moved in and out incredibly fast, because I would often go to get my camera after seeing it on a walk to an internet cafe, and ‘poof’, I’d be too late. I don’t think that Alex or I got a decent shot of it for the three days we were there. We made arrangements in Arusha for one night in a hotel before our genuine African Safari was scheduled to start. I have no doubts that this will be very spectacular, but at $670/day for the four of us it had really better be! (To compare, the 15 day Peru, Machu Picchu, jungle stay, Galapagos Islands GAP tour was $934/day for us. One more comparison: to climb Mount Kili costs $680/day for four. It’s almost the same price as the safari cause you’d simply use a bunch of human porters instead of a petrol vehicle.)

2008-02-26
PS: I snuck this post in on a $10 per fifteen minute satellite connection at a lodge when I had to come in for something else. Don’t worry, we have all been typing daily logs on the safari and there will be TONNES! of stuff to read in just a few short days!

RJ

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