Polé Polé Way

From the Usumbara mountains the quickest way to reach Rwanda is by taking an expensive one way flight from Kilimanjaro. Of course there is a cheap way to do it, this is also the Polé Polé (slowly slowly) way. 

Lushoto to Arusha is a seven hour bus ride. Arusha is Tanzania’s second largest city and where most of the Northern Safaris are organised from. For apparently being a tourist town I was expecting to get constantly hounded by people selling Serengeti tours. The majority of the hassle actually came from one street where everyone wanted to sell me a mattress, apart from that I surprisingly found Arusha quite a friendly and relaxed place, even the blind busker in the street didn’t object to being photographed. 

Mattress Street


The Arushan Badly Drawn Boy

To avoid driving through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro national parks and paying the full entrance fees, I had to go the long way around. Babati is three hours South of Arusha and was an ok place to break up the journey. I paid a local fisherman to take me out into Lake Babati in his dugout canoe to see the hippos that live in the lake. Charles, my canoe driver didn’t want to get too close to the beasts as the heifers can be very aggressive, territorial animals when they have a calf. Charles spoke good English and told me how his ambition was to become a lawyer but he never had the funds to send himself to university so had no choice but to become a fisherman/hippo locator. Feeling rather touched by his story, I let him keep the 30p change. 




Next stop was Singida, another 4 hours West. There’s a few lakes here but I opted to just go for a wander around the villages and climbed up one of the town’s weird rock formations. It was in Singida I broke my record for the cheapest room in Tanzania – £2 for a complete shit hole with bucket showers right next to the bus station, where the music blares from the nearby bar till early hours of the morning. Luckily I had ear plugs, but after spending the night here, I wish I had of bought that mattress in Arusha.



Africans use the phrase Polé Polé meaning slowly slowly in Swahili for many things, as nothing ever seems to be hurried or scheduled. Mwanza, the final stop in Tanzania was meant to be a seven hour drive North but took around nine after the bus broke down 70km away from the city. Myself and four other passengers managed to hitchhike the rest of the way with a Soof Afrikaan gold tycoon who kept complaining about the road “yu paye thu Chinese tu burld yu a roud dis is wat yu git!” Mwanza is the third largest city in Tanzania and also at the centre of an area known as ‘the sorcery belt’. Witchcraft still happens around here and in recent memory some woman have been beaten to death by a mob of people after they were believed to be witches. Albino people are particularly vulnerable in the Mwanza area as they are hunted down and hacked to pieces by witchdoctors for their body parts. The bones from the removed limbs are then grinded into a fine powder and used as a powerful potion to heal even the most deadly curses, this was recently documented on an episode of Ross Kemp’s Extreme World. Kemp travels around East Africa meeting wizards and sorcerers, but none of them seem to have a spell great enough to prevent Ross looking like Zippy from Rainbow. I didn’t leave the cheap hotel in Mwanza after a taxi driver pointed over to me a shouted “Albino”!

The final leg of this gruelling journey started at 5am at Mwanza bus station where I departed the Nyehunge express, after half an hour a ferry hauls the bus across lake Victoria and I got to see the sunrise over Mwanza, this is where the fun ended. 

The next 8 hours were spent being thrown around the back of the bus with my new friends as the Ferrari crashed along on possibly the worst road in all of Tanzania until in reached the former refugee camp of Benaco. Here it’s a quick shared taxi to the border where I walked about 1km through no man’s land and stopped to admire Rusomo falls, a huge volume of water that surges from the Akagera river beneath the bridge between the two border posts. It’s here that German troops reported seeing the dead bodies of Rwandan genocide victims being thrown over the falls at a rate of two or three per minute. 



So I finally made it to Rwanda, the slowly slowly way, after five days, 40 hours worth of driving time and four nights spent in cheap local hotels next to dusty bus stations. I may have some acute symptoms of deep vein thrombosis to remind me of this journey, but on the bright side I’ve saved myself some money and got to see a more rural side of Tanzania. Welcome in Rwanda! 


Categories: Rwanda, Tanzania | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jambo Usumbaras

The Usambara mountain range in North East Tanzania forms part of the Eastern Arc chain, a stretch of mountains in a broken crescent from Southern Kenya to the Southern highlands, making them at least 100 million years old, fifty times that of Mount Kilimanjaro. Home to the Shambaa people, agriculturists who are said to have moved here after a Masai invasion down on the plains. Lushoto, the main town of the Usumbaras is 1400m above sea level, making it a nice cool getaway for a few days and to do a bit of casual rambling. 

