By MARTIN ZEILIG Our small motorized mangrove and mahogany canvas covered boat bounced along the choppy turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean as the captain and owner, Ahmed, manoeuvred the outboard engine towards Changuu Island, a small island about six kilometres northwest of Stone Town, Unguja Zanzibar.
As we sped along, a number of cargo ships and a Chinese fishing trawler were moored off shore, while long thin hulled dhows with billowing sails skimmed speedily on that sun searing day through the world’s third largest ocean.
I was at the tail end of my second trip to Tanzania in just over a year. The first trip was an eight day safari adventure in Northern Tanzania in June 2018. It was, as I wrote in a major two part article for the Lifestyles supplement of The Jewish Post & News afterwards, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to go on safari in some of the big game parks, including the fabled Serengeti National Park, of East Africa.
This second trip in October 2019 was unplanned and unexpected. I was invited by a Canadian based representative of the Tanzanian government to attend the Swahili International Tourism Expo (S!TE), a three day event (October 18-20) held at the modern Julius Nyerere International Conference Center in Milimani City a region of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Dar es Salaam, which is situated on the Indian Ocean, is the largest city, former capital and commercial centre of Tanzania. The yearly event attracted 426 exhibitors, including safari tour operators from throughout Tanzania and other parts of Africa, and almost 1000 visitors over the three days. It also featured speakers, including representatives of the government of the United Republic of Tanzania.
I jumped at the opportunity. Why not? It also included a selection of four day side trips, or Familiarization Trips, afterwards to other parts of Tanzania. I chose to visit the historic town of Iringa and Ruaha National Park— the largest national park located in the middle of Tanzania and covering an area of about 13,000 square kilometres about 130 kilometres from Iringa. I also spent two days in Zanzibar upon returning from Ruaha.
Here are some other memorable moments:
The Expo centers around inbound and outbound travel business to and inside Africa. Tourism companies from 60 countries —Finland, Denmark, Lithuania, Ukraine, Malaysia, South Korea, Canada, India, among others — participated in the event.
“Protection and Sustainable tourism, and in addition tropical tourism and going inside East Africa, (is the goal of S!TE),” the Tanzanian Minister of Tourism, said during the opening address. “The tourism industry is here to help the economy of our country. Tanzania is a safari country in Africa. We are proud that Swahili was born in Tanzania. We encourage our foreign guests to see why we say, ‘Unforgettable Tanzania.’”
(at left): Being entertained by the Dar es Salaam based, Tot Jazz Band, one of the biggest jazz bands in Tanzania, at the opening entertainment event at SITE. They perform a fusion of Swahili jazz and more recognized numbers.Strolling along the shore of the Indian Ocean by my hotel, located on the outskirts of Dar, in the evening with the twinkling lights of yachts and merchant ships moored in the distance was a peaceful way to unwind after being at the hectic SITE all day. The surf’s fresh and salty smell combined with the exotic locale was intoxicatingVisiting the National Museum & House of Culture: It takes you on a journey through Tanzania’s colorful past. The museum displays important fossils of some of the earliest human ancestors unearthed during the Leakey digs at Olduvai Gorge. You can also learn about Tanzania’s tribal heritage and the impact of the slave trade and colonial periods. Other highlights of the museum include ethnographic displays on traditional crafts, customs, ornaments, and musical instruments, as well as a small collection of vintage cars, including the Rolls Royce used by former president, Julius Nyerere.
Iringa: Iringa is a city in Tanzania with a population of 1,211,900 (as of 2020), according to Wikipedia. The name is derived from the word lilinga, meaning .
Iringa is the administrative capital of Iringa Region. Iringa Municipal Council is the administrative designation of the Municipality of Iringa. “Iringa has been one of the coldest regions in Tanzania due to its geographical location but that has attracted a lot of tourists from colder regions abroad especially Western Europe,” notes online information. Iringa also hosts one of Africa’s largest national parks, the Ruaha National Park.
We also visited the Isimila Stone Age site, which lies about 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest. It contains archeological artifacts, particularly stone tools, from human habitation about 70,000 years ago. Homo Erectus lived here 300,000 years ago.
