Border Crossing - North to Mbeya
The formalities to exit Malawi were straight forward and included a good deal more vicious stamping. On the Tazanian side it took us around 30 minutes or more to get through their border. Immigration provided visas (at US$50 each, including receipts) on the spot. Then followed a haphazard visit around various sheds for a foreign vehicle registration (US$20); road tax (US$5); police registration and a chat with the gate guards. The ever-present hawkers were not so bad, as by this time we were taking a no non-sense refusal towards their demands and attempts to catch one's eye.
The road north was reasonable, and we headed towards Mbeya, the local provincial town for the district that has a reputation for being somewhat lawless. Passing through the tea plantations of the beautiful Livingstone and Kipengere Mountains, the people did not stand and stare as we passed, they just got on with their business - such a relief. No one was demanding sweets or money and people appeared well fed and dressed. Tanzania is a relatively poor country, but the mountain soil appeared well irrigated and rich and the plantations appeared well maintained.
By-passing Mbeya, we took the Iringa road on our way to Kisolanza Campsite. En-route we passed pine forests and a paper mill. The site was excellent, with clean loos, hot water and a Farm Shop that sold us a kilo of beef fillet and various large bags of vegetables for less than US$12 (this amount included camping costs). Tanzania appeared to us to be more wealthy in resource management than Malawi.
Iringa is situated on the edge of a steep escarpment and plateau - a strategic factor identified by the German administration when establishing Iringa as the southern Capital. The guidebooks describe Iringa as possessing an 'air of a dilapidated Bavarian market town', which we thought a fair assessment. It also displays the vestiges of a distinctly African town. There was a wide variety of good looking products displayed in the market, through which we were able to walk without being hassled or irritated by hawkers.
Just south of the town is one of the most significant archaeological sites within Africa - Isimila. It is here they have found stone tools (hand axes, cleavers and hammers) among bones dating back to 60,000 years ago.
We travelled onto Dar es Salaam (interestingly no longer the capital, as this is now Dodoma in the centre of the country) stopping at Mikumi, at Baobab campsite, a region literally covered with stunning baobab trees. The Rufiji River is the major feature running through the area, collecting the water from the surrounding area and transporting it to the Indian Ocean, passing through the oldest and largest of Africa's Game Reserve - Selous GR, that sadly we did not have time to visit.
The road on to Dar has deteriorated quite badly - there are numerous potholes due to weathering and the worst vestiges of African driving (the large lorries and matatus) and this made for a fraught transition to Dar. The main highway runs through Mikumi National Park, where they insist upon a speed limit of 70 KPH, yet due to the numerous speed humps, 40-50 kph was about all we could manage. Once again we noted evidence of foreign aid assisting infrastructure development - this time the Japanese were funding a new road.
Dar es Salaam
Traffic and police presence both increases dramatically near the city - a manic place, with predictably dreadful/non-existent signposts. We were heading for the Silver Sands Hotel and Campsite to the north of the city. The site is reported to provide cheap, safe camping on the beach, with the option to secure a vehicle whilst visiting Zanzibar. New arrivals receive a free bowl of chips from the campsite - something not advertised for we had ordered a fish and chips lunch at the beachfront restaurant when our chips arrived! Whilst eating, a baboon decided he also wanted lunch and hopped onto the table and helped himself. Although Adrian batted the baboon away, he then wanted to play and rather risk a cut and resultant infection or injury, retreat was the safe solution, leaving the waiters the problem - one they showed little sign of rectifying.
Dar es Salaam (meaning 'haven for peace') only became the capital once the Germans recognised the value of the deep water harbour at the end of the 19th Century. The city, an eclectic mix of new and old, was hot, dirty, crowded and exasperating, but interesting and exciting too. We only had a small exploration of the town on our way to the ferry point for the island of Unguja (or Zanzibar as it is better known).
Zanzibar has long occupied a higher significance out of proportion to its size. The powers of the Omani Sultans reached far inland to the great lakes. Slavery was nothing new in Africa, but the Arabs took the slave trade to new heights, either trading or employing slaves for their spice trade, handling around 30,000 a year and depopulating huge inland areas.
