This is the last entry for my trip through sub-Saharan Africa. Finally! I only left the continent 10 days ago… I have this horrendous fear that I’ll never catch up to the city I’m in and this will be a continuous trend of writing about events which occurred weeks ago. Just to fill you in, I’m writing this entry in Barcelona having already stayed in Amsterdam and Brussels since the Africa leg of the journey concluded.
The seventh and final country we travelled to on the tour was Tanzania, located in East Africa and bordering the Indian Ocean. Officially the United Republic of Tanzania, the nation was established from the union formed between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, shortly after both gained independence from Great Britain in the 1960s. Tanzania is one of the largest countries on the continent, both by population and geographical size, and has Christian and Muslim communities that each constitutes around 40% of the population. Muslims are mostly concentrated on the coast, the archipelago of Zanzibar and the old slave routes through the interior; all regions with historical Arabic influence and presence. So Tanzania has quite an interesting history because across the past 1500 years there has intermittently been Persian, Indian, Portuguese, Arabic, German and British colonial interests in the region.
The first two days of our time in Tanzania happened to be the two longest drive days of the trip, as we travelled from the Malawian border to Dar es Salaam (the largest city and notional capital). The tour leader was scheduled to meet the new clients for the next leg of the tour at Dar es Salaam (I finished at Zanzibar but the tour continued to Nairobi and then Uganda/Rwanda for the gorillas) and consequently we endured insufferably long hours on the road to meet his deadline. With the infamous seat rotation policy tragically having been restored, Dave and I were most unfortunately reserved the foulest seats for the journey; seats with minimal leg space, that were stiflingly hot and isolated from the group. I enjoyed some comic relief at least from the many exacerbated souls that desperately awaited a toilet break on the final stretch of the journey, for no less than 6 hours. For the evening between the drive days, we stayed at a large cattle and tobacco farm managed by a white Tanzanian (supporting my colonial theory) near Iringa in central Tanzania. At the farm’s restaurant and bar we enjoyed a delicious meal of beef and vegetables, all from the farm, and an excellent blend of hot chocolate with amarula (African cream liqueur). After departing at a repulsively early hour the next morning, we spent the entire second day driving until we finally reached Dar es Salaam. Driving into the suburbs of Dar was somewhat of an emotional experience for the group as it was the last time seven of us would be travelling on the truck. It felt like an appropriate destination to conclude the overland journey though, as we had originally departed a big city (Cape Town) to enter the African wilderness for 6 weeks and then finished in another big city.
In Dar es Salaam, we stayed at a campsite on the beach where I resisted the temptation to upgrade and instead begrudgingly chose to endure camping for one last occasion. The conclusion of the Victoria Falls to Dar es Salaam phase of the tour overlapped with the commencement of the Dar es Salaam to Nairobi leg of the tour that 10 new people joined, which resulted in the formation of one super-group of 31 for the Zanzibar excursion. We were introduced to the new people at dinner and discovered that the mysterious code which referred to the nationality of four of them (and had befuddled the group for several days) corresponded to Estonian. It turned out that the new people were far too responsible for the tour as they all went back to their tents at a reasonable time in preparation for the two hour crossing to Zanzibar the following morning, while the rest of us stayed up drinking cheap cocktails.
As you probably anticipated, numerous members of the group had a rather unpleasant experience on the voyage to Zanzibar, especially since there were limited seats available to nurse their hangovers, fatigue or motion sickness. But there’s no need to be concerned! For while some members collapsed on the ferry deck or clang desperately to the railings to minimise their nauseousness, your writer eagerly indulged in the local delicacy offered on-board; some delightful samosa-like morsel that was filled with beef. Nothing gets in the way of Liam and some interesting tucker! For me anyway the journey was thoroughly enjoyable as I departed continental sub-Saharan Africa for the almost mythical-like destination of Zanzibar and once more benefited from thankfully never being affected by motion sickness. There was one disappointing incident however as my cap was blown off by the strong wind when I hoisted myself up from the deck on one occasion. So if you happen upon a black and blue (now closer to grey) cap next time you’re at the beach on the Indian Ocean, that would mine and I expect it to be returned. It was so very irritating, even now I cringe.
