What we know:
LAKE VICTORIA: LAKE TANGANYIKA: MT KILIMANJARO: SERENGETI:
NGORONGORO CREATOR: DAR ES SALAAM: TEA: THE LEAKEY’S NYERERE.
This frontier crossing is into one of the best-known countries of the African continent. Humans’ first upright specimen happened to walked out of here on two legs instead of four to take possession of the world.
Lying between Africa’s highest mountain and largest lake with the second deepest lake in the world Tanzania is about the same size as France. Volcanic highlands in the north descend to the Serengeti to give way to semi desert in the middle and climb once again to the highlands of the south. With lakes shaped by the Rift valley and a coastline shaped by Arabs, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, and Slavery it is no wonder we are excited to have arrived.
The road up to the border tests every nut and bolt that holds Williwaw together.
We, that is modern humans, may or may not have walked out of this part of the world, however a mere handful of Evolution millineu on, we are not going to walk back in with such ease. “Sorry you need a visa.” Fanny’s passport is being handed back. “All British subjects require a Visa”. “You will have to go back to Harare or Lusaka and pay the $50” A round trip of over 2000 kilometres. (Top TIP: Border crossings are always stressful > Guns, Uniforms, Dingy Buildings, Customs, Foreign Tongues, and not forgetting Invisibility. It’s good to remember that God must love stupid people he made so many. So don’t get agitated.)
I plead ignorance of the fact that British subjects needed a visa. Quoting from the Bible where it clearly states the contra. This is not a good move as my passport like Fanny’s has the dreaded South Africa stamp – taboo! It’s not looking good especially now that two who have done the round trip back to Harare to get their visas join us.
We are all still standing in the blazing sun with no sign of making it into the grey concrete building. I decide it’s time for the might of the dollar. Handing over my passport with a fifty-buck note inside the back cover clearly visible to our Army uniformed stumbling block.
Twenty long minutes go by before he re emerges with his chief boss. They approach Williwaw. “Your passport Mr Dillon.” It is both stamped and relieved of its additional weight. A quick replenishment of its weight with Fanny’s passport and ten minutes later after a vehicle and baggage search we are on our way. God also loves the dollar.
A good tar road snakes through luxurious country up from the lake floor. Bubbling with the sense of relief from officialdom, the lake slowly disappears. Progress is slow as we climb up into the Kipengere Range. Cresting the range the road changes from tar back to National Geographical red baked earth with the odd splash of orange. The surrounding trees and lush vegetation suddenly give way to the manicured bushes of tea plantations > Row after row bear witness to the invention of the tea bag.Passing a plantation named the Old Farm House offering camping we stop. Driving in we meet Nick from Mana pools he is a white-haired bearded, mumbling South African of sixty years with a Mercedes Jeep and a new lady friend. He is on a trip – his first out of South Africa with the intention of driving up to Egypt. Unfortunately for him he has an inbuilt fear of blacks. This is the maximum north of Cape Town he has ever been. When we ran into him in Mana Pools we had written off his chances of ever reaching his chosen destination. We are rather surprised that he had made it this far.
The Old farm turns out to be owned by Ray and his wife Nicola > Inherited by both of them some years before it is a beautiful old world home covered in Fuchsia and Frangipani. “You can swim in the dam, order fat steaks, cold beers, fresh eggs, have a shower, camp where you like, you are most welcome. We stay for three days. Pitch No 100.
Over a few fat barbeque steaks South African style we are introduced to Nick’s travelling partner and treated to his life story. His Merc is equipped to the teeth everything apart from the Doberman for security. Williwaw looks pitiable tired in comparison. His lady friend a soft butterfly character is obviously fed up with Old Nick’s trepidations of lack of razor wire. We can’t see them lasting much longer together. After few a few balls of Irish whiskey Nick bolts himself in for the night. We retire well pleased with our day.
Ray arrives over next morning with an invitation to go up to the golf club in the afternoon to watch the All Blacks playing S.A. We spend the morning exploring the farms small dam and its consequential mirror lake. Set in amongst large trees it is one of those dreamlike places in a much as one is both in the lake and on the bank at the same time.
Returning to the house we set off for the club. The drive into the clubhouse a modern building built by tea profits is from beginning to its end through rows and rows of tea bushes. Not a leaf out-of-place. Every minute a new leaf appears it is plucked. Parking we are at once approached by prospective caddie’s. Horror of horrors, some ‘old boys’ are there from the gin and tonic brigade for the rugby match.
Florence meets a new friend during the match. She is a daughter of a farmer turned wildlife artist named Michael who according to Ray, has some world eminence when it comes to his wildlife paintings. “He uses a game park called Ruaha Game Park not far from Iringa which you will pass on your way north for his inspiration.” Michael spends the next hour trying to put us off visiting Ruaha. “Bad Road, difficult to get to, not the right time to visit.” When pointed out by Ray that we had already driven over half of Africa he became even more protective of what he obviously considered to be his domain. He was afraid that we will fall in love with Ruaha and spoil his muse for future work of art. Ruaha by the way is almost as big as the Serengeti National Park a mere 13,000 km² so we don’t know what he is worried about.