There’s no real need to have a guide if you’re only visiting some of the local countryside, Yoghoi village about 7km from Lushoto is a friendly place and all the locals will help you find your way. Just be prepared to say Jambo (hello) to everybody you pass. Jambo is reserved for tourists so I’m assuming it’s a bit like a Chinaman coming to England and saying something incredibly cliché such as ‘lovrey jubrey’. Yoghoi also has the Usumbara’s biggest Arsenal fan, he’s the owner of the Emirates shop and the Highbury barbers. 


On the edge of the Usumbara massif there’s some vast views of the Masai Steppes 1000m below, just say to a local in Yoghoi “Jambo, Viewpoint” whilst doing the classic looking on the horizon gesture. It may seem like you’re trying to re-enact the dance moves for ‘In the navy’ by the village people, buy they’ll know what you mean.


Soni Falls, a short ride from Lushoto near the town of the same name

On Sundays and Thursdays Lushoto has a colourful market where the Shambaa woman come from the surrounding villages to sell local produce. Ever wondered where your second hand clothes end up? Well by the looks of it Lushoto market. Everything is at a reduced price, says the woman wearing a pink shirt that reads ‘Donna’s Hen Do, Blackpool 2009’. 



Magamba forest is about a 90 minute uphill walk from Lushoto. In the dense rainforest it is possible to spot blue monkeys and colobus monkeys if you’re lucky and also the endemic Usumbara Weaver and Usumbara Akalat. I finally got some use out of the binoculars I brought but I’m a long way to becoming a true twitcher. It was just particularly nice strolling along listening to the sounds of the ancient forest and learning about the many types of tree that grow here. 


Eucalyptus tree

Lushoto was of particular importance during the German colonial period, when the town was known as Wilhelmstal and provided cool relief for the Deutsch workers travelling up on the weekends to escape the dry heat of the plains. The German cave hidden inside the Magamba forest was carved out of the limestone cliff and was used as a hideout during World War One. Now it serves as a hideout for pot smoking Rastas.  


The view from the top of 2230m Mount Magamba, the highest peak in the forest

On the way back down to Lushoto we purchased some local banana cake – banana mashed up and mixed with maize then rolled and held together with a leaf, very stodgy and not particularly appetising but it certainly filled a hole after that sweaty trek through the forest. So far in Tanzania I’ve noticed that for some reason most adults do not like being photographed, even if you ask. After purchasing the banana cakes from two fine Shambaa woman, I managed to talk them into letting me take a photo for my memories of the Usumbaras, which they obliged with the utmost enthusiasm. Say banana cake! 



Categories: Tanzania | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Wago, Gallivevo Wago

The Mafia archipelago is still virtually unknown to a lot of people and sees only a fraction of visitors compared to Zanzibar. There’s no direct ferry to Mafia from Dar Es Salaam or from Zanzibar, so most tourists fly in and out which can cost in excess of $300 for a round trip. Of course there is a cheap local way to do it…

From Dar Es Salaam we made our way to Rangi Tatu bus station in the South of the city and boarded an extremely cramped mini bus for the port town of Nyamisati in the Rufiji river delta, which is effectively the closest mainland port to Mafia. The bus took around three hours and cost 5000Tsh (£1.60). The boat to Mafia leaves the following morning so it’s necessary to spend the night here, Nyamisati is a hot, malarial mosquito ridden backwater with nothing going for it. There are two places to stay – the Christian mission who charge 15000Tsh (£5) for a bare room with no fan or there’s an unnamed mud hut hotel next to the jetty, which quite frankly I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, the Christian mission it is then! 

The main street in Nyamisati

We were told we had to wait until 5pm to buy the boat ticket, so decided to get some food in Nyamisati, and by food I mean chips. That is all that is available from the huts lining both sides of the pier at this time of the day. There’s almost as many chip shops in Nyamasati as there is in Whitby so two plates of cold chips that had been standing covered in flies had to suffice. Nobody really speaks English but a friendly drunken sailor by the name of Captain Amiss helped us out by ordering our ‘chipsi’. There’s a lot of people sitting around drinking in Nyamasati basically because there’s nothing else to do, a few young guys had congregated around a car and were listening to the 80’s hit ‘Another day in paradise’ by Phil Collins whilst walking around in circles, which is so ironic because this place is anything but paradise. 

5pm came and it was time to order the tickets. There was a mad rush at the hut where everyone began to shout out their names. For people who don’t speak English it’s difficult to understand Western names so I try to say mine as clear as possible –




“No, Gary, like Gary Neville” 

“Ok, surname?”


