On Safari

Before DonQui takes his blog out of  Tanzania he thinks he should say something about the wildlife.

Cape Buffalo

He did not have the chance to get to any of the parks on this most recent visit but he has in the past.

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It is hard to put into words just how magnificent the Serengeti is.

Wildebeast Migration 2It helped that DonQui managed to time his visit to coincide with the Wildebeest migration. This was good luck rather than good management as the migration started a few months earlier than expected due to early rains.

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A night out on the plains under canvas with hyenas and leopards prowling around the campsite was an experience DonQui is not likely to forget in a hurry.

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He felt more than a little uneasy early the next morning when he saw close up how one of his black and white stripy relatives had become breakfast for a pride of lions.

The Serengeti was simply magnificent. It is one of those incredible places that should be visited at least once in a lifetime.

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The Ngorongoro crater — the world’s largest inactive volcanic caldera — is famous for its high density of wildlife. Despite the magnificent scenery and plentiful animals, it at times it seemed to DonQui that it was a bit like a trip to the zoo with an even higher density of people.

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Guides radio each other as soon as some interesting animals are spotted and before you can blink the poor beasts are surrounded by dozens of vehicles filled with camera toting tourists.

If DonQui ever gets the chance to again go on safari in Tanzania he would like to try to make it to one of the lesser visited parks such as the Selous Game Reserve or Ruaha National Park for more of a wilderness experience. Maybe one day he might even make it to Gombe to see chimpanzees in the wild.

Old Boma

DonQui found himself in Mtwara a few months ago. Planned as a deep water port for disastrous Tanganyika groundnut scheme in the 1940s, the town is now rapidly becoming the oil and gas capital of Tanzania since the discovery of huge natural gas reserves off shore. Therefore it is not surprising that DonQui shared the Precision Air flight from Dar es Salaam with a load of British, Norwegian, Canadian, American and Chinese oil & gas boys.

Mtwara

Just short of the Mozambique border, Mtwara is not on most visitors’ destination lists when they think of going to Tanzania. To be truthful DonQui cannot think of many reasons to visit other than to experience a part of the country that few tourists ever see.

The town itself has no attractions and there is tension between the locals and the government which has occasionally erupted into violence. A gas pipeline is being built from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam, causing disruption while the economic benefits will go to Dar, bypassing the locals.

Mtwara beach

The one decent hotel in Mtwara, the Naf Beach Hotel  is rather expensive for what it offers and is… well… a little naff. The view over the Indian Ocean is wonderful but the beach is for looking at rather than experiencing.

Just a little to the north of Mtwara, however, is Mikindani — an old port town that was once a major trade centre on the Swahili coast. Mikindani was the staging point of David Livingstone’s last African expedition and was an important port of German East Africa.

Mikandini

Today the town has shrunk to little more than a village but it retains some of the best Arab and European colonial architecture to be seen in Tanzania outside Zanzibar. A couple of buildings and the Arab cemetery date back to the 17th century.

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The jewel in Mikindani’s crown is surely the Old Boma (old fort). Once the centre of German East African administration in the region, later taken over by the British, it fell into neglect and ruin in post colonial years. At the turn of the millennium a UK charity —Trade Aid — lovingly restored it.

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The signs left by both European colonial occupiers are preserved in the tasteful restoration which has transformed the old fort into a hotel with the aim of teaching local youngsters the skills needed to find employment in Tanzania’s tourism sector.So now the grand Old Boma is both a boutique hotel and a training facility. Overseen by the ebullient Harry MacEwan, the staff learn the hospitality trade, improve their English language skills and many go on to find jobs which will take then from subsistence living to far greater opportunities.

DonQui stayed at the Old Boma for a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed himself. The building is utterly unique, the setting wonderful and although the service was at times erratic — a function of the fact that is a training establishment — he highly recommends spending a few days here if you have any sense of history and are looking for peaceful tranquility. The food is pretty good too and they even make their own honey on site — produced by tiny, stingless bees.

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The Old Boma provides a number of excursions. DonQui took them up on an offer of a trip to the white sands and coral reef of Msimbati beach on the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve —very close to the Mozambique border.

Land Rover

Setting off in a rickety old land rover with two local boys and a packed lunch, the 35 mile trip took a couple of hours along a dirt road.

