Tanzania, take 2

Me and my friend Lucy decided over a champagne breakfast back in September in the Icelandic countryside to meet up and travel thru Africa for a month. From November 4 until December 10th, the tentative plan was Dar Es Salaam to Luanda, Lilongwe, or Lusaka. Luanda was quickly dismissed because no traveler in their right mind feels like over-landing thru all of Angola, with the prices of things, remoteness of places and language as pretty big barriers. Lilongwe would have required us to overland thru northern Mozambique, which is somewhat unstable and has terrible infrastructure, so the obvious choice became Lusaka. Lusaka itself isn´t much of a destination city, but it´s a green and tidy, spacious city (especially for African standards), full of malls, worth a stop on the way to Livingstone, and so Livingstone became our final destination.

Lucy and I

Our decision meant we´d have about 2 weeks in Tanzania before heading to Malawi and Zambia for 10 days each. Two weeks in Tanzania barely lets you scratch the surface, and the actual overland part from Dar to Malawi was only a couple of days, since we made a lot of friends in Dar, zigzagged north and south along the coast and spent over a week island hopping in the Indian ocean. We were prepared for a lot of long, bumpy, bus rides and super-slow ferries, but some boat trips literally felt like overcrowded refugee boats with a 50% chance of making it with everyone alive. The bus trips always turned out okay, especially if you were lucky with your seat choice, but the number of car accidents, with cars, motorcycles and buses, that we saw on nearly a daily basis always made us count our lucky stars. A few breakdowns or flat tires on the way were then never anything to complain about, especially after we witnessed first-hand the fatalities some of those accidents caused.

Dhow boats, a daily sight

I arrived a weekend earlier than Lucy and had no idea what I´d do for the first few days. I found a last minute couchsurf host that lived in a half-finished house, so there was electricity but no water, and a toilet but no shower. One night later I was relieved to find out I actually had a friend from London who had recently moved to Dar, and staying in his guest room with air con, a private bathroom, and cleaning lady to make my bed felt like 5 star luxury. I was also lucky enough to coincide with the Bagamoyo Karibou Music Festival, and me and London guy roadtripped up there to boogie in the rain and buy lots
of mishkaki (meat on a stick), bbq´d plantains and chips maiai (French fries panfried into an omelette). I was also happy to coincide with avocado season, and buying perfectly ripened avocados the size of grapefruits for cents on the side of the road hasn´t been done since my 2010 trip to Colombia.

Kaole ruins

Bagamoyo was much more memorable for the Kaole Ruins, fish market, and the dozen or so ex-pats I met. I listened to their stories of where they were from and why they were in Tanzania, the benefits of having ‘blue’ and ‘green’ plates (UN and diplomatic) and also managed to meet up with two local friends I had met thru couchsurfer guy at a film
screening at Goether-Institute, a German initiative, in Dar.

Lucy and Olli at the entrance to the cave

Later, one of those local guys Olli invited us to visit his parents’ village in Kilwa, and we traveled there by public bus with a 25kg sack
full of shoes and clothes to give away. His cousin was randomly our bus driver and his toothless uncle hosted us in his home. We hiked to an incredible cave whose name I may never know, and literally crawled thru bat shit to get to some deep, dark, depths, only to find eels, frogs, prawns, and crickets living, totally devoid of light, in the underground streams and puddles.

Crawling out from the bat poop

We carried on to Kilwa Masoko and Kilwa Kisiwani, an island full of ruins similar to Kaole, and an historically important link between Great Zimbabwe, the slave trade, gold coins, the spice route, and the Middle East.

Olli at the Kilwa ruins

We returned to Dar, which seemed to be the very inconveniently located center of things, and spend a couple of days at Kipepeo Beach. We ate the best breakfast I´ve had in Africa at Salt in Dar Es Salaam, attended a birthday party at some Brazilian/Swiss ambassador´s house, had sundowners at Slipway, partied at Q Bar and East 24, drank some legitimate coffees at a few cafes, and swung in hammocks with locals at Cocoa beach. From Dar, it was time to go to Zanzibar, and it would become a very different, far-away experience from Dar. My first, or second rather, impressions of Tanzania were not what I expected, random and disconnected, but still fell together perfectly for another novel, African adventure.

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The Kingdom of Swaziland

Swaziland is a little land-locked country, surrounded on all sides by South Africa and Mozambique. Besides being the only absolute monarchy left in Africa, I didn’t know much about Swaziland, other than it has (at least had) the highest rate of HIV positive people per capita in the world. Someone in Johannesburg told me I should visit in winter, so I could go skiing, but after arriving and asking when the ski season is and being laughed at, I learned there’s never any snow in Swaziland. Someone must have confused it with Lesotho.

To my surprise, Swaziland was a much safer, more peaceful part of southern Africa. As soon as I crossed the border from South Africa, everyone felt more at ease, and no left-over apartheid feelings of racial separation seemed to exist. I could walk the streets alone at night, and even hitchiked my way around Ezulwini Valley. I felt really at home at a hotspring called the ‘Cuddle Puddle’ which was actually a big, beautiful, warm pool where you could BYOB and order take away pizza.

safari on foot at Mlilwane

Ezulwini valley was a sort of tourism center in Swaziland, and there was more tourism than I expected. There was a handful of backpackers and most hostels were associated with an adventure company or game park. At Mlilwane Game Reserve, there are no predators, so you can actually go on a walking safari, and get up close and personal with lots of zebras and little horned antelopes and ‘beests.’ They had other game parks, one personally belonging to the king, where you could see lions, elephants and rhinos a lot easier than Kruger National Park, which is 1,500 square kilometers larger than the entire country of Swaziland.

Mantenga Falls

I went on some other hikes, one to a cultural village and waterfall, and another to a granite cave. You wouldn’t think those activites were thrilling anywhere else, but because I hadn’t expected any adventures, I laughed my whole way through the 200m of cave tunnels we had to squeeze, bend, crawl and climb thru. We went to a soccer game to watch the beloved Swallows, one of the better teams on all of Africa, play surrounded by an enthusiastic local crowd. We were the only foreigners in the stadium.

at the football stadium in Ezulwani valley

I met an American film producer who used to work for National Geographic and had been making a new tourism commercial for Swaziland, and got sold on visiting Swaziland yet again. I ended up staying a few days longer than I expected, but still left some things undone, and was glad I didn’t visit for only a weekend as I had originally planned. I was lucky to leave at all, since I learned at the border exit that I had been illegally visa-free in Swaziland the entire time. So for any other Icelanders being sold on visiting Swaziland anytime soon, make sure you get your visa on arrival, even if they let you in and stamp your passport without one.