I handed over the 13,500TSH (£4.15) for the ticket and now they have our names we’re told to wait till 7pm when our tickets will be ready, or course, it gets to 9pm, we’re being ravaged by mosquitos and there’s still no tickets. We kept being told that the “tickets are not allowed” so Noah, the man from the Christian mission and only real English speaker in town came down and explained that they’d ran out of ticket stubs and were waiting for someone to bring a new book from Dar Es Salaam. He managed to get us a receipt for the tickets so we can go back to the mission for a few hours. We had to be back at the port at 2:30am for a 3am boarding, the departure times vary according to the tides, and this day just happened to be a very early high tide, or so I was told. 

After literally 2 hours of horrible sleep in the sweltering Christian mission room we headed back to the port at 2:30am to find most other passengers asleep waiting for the boat, locals do this as they can’t afford a hotel. I managed to find the ticket man who finally handed the stub over with the name ‘Gallinevo Wago’ scribbled on it. 

At 3am the hoi pol oi had awoken like the undead and started to form a crowd at the end of the jetty. The extremely old tin ferry made a grand entrance by chugging out from the darkness as the people stared in awe as if a spaceship had just landed. The screaming, pushing and shoving started as everyone began to pass their luggage to the crew one by one via a narrow wooden walkway, why they didn’t start doing this when the boat was anchored all night is beyond me. The whole scenario was becoming even more ridiculous by the second with seemingly no one having a clue what is going on and zero order whatsoever. It’s then when the captain turned up and it was non other than Captain Amiss himself, the pissed sailor from a few hours previous. 

The jetty

Everyone finally piled onto the small vessel, which resembled a boat only seen on the TV which desperately transports refugees across the Mediterranean Sea, for a 5:30am departure. There was very few seats, a very rough crossing and from where I was standing, I saw one solitary plastic life ring. The boat took four hours, once we arrived in Mafia we had  to board some smaller wooden rowing boats to take us the rest of the way to the beach as there’s no jetty here, that’s after one of them took us  over to a second boat to collect our luggage. Obviously the luggage doesn’t stay on the same boat as it’s owners, that would make things too easy. 

We’re all in the same boat

So from Zanzibar to Mafia took around 30 hours, with the majority of that waiting around in Nyamasati. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but most local people could never afford to fly, so it was a good experience being introduced to Mafia like a local, and it’s cheap as chips. When getting off the boat at Kilindoni beach reborn ‘Gallinevo Wago’ I had a wonderful sense of achievement knowing that was the hardest £70 I’ve ever saved, and I get to spend the next 10 days diving during the festive period on this beautiful island. Merry Christmas!

Gallinevo Wago 

Sick as a CHIP


Categories: Tanzania | Tags: , | 3 Comments

I Should Be So Lucky Lucky, In Zanzibar

In Zanzibar the locals use Dala Dalas to commute around the island. A Dala Dala is basically a converted truck with two benches running along both sides of the back of the vehicle. So good they named it twice, on a Dala Dala there’s always room for one more person, 35 people I counted at one point, now I know what those slaves must’ve felt like whilst being shipped to Zanzibar.

Too close for comfort in a Dala Dala

The tiny village of Pongwe on the East Coast of Zanzibar is the place I’ve been looking for to get away from the crowds and do nothing for a few days. Only eating octopus, sitting in the sun and writing this godforsaken blog, life can be so cruel sometimes. 


In a place as remote and off the map as this, it’s the last place you’d expect to see a toon fan. Well in Pongwe, Yonson assures me he is Zanzibar’s biggest “Newcastle Team” fan. He knows what he’s wearing and hasn’t mistaken the famous black and white stripes for a Juventus shirt, which is a good start, but the fact he thought I was Fabricio Collocini when I showed him a picture of me in the St James’ Park changing rooms is making me think he may have just liked the colours. 


Pongwe is primarily a fishing village but a lot of the coastal dwellers make their income from seaweed farming. The seaweed grows at a rate of 7% per day, increasing tenfold from its original weight in a fortnight. Most of it is sent abroad and used for its main extract, carrageenan, a natural gelling agent used for cosmetics, toothpaste and medicine. The farmers earn on average $60-100 per month, what can easily be blown on a night out in the town at home. 


Nungwi on the Northern tip of Zanzibar is admittedly a nicer beach. Go there at sunset to see some local guys practicing capoeira.



Nungwi is a lot more touristy than Pongwe and probably everywhere else on the island. The beach is lined with expensive hotels catering for package holiday makers and restaurants selling pretty much the same food as the next one. The most annoying thing is the amount of hassle you get from the hoards of local beach boys selling snorkelling trips, bus tickets, boat trips, crappy souvenirs and anything else you can think of to make some money. Then there’s the fake Masai selling fake sunglasses and fake Masai art, and not to forget the gigalos selling themselves to the Western women who want a bit of fun in the sun. The tourists I can deal with, but when you can’t walk down the beach in peace for a few minutes without being fist pumped and followed by a so called Rasta selling crap African ganja then there’s something seriously wrong, and quite how you can be the ‘brother from another mother’ of a guy you’ve just met I’ll never know. 


