Time to head back to Dar es Salaam on Thursday. I had a quick look at the snake museum next to the hotel before the departure. The warden woke some of them up by poking them with a long stick. The queues at the weigh bridge were quite amazing. Many of the lorries are second-hand and from the UK. It is quite strange to see familiar hauliers’ names in East Africa. We passed the sisal plantations we saw on the outward journey and there was very little traffic compared with that first journey. We had to squeeze past an accident where those involved were having a vociferous argument. Back at the Dar hotel, there was a conference in full swing on globalisation and sustainability. Not sure how they square that circle. The hippy count is much higher than the average medical conference and there were lots of people in the bar staring at their laptops. There was Ibiza-style music from the bar until 11pm. On our last day we took a trip to Mbudya Island and had a relaxing time on the beach and wandering around the island which is a nature island. It was low tide so we had to wade out to the boat. The water near the shore was quite brown and cloudy but cleared to brilliant blue further out. Once on the island I did some beach combing. Lunch arrived (freshly caught fish) and later reappeared as fish and chips.
Back on dry land we had dinner with Elwyin who was leaving at 4am the next morning to drive back to Malawi. Our nightcap was on the pier. We were turfed out of our rooms fairly early the next morning by the cleaners so sat in the cool reception awaiting our taxi. The booked one failed to appear so we spotted the driver who had picked us up at the start of the trip. He got us to the airport in time via some back roads in much less time than expected. Once we were airborne, we flew over Zanzibar as I listened to music. As the sun set we left the Indian Ocean to fly over Somalia and then on to Dubai. After three hours between flights, I had discovered a paper without a sport section. Now we are back home with the washing machine on overtime and trying to settle back into the world of work and planning the next trip.
Tuesday saw us up before sunrise to finish packing, have breakfast and get on the road by 7am. This did not entirely go to plan. We did finish breakfast in time, entertained by Indian House Crows stealing sugar packets from the tables. When we went to check out, the reception clerk had difficulty deciding what our bill should be (three dinners and a few drinks, not to complicated we thought). Once that was sorted out, we squeezed our bags into the back of Elwyin’s Toyota Landcruiser on top of all his camping stuff and set off into very heavy traffic. A few miles later I realised I had left my camera at the hotel so we backtracked and there it was to my intense relief. It took until 10am to get out of Dar due to heavy traffic and road works. We took the road to Morogoro that was plagued by dangerous drivers including HGVs, motorcyclists and cars over-taking on blind bends and summits. We saw numerous accidents, fortunately non requiring medical assistance so we remained off duty. At one point Elwyin was pulled over by the police and accused of speeding, which we knew he had not been doing. I suspect this was because he was driving a Malawi registered car. Eventually, after intense negotiation and us wondering whether intervening would help or hinder, he was let off. Continuing, we saw our first Vervet (or Tantalus) Monkey, Pied Crows and White-Rumped Swifts. Then: the flat tyre. Fortunately the spare on the Land Cruiser is under the vehicle, not in the boot so we did not need to unload. Elwyin quickly changed the tyre and as we had stopped opposite a local fruit stall, bought some small Ladies’ Finger bananas and some oranges. In Morogoro we got a new inner tube into the tyre and back on the car. As were behind schedule, we grabbed some supplies from a supermarket and munched as we drove on. The fields alongside the road had corn and sunflowers growing which was a reminder of Route 66 last September when they were our companions for many miles. In Mikumi National Park we saw several troops of baboons hanging around by the road hoping to be fed by passers by, giraffe, zebras, antelope and glimpses of elephants. As we are returning here for a stay on our way back to Dar we continued on into the upland forests and the Baobab Valley, towards Iringa. It was late afternoon by now and the blue of the mountains ahead and baobabs silhouetted against them would have made some great photographs but we did not really have time to stop for long. Nearer to Iringa we passed small communities selling red onions neatly stacked by the road and sacks of rock salt. After easing past slow lorries on the last climb, we neared the town but turned off a few miles before to our campsite. It was now dark and there seemed to be some confusion as to whether we were camping or in a banda. As non-one fancied erecting the tent in the dark, we opted to pay a few dollars more and have a little luxury as we are camping for the next three nights. Breakfast this morning was not at 7pm as advertised but eventually arrived. We were all packed up only to find that the car was difficult to start. We got up the dirt road and found the necessary part at a garage on the way into Iringa. Have picked up food from the market in Iringa and now are en route to Ruaha for three days then the Udzungwa Mountains so will be offline for a while.