We tried to pre-arrange accommodation in Zanzibar, but this became too difficult - unreliable phones and a lack of information. We parked Daph for US$2/day at Silver Sands and took a taxi to the ferry port. We were targeting the fast hydrofoil to Stone Town (1.5hrs) but true to form ended up on the 3 hrs boat!
The slow ferry delayed our arrival on the island. Once immigration had stamped our passports, we decided to take a taxi to our proposed hotel, the Emerson House, quoted in the guide books as being listed as 'One of the top hundred best small hotels in the world' by the Daily Telegraph, yet appeared to be reasonably priced. Naturally the taxi lad knew it and agreed a price to take us there. After 15 minutes of twists and turns around Stone Town (we were grateful that we had not tried to walk!), we arrived outside a closed hotel. Apparently it had been closed for almost a year, which explained why we could not book it the previous night.
Despite being aware that some guides make their money by taking tourists around the island on a fool’s errand, racking up a bill and then leaving people in dodgy accommodation, we stayed with our taxi driver. We trailed around a few full hotels with waning patience - Stone Town was packed with tourists, although credit to our chap he was trying hard.
Meanwhile, we came across a wedding party, to which it appeared everyone wasinvited. We jumped out of our taxi for a quick snap and whilst I was taking my photo, a small boy tugged at my arm. Although annoying and spoiling the shot, it was obvious the small boy was concerned for my safety, as I was standing in the road and a car was approaching - how touching! Finally, we had enough and told our taxi driver to take us to Emerson and Green Hotel, a more up-market hotel than our original intended location, where we found a room ( though at an inflated price). The lad was somewhat crest-fallen at not being able to provide us with our original requirement and did not demand any more that the agreed amount - at which we were surprised (although that was how he earned his tip!).
Emerson and Green
The hotel had been restored in the manner of one of the richest houses in the Swahili Empire. Each of the 10 rooms was different, but had a similar theme of space, ornate surroundings, huge carved wooden doors and stone baths. Some had verandas, depending on their aspect and most had 4 poster beds with the mozi net stylishly draped around.
The best feature of the hotel was the restaurant located on the roof, with stunning views across Stone Town and the nearby Palace of Wonders. Had we wanted (or if we could have afforded) another night the hotel was fully booked, so we arranged a bed at the cheaper Baghani Hotel, again a similar old hotel, with a cool central courtyard and rooms off the main stairway. (Why this second hotel was not an option the previous night remains a mystery).
Once we were ensconced in the Emerson, we ventured out into the street, now confident we had our bearings. At first sight the twists and turns of the narrow lanes appeared confusing, but getting around was easy. It seemed to us quite safe and tourist friendly (a point reinforced by the guidebooks) although the laidback, non-pushy manner of the locals, also quoted, was not in evidence. The hawkers were after the tourist dollar here as elsewhere, haggling to show us around or buy their trinkets. Ironically it was on our final day that we came across the by now fabled genuine tourist guides, that casually show people around without undue pressure.
This occured whilst trying to photograph St Joseph's Cathedral, with a view that incorporated the tower of the the Bohora Mosque, when a voice suggested a better location. Mohammed was a quite mature gentlemen, very keen to talk cricket and to show us around (sadly the places we had been for the last two days!). But in his short time with us, he indicated the major sights and suggested to us the blue door of the parents house of Freddie Mercury (of the rock group 'Queen' fame).
On our first evening we enjoyed sundowners on the veranda of the Africa House, on the edge of Stone Town. The Africa House is a stylish renovation of the old British Club, and will soon reopen as a hotel. Walking through the streets at night is both exciting and safe. Near the harbour, at the Jamituri Gardens we found numerous food stalls selling the best local delicacies, adding a whole new dimension to the concept of 'fast food'.
The following day we toured the town, starting at the Palace of Wonders, built by Sultan Barghash in 1883. Within was an eclectic mix of exhibits, including an excellent small museum explaining the history of the island, the power and breadth of the Omani empire