Excavation work was done by paleontologists from the University of Chicago, 1957-58; University of Illinois, 1968-70, and South Korea in 2003. Scrapers, slingshots, knives from stones, and different weapons were found and can still be seen in large open sided enclosures.
Iringa Region is home to the Hehe people.
“After their stunning defeat at Lugalo by the Hehe on August 17, 1871, led by Chief Mkwawa, the Germans built a military station at 'Neu Iringa' to avenge the death of their commander Emil Von Zelewski and to teach the Hehe respect for German authority,” says information in the Iringa Boma - Regional Museum and Cultural Centre. “The fortress and headquarters of Chief Mkwawa was in the nearby village of Kalenga, Alt Iringa.” It was only in July 1898, after being trapped, that Mkwawa shot himself. The Germans removed Mkwawa's head and sent it to Germany.
Mkwawa still has “the status of a national hero in Tanzania,” even after over 120 years. A movie should be made about this man.
Ruaha NP: Ruaha is in a northern and southern transition zone.
Ruaha National Park is the largest national park in Tanzania. It covers an area of about 13,000 square kilometres.
It is located in the middle of Tanzania about 130 kilometres from Iringa. The park, which is located in the Great Rift Valley (East African Rift), is part of a more extensive ecosystem, which includes Rungwa Game Reserve, Usangu Game Reserve, and several other protected areas.
The name of the park is derived from the Great Ruaha River, which flows along its South-Eastern margin and is the focus for game-viewing.
The park can be reached by car via Iringa and there is an airstrip at Msembe, park headquarters.
I was part of a group that included three Dutch journalists. Our safari driver/expert guide, Serafino, was the owner of the Center for Research and Action, Limited (CRA)-- a new company that started in 2019-- in Irigina.
During our two days exploring Ruaha we encountered lions-- including a male and female that mated several times as we clicked away on our cameras or cell phones-- resting under a baobab tree and along a dry river bed; a beautiful male leopard nestled in the shade of an acacia tree a few hundred metres away from the lions; elephants, Cape buffalo, zebra, giraffes, elands and more. Ruaha is believed to have the highest concentration of elephants of any National Park in East Africa.
And it’s home to over 10 percent of Africa’s entire lion population, which is estimated to be only about 20,000 animals whereas about a century ago there were more than 200,000 lions in Africa, according to the World Atlas online. The International Union Conservation of Nature, though, has estimated that there might be as many 30,000 wild lions left on the continent. "From 1993 to 2014, the planet lost 43 percent of its population of African lions, conservationists estimate," says National Geographic magazine (October 2019).
The park is home to the Ruaha Carnivore Project, which was established in 2009 by Dr. Amy Dickman, as a Kaplan Senior Research Fellow under Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, says the RCP website.
"Ruaha's Carnivore Project's work in protecting lions and livestock, and helping local tribes, is clearly a win-win situation," Sue Wats, an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation, wrote in an online article, How the Ruaha Carnivore Project is saving Tanzania's Lions (SafariBookings).
It is also a place where magnificent mammals like Kudu, Sable and Roan antelopes can easily be spotted in Miombo woodland. The park is also a habitat for endangered wild dogs, although we didn’t see any. Other animals in the park include cheetah, giraffes, zebras, impala, bat eared foxes and Jackals.
The park also harbours a number of reptiles and amphibians such as crocodiles, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, monitor lizards, agama lizards and frogs. We also spotted hippos relaxing in the Great Ruaha River. Ruaha is famous for being “Tanzania’s bird paradise” because more than 570 species of birds have been identified inside its boundaries, and some of them are known to be migrants from within and outside Africa, says information in a the park's headquarters.
At one point on our bouncy dusty ride in the Land Rover, Serafino stopped at the side of the narrow dirt road. He got out of the vehicle and grabbed a handful of still steaming elephant dung, and told us all about its different uses by villagers. He then broke it open to reveal insects that were using the manure as a food source and to lay their eggs.
"When I stop for animals and trees and dung, it’s best for guests to listen carefully," Serafino said afterwards. "It’s better to share with my guests."
