The Road to Dar - 63,612km
I'd heard all sorts of stories about the coast
road that runs North to Dar es Salaam - it's apparently impassable in the
big rains - and is by all accounts a hard drive. Frankly, it was a doddle -
we'd decided to break the journey at Kilwa where there are some interesting
ruins - which meant that we were able to take things easy.
The road itself is a mixture of the good
and the bad, with a great tarmac run into Kilwa itself. The hassle started
when we tried to get over to the island where the ruins are - permits that
were until recently free now cost $2 - then there's the compulsory guide
(negotiable), the touts, the extortionate boat fees (it's near impossible to
get onto the public boat) - basically it's the usual crap getting out of
control - we very nearly turned tail and left. The better way to do it would
be to hire a fisherman a long way from the port and do it all privately -
assuming you've got the Swahili...
The ruins are quite impressive once you get
there - the locals are friendly, and our local guide works on tips, and gave
us a great tour, which included watching the locals beat a wild cat of some
sort to death - all very exciting stuff.
The following day we continued North, with
the road improving steadily, arriving in Dar early enough to drive around
the city centre, find the Land Rover garage, book the car in for a service
(no more diff problems), and then drive around to Kipepeo Beach where
there's a beautiful camp site.
The next morning we set out with a couple
of groupies that we'd met at Kipepeo, and American and a Tanzanian. After
waiting far too long for a ferry across to Dar city I left the Camel at the
garage with a vague promise that I'd pick it up eventually, then we rushed
off to the port where we missed the midday ferry after Stephanie, the
American decided to pick a quarrel with the purser (see - Swahili can be
useful). The next, more expensive boat deposited us in Stone Town in early
Ports aren't always the nicest of places -
Stone Town particularly so - and between avoiding touts, taxi driving touts,
and pickpockets we arrived sweaty and tired at the Haven. The four of us
headed out to the food market where of course we bumped in to Laura and
Penny, who both Jayson and I had already travelled with.
Then Saturday arrived - the World Cup final
- and for once I managed to find a bar with a good crowd; the rest is
Sunday started with a good wander along the
maze of streets in Stone Town. We arrived near the port and decided to buy
the night boat tickets. The idea was for Jayson and I to catch the night
boat to Pemba for Idd - the end of Ramadan, as well as a spot of diving. The
problem was that the boats weren't running to schedule because of Idd - and
as I had to get back before Friday to pick up my car I decided at very short
notice to hop on the 4pm Zanair flight, leaving Jayson to catch a later
The flight was quite an adventure in itself
- it was a 12 seater - I was first on and told to move right to the front.
"What - the co-pilots seat?" I joked. And that's how I got to fly a
commercial plane... well almost - it certainly made for good views.
Pemba - it's a small world
Pemba is far less developed than Zanzibar -
less hassle means more relaxation, and as usual more friendly people.
October and Michael, who I'd met in Livingstone, work at Swahili Divers,
which is a sort of combined backpackers and dive base. It's a very relaxed
operation (in a good way), and the logistics of getting everybody to and
from dive sites is well sorted out. I managed to get a pretty good discount
based on my instructor qualifications, which is lucky as it isn't the
cheapest place to dive - but the good news is that it's well worth it -
great reefs, fish, viz, and a good lunch thrown in. A couple of days was
just enough to wet my appetite - but then of course I managed to get an ear
infection which meant that I was at least able to explore the Island with
Tim Stead and some of the other guys.
Tim Stead.... now there's a funny story.
I'm on the dive boat and notice a guy that I hadn't spoken to is reading a
book about the French Airmail Service in the twenties and thirties. Unless
you are French it's a pretty obscure book - I can't even remember the title,
but I'd last seen the book in Mauritania, also by coincidence at one of the
North African bases from where the Author had flown. We get chatting, and
this bloke explains how he'd visited said town in Mauritania. So as travel
bores are want to do we waffle a bit about the places and pistes we both
know and have suffered. I ask him when he was last there - and bugger me if
it wasn't at the same time as I passed through. Then he starts talking about
his Land Rover V8 with clutch problems and the penny drops. Tim and I had
spend weeks talking via email about places to get work done in West Africa,
and had even met once as he arrived and I left the Zebra bar in Senegal,
he'd even driven Paul Dutson's truck in a sort of vehicle exchange, but I
finally get to meet him properly on a small island off the coast of East
Africa... A very small world indeed.
Idd was an appropriately bizarre occasion -
the entire island seemed to travel by dalla dalla to an incongruous
fairground complete with decaying rides and a Ferris wheel resplendent in
three light bulbs (the whole affair is dark and gloomy unlike any fair in
the first world). Once there it's party time - with discos (no lights
either) many stalls all selling the same food (seen that in Switzerland
too), and of course the opportunity to defy death by riding the Ferris
I really enjoyed Pemba - it's so different
form Zanzibar proper - and it's lack of commercialism is appealing. It's
also what I'd call dirty jungle - that's to say there are areas that are
full of bugs and nasties - one of which unfortunately seemed to be the the
bathroom as Swahili Divers - and it was possibly there that a certain
mosquito chose to dine one fateful night....
All to soon it's time to fly back to Dar
via Zanzibar, though at least I get the front seats for both legs... Then
it's off to CMC Land Rover for the Camel - which as I drive out groans in
protest at the state of the rapidly expiring diff. I'm pretty surprised that
they hadn't bothered to test drive the car - and I'm pretty suspicious about
what they'd done to turn an intermittent problem into a regular and complete
failure of the diff, but at least the car is drivable, so I have my roof
tent for the weekend at Kipepeo beach.