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Passing through lush forest, rice paddies and several ramshackle villages the trip gave DonQui the opportunity to view rural Tanzania which is a world away from the bustle of Dar es Salaam. He was shocked to see that all the manual labour in the rice paddies and on road construction sites was almost universally done by women. Bowed low under their burdens they toiled in the sun while their men sat in the shade and apparently did very little. An urban Tanzanian friend later sorrowfully told him that the women would be expected to cook a meal for their idle menfolk on return from their labours.

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Signs of the omnipresent Chinese investment to extract African natural resources were also plain to see when the forest suddenly gave way to an oil and gas facility.

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Msimbati was about a close to beach paradise as DonQui could ever hope to find. He had the fine sand beach entirely to himself. The day was cloudy and there was an easterly breeze which made the 35º heat rather pleasant.

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The water was warm and crystal clear with a teaming coral reef just off shore which made for a near perfect snorkelling destination. The two young men who accompanied him, set up a small table and sun shade where he could retreat from the noon day sun and enjoy the very good packed lunch which the Old Boma had provided. Spicy samosas, fresh salad, pineapple and mango seemed just about the perfect lunch on a hot afternoon.

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On his return to Mikindani DonQui took a walk down the road, stopping several times to photograph the local children, all of whom insisted on seeing themselves on his camera. None of them spoke any English apart from the following words: “photo” and “Manchester United.” As a creature with no interest in football what so ever, DonQui despaired at what appears to have become Britain’s most popular export.

Ten Degrees South

Navigating his way through the local pint size paparazzi magnets, DonQui’s destination was Ten Degrees South.  Dive centre, bar, restaurant and simple hotel, Ten Degrees South is the antithesis of the relatively upmarket but quiet Old Boma. Gathered around the bar, overseen by an expat Canadian doctor, were a lively mix of oil boys on leave, NGO girls taking a break from doing good works, scuba divers returning from exploring the reefs and even a couple of locals.

It was the perfect place to sip on a beer or two and exchange gossip with the eclectic mix of multi-national customers

A Most Wonderful Meal

DonQui decides to try out the highly recommended Tea House Restaurant on the rooftop of the Emerson Spice hotel for dinner.

Emerson Spice

Being tucked down the back streets of Stone Town the Emerson Spice is a bit tricky to find.  Although he has a fairly good nose for direction DonQui eventually has to admit defeat and ask for directions — something he absolutely hates doing.

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Up several flights of wooden stairs of the beautifully restored merchant’s house  and DonQui finds himself on the rooftop terrace. Dinner, a five course seafood tasting menu, starts at 7 and he was advised to arrive an hour earlier to watch the sunset over the town,

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He is glad he did.

The restaurant is quite small, taking a maximum of 30 diners so booking is essential. They take a deposit on booking. Tonight there are about a dozen people dining and quite a few others come up for a drink to watch the sunset.

pinot noir

DonQui selects a South African pinot noir to drink. It is a light red, served chilled like the Alsacian pinot noir wines it reminds him of. He was quite glad of his choice as it went perfectly well with the citrus flavours of many of the dishes.

The fist course consists of three small dishes:

first courseSembe cake with fish paté. The fish is shredded rather than compressed in a paté. It is served under a parsley salad and on top of a small sembe cake, which reminds DobQui of a soft biscuit. The flavours are delicate, and deliciously enhanced with a light citrus dressing.

Chaza tomato. A luscious deep red ripe tomato stuffed with a mildly spiced mixture of rice and mince.

Passion fruit ceviche. A small thin fillet of white fish served on a shell with the most gorgeous, intense passion fruit. Marinade. The flavours all work beautifully together, leaving an exquisite lingering aftertaste in DonQui’s mouth from the spices in the tomato playing with the tartness of the ceviche.

tuna

Tuna timbale is the next course, served on a bed of parsley with garlic nyanya chungu (or African eggplant) and sautéed cherry tomatoes. The whole dish is infused with light citrus flavours and the tuna wrapped with fine slices of cucumber which gives a nice fresh counterpoint. Nyanya chungu is something new for DonQui. Seeming like a cross between a fruit and a vegetable, it is rather good.