“It was gross, but interesting,” said fellow traveller Noel Vanbemmel, editor of the Travel section in the Dutch newspaper De Volkakrant, the biggest serious newspaper in Holland. “I’ve been on many safaris in sixteen different African countries, but this was the first time I’ve seen this demonstrated. He was doing his best.”
I booked my two day tour to Zanzibar at the SITE with Hassan Luzuba Majid, the owner of Hazaim Holiday and Safaris. His company is based in Zanzibar City (or Zanzibar Town or Stone Town, often simply referred to as Zanzibar)--the capital and largest city of Zanzibar, in Tanzania. It is located on the west coast of Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, roughly due north of Dar es Salaam across the Zanzibar Channel.
My boat trip was onboard a super fast twin turbine powered ferry boat operated by Azam Marine Boats in Dar. The trip took a little over two hours.
I stayed at the not too pricey exotically named Golden Tulip Boutique Hotel. The rooms are spacious and the service is first rate.
Its open rooftop restaurant has a stunning view of the harbour.
Among the places I visited were the Jozani Forest, the largest area of indigenous forest on Zanzibar Island. Situated south of Chwaka Bay on low-lying land, the area is prone to flooding, which nurtures a lush swamp like environment of moisture-loving trees and ferns. Josanzi is the home of rare Red Colobus Monkey, which is only endemic to Zanzibar. We also spotted some grey and black monkeys.
The nearby Jambo Spice Plantation, about 12 acres in size, is owned by three families. This is a demonstration farm where you can see all different varieties of spices grown in Zanzibar. This farm is only for demonstration system.
Changuu Island saw use as a prison for rebellious slaves in the 1860s and also functioned as a coral mine, say the historical markers.
The British First Minister of Zanzibar, Lloyd Mathews, purchased the island in 1893 and constructed a prison complex there. But, it never held prisoners. Instead it became a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. The station was only occupied for around half of the year and the rest of the time it was a popular holiday destination. Visitors are able to explore the old prison and even stop for refreshments at an outdoor restaurant.
Spending time, along with other tourists, amongst the 200 giant Aldabra tortoises on Changuu Island was a wondrous experience. In 1919 the British governor of Seychelles sent a gift of four Aldabra giant tortoises to Changuu from the island of Aldabra, say information signs. These tortoises bred quickly and by 1955 they numbered around 200 animals. The Zanzibar government, with assistance from the World Society for the Protection of Animals- Now known as World Animal Protection-- built a large compound for the protection of the animals and by 2000 numbers had recovered to 17 adults, 50 juveniles and 90 hatchlings.
Their ages are painted in blue on their shells.
“The oldest right now is 195 years old,” said my outstanding guide in Zanzibar, Nemes Raphael. “The youngest brother is 161 years old, but bigger in size.”
Old Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's narrow, meandering streets mean that pedestrians vie with motorized vehicles for the right of way.
I also took a tour of the former slave market site. On June 6, 1873 the slave trade was officially abolished in East Africa. The slave trade continued underground, though, until 1909. It’s a sobering and claustrophobic experience to spend even a short time in the dank dungeons from the 16thcentury where slaves were squashed together under inhumane conditions before being taken to market for sale. The slaves from West Africa were sent to America. Those from East Africa were sent to Arab countries.
In 1869, Bishop Edward Steere from England settled in Zanzibar. Along with some British missionaries, Bishop Steere purchased the site of the slave market and began building the Anglican Christ Church there.
"He didn’t like the selling of slaves," my guide at the site, Freddy, said. "He decided to go to the slave market. After purchasing slaves, he would teach them the bible and convert them to Christianity and then set them free. This is history. It's very terrible. Sometimes I feel pain. My ancestors were among those who were set free from slavery by Bishop Steere."
Having just seen the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, I visited Freddie Mercury House, which is now the Tembo House Hotel, on Kenyatta Road in Old Stone Town. Mercury, the former lead singer of Queen, was born in Zanzibar in 1946 where his name was Farrokh Bulsara. His father worked for the British colonial service and the family lived in various locations in Stone Town before immigrating to England.
Meanwhile, Forodhan Park is a busy seafood night market with n open sea front garden where people wait for friends or colleagues who are either arriving or leaving on the ferry.
I crammed so much into my two day visit to Zanzibar.
Tanzania is unforgettable.