TUESDAY 19 NOVEMBER Linda went out to post the 24 letters we had written on Sunday. Then we took our packs and walked up to the Salamander Cafe, where we breakfasted on samosas, eggs and fruit juice, while we watched the people on the street going by.
Down at the pier, we joined the crowd of locals waiting for the arrival of the ferry. When it docked, and had disgorged its load of laden locals and pack-carrying Wazungu¹, the locals waiting to board began to push and shove their way down the gangplank and aboard the ship. The 10 or so of us Wazungu sat at the back of the boat, out on the deck where we had a good breeze to keep us cool. We sat with a couple of Kiwi girls called Angela and Debbie, in between watching music videos and ridiculous Kung Fu films on the TV screen inside.
Voyage took four hours, and when we docked at Zanzibar, we went through immigration and the usual crowd of touts, offering hotels and taxis. As we walked out of the wharf gates, the air was heavy with the pungent smell of cloves mixed, with the scent of other spices, and the dusty and damp smell of the streets.
We walked up to Flamingos Guest House, which had been recommended to us, checked in, and got washed up. At about 7 PM, Linda. Debbie, Angie and I walked into the maze of dark, narrow streets to Dolphins Restaurant, for a delicious meal of fresh fish and chips.
¹WAZUNGU, remember, is the Swahili word for “white person.” It is used all over Africa.
SATURDAY 16 NOVEMBER – THE HAVEN OF PEACE The last few hours of the journey seemed to take forever, the train constantly stopping and starting. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, the few Wazungu began to sweat and curse.
When the train finally ground to a halt at Dar es Salaam station, we shouldered our packs and set off to find somewhere to stay. That proved to be an epic quest. We spent three hours trudging around the baking streets, trying every budget place in the book, but everywhere we were met with vacant stares and the same word every time: FULL!
Eventually we arrived at the Jambo Inn, mentioned in the book, but quite expensive at 3000 Tanzanian shillings for a double room. But we had run out of options, so we took a room, and after our first shower in four days, and a change of clothes, we set off to try and find out about the fabled dhows to Zanzibar. [Travellers that we had met had told us it was possible to catch a local dhow out to Zanzibar].
Our first stop was one of the hotels where a man called Ali changed 100 U.S. dollars for us at a rate of 350shillings per dollar…130 shillings more than the official rate. We took the 35,000 shillings back to the hotel, and stashed more than half of it in the secret compartments in our packs, so that if we were stopped and searched, our cash would match that of our currency declarations.
Then walked down to the wharf to try and find out about the dhows. The office was locked up tight, and our inquiries were met with blank stares, so we gave up and went along to the Lutheran House hostel to see if we could get a room for the night. We couldn’t have looked like good enough Christians though, because they were “full.”
On the way back into town, we stopped to talk to an English couple at the Salamander Café, then went to the Snow Cone ice cream parlor for some delicious chocolate sundaes.
Back at the Jambo Inn, we crashed for the rest of the day, and didn’t wake up until 10:00 PM.
FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER – ON THE PLATFORM At 6:45 AM we left the hotel with our gear and walked down to the bus station where people were already busy at their daily routines. We had to wait until 8:00 AM before the old blue bus wheezed into the lot and spilled its load of natives with their luggage, then straightaway began loading for the return journey. With our packs on the roof, and us squeezed in with twenty sweating Tanzanians, the bus set off at breakneck speed down the steep, winding road. The view from the bus was stunning as we sped down the hill, the road following above the course of a steep stream, its bed strewn with huge grey boulders. In places the stream stepped down over waterfalls at the base of which, fertile crops were growing, watered by the fine spray from the falls.
The road ran out at the foot of the mountains onto the dusty town of Mumba, and we sat in the dirt under the spreading shade of a tree while we waited for the 10:00 o’clock bus to Karogwe.