We take our leave and visit a nearby restaurant. It’s closed, so Ray suggests we visit a friend of his. A quick ring on the radiophone and we are all invited over for a spot of late lunch. Surrounded on all sides by manicured tea plantations as far as the eye could see, we arrive to be greeted at the door by an English housewife. Surprise, surprise, there is no invitation to enter the house. Her husband turns up and we give him a hand to lower the roof tent on to his Land Rover.
He explains that he is going to explore the Dark Continent outside the tea plantation for a day. The couple have just arrived in Tanzania a few months previously and are still like goldfish out of water. Every thing black is taboo. Ray is obviously embarrassed. After five or ten minutes of waffle talk we leave. Ray suggests a game of golf. Ten minutes later I am standing on the first tee, with my caddie, my drink, my porter, my ball cleaner, my temple wiper. Fanny and Flo follow play for a few holes before returning to the coolness of the clubhouse. Ray and I march on with our contingent of assistances.
The course is unlike any other I have played on. Set in the middle of the plantations, the fairways are encased by the tea bushes. Any wayward shot disappears never to be found again. There is no shade except on the tees and greens, which are surrounded by large eucalyptus trees. By the time we have played the Typhoo, the Lyons bag, the Strainer, the Tea leaf and the Cup and Saucer, we have consumed ten golf balls each, two gin and tonics and had our brows wiped a hundred times. Ray has also eventually stopped apologising for his friends late lunch invitation and concentrates on his golf.
The day is topped off with a large barbecue with several bottles of Serengeti Classic. We stay another day.
Florence departs with Michael the Artist and his daughter for the day. Fanny, Nick and I go fishing at the dam. We spot in the first ten minutes without moving, twenty species of bird. The lake is surrounded by weeping willows and eucalyptus is full of birdsong and reflections, with the odd bullfrog croak. Overall there is a sense of silence only broken by hiss of the fishing line and the plop of the float. In the tranquillity of a wonderful lazy day no matter what bait we try there is not a bite to be had.
Returning to our campsite Nicks lady friend has fled the coop. That evening over a large bush TV fire, cold beers and Ray’s juicy stakes with a visit from some South African road builders Nick requests our company as far as Dar es Salaam – the ‘Haven of Peace. I am not too keen to have a paranoid South African in tow, however I am reminded by the girls of my Roadies Mantra “If it’s wet drink it, if it’s dry, smoke it, if it moves screw it, if it doesn’t move sling it in the back of the van.” “It’s easier to be kind than cruel.”
With Nick in tow we leave the Poroto Mountains us behind moving into the fertile foothills of Mbeya. Tea turns to cocoa, coffee, and banana plantations. The road turns from hard backed to clay to our first tar corrugations. I’ve long stopped looking in my mirror for Nick. He is attached like a limpet mine. Michael – the artist’s game park Ruaha passes on our right. We decide not to visit. As I said, in this part of the world it is difficult not to end up in a lake, this also applies to Game Parks. Skirting the Usangu Flats we leave behind miles and miles of pine forest before arriving at Iringa.
Only a few countries on earth can blow your own trumpet to have dedicated more land to Game Reserves than Tanzania. We stop in The Mikumi National Park, which happens to be on the main drag. Our port of call is a small hospital that supplements its running cost by renting out a few rooms. We secure the last room available for the night. Nick sleeps in his roof top tent. Mikumi Park has a funny sort of set up. It’s positioned on the main drag to Dar es Sala. If you want to get there it is a compulsory visit to the park. However if you say you are only going into the parks lodge to dine there is no entry fee. It’s a sort of animal toll gate. On the way up for lunch we spot elephant, giraffe and baboon. The lodge is a modern building with a Carte de jour, way beyond any backpacker’s pocket. Nick treats us to lunch. By the time we are finished we decide to spend the night back at the hospital.
On the way back Fanny takes a ride with Nick. Flo and I saunter back stopping to take a close up look at an elephant traffic road sign that warns unexpected drivers to “Beware of Elephants crossing.” We stop further along the road at a snake farm, which is closed, but for a few hundred Tanzanian shillings we are given a private tour.
Black Mamba, Green Mamba tree dwellers Africa fastest moving snakes both with deadly venom. Adders: Vipers: Asp: Cobra: Egg Eaters: Boomslangers. Flo leaves with her very own snake-skin and I get to appreciate that there are more than politicians that slither around in the long tall grass.
Early morning we once more are passing through the park. We have not gone far when we pull over to let a lion and his lioness cross the road. On the opposite side a local bus has also pulls over. Not to admire the king of the jungle, but to let its passengers out to pump ship. Oblivious to any danger down come the knickers at the back of the bus and out pop the watering hoses at the front. Our two wild beasts are not tempted by any of the black asses on show or are they interested in any of the black puddings as they continue on their way into the bush. It is a hilarious sight something one expects to see in a Monty Python show. On the beast being spotted there is a verity of outside bus reactions. Frozen on the spot, knickers half up dash to the bus zips ripping pubic hair, pointing of fingers while trouser legs get sprayed. Inside whopping and hollering rapping on the windows, opening the door and closing till calm settles. Nick in my wing mirror is white knuckled stuck to his steering wheel as if the cats are going to appear in this passenger seat.