lobster

Then comes lobster on a skewer, cooked with a hint of chilli and served with vanilla sauce on the side. It is accompanied by lightly roasted potatoes with fennel, and an aubergine salad. Now DonQui is not a great fan of fennel so he is pleased to find it a very subtle flavouring and actually rather good. He can say this for all the dishes. The spices and flavours blend together beautifully to create a balanced taste without any one ingredient overpowering. The lobster is succulent and the vanilla sauce an unusual addition which goes very well with it.

kingfish

King fish with ukwaju sauce, green beans and mbirimbi pickle is the next dish for DonQui to sample. He likes the meatiness of the fish and the ukwaju sauce (made from tamarind) is simply divine. Mbirimbi pickle from the cucumber tree (averhhoa bilimbi) is quite a taste sensation with an intense salty-sour-citrus taste which makes it a rather good accompaniment to the fish. DonQui’s only criticism of the entire meal is of the green beens. They were cold and crunchy and while DonQui hates overcooked vegetables the beans still had a green, raw taste that a couple more minutes of cooking could have improved.

desert

Desert was a trio of dishes like the first course:

Staffeli Saffron Givré which DonQui can only describe as similar to a sorbet but slightly different. The saffron flavouring was again very subtle and it was served in a lemon shell.

Mtoto wa Jang’ombe — a coconut/chocolate creation wrapped in a thin pancake; and

Peanut Kashata — a very fine peanut brittle

chef

Chef Suliman Sadallia (right of photo) describes himself as a ‘creative chef’ and DonQui thinks this is a very apt description. His dishes are all creations in which the flavours come together to become something new and delicious. He uses fresh, local ingredients and draws on Zanzibar’s multi-ethnic heritage to create food which is traditional and very modern at the same time.

As for the cost? Well it is not cheap, but $40 for five delightful and imaginative courses in a wonderful setting seems to DonQui to be very reasonable indeed.

Zanzibar

What is there not to like about Zanzibar? DonQui thinks to himself.travellers (1)

He is at one of his favourite spots —  the Travellers’ Café in Stone Town, tucked down a small alley and overlooking the Indian Ocean. When he looks up from writing this post, he sees a dow sailing by in the mid distance.

It is true that there are problems here — political, religious and economic. Two years ago there was the horrific acid attack on a British tourist. Fortunately this seems to have been a one-off which filled the Zanzibarans with the same feelings of revulsion as it did for Brits.

The union of Zanzibar with Tanganyika, which created modern Tanzania, was never to be a marriage of eternal bliss and happiness. The problems and differences have exploded into violence during past elections and with polling day tomorrow (Sunday 25 October) the number of tourists are lower than usual.

election

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has won all of the previous elections but this time the expected outcome is too close to call. DonQui’s Tanzanian friends assured him that previous violence in Zanzibar is unlikely this year.

streets

As DonQui wanders around the back streets of Stone Town he does not feel any great tension. He has a good nose for such things and can usually sense trouble before it blows up . The parties have their flags flying but DonQui cannot smell any aggression.

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Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fascinating place to spend a couple of days. It’s wonderful mix of Arab and colonial architecture, the narrow winding streets, and the ever present influence of the Indian Ocean appeals to DonQui’s sense of history while also giving him the chance to relax in a beautiful setting. Zanzibar cuisine mixes Arab and Indian influences, drawing from the sea and the spices which are cultivated on the Island. He has had more than one or two excellent meals here.

boat

Many boat excursions are on offer to some of the outlying places such as Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach. Last year DonQui took a small boat to Prison Island (or Changuu). The island got its name from the fact that it was used in the 1860s to incarcerate rebellious slaves. During the British regime it was used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Now it is home to a giant turtle sanctuary.prison island

It also has a coral reef just off shore where there are excellent snorkelling opportunities.

nurses

It did DonQui’s ego no harm to be the stallion in a herd of Australian nurses, even if their interest in photography outweighed their interest in his wit and charm!

Nungui

There is far more to Zanzibar that Stone Town. A few years ago DonQui and Duchess spent a few blissful days at Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. They stayed at the Z hotel which was about as close to heaven as DonQui can imagine.

Z hotel

This wonderful small boutique hotel occupies a prime spot on the beach, has amazingly comfortable rooms and superb food. DonQui even took the opportunity for a rather excellent massage at their spa.