The archipelago of Zanzibar is located off the East African coast and comprises a sizeable population of nearly one and a half million. These tropical islands have been a historically valuable region to control for foreign powers, specifically for the spice trade (they are colloquially referred to as the ‘Spice Islands’) and the slave trade (primarily for the Arab, rather than European, market). Arabic control of the islands, which lasted for centuries, has resulted in Zanzibar featuring a culture very much distinct to the mainland as 97% of the population are Muslim, the architecture is distinctly Islamic, the cuisine is a fusion of African and Indian influences and there are many residents of Arab or Indian ancestry. Considering all this and the islands’ famous tropical beaches, Zanzibar is obviously a fascinating destination and an excellent place to conclude a tour across Southern Africa. We spent the last three nights of the tour on the archipelago’s main island, Zanzibar Island, and I subsequently stayed another three nights before departing for Europe.
Our ferry from Dar es Salaam docked on Zanzibar at World Heritage-listed Stonetown, where we stayed for our first evening on the island. Stonetown was once the primary trading post on the island for the old colonial powers and is consequently composed of densely packed old buildings, often with Islamic architectural motifs, and winding alleys. Wandering through the streets and lanes of Stonetown was one of those experiences where you feel as though you have stepped into the past as the urban complexion is very different to what the modern city dweller is accustomed to. The buildings’ facades are dilapidated, the urban layout is obviously not designed for vehicles so they are not present on the narrower lanes, the streets are filled with merchants selling supposedly handcraft goods and cats meander along the footpath. For our evening in Stonetown, the group congregated for ultimately the last occasion as we watched the sunset on the terrace of a hotel. We subsequently splintered into smaller groups to attend the evening fish market, where we ate delectable items including lobster skewers, snapper and Zanzibari pizza with fish (different to pizza in Melbourne but I don’t actually remember what was on it!) and fended off the hungry cats. Our time in Stonetown dramatically contrasted the previous six weeks where we had essentially just travelled to and visited natural sites, which made it particularly memorable as it was a noticeably different experience.
The following morning, a local expert guided the group on a tour of Stonetown’s most significant sites and of a spice farm located just outside the city. Unfortunately I didn’t find the tour of Stonetown particularly interesting, partly because the tour guide wasn’t able to capture my attention (not his fault! I’m not that talented at listening to lectures, unless the orator is particularly captivating like the tour guide I encountered in Barcelona) and because I think the town lacks any individually notable buildings. The church wasn’t that impressive by Christendom’s standards, there was no militaristic brilliance to the design of the fort and there was no opulent palace or castle to admire. That’s not to say Stonetown isn’t an impressive place; collectively the buildings form an interesting urban fabric that is best appreciated by just ambling through the lanes.
The tour of the spice farm though was a much more stimulating experience. We were shown plantations of the various spices grown on the island, such as lemon grass, pepper, chillies, nutmeg, cinnamon and turmeric. Naturally I opted to taste all the samples being offered around by the local guide, including those that everyone else chose just to smell. After the tour of the plantations, our gargantuan group were seated to sample a variety of tropical fruits, teas and nut-based biscuits. Personally I found the tropical fruits of Zanzibar to be one of the highlights of the trip, as fruits such as mangos, pineapple and passionfruit are delicious and cheap and they make some of the best juices I’ve ever tasted. The abundance and quality of tropical fruit was further appreciated from after having spent six weeks without fresh fruit or any juice. The group was then entertained by a local who climbed a towering palm tree while singing the ubiquitous local song, with “Hakuna Matata” being the oft repeated key line. The tour concluded with a “Spice Island wedding” ironically between Dave and Maddie, to form an interesting union.
The final destination of the tour was Nungwi beach, located on the Northern tip of the island. The hour long journey was through a landscape teeming with coconut trees, which made me wonder, why is it that coconut trees only seem to occur in abundance near seawater and specifically on tropical islands and not inland (does anyone have an answer?!). It was also interesting to travel through Muslim communities and see everyone wearing typical Islamic attire; the colourful female clothing in the tropical setting was quite an impressive and unique sight. Nungwi beach proved to be one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen, with powder white sand, turquoise waters before the reef break and deep blue after. The water was crystal clear and magnificent to swim through, with no pollution to blemish the environment. For the two nights we spent at Nungwi beach, most of the group were content to lazily relax on the beach, swim, drink cocktails, play beach cricket or sleep in, while the more disciplined members joined a snorkelling trip (though I wasn’t one of them). There were many locals in traditional garb roaming the beach (they looked similar to the Masai) and each morning a herd of cattle walked along the beach which made for a bizarre sight. For our final night on Nungwi beach and for Shaun’s birthday, we celebrated with a beach BBQ , cake and drinks, leading to several members of the group, namely Davide and Kayla, to collapse on the sand by midnight.