The bus, when it arrived, was the usual rattletrap shell stuffed with natives and their goods, and I preferred to stand rather than suffer the jolting vibrations of the road. It took about an hour to reach Karogwe and we settled into one of the grimy cafes for a coke and a donut.
Surrounding the compound was a collection of ramshackle shops with some peculiar names such as:
NEW MIZIGI GROCERY UNIT
MOBILE GENERAL ENTERPRISES
BUGE’S MUSIC AND SHOPPING CENTRE
BUGE’S BEAUTIES, SPORTSWEAR AND MUSIC CENTRE
MR BOND KIOSK
MR TENGERUSA RECORDING
A man told us it was only 2 kilometres to the railway station at Old Korogwe so we set off in the blazing sun to walk there. It turned out to be 5 kilometres and we were well knackered by the time the station hove into view at the far end of the decaying main street of Old Korogwe.
A babel of activity was failing to happen at the station. A few locals lounged around the platform, and the few police officers in the shade in the shabby police post seemed in a state of torpor, from which they would never emerge. But the station shop sold ice cold drinks, which made amends for the long trudge down from the bus station, and the overhang of its roof gave some shade, so we stretched out on the platform to pass the rest of the day.
By the time darkness had fallen, quite a few people had gathered on and around the platform, and several stalls had been set up. Among the people waiting for the train where the usual bunch of local morons with nothing better to do than hang around the station pretending to be Chuck Norris and annoying people. An English girl called Sue arrived and we all sat and waited until 10:30 when the train from Tanga creaked into the station, followed soon after by the one from Moshi.
We boarded, found our seats by torchlight, and sat down, trying to ignore the stench coming from the toilet. The best part of two hours were spent rearranging the carriages of both trains. At around 1:00 AM, the train set off with a shudder and we tried as best we could to sleep on the uncomfortable chairs with the nauseating smell of the choo [Swahili for toilet] wafting over us, and the clattering roar of the train’s passage along the rails echoing up through the gap between the carriages.
THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER – LUSHOTO We were rudely awakened at 7AM by the owner wanting his money. But once we were awake, we decided to make the most of the cool part of the day and get up. We had a bit of a wash in a bucket of water and ate some bread with marmalade for breakfast.
I walked up the hill to the Kilimani Hotel to see about a room and they had one free so we packed up our stuff and walked back up and checked in. There was a small boy outside pestering us to let him show us the way to the “viewpoint”…3 miles out of town, but we decided to just wander around by ourselves. We walked up the dirt track to the ridge above town then turned left and walked at random along the many tracks zig-zagging across the ridge. The views were nice, with every available piece of land on the hillsides planted with bananas, maize and vegetables. There were many eucalyptus trees growing among the conifers and macrocarpas, and interspersed amongst these were stands of Jacaranda, their purple flowers adding a dramatic splash of colour to the shades of green.
We walked in a loop around the ridge encircling the eastern side of town, then dropped down a track through the houses to the main road leading up into town. The post office was at the far end of town, across the road from a large Lutheran Church, which looked terribly out of place amongst the Jacaranda trees and banana patches. God, it seems, has a large team of helpers converting the native heathens to the way of the gospel, and the bells of the many churches could be heard ringing out all day as they called the savages in for their daily dose of dogma, hypocrisy, and mind control.
At the Post Office we bought some stamps and talked to a Swiss couple who were very friendly and talkative, but obviously obviously God botherers as well. We lunched on curry and rice at the Green Valley Restaurant then made our way back up to the Kilimani for a rest.
At 1:30 I set off to walk out to the fabled viewpoint, which the book [Lonely Planet East Africa] described as having “incredible views” and “a 45 minute walk from town.” It turned out to be a bit longer than that, but it was worth it. From the ridge above town a track led around the hill through dense stands of banana trees, then dropped steeply down into a valley, the sides of which were cultivated from top to bottom. On the sloping valley floor, a Same tractor was contour plowing the reddish earth next to a church, and further up the hill on the other side of the valley, the track led through several more church-oriented farms and settlements. The last settlement comprised several large buildings with pieces of agricultural machinery in various states of repair and disrepair, lying about and amongst a stand of pine trees, a pit saw.
