Tanzania 2010

One month in Africa, in the Land of Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. One month on tour by sailing boat, bus and jeep. Great sceneries, fascinating wild life and weird contrasts! A night in a safari lodge is about same as the monthly income of a local employee.

Those travelling to Tanzania should know that most hotels and loges are often priced in USD rather that the local currency – Schilling. Beside those places, everything is paid in Schilling Personally, I prefer to deal in the local currency, and I could always pay in Schilling, however it is recommended to ask for an appropriate exchange rate. Bargaining usually helps a lot to lower utopist prices for taxi, bus and hotels. To quote my friends statement: It’s a good deal if both parties start to cry upon the negotiated price.

tanzania map

approaching Stone townUrs, Silvio and me enter Stonetown on Zanzibar by air conditioned high speed ferry coming from Dar Es Salaam, the biggest town in Tanzania. The ferry was about 40 USD per person. We got the tickets in a small shop hardly indicating it was an official ticket office. Yet, any attempt to bargain for a better price was unsuccessful. Later, we’d get more and more used to the lack of official ticket offices, as well as bargaining.

Stone town is listed as UNESCO World Heritage due to its historical importance for Indian, Arabian and later European traders or colonialists. In the somewhat rotten historical centre, one can find a good portion of the old nicely carved wooden door frames, as well as a few colonial buildings and an old castle. Lots of small shops and street sellers try to find their customers more or less intrusively. Yet, the Indian cuisine in Stone town is one of the best foods you can get all over Tanzania, despite the meals of the luxury lodges in the national parks.

Close to the somewhat smelly and dodgy fish market we found an affordable and comfortable hotel with lovely rooftop restaurant. We spend two days in the burning heat, hanging out in tourist bars with (from my point of view) utopist prices for beer and food. Due to the long term power cut of entire Zanzibar, most places turned either dark and quiet or noisy and smelly after dusk.

carved doors of Stone townWith some recommendations for the east coast, we headed for Paje in a comfortable taxi, at last finding a small resort called “Coral beach” with small but comfortable bungalows for about 25000 Schilling per night.  The beach itself is fairly long and the sand firm enough even for cycling. We spent a couple of days there doing little but hanging in the sun and walking the beach in the late afternoon. Once we went for a Dolphin snorkeling tour down to the southern cape of Zanzibar. A couple of small motor boats with tourists were chasing a number of dolphins for about half an hour on open water. Whenever the boats reached the breathing dolphins, we were asked to jump off the boat for snorkeling. Certainly, we came close to the beautiful creatures, and we could see them well swimming away until they came up breathing two minutes later. We were upset about the “hunting” procedure, yet the boat drivers told us they are doing these tours since about 20 years, and the dolphins still keep coming.   For those keen on swimming, Paje beach is little recommendable. To get into deeper water, one has to cross hundreds of meters of knee-deep sea weed covered muddy shallow water. However, it’s a cool place to hang out with good friends for a number of days if they can entertain themselves.

sunsetBack in Stone town, the electricity problem was finally solved, which rendered our quiet hotel into a nightmare due to the neighboring disco…

Just a few kilometers north of Stone town one can find the ruins of the sultans palace, where Princess Salme lived before the married a German trader and moved to Germany in the early 19th century. The ruins surrounded by a wide park give a little glimpse what this place must have been like before it faded away.

