As we had just left Amboseli we were advised to cross the border at a smaller border called Tarakea just outside Oloitokitok (no, I didn’t make that name up!) rather than going back up to Namanga, which is the usual crossing. This was probably the easiest border crossing so far – hardly even worth mentioning!
Doing so we came into Tanzania on the eastern side of Kilimanjaro and we had some spectacular scenery as we drove in, since Kilimanjaro isn’t the only mountain in the area. We did a quick stop at the waterfall in Marango – nothing too impressive but a sweet little well run park around it and oh, how nice just to stand in the fresh, cold water from the mountains after a few hot hours in the car!
We found a few different campsites on the gps and could just pick and choose, not knowing much about them. We went for Elephant motel in Same and just as we came into the little town we saw a wedding convoy. Great, we thought, we won’t get there today… We had seen the exact same ceremony before and knew it can cause great delays. It’s basically a long convoy of cars (with one extra decorated for the bridal couple) and they all drive at slow speed zickzacking across the road so nobody can go past… We spotted the turn off to the motel – and the first car of the convoy turned in there! So we just sighed and laughed, joined the wedding convoy as the last vehicle and drove in zickzacks across the road. We waited as all those cars parked and all the people – dressed up so nice for the big event – had come out, live band and all. We had a look around and wondered if there was even gonna be space for us to camp or eat, but we were told the wedding party was only there to take photos in the park by the motel and have some drinks and were gonna leave in half an hour or so. A few hours later most of them, including the bridal couple and their super sweet little kids, were still there so I don’t know how well it went gathering all their guests in one place. Brian and I enjoyed a tasty dinner in the motel’s very colonial style restaurant, having a few different mount antelopes looking down at us from the walls as we ate, before going to sleep parked in the pathway to the toilets (there was only campgrounds for ground tents, we couldn’t drive in there). A camping experience with some slightly odd details but still quite alright.
We had been recommended a place called Peponi (above) from the German couple we met in Nairobi. They told us they had been able to leave their car there while going to Zanzibar so we thought it was a good plan for us as well. Peponi turned out to be one of the best places we’ve stayed at so far during the trip – beautiful surroundings right by the beach, well built facilites with a nice finish, super friendly staff and good food. And not very expensive at all, so great value for money. There we met the South African couple Allison and Richard, who were travelling from South Africa to England. We spent a couple of days together, including a great Dutch oven dinner, and exchanged some good-to-knows about north and south.
It was a dhow that was going to take us to Zanzibar and we now had to try and find somebody else that might wanna share it with us, to split the costs. We got help making some phone calls to nearby lodges and we waited a couple of extra days to see if anyone else would show up, but it was very quiet all around so we ended up having to pay the entire fuel bill ourselves. 130 USD but with a discount 110. Ouch!
We headed down to Pangani far earlier in the morning than what can possibly be good for you to catch the dhow, which took between 3 and 4 hours across so naturally we slept most of the way there. Somewhere around about the middle of the sea, no land in sight, it hit me that we were now on a little wooden boat way further out than we usually go when we go on dhow trips in Mocambique. We were now at open seas. No security equipment as far as I could see, probably no cell phone signal. The guys driving the boat weren’t exactly wearing captain’s hats and radios if you know what I mean. I quickly pushed away all sorts of those thoughts to the back of my head and luckily the sea stayed calm and the trip went without any mishaps.
We were dropped off in Nungwe on the northern tip of the island. We decided to head straight down to Stone town to be back in the north for the weekend. Upon arrival with a taxi we picked one of the places mentioned in the guide book, Flamingo Guest house, and were showed to a tiny room with a mosquito net covered double bed so tall we could dangle our feet sitting on the edge and a tiny ensuite bathroom, all of it set on the roof of the building with a nice view of the neighbourhood. Quite nice!
We headed out exploring Stone town and me coming back after a brief visit 8 years ago, I didn’t remember how small it was. We looked at the map and wondered if we would make it to a certain place on foot that afternoon and found that we had walked past it within the next half hour! So we easily walked around getting to know most of Stone town, me obviously totally in love with this super photogenic place. I wanted to take Brian to Monsoon, probably one of the most known restaurants and where I had been with my friends before, but despite being low season it was packed and had no space for us so we had to settle for the not as charming Archipelago next door.
The following morning we went on a guided city tour. Nothing makes you feel more like a tourist, hey, but we had been recommended this by Allison and Richard at Peponi, who said it was quite nice and interesting. We met with the guide Abdullah (who turned out to be the same guy who had guided Allison and Richard!) and it was for sure interesting, from finding out the early history of the town to discussing the situation there today. Unevitably we dove into the dark past of eastern Africa with the slave trade and colonization eras. Sitting in a small cellar, with chains still attached to the floor, that had kept thousands of men and women waiting to be sold on the slave market (after being beaten to test their strength) was quite emotional and a stark contrast to the paradise like views and problem free relaxation the island otherwise offers.
That afternoon we headed back up to Nungwe and its beautiful white beaches, big resorts packed with Italians (very much like the Russian invasion we saw in Nuweiba, Egypt), small backpacker inns and beach front restaurants. We were a bit surprised when we saw masais everywhere. Weren’t masai a people of the inland savannahs, originally nomadic but thesedays villagers and cattle herders? What were they doing on Zanzibar? All these guys walking up and down the beach, trying to get tourists into the resorts and restaurants or selling masai art. Ah, tourism. Of course. Many tourists don’t worry about where those men are from, they’re just part of their exotic African experience. And a masai, all dressed up in his warrior gear and accessories, is obiovusly more exotic than a Zanzibari in jeans and t-shirt.