The track continued to follow the contours around the base of a towering forested bluff, through more stands of banana in amongst which grazed goats and cattle, and finally emerged onto a ridge running east West, covered with gum trees. At the far left edge of the ridge, the viewpoint was a huge slab of rock jutting out from the sheer escarpment above the Masai Steppe.
What a view! To the right, a huge slab of black rock rose 700 meters above the escarpment, cleft at its midst by a huge crack in which grew a profusion of trees and shrubs. It was a 200 metre sheer drop below the slab where I stood to a steep ridge running out onto the plain, with a collection of huts about halfway down its length. Off to the left, the escarpment stretched sheer and unbroken to the east, gradually being lost amongst the jumble of steep, rounded hills.
Along the base of the cliff that anger, Moxi Road was a straight brown line with the sisal fields on both sides, and beyond these, the great plain of the Masai Steppe stretched away into the haze.
I sat up there for more than an hour, accompanied by a scraggy assortment of kids, and watching birds sailing on the updraft which was sending a cool pleasant breeze up over the clifftop. It took about an hour to walk back to the village and I stopped for a cold coke at a little kiosk on the ridge above town.
Back at the Kilimani Hotel, we snoozed for a while, then went down to the Green Valley Restaurant for dinner.
After a breakfast of bread, jam, omelette and tea at the hotel, Linda went to change some money at the bank while I went up to the railway station to ask if it was possible to pick up the Dar es Salaam train in Korogwe…which it was.
Back at the hotel, we met a man who said he could get us a lift up to Korogwe in a Tanzania Sisal Authority vehicle after lunch, so we hung around on the balcony all morning with Caroline who was also going up to Korogwe way to research a story she is writing about German aid to Tanzania.
Around 1:30, a Toyota Land Cruiser arrived and we piled into the back. The road was in bad shape as we headed inland across the coastal strip then began the gradual ascent towards the distant hills. The predominant feature of the landscape was acres and acres of sisal growing in neat rows on either side of the road. Sisal is used for making sacks and rope, but the world market is depressed so the German aid money is actually propping up an industry which is more or less unviable.
We stopped for an hour at a small village where the man who was escorting us had to pay his respects to the family of a dead relative, then we carried on along the battered road to Korogwe, a dusty little town in the heart of the sisal-growing area.
Caroline left us in Korogwe to go up to some factory that she wanted to visit, and Linda and I sat in the hotel for a while then went over to the dusty but interesting bus station. Three ramshackle buses were standing in the yard, the one with the Lushoto written on it leaning heavily to the right on broken suspension. We put our packs up on the roof then milled around with the throng of passengers goats and young hawkers selling milk, doughnuts, samosas, and eggs. The bus left at 6:30 p.m. and jolted out of town heading west along the foot of the range of mountains which rose almost sheer from the plain.
In all our travels to date we have never been in such a rattletrap of a vehicle. The road was a sea of corrugations, which were amplified by the completely non-functional suspension into a vibration that sent shockwaves to the roots of our teeth and kept the noise level at an ear-bashing pitch!
We arrived in Mombo at 7:30 and the bus driver told me we would be waiting until 10 p.m. before carrying on, so we joined the crowds on the busy street where little stalls were selling delicious meat kebabs with coleslaw and tomatoes for 60/- each. We got to talking with a Canadian girl called Jayne who has been teaching in Arusha and the three of us went down the street to a Somalian cafe we we had a cup of rather nice tea flavoured with spices.