Fire Dancer

DonQui is not usually a great fan of in-house entertainment as he usually finds  such things rather kitch. However one night’s show at the Z Hotel was more than a little bit spectacular.

spice tour

Another popular thing to do on Zanzibar is to go on a spice tour to see how the many spices which grow here are cultivated and prepared. DonQui passed up the opportunity because he wanted to simply relax. However, Duchess, who was with him at the time, went on the tour and reported back in glowing terms.

Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar

DonQui is on his way to Zanzibar for the weekend.

He had a number of travel choices from Dar and has opted to fly rather than take the ferry. His main reason for doing so is to be able to get back to Dar es Salaam airport to connect with another flight on Sunday evening. If he took the ferry he would have to struggle through Dar traffic again and he would rather maximise his time on the beautiful island of Zanzibar.

He takes the evening Precision Air flight, the return portion being due to deliver him back to Dar 2hrs 30mins before his flight on Sunday.Precision Air

He hopes it will all work out as planned!

It was a bit of a struggle getting to the airport from Jangwani. Late Friday afternoon the roads are always clogged in Dar and his Tanzanian friends warned him of election rallies that were blocking the traffic and making the journey even more nightmarish than usual.road

Fortunately he had already struck an agreement with a local taxi driver who took him a circuitous route through markets and the down the dirt roads of the more ramshackle parts of Dar. Bypassing the stationary traffic on the main routes he got DonQui to the airport in plenty of time for $15 less than the official rate.Dan Air 2

Previously DonQui has taken the Dan Air flight to Zanzibar. Dan Air is a very small outfit flying very small planes.IMG_2375

The trip itself was great fun, flying low and slow over the Indian Ocean.

What DonQui did not know at the time was that Dan Air operates from a different domestic airport which is close to main terminal but far enough to make connections problematic. Precision Air, on the other hand, flies out of Julius Nyerere International.

Travellers Cafe

The hop over to Zanzibar takes only 20 minutes and before long DonQui is settled down at the very pleasant Traveller’s Café in Stone Town.Samosas

Here is sips a Serengeti, munches on some rather fine Samosas, listens to the sound of the waves and begins to feel quite relaxed.

DonQui recommends
Trust the taxi drivers in Tanzania. You need to agree prices in advance but they will always honour them. If you arrange a pick up at a certain time and place you can count on them being there. Completion is stiff and they will keep their part of the bargain to gain future custom. At the airport there is no room for bargaining — the rates are set, but if you make a private arrangement in advance you can lower the price considerably.

Make sure you have a plentiful supply of US dollars in relatively low denominations. Many places are cash only and many prices are set in dollars. Even hotels and airlines will at times take cash only and not credit cards.

Dar es Salaam

DonQui likes Tanzania and he likes the Tanzanians. Everyone seems so friendly, open and helpful. Of course they operate on African, not Swiss, time but then maybe that is why they seem to smile more. DonQui does not recall seeing so many smiles in Switzerland despite the scenery and efficiency of that country.

Tanzania is truly beautiful and diverse, justly famous for its great wildlife parks, Kilimanjaro and the beaches of Zanzibar.

Dar_es_Salaam_before_duskUnfortunately DonQui cannot be quite so effusive about Dar es Salaam. The city is a busy, sprawling metropolis of over 4 million people with few immediately obvious attractions beyond the friendliness of the inhabitants.

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With the growth of an increasingly prosperous middle class has come the curse of the automobile. With no public transport to speak of and no traffic management, the roads are a choking, crawling nightmare.

Most tourists only come to Dar as a stopping off place to somewhere else but DonQui has spent quite some time here over the past few years. Although he cannot truly say that he likes the city, he has a certain fondness for it and has found a few oases where he can feel quite comfortable.

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His favourite place is Slipway.  Once a boat yard and now in the heart of the upmarket Msasani Peninsula it offers shops and restaurants geared to the well heeled citizens of Dar and the diplomatic community that has taken up residence in the surrounding area.

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It may not be representative of the ‘real’ Dar but DonQui feels very much at home here with the multi-ethnic crowd, good food and relaxed ambiance.

IMG_2331Although most of Dar faces east over the Indian Ocean, Slipway faces west over the Msasani Bay. At sunset, the views are pretty hard to beat.