As we were sitting having a beer at Wave restaurant we got a phone call. It was Rob Roy, who we had spent two weeks together with in Egypt waiting for the ferry and then travelled to Ethiopia with – he had caught up with us! We thought he was only in Kenya but had mentioned in a message that we would be going to Zanzibar. And it turned out he was on his way through northern Tanzania and saw the sign for Peponi. He was on his way somewhere else but decided to turn in there as he had heard about that place and was quite surprised when the first thing he saw in the car park was our car! But he came in the same day that we had left in the morning, so we weren’t there… But now he called and said he was gonna come out to the island and we were looking forward to seeing him again and catching up on everything that happened since we split up in Ethiopia.
Brian and I hung out with a group of American/Canadian volunteers working in Arusha and managed to get completely sun burnt which is quite ironic since we’re always so careful in Mocambique and shake our heads at the stupid tourists that lay out in the sun on the beach there – it’s like we totally forgot we were now even closer to the equator! Who’s stupid now… We spent the day walking along the beach, going for a swim, laying in the sun, sitting in the shade. By the afternoon we were so restless we didn’t know what to do. There was no car to work on, I didn’t bring the computer or any books or anything. We just looked at each other and laughed as we ended up at Wave restaurant having another beer because we didn’t know what else to do. We had been talking about going snorkelling with dolphins but were told it’s a much greater chance of seeing them from the south of the island (which I did during my previous visit) and then we just couldn’t be bothered spending more money. It was weird, we kind of wanted to just relax at the same time as it made us totally restless. Rob Roy eventually turned up in the evening and it was great seeing him again. We took turns going through what had happened lately while having dinner at a place a bit further down along the beach and then the volunteers turned up and we had a good evening.
The next day was our last day on the island and we went snorkelling just from the beach for a while. I found a little shop that had a book shelf with second hand books that tourists had left behind and there were lots of books in Swedish so I bought two. Reading Brunstkalendern by Emma Hamberg was a good dose of easily digested Swedish lives and dramas that I really enjoyed so thank you, whoever you who are who left that book on Zanzibar!
It was hard saying goodbye to Rob Roy – again – as we left him on the island and went back on the dhow, again having to pay the full amount for the dhow since there was nobody to share with (Rob Roy had to go back to his motorbike in Dar es Salam). It was nice being reunited with the cruiser at Peponi and Brian dove straight into the owner mr Dennis’s, grease pit to do a bit of maintenance work. Being spoilt the last few nights not having to fold up and pack away the tent, we decided to leave it closed one more night and try sleeping in our hammocks for the first time. They’re really cool, quite comfortable and covered with mosquito nets on top. I just forgot one detail. The fabric is so thin you kind of need to lay on something for the mozzies not to get through to you. So I woke up in the morning with not five or ten mosquito bites but literally like 50 on my shoulder blades, that had been tucked against the hammock. Brian helped me put some hydrocortison on, shaking his head saying ”You think you’re bullet proof until you get malaria”. He has had it so many times and he stills talks about it like one of the absolute worst things, and when he does that, I know it’s for real. Let’s see if Malarone can handle this attack! Malaria has an incubation time of 1-2 weeks I think, so we will just have to wait and see…
We had been planning on visiting Lake Tanganyika after being at the coast but since Zanzibar had made a big dent in both the budget and the time plan (still aiming to be with the family in Zimbabwe for Christmas) it felt like quite a stretch to make it all the way across to the lake. To make it worth it, going fishing or doing something there, you also need more than one day, so we decided to skip it and compensate with more fishing in Zimbabwe when we get there.
Heading for Mbeya down by the border to Malawi we made our first stop outside Morogoro. Although we were welcomed by a very professional and nice man it turned out the campsite was just a forest and we paid to wild camp pretty much. But it was nice, setting up camp just underneath a big baobab tree and having the place to ourselves. However, this was my first (and hopefully only!) you-have-eaten-something-bad-and-gonna-feel-like-crap day. It started with nausea in the evening and I knew straight away it wasn’t just gonna go away, I was gonna get sick. The problem was it was like my body couldn’t decide whether to get rid of the bug upwards or downwards so it got stuck in the middle with the most awful, painful stomach cramps that I’ve never experienced before. They lasted from the early morning to the following afternoon and I honestly would have rather just gotten really sick straight away and had it done and over with! But we moved on and Brian drove as slow as he possibly could over every speed bump, holding my hand as I cramped and cried and he quietly pointed out some wildlife as we drove through Mikumi national park (the highway runs through the park) that I could just lift my head long enough to see before I fell back asleep.
We came to Iringa and I sent an sms to my friend David back home in Sweden since there is where he spent his fist 7 years of his life and he was happy to hear from us. We spent a night at the Kisolanza Farm house, a nice campsite and a cool restaurant (and old mud house that they built a roof above) where I had to really restrain myself from diving into the spicy meatballs, pasta with basil and fresh home grown vegetables after not having eaten anything for more than 24 hours.
In Mbeya we camped in the parking lot of a Christan center, a pretty uneventful place except for the fact that the watchman came past and showed us a note with a picture of a dog where it said he would let it out at night and we must not move around in there without him. We wondered what kind of beast this was, but I later walked past the dog pin where a sweet looking dog was lying sleeping. We made sure to be in the tent by the time it was let out though,taking the watchman’s advice seriously. As I fell asleep I started dreaming some weird stuff where I was screaming – but in real life it apparently sounded more like a horrific howling – and the dog came running to the car barking like crazy… So Brian was busy trying to shut us both up before we woke up the entire neighborhood.
It was a bit strange coming into Tanzania, knowing how close we now were to Mocambique, to home. We could literally be there in a few days if we wanted to. Instead we would move on, driving through another six countries before getting there.