At 9:30 we began to walk back towards the buses and as we neared them, the bus with Lushoto written on the front pulled out to leave. We ran and jumped on board: Linda inside and me up on the roof to check on our packs. There was a whole lot more stuff on the roof covered with an oily canvas tarpaulin. But the bus boy assured me that our gear was underneath it, so I settled down with the cool night air rushing by as the bus began the slow twisting climb up into the hills. It was very pleasant sitting atop the bus in the cool air, with the brilliant carpet of stars above and the lights of Momba fading into the distance far below. However I still had a nagging doubt that something was wrong so after a while I climbed down off the roof and into the crowded interior of the bus. About 20 minutes later, when the lights were turned on, I realised the truth…we were on the wrong bus!
There was nothing we could do but hope that the other bus would still have our packs on it, and we spent an anxious half-hour in the Lushoto bus station until the other bus rattled into town with our packs still safe and sound up on the roof. The locals thought it was a hell of a joke that the Wazungu had gotten on the wrong bus, and we were a tad lucky to say the least.
It was cold – well, relatively cold compared to the coast – as a young man led us up hill the Kilimani Hotel which turned out to be full, so we went to another place which was basic but clean and was a steal at only 300/- for both of us. We were beyond caring about the digs anyway, and crashed gratefully into bed.
Not much happens in Tanga and there is nothing to see. It took us 2 hours to do all our business and walk around town, change money, book tickets to Dar-es-Salam for Friday, and find out about buses up to Lushoto before we were back at the hotel.
The old place still retained the ambience of the Colonial era, although these days the Colonial atmosphere is somewhat hangdog. We were shifted out of the room we’d spent the night in to an upstairs room with a balcony, set with two easy chairs and a table. The room itself had two single beds with mosquito nets, an old oak dresser, sideboard and wardrobe, and a fan. We sat out on the balcony drinking beer (not very nice beer!) then repaired to the beds for an afternoon nap.
In the evening we went for another walk around town, pausing after a while to sit on a street corner to eat a Crunchie bar each and say “Jambo” to people. We dined at a place called Patwa’s Restaurant on chicken and chips, then returned to the hotel where we sat out on the lower verandah while the German girl, whose name was Caroline, talked to the chairman of the local council.
We hitched a ride from Tiwi Beach into Mombasa with a Dutch couple in their Toyota LandCruiser. They dropped us off in the centre of town and we went and sat in the Pan Cafe and had some cold drinks and some food.
I left Linda there with the gear and walked up to the office of C.A.T. bus company at the bus station to see about getting tickets to Tanga, over the border in Tanzania. The young guy behind the counter told me that I couldn’t buy a ticket to Tanga until he was sure that he had sold as many tickets to Dar es Salaam as possible. I argued that this was stupid, as they had a sign on the wall advertising tickets to Tanga for KSH120, but he was adamant. “Come back at twelve o’clock,” he said.
So I went back to the cafe and told Linda, then walked down to the Post Office to see about ringing Scotty [or driver friend from out 1989 Kumuka Overland]. It was going to cost KSH354 for a 3 minute call, which was way too expensive, so I flagged that idea away and went back to the cafe where we decided to go down to the bus station and pester the ticket man.
This plan worked…and he sold us a ticket straight away! I settled down on the floor to guard the stuff while Linda went off to try and send a fax to Scotty.
The the bus station was a hive of activity, with people coming in and out with luggage and the constant uproar of the matatu stop just outside. The bus was due to leave about 4 p.m. and at around 3pm, a few Wazungu began to appear, so that by the time it came around to 4, there were 11 of us. The bus left at 4:30 and lumbered out of Mombasa and down to the Likoni Ferry. We all had to disembark for the crossing which took 45 minutes by the time the ferry had crossed the 400m stretch of water and everyone had reboarded the bus.
About 20 km south of Likoni, the bus turned off the main road and headed west out into the bush along a rough dirt road, which wound its way cross-country through open scrubland cleared for agriculture, and patches of rainforest. The road was bumpy and the going slow but it was a pleasant piece of country, with low hills behind which the sun was setting. As darkness fell, the air became cooler and filled with the smells of the African bush: damp earth, vegetation, and woodsmoke.
