Typed up: at New Palm Tree Hotel in Mombasa, at Coral Cove Cottages in Tiwi Beach Posted from: Internet cafe in Mombasa
From Lushoto we had bought some bus tickets for a 9am bus to Tanga, which is in the north east of Tanzania on the coast. Relatively speaking, this would be a nice fast bus. Relative to a dalla-dalla, that is. It was a medium sized bus, and it didn’t leave until it was completely full. That means so full that the folding seats cannot be used, because you can cram in more people if they stand. Lucky for us most of the seats are not folding, and we had secured a pair early on. Our packs were on our laps all the way to Tanga.
Every once in a while we would stop, and I would hope that enough people could get off so at least it wouldn’t be so crowded. I silently cheered when the fold down seat next to me was folded down, but then two people sat down on it which squeezed is even more than we already had been. BTW, no chivalry in Tanzania. I don’t think I ever saw anybody give up their seat, and husbands sit before their wives do.
The bus ride was only about 4 hours, and we got off in Tanga with a good idea of which way to walk to our hotel. That didn’t deter somebody from following us all the way there, pointing out the way while we tried to ignore him. We checked into the Ocean Breeze hotel. For 10,000 shillings (\$8.34) we got a room with private facilities, TV, and a balcony with a bay view. The tank on the toilet wasn’t hooked up, but there was a tap and a bucket, so that wasn’t too much of a problem.
That afternoon we stopped at a local tourist office, and signed up for a budget busting tour of the caves and the ruins nearby. At night we paid for a 1-day membership to the local yacht club. The sunset was beautiful, and a nice crowd gathered for a pool tournament at night. Being the old fuddy-duddies that we are, we dutifully called for a cab at 9 to get our sleep in. Sadly we did not sleep well. Loud hotel guests, a cat fight, and a few mosquitoes kept us more awake than we cared for. Lesson: use a mosquito net if it’s there, even if you don’t see any mosquitoes during the day. But in the morning we woke up bright and early to meet our tour guide at 9am.
Our tour guide turned out to be the same person who sold us the tour because, he said, no other qualified guides were available. His name is Emilias Sylvester, and like everybody involved in the tourism industry here, has an impressive resume. We started off by riding rented bicycles to the Amboni Caves. The bicycles were nothing fancy, but the terrain was mostly flat so they worked well. The first part of the ride was on a busy paved road. We were passed by cars and buses, but most of all there were a lot of bicycles on the road. Many people shared a bicycle, and lots of people transported goods. The most common thing we saw were piles of firewood on the bike rack so high that you could just barely see a cyclist’s head out from over it. We also saw bales of hay, pots and pans, and just about anything else.
Then we turned off the main road onto a dirt road/trail that took us a through a few villages. Emilias took the time to tell us a little bit about the local crops (cassava is a big one), and explained that all the children said “Bye” because recently some mzungu had built a school and there’d been a nice going-away party for them, and that is what the children remember they had to say. The whole ride was about 8km, and we got to the caves feeling not at all tired from the bike ride.
We entered the cave with 3 school boys, who tagged along our tour. There were just 2 flashlights in the group, but Danielle and I had head lights too. We never were too far away from an entrance, but we did experience the cave total darkness at one point. This cave is not created by a river, but instead had been made by the ocean about 2 million years ago. Then it was lifted up out of the water so that we could now walk in it. This made it a very different kind of cave than what we’d been in before. It was large, but had no really fancy formations. There were some nice ones, but nothing like eg. Carlsbad Caverns has. It did have marine invertebrate fossils clearly visible in the walls, which Danielle really liked.
But most of the tour centered on the various features and their names. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of these features were named after local wildlife, but I thought that was interesting anyway. There were also a few Muslim and Christian features, as well as an explicitly sexual one. We also got to see a lot of bats. Most of them just hung around the ceiling, but occasionally something would happen and maybe 100 or so would all fly overhead to a different part of the cave. Local farmers still come into the cave to collect guano for their fields. Outside the cave, we watched some Colobus monkeys forage.
After the cave tour was over we biked back to Tanga, but not without stopping to sample coconut wine. Making it is so amazingly simple that it might make one religious. You climb up a palm tree, cut off a leave, and hang a bucket over the wound. Then 12 hours later you go to collect the bucket, and you have a legitimate, pretty tasty alcoholic beverage. That’s the entire process. And it keeps on giving, too, just cut the leaf back a little bit further and you can do it again. I would say that anybody in California who has a problem getting their own brew to taste good, should just plant some palm trees and use this method.
Back in Tanga, Emilias took us to a locals restaurant for lunch. I think this is the first place we’d eaten where we didn’t see any other tourists, and it was a good experience. The menu was simple (fish or chicken, ugali or rice, …) and the food was good. It was all cooked right on the other side of the partition next to our table. It was really cheap, too. Tsh. 12,000 (\$1.67) per person, including a soft drink. Then we got a little break before the afternoon portion of the tour.