IMG_2346DonQui’s favourite place for a sundowner is the Waterfront Sunset Restaurant and Beach Bar. There he sips a cold Serengeti to watch the sun set over the bay alongside the eclectic mix of diplomat kids, weatherbeaten divers from the adjacent PADI centre, a mish-mash of expats, locals and tourists. He can hear English, Swahili, Afrikaans, Swedish, German and Finnish being spoken at the tables surrounding him. The food is pretty good too with everything from thin crust pizza to locally caught fish. His favourite, however, is the goat curry.

Further north, as the urban sprawl gives way to more open country is Jangwani beach where a number hotels, not least a new and very swanky looking Ramada Inn, have sprung up to cater for the conference and tourist trade.

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The setting with white sand beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean is rather magnificent but outside the hotels there is not much on offer.

IMG_5576DonQui is spending a couple of nights at the White Sands Hotel. He cannot fault the place. The rooms are comfortable, mosquito proofed and all have beach front balconies or terraces. The beach is clean, the food is OK, wifi works, the endemic power cuts are dealt with by generators, and the staff are incredibly friendly.IMG_5574And they even have a pier just like Southwold!

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In October the hotel is pretty well empty with staff seeming to outnumber customers, most of whom seem to be monitors for the Tanzanian election which takes place this coming Sunday. If there was more to do outside the hotel, DonQui could consider it for a holiday. He would jump at the chance to use it as a conference or training venue.

Flying to Dar

There are, unfortunately, no direct flights from the UK to Tanzania, so DonQui has to work through the various options.

Disregarding Ethiopian Airways, the cheapest flights are with Emirates or Turkish Airlines but they involve inhospitable hours and even more inhospitable long lay-overs at Dubai or Istanbul. Qatar Airlines has a flight via Doha which is a relatively short layover but it is still in the middle of the night.

As readers of his blog will know by now, DonQui is a creature who rather likes his comforts and so he seeks out more civilised routes. Kenya Airways’ overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi with a morning connection to Dar is not too bad. DonQui has taken this route before. It was relatively hassle-free despite the fact that he almost missed his connection in Nairobi because he was chatting and did not pay attention to a gate change.

Even better, from DonQui’s point of view, is the late morning KLM route from Amsterdam. It goes direct to Dar Es Salaam with no changes, no long layovers and no missing a night’s sleep. Sometimes it stops off at Kilimanjaro to let off groups of sturdy, outdoorsy-looking, mountaineering types — but apparently not at this time of year.

Amsterdam airport

Of course DonQui will need to get to Amsterdam first. However, as his home stable is in the closest part of England to the Netherlands, it is a simple matter of a 30 minute connecting flight from Norwich. For those living closer to the Big Smoke there is a similar connection from London City Airport.

When flying DonQui is not the most sociable animal on board. His preference is to sit in splendid isolation and talk to nobody. On a night flight he tends to drop off to sleep on take-off and wake shortly before landing — much to the annoyance of Duchess who finds sleeping on board nigh-on impossible.

In order to reduce the chances of his peace and tranquility being interrupted by a gregarious or fidgety neighbour, DonQui has a couple of tricks he employs. They don’t always work but they do help to stack the deck in his favour.

DonQui much prefers a window on long flights — so he can sleep without being disturbed. Therefore, he always pre-books a seat even if it costs a bit more. He never selects a seat in front of an emergency exit row as these often do not recline for safety reasons. If there is a row of three seats he looks on the seating plan for one with the aisle taken but the middle still empty. If the flight is not full there is less chance of a single middle seat being taken. Finally it is also worth remembering that flights tend to be fuller at the front so if you are looking for peace and quiet rather than a quick exit, book a seat in the back.

on boardDonQui is pleased to find the flight from Amsterdam to Dar is relatively empty. Although the front seats are mostly filled up, DonQui has reserved his at the back where there is plenty of space for him to put his hooves up and enjoy the flight in relative undisturbed comfort.

Amazingly, the food on board is not too bad for economy class feed.

Fine dining it certainly isn’t but DonQui thinks that the vaguely Indonesian style chicken and rice, and the cucumber salad with ginger and chilli, are both rather good. The lump of cheese is edible while the lemon cream with berries is actually delicious. The South African wine is pretty decent too. KLM used to have a reputation for cheap and not very cheerful flights. Perhaps their merger with Air France has improved the catering standards!