dhow portOur goal was to leave Zanzibar towards a place close to Tanga by dhow, the ancient small wooden ships with single sail. There is dhow port about 2 hours drive north from Stone town, where we got after visiting the ruins of the sultans palace.  Silvio, who speaks some Kiswaheli went off with the driver to find the dhow captain. He comes back about half an hour later, slightly pissed off with the price that guy asked for. And he has to go to the Immigration officer with our passports before we leave. The Immigration officer sits in a small room in a shed that is used by carpenters and trades at the same time. No official signs visible at all. We’re asked to write a piece of paper we would not sue the skipper in case of any accidents. And we are advised from the young fellow dealing with us there that the ticket price is way less. Finally, we pay some 15 thousand Schilling. The boat would sail straight to Tanga, a quiet and nice harbor town close to Kenya. We are happy, this might save us one day awesome bus ride on bumpy dirt roads. We board the less than 10 meter long boat after lunch time, and wait about an hour in the burning sun for the other passengers arrive with even smaller boats. There are about 4 dozen of people on the boat. No roof. Man are sitting on the reeling and in the elevated bug and end, young and old women with babies would squat in the middle, behind a large pile of luggage. Then the anchor is raised, the sail is hissed, and the boat quickly departs. In the bay, waves are small. After half an hour, we reach the open sea, and the waves get bigger, perhaps 2 meters high. The boat climbs on top of the waves, and falls down again. Sometimes, a small shower gets into the boat. A little later, the first passengers start puking. Some would have a plastic bag handy. Otherwise the lunch just ends up on the floor - or on the kid sitting on the lap of the poor victim of the sea sickness. The more adjusted men smile, and two skilled men start to scoop out the water from the bottom of the boat with a bucket while the boat is rolling from wave to wave. Flying fishes beside us, and suddenly there is no coast visible anymore. The skipper on the oar does neither have a GPS nor a compass, he’s only navigating by the sun and the wind, until the coast of the mainland becomes available again. Dolphins jump beside the boat. We approach a small village that is certainly not Tanga by sunset. The first bus to Tanga leaves in the morning, we have to stay in the only guest- or whorehouse. No reason to complain, we were just misinformed. We have fatty Chipsy Maiai, the infamous Tanzanian potato omelet for diner, and screams at night from the neighboring rooms.

on the dhowWhat is said to be a two hours bus ride turns out funny. At first, we help push-starting the big rotten vehicle at a random time. After all seats are occupied, two dozen of school kids in uniforms are squeezed into the middle of the bus, while the driver desperately tries to keep the engine alive. Roaring and with sliding clutch the bus departs in walking pace, stops every here and there to let a few people off or on. Finally, the kids are released from the bus ride and the crowd of yellow-white shirts and blue trousers and skirts heads for the nearby school. We hardly seem to gain mileage that way, yet get a good impression what life must be like out here beside the tourist track, in the small settlements of traditional clay houses and new style one storey stone houses. A lot of them have no roof, and man high trees inside. We pass by sisal plantations, dry bush land and vivid forests from time to time. In Pangani we have to cross a river by an old small ferry. Once, so it is said, there was money allocated by the government to build a bridge here. However, for some funny reason the locals decided not to have the bridge. And the ferryman smiles in the burning sun. And our bus breaks apart again, coming over with the next ferry. After approximately 5 hours of bus torture, we reach the outskirt of Tanga. Plopp – one tire is flat. The driver decides to keep going. We honor his decision; we’re keen to finally reach a comfortable place again.

ferry in PanganiTanga - beers in the hotel to swallow the past hours. We meet a German development aid worker in the hospital and have more beers for sunset on the deserted roof of a bar with a lovely view into the bay and the uninhabited Toten island. Gerd tells us some stuff about Tanga’s colonial history and his abidance and work here. Two locals sit on the remaining table behind us and listen to Bob Marley on a portable Radio. We meet again in the restaurant of our hotel for diner. An old German is there as well and his friends, a local that looks like the young Julius Nyere, the famous first president of Tanzania, as the German states. The German used to teach in Zanzibar already 20 years ago, being sent from former Eastern Germany. The young local is building up a museum about the history of Tanga, and the German tries to support him. We hear a lot about the astonishing history of Tanga, and get a good hint to go to the Usambara mountains next.

dhow portAfter we heard about the forests and rocks of the Usambara mountains and the stunning view from a cliff a couple of hundred meters down over the vast Massai steppes we decide to spend a couple of days there. Yet another bus ride for a couple of hours. At least, the small crowded bus cruises on paved roads. Rolling through sisal plantations and dry land, stopping every here and there to pick up and let out passengers and live stock. For tourists it is somewhat difficult to determine what is actually considered a bus stop. The bus toils uphill into the naked mountains, crosses forests, banana plantations and small villages. We reach Lushoto, a German settlement from the 19th century in the late afternoon. The temperature is, compared to the previous places quite moderate. From the bus terminal we walk uphill towards the old post office building that wouldn’t hide its architectural roots. A few locals follow us, carry Urs crash pad that looks like a mattress and keep interviewing us about our Safari plans for Lushoto, eager to sell us a tour. Just behind the post, we check in to a lodge with white tiled floors and nice beds. In the evening we stroll into the town centre again, talking to a friendly official tourist guide about maps of the area and since they would not give them to us, possibilities for walking tours. This seems to be somewhat typical for Africa; you can book expensive guided tours but cannot get decent information to walk on your own. There are many tours possible, by feet, by bicycle or with a car. Yet everything has its price. We postpone our decision to the following day and go for diner.

