Sunday, 28 September 2014


After a tearful goodbye at Gatwick (from Sammie) we boarded a plane that took us to Dar es Salaam, via Istanbul. A taxi drive from the airport introduced us to the city at 3am, with our hostel lurking around narrow backstreets lined with homeless sleeping bodies. A daunting first image of Tanzania.

The next day was spent exploring the city in daylight. Dar es Salaam has little to attract tourists, it's more of a transport hub and a stopping point en route to somewhere more exciting. Walking through the streets gave us some good glimpses of hectic city life, but that was the only highlight.

Zanzibar was our escape from the sweaty crowded city, with a ferry taking us across a short stretch of Indian Ocean to the picturesque honeymoon island. The first two days were spent navigating the colonial settlement of Stone Town, an old trading port with some historic significance. We endlessly got lost in the narrow, illogical maze of streets which seemed endless until you suddenly turned a corner to discover a view of the ocean. We arrived at the end of Ramadan festival, so hundreds of locals filled the streets at night, enjoying street food and a party atmosphere. A day trip to Prison island from Stone Town showed us a very mundane abandoned prison, this was outshone by a giant tortoise sanctuary, with dozens of huge tortoises lounging about.

After the lively atmosphere of Stone Town we took the hour long journey to the other side of the island, to the idyllic paradise of Michamvie Kae. Here we walked out of our hostel onto a deserted white sand beach leading into turquoise waters. 8 days were spent here doing not much more than a couple of walks into the mangroves and a lot of playing cards. Our bodies were still adjusting to our malaria medicine so a glimpse of sunshine ended up in burnt skin. Our Rastafarian hosts were a source of entertainment, we knew how much they had been smoking by how much of what they said made sense. They had been smoking a lot on the last day when the taxi they ordered us took us to the airport instead of to the ferry.

An overnight stay back in Dar es Salaam was needed before an 8 hour bus journey inland took us to Iringa. Here we arrived at 5pm and had a safari booked by 6pm, leaving the following morning at 8am. The safari was in Ruaha national park, a few hours drive from Iringa. Our guide Serafino took us to our cottage inside the park, where we could spot animals whilst laid in bed. Within the site an armed guard had to walk us from the restaurant to our room, as a lack of any fencing meant you could get closer to some lions than expected. The next 3 days were an amazing experience, driving in a park with only a few other trucks meant we could go hours without seeing any other people. During our stay we saw a lion stalking some antelope in the tall grasses by a river, another lion guarding it's dead prey of baby elephant, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and even a drooling giraffe. All the while our Attenborough styled guide was explaining the plants and animals, taking us on walks in the park and even giving us some dung to handle.

After the excitement of the safari we travelled to the political capital, Dodoma. Here we spent two days waiting for our train, filling the time with some walks through the city and it's markets, but mostly making use of our first personal TV and access to football since the UK. We arrived at the train station at the required time of 6am, unfortunately the train timetable isn't too reliable, so when the train arrived at 2pm we boarded, ready to leave at 4pm. Our private room was initially filled with a young boy who we found out had been arrested and then forgotten about by the police. We gave him a couple of muffins before he was found again by another officer. The train was another great experience, giving us a truer image of what real life is like in Tanzania. We stopped several times during the 30 hour journey, at local villages where swarms of people ran to the windows selling anything from rice and fish to 3 foot high pestle and mortars. We also learnt the valuable lesson of never walking on train tracks, as the toilets were holes in the floor.

On arrival in Kigoma we avoided the screaming lunatic getting slapped and carried away to the police station, and made our way to our hostel outside of the centre for a quiet nights sleep. Our quiet night was interrupted by the nightclub situated around 4 yards from our window, with music blaring out until the early hours (we're definitely getting old). A quick escape in the morning took us to Gombe national park, which is only accessible by boat. We arrived at Gombe to find a hostel set on a secluded beach, for the next 3 days we shared the park with between 1 and 6 other people, it was virtually empty. Before our first guided walk in the park I made the mistake of spilling peanut butter all over my trousers, and whilst waiting outside alone for the guide, was cornered by a large baboon who obviously liked the smell. Sammie came out of our room to find me pushing up against the door to keep out the baboon who had learnt how to use door handles.

Our time in Gombe is the best thing we've done to date. Trekking up steep hills, through dense forest only to be rewarded by close encounters with large groups of chimpanzees. The groups walk for around 5 minutes before having a relax or play for around half an hour, where you can sit close and watch them enjoying themselves. A couple of the more aggressive males did charge at us and some other tourists, with one alpha male called Titan charging at a German couple, throwing rocks and sticks at them. It was like a scene from planet of the apes. At one point a young chimp starting sucking on my backpack and shirt, and another one grabbed Sammie's leg before smelling her bum - big mistake. The trip was made better by hikes to a peak with a 360 degree view of the park and a waterfall in the centre of the forest. Our guide here took a shining to Sammie, frequently complimenting her whilst forgetting my name. I'd had about enough by the time he started telling her he was going to try and show her a big snake.

After the fun of Gombe we had a few days of constant travel, with buses from Kigoma to Mpanda, Mpanda to Sumbawanga, Sumbawanga to Mbeya and Mbeya to the Malawian border. One bus was missed because of the confusing Swahili system of time; 12:00 actually means 6am, which meant that we turned up for a bus 6 hours late. I still can't get my head round the system. We were treated to buses with 35 odd seats being filled with well over double that amount of people, and a lot of women squatting on the roadside for a quick wee. Lovely.

The time in Tanzania has been fantastic and completely trouble free. After a few slightly worrying days Sammie soon settled in and started enjoying herself. The food has been great and the people even better. All in all we couldn't have hoped for a better start.