After nearly one month in amazing Kenya (see previous post), Mathieu and I crossed the border into Tanzania, again. The first time, we explored the western side. This time, we explored the eastern side of this beautiful country.
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Being best known as the home of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain at 19,340 ft (5895 m) and one of the “Seven Summits” (the world’s seven highest peaks), it was perfect that we re-entered Tanzania with views of this majestic beauty. As we continued the road around the massive 3-cone dormant volcano, we were treated to glimpses of its snow-covered peaks through the clouds.
Our first destination was to Lake Natron to visit what appeared on our maps to be an area dotted with numerous volcanoes. With no more info than the little black triangle symbols on the map, we turned off the main road onto a dirt road and drove through the beautiful scrubby desert. We passed by Mount Meru, Africa’s fifth highest mountain (14,968 ft; 4562 m), through a few small villages, and encountered a few Maasai herders moving their small clusters of goats or cows, and that’s it. It was wonderful.
After a night bush camping, we woke up to a huge open sky streaked with dramatic clouds. Shortly after hitting the road, we came across a large group (aka “tower”) of giraffes. We’d seen tons of our long-necked friends during our travels but never a tower. It was awesome! We watched quietly as the adults and their calves sauntered across the road in front of us, seemingly unphased by our presence (or the presence of the drone flying overhead).
After a few more hours, we finally came to the area with the little black triangles. Our venture paid off. The area was dotted with dormant volcanoes, most were small, rounded mounds but a few were massive cone-shaped mountains. And, we had this extraordinary area all to ourselves! Well…except for a few beautifully adorned Maasai women walking along the road. We tried to get to Lake Natron but after a few hours of slow-going, “Wily-beating” road, we gave up and drove south while watching a dark storm over Mt Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in the distance.
We spent the night in the town of Arusha, one of the main jumping-off points for tourists lucky enough to climb Mount Kili or safari through Serengeti National Park. It was hard to be so close to these two “bucket-list” places but both were way out of our budget for this trip and both required pre-planning, a concept that was counter to our motto for this African adventure. Next time.
Continuing south, we drove to the small mountain town of Lushoto in the West Usambaras Lushoto Mountain Reserve. We’d hoped to hike in the mountains and enjoy the giant waterfalls in the area but the weather turned to crap. With no guests due to the bad weather, the nice manager at one of the hilltop resorts let us camp under the hotel’s entry awning to escape the rain. We camped there for two nights waiting for the blanket of thick, wet clouds to clear but no luck. Thankfully, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful valley below during a short break in the storms.
We then drove to the coast. Unfortunately the huge amount of rainfall caused the partial collapse of a bridge along the main road, so we, along with all the other traffic trying to get to the coast, were rerouted inland. This new route added an extra 2 hours to our drive. Apparently people in the small communities we passed through were not used to so much traffic. Groups of people gathered roadside, adults staring and kids waving, at all the cars and big trucks roaring by on their typically quiet 2-lane road. We were a parade. Ha! Finally in the coastal town of Bagamoyo, we found a nice hostel/campground and chilled for a few days, exploring the markets, eating delicious local pizza, and relaxing by the pool.
We then left Wily for a few days to explore Zanzibar Island. After a somewhat rocky ferry ride, we arrived to Stone Town (Mji Mkongwe “old town” in Swahili), a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its 19th-century architecture reflecting Swahili, Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences .
The old town is touristy but has a friendly vibe. We enjoyed exploring the maze of narrow alleys lined by houses, shops, bazaars and mosques. And particularly enjoyed inspecting the finely decorated wooden doors that adorn many of the houses and mosques. The massive doors were often the most well-kept feature of the building’s exterior. The carvings are often Islamic (many consisting of verses of the Qur’an) but other symbolism is occasionally used, such as Indian lotus flowers as emblems of prosperity . Most of the streets are too narrow for cars so we only had to dodge bicycles, motorbikes and other pedestrians while walking around. While there, we also went to a jazz concert held at the local music academy. The musicians were amazing! And the concert combined with dinner at the local night market along the waterfront made for a perfect date night.