With our guide, we leave Lushoto for a single day trekking. On the way up along the corn fields up to the small villages and the jungle, he would tell us about various trees and small plants looking like cannabis. And he is good in spotting Chameleons in the bushes, as well as in English, telling stories of his former carrier as snake catcher. Nowadays, he’s more into protection of the environment, pointing at the smoke on the hills. Still, the locals make excessive use of slash-and-burn to gain new farm land. Within a few years, the good soil is washed away by the rain and the crop fields are abandoned. That’s why many of the hills are bare of any vegetation. Before we reach the jungle, he picks up a local for a few bucks to walk ahead and look out for the poisonous green and black mambas. Happy not to face any of them, we enjoy our walk in the thick jungle with some old giant eucalyptus and acacias trees and 3 or 4 meter tall ferns - sort of Jurassic park feeling. How must the remote living hunting tribes feel if they ever watch Jurassic Park? We finish our hike on the Irente viewpoint with a splendid view over the Massai steep and towers of white cumulus clouds in the setting sun.

The day after, Urs and I hire a Tuck-tuck to bring us downhill close the rocks. Urs is carrying his crash pad that looks like a folded mattress on his back. After 15 minutes, we find some adequate rocks behind banana plantations underneath the rocky top of the hill. We try to climb up the small footpath, and quickly end up in the jungle. No stick, no guide to prevent us from the snakes. Urs doesn’t seem to care and keeps on walking. A small field looks like a cannabis plantation. We reach some rocks, yet cannot climb because the bushes surrounding them are just too thick and thorny. After a while we give up, next time we should have a machete. Young women with children sit on the side of the street and wash clothes. They smile when they see us coming, covered over and over with burdock seeds and carrying a bed. One of them starts picking them from my shirt. Two old passing by women start dealing with Urs for a good price for his bed. We keep walking down the road, watching women smashing rocks to little stones beside the road, men sitting in the shadow on a small wooden shop. Urs becomes good friend of a weird old man that keeps following us, repeatedly talking to Urs stuff like: “You can help solve my many problem. You would like have to give me 1000 Schilling.” A cute young women joins us walking. I ask her whether the old man was her friend. No, she replied and asks, if he was Urs friend. Smiling…

Irente viewpoint

EscarpmentWe leave Lushoto by bus. The driver just seems to have his driving lessons with real victims on the bus. Two locals instruct him where to accelerate and where to brake on the small winding road down from the Usambara mountains. It gets better on the flat and straight paved main road to Arusha. Scenery changes a lot on the way, from green rice paddies, corn fields to vast dry steep with a few cow flocks and mud houses. At some point, we can see the white peak of Mnt. Kilimajaro above the clouds ahead of the bus. Stunning... The closer we get to Arusha, the greener the land appears. Vivid forests, banana plantations and more sophisticated houses indicate a kind of prosperity. Mnt. Meru, the second highest mountain in Tanzania attracts the clouds and supplies its surroundings with enough rain water. We check in to the Mc Ellis Hotel, 45 USD for a very comfortable single room are okay for us tonight. After diner, we meet Ethel and the driver from Mbulu who brought the jeep. By tomorrow, we’ll be driving in our own Landcruiser!

After shopping in the sort of expensive but well equipped supermarket for Mzungu in Arusha (everyone needs cheese and chocolate after market in Karatuliving in rural Tanzania for a couple of weeks) we take off, heading on the still paved road towards Karatu. On the way, we already see some giraffes very close to the road, and hundreds of migratory birds gathering for their saisonal run towards Europe. Next we reach a beautiful viewpoint from where we can observe the escarpment and Lake Manyara and its surrounding National Park underneath. The escarpment is a massive break in the tectonic plate, some hundred meters high and as long as the eye can see.