I join the queue for the ferry, and in one
of those almost dependable coincidences another Camel Trophy Disco pulls up
behind me. Just when i need a good Land Rover mechanic I meet Robin Bryant
who lives close to Kipepeo beach, and invites me over for Sunday lunch with
his wife, Julia.
It's over lunch that I find out about
Athumani ( an anagram of antihuman, I note) who runs a garage that comes
highly recommended. Monday morning reveals a sheared half shaft ( a symptom
more likely that the problem itself - the diff is probably locking up at
speed. The half shaft is specific to the Detroit diff lock, so it's time for
a new set of shafts and a new diff, and by the end of the day, and $300
poorer, I drive off with one less worry in the world.
The following morning I have a whole new
worry - aching joints, a flu like feeling and dodgy guts. Off to the local
clinic where I discover that I've got a parasite count of three per however
many blood cells, which means early stage malaria. I'm given Malaxin, which
is a new one on me, and retire to the hammock for the day. I now no longer
have to listen enviously to the stories of all those other travellers who
have had malaria without riposte; finally Africa is in my blood.
By day two I'm feeling much better, and
head in to town to unravel the mystery of Rwanda visas (free at the border).
I feel a little cheated - no feverish brow and all that. Perhaps I should go
back to the clinic and ask for an exchange. Ebola perhaps?
And so we get to day three where I'm back
on the official burger diet, where I've manage to repair the MP3 playing
ability of the car stereo, and where I'm pretty much ready for the road to
We set off hoping to beat the traffic. No such
luck. The 'we' if you are curious is because I'm giving Stephanie and Celine,
the groupies I mentioned earlier a lift home to Arusha. Arusha is a long
day's drive from Dar, and after we'd had to wait an hour for a ferry it made
sense to break the journey at Lushoto. The road up into the mountains is a
marvel of German engineering, and swiftly takes you up into the highlands
where you follow valleys that are straight out of the Swiss alps, even
complete with the log cabins. It's good to feel cool air again, and as the
mountain pass unfolds, and we climb ever higher the temperature drops still
At dusk we arrived at Lawns
Guest House where after dining on the world's smallest ever sandwich
(TS1500) I slept soundly, wrapped in my duvet for the first time since SA.
In the morning we followed a track up to the
President's retreat - actually a hotel in the making, where you can pretty
much see forever, and as an added bonus the vervet monkeys are practically
tame. After arguing with our guide who expected a Kilimanjaro-type tip for
his hours 'work' (he actually walked away from our very fair offer - about
half a days pay for anybody else) it was on to Arusha.
I spent the next couple of days camping in
Stephanie's yard. watching a succession of Massai drop by for tea, and
generally getting a feel for the town. Stephanie lives with a bunch of other
expats, but it's very much in the community, rather than by exclusion as is
normally the case. This is pretty unusual, but then the people in the house
all either work with the Massai, except for Gemma, who is married to one.
That meant that I actually got to meet the extremely proud and elegant
Massai for real, before heading off the the Serengeti to meet the
Ngorongoro and beyond
Possibly the toughest moment in an African trip must the that instant when
you reach into your wallet and pull out fist-fulls of dollars to get you
into a Tanzanian park. I know I was crying. What really hurts, though, is
that this money doesn't go to the local communities or to the parks
themselves - it just disappears as far as you and I are concerned, So having
paid $75 for the honour of driving on some of the worst roads in any African
park to get to the crater, and then on to Olduvai gorge of Leakey
fame, you expect something pretty special. Yes, the crater is pretty good.
As good as Kruger at least. And the gorge is something that you can't really
pass by if you have even a passing interest in anthropology or archaeology.
but on a value for money basis it scores a 2/10. And that's just warming up.
After changing the ripped tyre that the roads
had destroyed, and making running repairs to those bits of the car that were
getting shaken off by the appalling surface, I continued on, leaving the
Ngorongoro conservancy area and entered the Serengeti Park itself. $30 for
the car, $30 for me, and $20 for the camp site. I get to bitch about this
with some equally pissed off Dutch guys who are heading the same way. At
least the roads were marginally better to Seronera where despite the poor
signposting I eventually managed to find the campsite. It's a couple of
bandas, for cooking, a shower block with no water, and long drop toilets. A
little while later two guys turn up to check that I'd paid. After an hour or
so a landcruiser ($50,000) pulls up and a lady sends me out to the car in
the rain for my paperwork again. I point out that having paid $20 to camp
maybe I'd have been happier if there were facilities like, say, running
water (it's pissing down, but she misses the irony). I suppose I should have
been thankful for the long-drop - as campsites go it was one of the most
basic as well as being the most expensive so far.
And that's pretty much it. The next morning we
drove West on roads that were corrugated and potholed despite the softening
effect of the rain. You'd think they'd have enough in the bank to grade
them. There was a lot of game, pretty much all of it hoofed, and the
highlight was probably the dead hippo that was feeding a flock of vultures
(do they flock?). Not bad, but it's nothing you can't find in any most other
game parks in Africa.
what's so great about the Serengeti? We'll I suppose the government thinks
it's great that all these tourist pay them money that they can spend on
anything except for the park itself. And another thing is that it's pretty
quiet, kind of like Northern Kruger. An frankly unless it either gets a lot
cheaper or a lot better it's going to stay that way.
Sod eco-tourism if that's what
they call it - go to Kruger, save yourself a fortune, enjoy actual real
facilities. Next time I'll be taking the road around. Hell, next time I'll
be somewhere else.
2003 - Speke bay Lodge, Serengeti
Well, that's the Serengeti. After living out
of my food box for the last few days it's been great to have a real meal,
and a cold beer on the shore of Lake Victoria. Shame it's pissing down, but
at least my tent has been keeping the rain out... Tomorrow it's off to
Mwanza to sort out my tyres, hopefully post this update, and then make a
beeline for Rwanda.