After a few nights in Stone Town, we crammed ourselves into the local bus to Paje, a tiny seaside village on the other side of the island. We stayed at a cozy hotel with a great rooftop terrace. During breaks from relaxing, napping, journaling and doing yoga, we walked the single road through the village, exploring the few shops in town and eating at the few local restaurants. And of course, we walked along the white-sand beach. The view was especially stunning at low tide when the entire expanse of the shallow lagoon was exposed and the few small fishing boats were left on their sides waiting for the water to lift them up again. Given its expansive shallow lagoon, this side of the island is a mecca for kite surfers, and Mathieu took advantage of a few windy days to sharpen his kiting skills.
He also took advantage of the windless days to fly his drone. On one fateful day, we invited our new friends Mike and Mary, a couple from South Africa who were staying at the same hotel, to be in our drone video. The four of us waved at the drone as it zoomed out from the beach capturing the gorgeous coastline. Then as it returned, Mike suddenly shouted, “it went into the water!” Oh crap. Thankfully Mike saw where it went down. We all ran through the shallow water to the crash site but saw nothing. We immediately started walking search-and-rescue transects which extended further and further out as we came up empty handed. WTF?! The water was shallow, about thigh deep and receding, and crystal clear. How could we NOT find a dark grey object about the size of a shoe box against a white-sand background? Finally after two hours, Mathieu found it. He disassembled it and stored it away in a huge bag of rice. Fingers crossed. Despite the crash, we remained in good spirits and enjoyed a few more days in Paje.
After our time on Zanzibar, we returned to Wily who was parked at our new friend John’s house in Dar es Salaam. We’d met John in Bagamoyo just about a week prior where after chatting for just a few hours, he invited us to stay at his home. We were welcomed back warmly by him and his furry/feathered family: dogs Jock and Suzie, cats Simba and Ginger, and Kasuku, the talking parrot. Despite having had a super relaxing 6 days on Zanzibar Island, we welcomed the opportunity to relax more and very much enjoyed spending time in his comfy home (with AC!). While John was at work, we relaxed, I cooked and did yoga, Mathieu read articles/watched YouTube videos on “how to fix your drone that was submerged in the ocean for two hours” and we hung out with the menagerie of critters.
Along with relaxing and talking to Kasuku, we gave Wily a thorough cleaning. We’d only planned to stay several days on Zanzibar, so we’d left our fridge plugged in and with food in it. But after staying on the island 6 days, we returned to two dead batteries (the fridge battery having drained the main car battery) and a fridge filled with rotten, putrid food, including a chunk of strong artisanal cheese Mathieu bought just before. Oops… We also had Wily’s oil changed during which the mechanic found some issues with the steering system (yup, more repairs). Oh well, it’d become a fact of our life.
On several nights, John who owned of an upscale butcher shop in Dar, fired up the braai (aka BBQ) to make us dinner, including delicious locally-grown veggies for me. We had a great time sharing good beer, good food and good conversation with our new friend. It was hard to leave such a paradise but after 7 days sharing his wonderful home, it was time to move on and say farewell to John and our furry/feathered friends.
We left Dar at 5am to avoid the horrendous city traffic but still got caught in the outskirts. It was no joke! While the national road out of Dar is smooth and paved, it’s two-laned and heavily used by huge semi trucks, all constantly passing each other in both directions to save time. It was a white-knuckled drive to say to the least. Thankfully by the time the road entered Mikumi National Park a few hours later, the heavy traffic had thinned out. Driving through the park was another free safari. We saw only the usual suspects but it never gets old seeing these amazing wild creatures. Being a park transected by a national road, they take the protection of their animals very seriously as evident from the huge roadside signs warning of the steep fines for road kills: from $450 for a warthog to $15,000 for an elephant. Although I can’t imagine you’d live to pay the fine if you crashed into an elephant.
We spent our last night in Tanzania at a nice bush camp along Lake Nzivi. We passed the night watching shooting stars and listening to a cacophony of frogs, and had a relaxing morning watching a few fisherman cast nets from their small boats. We then drove southeast to the Mozambique border, leaving the national road and spending our last three hours on a small, dirt road hoping to see elephants emerge from the bushes. No elephants and no gas stations, shops or any services at all, just a few tiny communities and small clusters of people walking along the road. As always, it was cool to feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. And it was a nice way to end our roughly 3-week adventure through eastern Tanzania.
I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty of the landscapes and people of this part of Tanzania.