A quick visit to the market in Karatu, a small town on the way to the famous Ngorogoro crater, then we leave the paved road towards Mbulu. No road signs indicate the possibility of a couple of villages on the dust road, which soon turns into a chain of deep holes and rain-washed grooves on red soil. On the way, we pass by corn fields, sunflower fields and pastures with cow flocks observed by little boys with the obligatory stick in their hands. We can also view to the distant Ngorogoro crater in the West, while we are jumping up and down in the car. I am still wondering how the Daladalas, the small Japanese-made mini-vans that are used as well-packed taxis all over the country, can travel on these road. Reaching Silvio’s and Ethel’s house in the outskirts of Mbulu, we are welcomed by their cook Maria and the Pascal, the gardener, and their dogs and cats.market day in Mbulu - Open Air feeling

Mbulu is, like Lushoto and Tanga a town with a history in German colonial times. It used to be called “Neu Trier” back in the 19th century. Nowadays, Germans have erected a big church here, whose 4 towers surrounded by corn fields and clay houses give an impression how Europe must have been looking like 2 or 300 years ago. I’m not a hundred percent convinced about the usability of some development aid gifts. Mbulu is a small town whose shops are gathered around the main junction of two 500 meter long paved roads, surrounded by hills. Due to the recent rain falls, everything looks green and fresh. Usually, the houses are surrounded by cornfields, banana and acacia trees.

churchs of Mbulu

Viva safari!Certainly, 35 USD entrance fee per day, Tarangire wouldn’t be a long term stay for backpackers. Yet, we were rich enough to even spoil us with two days stay in a luxury tenting lodge, 70 USD per night, including all meals.  And, it was well worth every single dollar. Tented lodging may mean to sleep in a palm leave roof house which walls are like thick mosquito nets. With withdraw curtains beside the real beds it’s a little bit like sleeping out door, and it’s nice and impressive to watch the small deer called Tuktuk or the baboons walking just beside the bed. A veranda with chairs, electricity and well as good functioning hot and cold shower make the stay very comfortable.

We have coffee at sunrise; watch the river meandering through the green steep underneath the hill on which the lodge is situated. It is time for the first game drive, we pack the crash and on the roof of the jeep and hop on.  Ethel carefully maneuvers the Landcruiser on the bumpy dirt road leading us through the high grass of the vast green area. Some lone giant Baobab trees, white tower clouds on blue sky, acacias and numerous beautifully colored birds everywhere we look. uuh!Whenever the car stops, plenty of CC flies raid us, unimpressed by our repellents. Ostriches, antelopes, giraffes! We reach an elephant herd, stop and wait for them to pass by in front of the jeep.  After a decent breakfast Silvio and I walk out the restaurant to have a smoke at the terrace of the lodge’s main building. There are two brown animals on the sandbank beside the river. Silvio goes and gets the binoculars, and tells the friends. Then, we can clearly see that these brown spots are actually two lion ladies, lazily lying in the sun. After a while, they cross the river, slowly moving towards a couple of waterholes with a small flock of Tuktuks. We all stare at the scenery. Yet, no kill – the lion ladies don’t seem to be hungry. Well, we already had breakfast as well. We move back to our tents, keep observing the lions crossing the river once again, and slowly coming closer.  With a gunmen who charges 10 USD each, we walk towards them, getting as close as 50 meters to the beasts. They watch the colorful strange apes with quite some interest.

We leave the Tarangire Safari Lodge the day after before lunch, curious for another little game drive before going back to Mbulu. A small pond with white flowers and a Baobab behind – very picturesque! We stop for a picture, turn the car around and sink it in the mud beside the road. First attempts to get out – no success, the car is stuck. Well, uff, shi*! We get out of the car, become easy victims for all the CC flies that have been waiting for their chance in the high noon sun. Two vultures take off from their Baobab and fly away. We try to free the wheels for an hour or so, put sticks underneath them – no still no success. At least the CC flies have gone, and there are no further lions around. At last, we have to call our lodge again. An hour later, the owner comes with his Defender cabriolet on balloon wheels and drags us out of the misery. We are happy about the wordless but kind help. On the way out of the park, we bump into the biggest herd of elephants we have seen so far. Placid giants with baby elephants, three of four dozens of them slowly pass by. Bye bye Tarangire.