The final morning of the tour was obviously an emotional one as eight of our finest departed permanently to continue travelling elsewhere or to return home, myself included. The farewells were strewn across the morning as the departees (yes, I know, that isn’t a word but I like the sound of it so I’m using it. If Shakespeare, the man who produced some of the most unreadable pieces of literature in the history of the English language, was allowed to invent words then why shouldn’t I be able to?) all had varying travel arrangements. Sue was the first to leave, directly to the airport from Nungwi beach, while five of us plus Lou (who strangely returned to the tour in Nairobi) left the group after returning to Stonetown. Another two members later departed the group back in Dar es Salaam. It was a bizarre and depressing experience to farewell the group. When the tour commenced, I did not know any other members but after travelling and socialising exclusively with them for six weeks, it felt as though I was a part of a new family or life. So it was very weird saying goodbye, knowing that it was the last time I’d see the group collectively. Hopefully some of the friendships made will continue but it is realistically likely I’ll never see most of them again. Once we had left the tour group, it was then very weird to suddenly release that I’m on my own, there’s no longer any babysitter looking after all the important details, I have to take control from now on. Any depressing thoughts are always quenched by food and so Lou, Anna, Dave and I went and feasted on Indian cuisine at a restaurant overlooking the harbour. Dave then departed at the airport while the three f us travelled to a resort on the eastern coast of the island.
After six weeks of staying in campsites, and driving long distances, I liked the idea of spending three nights at a resort on Zanzibar before I started the next phase of my trip. Admittedly I’ve been a bit melodramatic about the camping ordeal; I denigrated it so intensely because I found it was amusing to write, rather than it being an accurate portrayal of my experience. However, I never liked the early mornings while camping, because not only did you have to persuade yourself to arise at ridiculous hours, you also had to dismantle your tent and pack away the equipment; far too much work for the wee hours of the morning! Staying at a resort on tropical Zanzibar consequently held considerable appeal and so I stayed at the Uroa Bay Beach Resort with Anna and Lou who generously chose to accompany me. The rooms were very spacious and modern, the free wi-fi was appreciated, the buffet breakfast was extensive, the beach was pleasant, the pool was huge and the free evening drinks and snacks were consumed liberally. It featured all the trappings you would expect for a tropical resort. While I was there, it occurred to me that Uroa was the first proper resort I had stayed at in nearly 14 years and I concluded that I was pleased I had not stayed at many others. The luxury of staying at a Western resort was nice for a couple days (especially the last as I was quite ill that day) but I certainly would not have wanted to loiter there for any longer. Staying there completely isolated us from the Zanzibari experience; it just felt like a resort transplanted from the French Riviera and filled with annoying French that think they’re on safari. Its turned me against the French a bit, they have too much concern for their perfect hairdos. Overall it was a nice couple of days and thank you to Anna and Lou for the company.
And thus concludes my trip through sub-Saharan Africa! I’m especially grateful to everyone on the tour who made the experience as memorable as it was. Probably the highlight of the trip was the group interaction and friendships partly because of how unexpected it was. I assumed that I would get along amiably enough with most people and maybe form a few friends as part of a smaller group. I certainly did not expect how harmonious the group proved to be, as it act like one big one family, and was completely surprised that I managed to get along really well with virtually everyone. I’m going to miss all of you; irritating older brother Shaun, not-as-irritating older sister Kayla, caring truck-nurse Ann, crazy Malcolm, lovely Julia, first friend Maddie, last friend Lou, canoe partner Anna, survivors Jerri and Jenny, overlanding girl Becky, quasi-Australians Hamish and Becks, future Australian Nat, returning Australian Sue, departing Australia Timo and Xenia and comic Davide. And of course Dave my best friend on the trip who made me laugh so much, thanks for a great six weeks!
The next phase of my trip has now commenced. Hopefully for most of this year I’ll now be backpacking around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. I’m currently in Spain and am planning to travel to Portugal, Morocco and Italy next.
That’s all for now (as I arrive in Madrid),