We arrive at Morogoro. Reported to have a wonderful vegetable market Nick takes the lead into town in search of the market place. Bustling with people Morogoro has a pleasant feel to it. We stop to refuel purchasing a new type of raspberry from a street vendor. While waiting to exit the fuel station Nick disappears around a corner. On rounding the bend after him here he is coming down the opposite side of the road. White faced with fear, he announces that he couldn’t find the market place. I follow him out-of-town until we arrive at a roundabout. His deep-rooted fears of black Africa have him by the short and hairiest. Damned if I am going to be his nursemaid. It’s time we split. I tell him to stay put until we return.
The town square is a glorious market of wonderful African caricature. We spend an exquisite hour purchasing some fresh vegetables, peanuts, fruit, and a few African kangas or sarongs. A short cut out-of-town over some bomb crater potholes gets us back to Nick before he has a nervous breakdown. Being left in the big black world all alone is too much for his apartheid mind.
We push on to Dar es Salaam. The road changes from broken up tar with potholes to corrugations and back again. Apparently the only place one can leave a vehicle safely while visiting the Spice Islands of Zanzibar is the Silver Beach Hotel up the coast from the Haven of Peace.
Pitch no 101 is to Nick’s liking behind razor wire, patrolled by shillelagh cudgel bearing guards in amongst a dozen Overland Trucks and numerous tents. We find a spot in this white man’s Belsen.
The only thing that can say favourably about it is that it is cheap. Owned by some Germans who acquired the place from the University of Des es Salaam for a song it has a utility building, a restaurant, bar, and toilets that are only, one-step up from a long drop, and of course a silver beach, which has long turned grey.
In the bar that night over a few beers I secure us a lift into town in the morning on one of the many Passion Trucks (Africa Overland trucks from the UK) parked in the campsite. The excursion into town is to provision the Truck and allow some of its passengers to exchange some money and visit the docks to book a ferry ticket to the Zanzibar.
Boarding the truck I notice that one of the pillars at the back has a bell marked with a code. “One to stop, two rings go, three toilet, continuous ring emergency, I can’t resist added four rings – sex.
The provision stop is at a small supermarket where I help load bags of rice, pasta, tins of various tomato based meals, bottled water, sweets, and all the rest to make for a healthy diet in the wilderness. By the time we are finished with the money exchange it is time to return to Belsen Zanzibar will have to wait.
A swim well away from the campsite washes away the concentration camp blues. With a meal that evening down the road in an Italian restaurant we ready for a trip into town in the morning with Williwaw to properly explore.
Haven of Peace 6° 00 S-35° 00 E is anything but peaceful. A city and tropical port of over two million souls it has spread itself and its pollution far and wide over its hinterland and coastal position. A mixture of German, Asian, British and Swahili buildings it is somewhat like a little Bombay. Known as Jamhuri ya Muungano wa (Tanzania in Swahili) it houses the skull of the Nutcracker Man.
The first problem is getting a safe place to leave Williwaw. There is no way one could leave Williwaw unattended. We tour the dock area and out along the ocean road where the manicured gardens and high walls announce diplomatic land.
We stop at the Palm Beach hotel for a very expensive bit to eat with a Safari lager the cost of which deserved swallowing twice. Across from the hotel the girls find a small shopping centre – not a run of the mill shopping centre – NO, NO. This one is for chauffeur driven cars – you know the type. Yes. Those immune from parking ticket number plate’s type. The parking attendant looks startled when Williwaw pulls into the enclosed car park. One hour later we leave with all those things one misses when on the road for almost a year and half. Marmite, Marmalade, Cheddar plus water biscuits, you name it and it’s in the basket on the way to checkout.
Returning to a suburb we spot a large wood carving market, another meander for an hour or two. How the hell the tourist gets some of this stuff back is a marvel in itself. Full sized Massai, with wooden balls and spear, tables that weigh a ton, giraffes fifteen feet tall, hippos, some super chess sets, ebony statues many of which need a scratch to see if they are real ebony or black boot polish. Masks, bracelets, woven baskets – every item is a bargain.
We arrive back late afternoon to brave the muggers of the beach. There is a warning sign saying do not walk down the beach for fear of being mugged. We ignore it and walk down the beach some distance from the campsite to watch local fishermen casting their evening nets. In the wonderful warm clear water we help pull the nets ashore. There is a fantastic feeling of camaraderie when hauling a net and this pull is no exception. The net is paid out by a boat in a large circle and then hauled ashore hand over hand. Their catch to our surprise is quite plentiful with many a scaled friend we do not recognise. We paddle back along the beach without spotting one mugger. Perhaps our swimming togs advertise to anyone watching from the jungle that we had little of value except some tanned white flesh. Sleep came early.