Apparently the first choice vehicle did not come through, so we rode to the Tongoni ruins in a nice 4-door sedan. It was not the ideal car, because most of the road was dirt and in questionable condition. On the way we listened to Bob Marley tapes. I hadn’t heard any reggae in Africa yet. So far it’s been a lot of what I’d call club music. Lots of beat, with a little melody.
The Tongoni ruins are the remains of a harbor town. The centerpiece is an old mosque that was built around 14-something. Not much is left aside from some walls and a few pillars. The most interesting part is how coral was used in the place of rocks for a lot of its construction. We also saw a more recent mosque which, despite its more modern construction, wasn’t in any better shape. Next to that mosque were a bunch of wooden boats belonging to the local villagers. They were dry at the current tide, but at the high tide looked like they’d be used to fish. There were quite a few nets sitting on a wall next to the boats.
Then we got to taste baobab fruit. The ruins are surrounded by baobab trees, and they have a large, green, hairy fruit. It has a hard shell which you open by repeatedly hitting it against a rock. Then you find a dry substance which is a bit like styrofoam, and buried in there are seeds. You eat the white stuff, and it tastes nice and bitter/tangy. It also sticks to your teeth very hard. It’s not something you can eat in quantity, but it does have a very nice flavor.
On the way back to Emilias’ office we stopped to buy bus tickets to Mombasa, and then our tour was over. Emilias wants you to know he’ll be happy to arrange whatever tour (around Tanga, up Kilimanjaro, through Serengeti, etc.) to anybody who comes to Tanzania. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. We certainly enjoyed our guided tour with him.
That night we spent some time talking to Jeller, yet another Dutch traveler, as we ate dinner at Patwas. The food was nice, but the chicken had a ton of little bones in it, and I’m still not quite used to that. We turned in for another early night, and were only disturbed by loud guests.
In the morning we had plenty of time to make our noon bus, but I was feeling pretty unprepared to venture into Kenya. We didn’t have any guide book info printed out (although we had some on the laptop) and printing in Tanga is prohibitively expensive (Tsh 500 / USD 0.42 per page). We didn’t have any Kenyan shillings either, and because it was Sunday everything was closed. So we killed some time eating a second breakfast. A real omelette is much better than a complimentary 1-egg omelette. At the bus station I also tried a local cookie type thing. It appeared to be made with just flour, sugar, and some spices which tasted a little bit like a ginger bread cookie. 1 was nice, but the 2nd one felt like a little much.
Then the bus came (late), and we piled in. The bus didn’t leave for another 20 minutes or so, so we shouldn’t’ve hurried. Just a little ways out of Tanga the road became unpaved, and the next 40 kilometers were a very bumpy ride. The bus didn’t really slow down unless there was a major ditch to cross. Eventually the bus stopped, and we all got out to hand over our exit forms to the Tanzanian government. We also changed money at some guy holding a big wad of bills. The exchange rate was highly unfavorable, but we only changed about 18 dollars so at least we had something to use in Kenya. This slowed us down enough to be the last people back on the bus, and in fact the bus was already moving when we got back on it. The bus drove a little further where we got off again to formally get into Kenya.
First we got in a police line where they wrote down our names in a big book. Then we stood in line for immigration. The bus operators had given us a Kenya entry form, which we’d dutifully filled out. However, that wasn’t good enough. When we got to immigration officer (close to the end of our bus line, because we were seated almost at the back of the bus) he gave us another form to fill out. We hastily filled it out, worried that the bus might leave without us, or at least that we were annoying all the passengers who had to wait for us. We queued back up, but one of the bus conductors pulled us right into the immigration officer’s office, and put our passports under his nose. The officer continued processing the queue outside the window for a while before he dealt with us. It was very straightforward. We gave him the form and the USD 50 per person, and we got some pretty stickers in our passports. We hurried back to the bus, which did not in fact leave right when we got back on so perhaps they weren’t waiting for us after all.
Not surprisingly, the Kenyan landscape is much the same as the Tanzanian. The biggest difference is that in Kenya the road is paved, while in Tanzania it is not. Eventually we entered the outskirts of Mombasa, which had many dirt roads going off the main road, stone buildings with 2 stories, and finally a ferry. We drove onto the ferry after the conductor had come by to close all the curtains. I have no idea why. Then after the ferry it was just a short trip to our bus company’s office in downtown Mombasa. Downtown appeared to be all paved, the buildings were taller, there were side walks, and lots of taxis and tuk-tuks on the road. Our bags were unloaded from the belly of the bus and returned to us absolutely covered in dust. I think they sat near a wheel well with some holes or something, but we took it all in stride. We hailed a tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel, and were charged a fair price. There was no negotiating or foreigner price to be upset about. Danielle tipped the guy 50%. We walked into the New Palm Tree Hotel, where a 1-bed double room was available.