By the time we reached the Kenyan border post at Lunga Lunga, darkness had covered the landscape with its soft warm shroud. We lined up at the Customs window to have our passport stamped. Verification of our currency declarations followed, then a baggage search, and finally we were free to sit outside in the sultry air while a search was made of the bus.
There was a 6 km drive to the Tanzanian border post at Horoboro, where we again had to disembark with our gear and lineup for passport stamps and currency declarations. The formalities took less time, but then we had a long wait while the bus was searched before we were finally free to move on into Tanzania.
Half an hour after leaving the border we once again stopped, this time for a cursory police check of passports, which the officials obviously couldn’t be bothered with, then we set off for the 2 hour drive to Tanga. I stood for most of the way so that a woman who had been sitting on the floor all the way from Mombasa could have my seat. The road was so rough and pot-holed that it was more comfortable to stand anyway.
We arrived in Tanga at 1:30 a.m. and along with the German girl, we hired a taxi to take us to the Bandarini Hotel on the main street. It it took a few minutes to raise someone at the hotel, but soon we were asleep in a fine old room, complete with a mosquito net, and a selection of old books in the bookcase.
After the baking we received from the sun yesterday, we spent all day in the shade down at the Swallows Pool (as we had named it), swimming in the cool water and sitting on the beach. I built a big sandcastle.
Low tide was 9AM, so we hung around the camp until then. With the low tide, we picked our way around the point to a shady pool beneath a rocky overhang and swam in the cool, waist-deep water.
The sun was pouring down upon the shallow waters inside the reef, throwing the black bodies of the fisherman into stark relief against the glare of the sea and the sky.
We walked out to the edge of the reef and turned south along it’s margins, exploring the pools and crevices for small fish, crustaceans and other life. In places the reef was hollow, and the in- and out-draft of the sea forced air out of small holes in its surface, producing a sound like the lungs of an old man. It was as if the reef was a breathing, living thing, and the air rasping and gurgling from the holes was hot, like the breath of a dragon.
It took us about an hour to reach the next set of beach houses, and we sat in the bar there drinking beer. By the time we had walked back up the coast to our camp it was very hot and we were both quite sunburnt.
We got up early and packed our gear, then went out to find the market, leaving our packs in (LOCKED IN!!) the room. The market was well stocked with fresh fruit and veggies, and we spent about half an hour there, laying in a supply of spuds, cabbage, onions, garlic, tomatoes, beans and mandarins. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a supermarket for some basics: margarine, rice, drink, etc.
Back at the hotel, we shouldered our packs, and walked up to the matatu stand on Digo Road where we crammed ourselves into a matatu for the 5 minute ride to the Likoni Ferry. The ferry was free for pedestrians so we joined the throng of Africans walking on amongst the assortment of cars and trucks. As we were standing by the rail waiting for the ferry to leave, a couple of white folk in a yellow Moke drove on, so we decided to try and catch a lift. We moved up to the front of the ferry as it docked then stepped off and began walking up the steep ramp, keeping an eye on the Moke. As it came towards us, I stuck out my thumb and pretended to stagger under the weight of my pack, so they stopped. It turned out to be a couple of poms from Liverpool and they gave us a lift to the Tiwi Beach Road. We caught another lift down to the beach with an African guy who charged us KSH20.
Sand Island Beach Cottages is run by two white Kenyans, Francis (Fuzz) and Robert Forster, both of them cast in the same white Colonial mould. They invited us for lunch which was brought out by servants and eaten from china plates with Sheffield cutlery. Robert showed us the cheapest hut on the place where we could stay for KSH50 Kenyan each.
So, we moved our stuff into the tiny concrete room and I went back out to the road to look for my compass which I had dropped. I couldn’t find it so I had a cold Coke at the little kiosk across the road, then set off back down to the beach. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the tepid sea water & lazing on the shady sand under a tree.