Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Once back at the guest house in Zambia, I packed up and headed towards the Tanzanian border for the third time in heavy rain. Americans are forced to buy a multiple entry visa for $100 where most others have the option of buying the $50 single entry visa - at least I was getting my money’s worth.

By not taking my bike on the Liemba I missed out on traveling up around Lake Victoria and seeing Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Now, my route would take me directly to the island of Zanzibar. I was okay with the compromise.

With night stops in Mbeya and Morogoro I arrived at the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam an hour before the next passenger ferry was to depart. It was incredibly hot and I was soak in sweat since stopping only minutes before. I did not really want to stay the night in Dar, so I made the decision, which I would later regret, of taking the bike to the island with me.

Zanzibar is famous for its white sandy beaches, it’s remarkable history and being the birthplace of Freddy Mercury of Queen. I was interested in it’s history.

Back in the day, everyone starting off across eastern African to capture slaves or ivory procured supplies and outfitted their expedition in Zanzibar. Colorful cloth and beads where purchased from Indian businessman in order to trade with the native chiefs in exchange for fresh food and permission to cross their land. Askaris (armed guards) and porters were also arranged in Zanzibar. When Stanley was sent to Africa to search for Dr. Liverstone, his expedition was outfitted in Stone Town, Zanzibar and then loaded onto Dhows and sailed to Bagamoyo, the capital before German colonization.

Stone Town was the focus of my visit to the island. The narrow streets walled by three or four storied apartments above small storefronts created a cavernous effect. Cars were restricted from the core of the historic center, primarily because they would not fit I imagine, but the occasional scooter or bicycle would give a ring on its bell before passing. Streets seldom had names or right angles so it was impossible to get from “A to B” in any kind of direct fashion. I routinely got lost and cared little. Stone Town was small and one can transverse it at its widest point in about 20-minutes.

The first thing you notice about the town is how Arabic it is, you really feel like you are in a distant land, even unique from the rest of Tanzania. At the height of the slave trading period, Oman relocated its capital to Stone Town and it is where the Sultan lived and held the seat of the country’s power. Before oil, slaves were the big commodity. Villagers from inland Africa were collected on slave expeditions and brought back to the slave markets on Zanzibar. Many of the Arabic people fled during the independence uprising of Tanzania in the late 1960’s, when Zanzibar became part of the new country.

Islamic practices dominate the island as reflected in the dress of the local men and women. Foreign visitors are asked to respect this and not wear beachwear or short shorts out in public. Children walk to school in their Muslim school uniforms and the call to prayer is piped over scratchy PA systems throughout the city which all lends to the air of being in an exotic land – at least for this westerner.

The only downside is that the island is a major tourist destination and there are always a lot of “touts” following you around wanting to "help you" with something for a small fee. It got old.

Luckily, Geert was also in Zanzibar for a couple days while I was there and we shared a few more meals together, usually Indian in nature. After a week, I felt it was time to go.

The bike was loaded on drive-on ferry ($80) that beached itself on the on the sand next to a busy bar. It was comical theater to watch the loading and unloading process. Cars routinely got stuck no matter how fast they took “a run” at the sand. Of course, nobody thought to dig out a path or bring a proper towrope to the daily event. After the bike was loaded, I had to take a separate passenger ferry that took all night and arrived at the docks in Dar at 6:00 AM, the same time the car ferry arrived. It then took six hours, and about $30, to get my bike out of the port. I don’t like being separated from the bike, but I only used to one day to visit the beaches on the island so the aggravation and expense was definitely not worth it.

I spent two nights in the YMCA in Dar es Salaam before heading to Kenya.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kigoma, Tanzania

I had a week to wait in Kigoma before re-boarding the Liemba for the return voyage. The town was sleepy with remnants of past glory. The town was peppered with good, but tired, examples of German colonial architecture with the old train station being the crown jewel.

Like most of Tanzania, English was seldom spoken and it was necessary to pick up some words in Swahili. Unfortunately, the diet changed little from the boat, with the exception of pineapples being readily available and “chips myai” or a french fry omelet. Walking around one day I came across a restaurant that advertised Indian and Chinese food. I was ecstatic.

“Menu please.”

“No menu.”

“Well, what kind of Indian and Chinese food do you have?”

“Rice chicken, rice beef only” (Ugali, the mashed maize meal was always the alternative to rice. Ugali is the same as the previously mentioned, Nsima.)

Deflated, I was able to negotiate for rice and beans. So much for truth in advertising.

Later, Geert and I discovered the “fancy” Lake Tanganyika Hotel and enjoyed their more varied menu, though at much higher prices.

Geert remained in Kigoma while researching a story on a nearby refugee camp. We stayed at the same guesthouse in our respective $7 a night rooms, and were soon joined by Dom. Dom was a young Peace Corp volunteer who had just finished his two-year stint and was now making his way to South Africa on his Chinese made 150-cc motorcycle. We became somewhat of a trio.

The days could be long and activities few, however there were some things to do in the area:

One day, Dom and I split the cost of a water taxi with a couple of Dutch guys and went to Chombe River National Park. This is where Jane Goodall did all her research on Chimpanzees. The park is only accessible by water.

You are not guaranteed to see the chimps but we lucked out and found a group after an hour-long hike up the side of a mountain. It was hot and incredibly humid. The path soon disappeared and we were walking through thick vine draped jungle – real Tarzan type stuff. This was not all left to chance. Our guide was in radio contact with a spotter that stayed with the chimps. Research continues at the park and extensive notes are kept on all the resident chimps.

We heard “hooting” and the rustling of branches as we approached a group of man’s closest genetic relatives. The chimps could care less that we were there, being quite used to humans We stayed for about 30-minutes before looking for another group. It was a unique experience to say the least.

Another day trip was taking a 30-cent shared taxi ride to nearby Ujiji to visit the spot where Henry Stanley caught up with Dr. David Livingstone and uttered the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Not much to see, but I had just finished reading Stanley’s diary of his quest to find the AWOL explorer. His journey started in Zanzibar.

Lastly, born out of boredom I decided to launch Tommy Tanzania, my own line of African cruise wear. I spent a day patiently looking for the perfect kanga fabric from Nigeria. I then approached, David, one of the many “tailors” manning a sewing machine alongside the road. I had two shirts made, each one consisting of $6 of fabric and $6 in David’s handy work. Within 24-hours I had a two great fitting Hawaiian-style shirts. I gave David a little something extra for a job well done. I failed to take any photos of the shirts before sending them home (I have no room to carry them), but I promise you this – you will see me coming when I am wearing one. Until further notice, Tommy Tanzania has been put on hold.

Back on the Liemba, Dom and I shared my old cabin #1 and we watched as the chaos unfolded yet again. Another baby was born on the upper deck and the rice and beef/chicken was dished out for lunch and dinner. I got a better sense of the camaraderie between the regular passengers and crew and learned to embrace the madness just a little bit more.