Here we go again, another border. Malawi side is shambolic, but we locate someone to stamp our passport and our carnet. Then drive to the Tanzanian side with its fancy new buildings. All very civilised with no one hassling us. Visas paid for and stamped into our passports. Carnet and road tax take a bit longer, but eventually we leave with insurance and a sim. Welcome to Tanzania.
The first thing we notice, apart from the good road, is the more substantial houses, many sporting tall roofs. It kind of looks as if there is a competition on as to who can build the tallest. We drive past flat rice fields into more mountainous areas with tea, bananas, corn, potatoes, carrots, and countless other crops. We stop at a river to watch the guys washing carrots and bagging them ready for market.
Later we reach the city of Mbeya with its crazy traffic. We have joined the main road between Zambia & Dar es Salaam and there is no ring road. Everyone must crawl through the city, as well as crazy buses who make up road rules as they go. On top of that there are hundreds of tuk-tuks swarming around us like bees. Then of course there are markets, noise, and people everywhere. Mayhem. Finally, through the city we turn onto a back road and head to the Utengule Coffee Lodge where we can camp. They have a lovely restaurant, so we indulge.
In the morning we head out on the coffee tour and now we know all there is to know about growing and harvesting coffee. Early afternoon we head off back through the mayhem of Mbeya and northwards. Heavy rain and more traffic make it slow going, but we finally find our next campspot beside the river. It looks deserted, but Matthew & Moses soon turn up to collect the fees. They show us their groundnut/peanut farm and in the morning show us where the locals are mining copper by the shovel full. Such hard dirty work.
Today the road is even better, and has passing bays. A real bonus with all the overloaded slow trucks. By the end of the day, we reach Kisolanza Farm House camping where all overlanders stay. We settle in before more torrential rain. It is fun to chat to other travellers and locals. We discover that the fabulous Ruaha Nat Park, that we plan to visit will be nearly impassable with all the recent rain, so we sadly give it a miss and continue north. The sun is shining, so we stop at the Isimila Stone Age site. The old flint tools are unexciting, but the guided walk through the lovely gorge is surprisingly good. We continue our drive to the rather lovely colonial town of Iringa. We drive the streets and stop at the huge local market for fruit and veges. Back in the truck the rain pours down again. The wet season is in full swing. Then lovely scenic driving all the way to Mikumi, where we stop at the Tan Swiss camping which is right behind the motel and restaurant. Here we can arrange a game drive into the Mikumi National Park at the northern tip of the huge Selorous Game Reserve. Amazingly it is significantly cheaper to go on our own game drive than take our truck in for the day. Foreigner prices are exorbitant here!
The main road runs right through the park, so even there you can see wildlife, but inside it is lovely. Called a mini-Serengeti, there are big sweeping plains bursting with giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, and impala. We even manage to see 2 prides of lions up close and personal. One lion gets so close to the truck that our driver nearly leaps out of his skin.
Back at our camp we enjoy the pool and a relaxing afternoon ready for a big driving day tomorrow as we push on to Dar es Salaam. The scenery is lovely as we pass Masai villages and lovely mountains. Finally, we reach the big smoke and amazingly drive easily to the centre before heading over a big new bridge towards our beachside campspot. But we decide to detour around the waterfront. Johns GPS says straight ahead while I am muttering about turning right. Obviously not loud enough and we head into the maze of a market that nearly swamps the entire street. Mayhem again. We end up stuck in the queue for the ferry back into the city where we do not want to go. After a 30min wait it is time to board. I stop the traffic and direct John in a 3-point urn so we can squeeze out. Phew. John thinks it is all a blast! We find our camp at Sunrise Lodge right on the beach.
We have been talking about going to Zanzibar, and when we discover we can leave our truck here we go online and book flights and hotel for the next day. They even have a car and driver who can take us to the airport. Bonus. So later that day we are on the 30min flight to the magical island of Zanzibar. A place of white tropical beaches, lush rainforests full of spices and women draped in bright Muslim robes. We spend five nights exploring this lovely island. We hire a little 4x4 and stay every night at a different hotel. After a night near Zanzibar City, we head north to the boat building village of Nungwi, stopping off to explore a marvellous spice farm that grows cloves, cinnamon, the main ingredient of the famous Channel No 5, and much more. (This was on my wish list, and John trudges along.) Navigating the incredibly scruffy town of Numgwi to find our hotel is a mission. Even the locals cannot find it! We wind past houses and through puddles so big we could lose our car in them. The next morning, we enjoy wandering the beach and watching the boat builders at work.
It is just as hard to get back out of the town when we finally leave and head on around the island to our next hotel at Matemwe Beach. Here some locals take us out to the lovely Mnemba reef to snorkel for a few hours. The array of fish is stunning. By now John is feeling decidedly under the weather and we have decided to put him onto antibiotics once we get back to the camper. So, a slow start in the morning. We have given up on back tracks as they are always terrible and never seem to get to the beach because there are rows and rows of resorts taking up most of the waterfront.
Today we stop at Paje and drive to the beach to visit the iconic Rock Island restaurant. The tide is high so a boat ferries us across. Later we wander the beach until we find Clive’s (John’s cousin) lovely waterfront home. We can’t stay as it is as its for sale, but we get to admire it, before heading on to Kae Beach for the night. Sadly, more torrential rain stops us swimming. Our funny story for the day is when a staff member knocks on our door, after we have gone to bed mind you, to come in and spray for mozzies!
We have one more night before we fly back to Dar, so we head to the very lovely Mizingani Seafront Hotel in the historic Stonetown. We have already explored Stonetown, but got caught in torrential rain and had to run through narrow streets rushing with water, so it’s nice to do a proper explore. The problem is John really is feeling most unwell and during the night takes a turn for the worse. There is a clinic virtually next door so after a nearly sleepless night he heads there while I pack up.
Anyway, the long and short of it is the doctor insists he cannot drive or fly without oxygen because he has a severe case of pneumonia. So, I sort out the car, cancel our flights and we are both taken by ambulance (with full sirens on) to the airport. Flying doctor to Dar and another ambulance followed by a few days in hospital.
Well, that has taken the wind quite literally out of our sails. The weather is wet wet wet and very humid. Its time to go home. Once he can come home (to the camper that is) we change our flights, book flights from Dar to Joberg, find storage and visit customs to get permission to leave the truck in Tanzania. Phew. Finally, the long flight home. We will go back in September when the weather is dryer! Oh, and before they impound our truck!