We woke to sunshine and some patches of blue sky. The rivers we had crossed on Saturday night had receded considerably and most places were drying out. After recovering from our flight by the ocean we it was time to explore the city centre. We saw very few Europeans and then only in cafes and mostly embassy staff. From the main streets we wandered into the National Museum where there are some early human remains discovered by the Leakeys in Olduvai Gorge, a good anthropological section and some modern African Art. Then on down busy streets towards the fish market which was in full swing: a riot of colour, sounds and smells. Men were emerging carrying red snapper and king fish and all around people were bargaining for fish. Beyond it were boats on the beach and in the distance, a long queue of container ships waiting to enter the port. I walked along the path away from the market aiming to get a photo of activities on the beach but was warned by a man not to take any as this road backed onto the government buildings and the police would not be happy. Back in town we found our taxi and slowly made our way back to the hotel, hawkers passing at every junction where the traffic slowed. Some people did pester us in the streets, to buy things or have them guide us but generally not a huge problem and they seemed more polite and less persistent than those encountered in northern Africa. Back at the beach, the clouds were now higher and a walk along the sand was essential in the very short twilight before nightfall. The pier seem to have a problem with their lighting tonight. As they seemed to have standard electrical sockets exposed to water, this was not surprising. Now its time to pack up for an early start to Iringa tomorrow.
Today was spent recovering from our journey by the beach. As it was over 20 years since my last dip in the Indian Ocean, that was a must after breakfast and a walk alongside the water. The beach was littered with plastic debris which had washed up and it was difficult to know whether this was a regular occurrence or whether the recent torrential rains and floods further south in South Africa and Botswana have disturbed the circulation of water and waste. The sea was warm but very shallow, inside the reef. Men were fishing for sardines from the shore with large nets, others were digging for crabs and cleaning the beach. We saw a heron and are still trying to identify it as we cannot see it in the bird books we have. There are many Indian House Crows and House Sparrows, both of which have been introduced. After a dip in the pool we then met with a friend Barry had not seen for 38 years, his wife and daughter. Kim is a biologist and told us about the recent discoveries of new species (a primate and a bird) in the Udzungwa Mountains where we are headed for in a few days time. After that we had a siesta and in the evening met our guide Elwyin. He had driven up from Malawi and had a twelve hour wait to cross the border due to a dispute between the two countries over who owns certain parts of the lake. We had a run through of our itinerary over a beer: he then left for a much-needed rest and we had dinner followed by a walk along the jetty for a nightcap. The tide had come in and from the jetty we could see dozens of very small crabs scuttling about on the sand. Tomorrow we will explore the city.
Manchester Airport late afternoon and evening was much quieter than our usual early morning departures. Other than an over-zealous member of security staff creating a backlog of women waiting to be screened, we met up with Heather and Barry and completed the journey to Dubai without to many problems. The time it takes to travel on the bus from the plane to the terminal past acres of concrete only serves to emphasise the amount of energy it takes to keep this city going in a desert. Parts are reminiscent of Los Angeles: concrete, palm trees and oleander. The second leg to Dar es Salaam was better as I had a window seat and three crosswords to tackle with varying success (the New York Times International, the FT Weekend and the Times Middle East & Asia). We flew over the southern part of the Arabian peninsula, the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. Once we reached Kenya it was much greener but as we then flew over the sea, we were too far east to catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro above the clouds. Having landed in Dar, there was a long wait for our bags and a longer drive to the ocean and our hotel. Tomorrow, a lazy day on the beach devouring guide books and plotting the rest of the trip, is planned, lunch with a friend of Barry’s and at some point a visit to the coral reef islands we saw from above.