On the way back to Mbulu we stop at a little shop for refreshment, and hear about the latest news. A major power cut happened in the area. Heavy rain falls in the past few days have rinsed and knocked over a power pole two days ago. Some estimate the power to be back in about 5 days. The frozen meat and cheese provisions worth a 100 USD are silently melting in Silvio’s freezer. Reason enough to schedule big BBQs for the next few days to make the best out of it.


We reach Mbulu after a really bumpy ride over the rain washed dirt road and a beautiful sunset beside rainstorm clouds. Back in Silvios place, we lit candles. Yes, there is a power cut, but at least the meat in the freezer is still frozen. Chapati from the gar cooker and warm beer for diner.

The following day, Urs and I go to the local hospital to invite three Danish volunteers, friends of Silvio and Ethel for BBQ. It isn't very difficult to find three blond girls in the hospital, a kind nurse leads us straight to Line's office. Line is running a project in Public health, trying to set up a sort of family planning in the hospital. She is both surprised and happy about the invitation. Asks, if we were somewhat literate about computers since the hospitals internet was down for the past two weeks. We enter the computer room and detect a loose contact on the power supply of the main switch. The responsible guys are all happy, and we are happy for the kind invitation for lunch with the girls. BBQ turns out lovely, too. When the soul goes traveling whithout notice.

It's raining a lot these days, at night time and in the morning, yet it is fairly hot around lunchtime. Colorfull birs singing in the sun. Urs and I spend the good hours of the following days exploring the surroundings of Mbulu on Silvios mountain bikes.

Tire shop in MbuluIt takes us three splendid days and candlelight nights and lots of beers to to finish the thawing meat, and then the electricity is back. We bake bread and listen to Nancy Sinatra and the Puppini Sisters, a great local band. Africa...

No matter whether it is raining or not, there are always pedestrians on the roads, and cows and donkeys and goats, walking somewhere. Few bicycles, even less motorbikes and hardly cars. And yes, there is moments when it sucks walking down the bumpy roads and hear the same English sentences from the kids over and over again: “Good morning, give me my money”. Yet there are the lovely moments too, with real smiles in the faces of the kids in the outskirts.

On the way back to Arusha we wanted to go via Dareda instead of Karatu. The first attempt fails due to miserable muddy roads and a puncture which takes almost the entire afternoon to be fixed somewhere in town. Next day we're more successful, reaching Dareda, an even smaller town, and even more desperate town than Mbulu just below the escarpment. Daredas shopsSilvio has some business in the hospital that looks somewhat like after an air raid. Urs and I go for a walk along the only road with a few shops and stands. The top of the densely wooded escarpment is in clouds. A few old buses wait for customers, and some donkeys carry sacks of goods around. A pack of street dogs enjoys free love. Luckily, Silvio can finish his accounting business in the hospital very quickly, and we're on the way to Arusha just after lunchtime. From Babati to Tarangire, the Chinese are building a big motorway, or lets say they administer to locals doing the work. A wide cut of even gravel road goes straight through the steep. We see flocks of zebras close by, and a rainbow ending in a mud house settlement. Mount Meru's peak glooms above the clouds in the setting sun before we reach Arusha. Lovely Indian cuisine for diner. Silvio and me pay a short visit zebrasto a disco to celebrate the end of the holiday. There are only Blacks in the building. A young women keeps dancing and talking to me, a few boys seem to surround Silvio in the smoking room, talking weird stuff to him. Strange days. We take a taxi back to our hotels. Streets are flooded. What a night!

Next day - Arusha City Airport. Just a two storey tower and a barrack with a single Check-in counter, a few expensive souvenir shops and a coffee bar with a broken coffee machine. There's only tiny single-engine propeller airplanes on the runway. “You're sure this is the right airport?” Just at our planned departure time, a slightly bigger airplane arrives that brings Urs and me to Dar for the connecting flight to Zurich.