So the bottom line is, Nungwi isn’t my favourite place and needs sorting out fast as the hawkers are giving it a bad reputation. The only reason we came here though was to dive one of Zanzibar’s most famous site, Mnemba island. 


The tiny coral atoll is home to many deep drop off walls and small colourful reefs. It’s was nice for its large schools of fish and many moray eels. I was really amazed to see a school of rare ‘lucky lucky’ fish, who approached me from behind sporting Bob Marley hats trying to sell me ‘I love Zanzibar’ t-shirts, it seems even underwater you can’t escape the touts! 




Categories: Diving, Tanzania, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Like a Rolling Stone

Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state within the Republic of Tanzania, not an independent sovereign state. The islands have been in contact with Persia, Arabia and India along with the coast of East Africa for over two thousand years, while the rest of the African interior remained relatively unexplored. Serving as a major trading route to much of the East, it is seeped with deep and rich history.  

Arab traders originally named the East African coast ‘Zinj El Barr’ meaning ‘land of the black people’ for obvious reasons. Stonetown, the capital and largest settlement, situated on the East coast of Unguja island, was once the largest town in the whole of East Africa during the colonial period. There are many interesting colonial buildings in the town from the Omani, Portuguese and British occupation which are best seen on a guided tour. I prefer just taking in the town’s character and getting lost in its many winding alleyways. This is perfectly doable on your own if your’re prepared to deal with Stonetown’s many ‘Papaasi’ – bloodsucking pests. These hustlers will follow you around and will do anything to make a quick dollar or two from a tourist. I was pestered for a while by a papassi wearing a Celtic top, which was not the first time I’ve seen a Glaswegian stumbling around struggling to speak a word of English. 



Through the day when the men of Stonetown aren’t out fishing or hassling mzungu, you will find them sitting around doing nothing or playing board games on the street.


Thousand of slaves were brought to Zanzibar to be sold and then sent to work on the clove plantations or shipped further afield to Arabia or India. In the former slave market you can see the pits where the slaves were put on display and the dungeon where they were chained together and stacked up like packs of flour in Aldi. To get an idea of what it would be like being trapped in a horrible, depressing place in the height of the Zanzibari summer, I just had to go back to my hotel room. When the slave trade was abolished in 1873 an Anglican cathedral was erected. It’s said that the cathedral’s alter was once the spot of the slave markets whipping block, parts of the crucifix at the top of the spire are carved from the tree where David Livingstone’s heart was buried in Zambia. 


Tippu Tip was an Arab Slave trader who allegedly got his name from his blinking eyes that resembled a local bird by the same name. He personally owned more than 10,000 slaves on his plantations but incredibly justified his actions by claiming that Abraham and Jacob who appear in the Koran and the Bible respectively were slave owners themselves, I suppose he keeps telling himself that Joseph was really a wife beater too. You can view his house from the outside with its grant Zanzibari door, signifying his wealth. 


Prison island 6km away from Stonetown, was originally owned by a wealthy Arab trader as a detention centre for disobedient slaves but then was sold when Livingstone helped slavery become a thing of the past. A prison was built here but instead it was used as a quarantine island for all passengers arriving from India in the 1920’s. Today the island is home to a large creep of giant tortoises. 


You’re able to feed the tortoises and get close enough to hear the beasts grunting and farting. There’s an ok snorkelling spot on the way back to Stonetown, which sadly had to be cut short. Yesterday’s chicken arms didn’t agree with me and I’ve my own tortoises head popping out!  



Categories: Tanzania, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Chicken Arms Strike Again 

Inconveniently, most trips must start with a journey to London as being our capital, it connects us to many worldwide destinations. The good thing is if you book early enough you can get the megabus for only £1. I managed to make it all the way to Gatwick airport for less than a fiver – a quid for a second hand metro ticket from the enterprising charva who hangs around the machine, £1 megabus to Victoria, £2 easybus to Gatwick airport. The disappointing part is that after travelling 300 miles for the price of a happy meal I was forced to pay £3 to go the final mile and less than a minutes travel for the shuttle bus to the travel lodge, that’s London for you! 

After a short transit in Istanbul we arrived in Dar es Salaam almost two days after leaving Newcastle. I’m tired and I’m hungry and can’t wait to try some local food. Sadly my first Tanzanian meal was a forgettable one, a 70 minute wait for some rice and a severely deep fried chicken carcass. I thought the chef may of fell asleep whilst cooking this fine meal, but then I remembered that now I should be operating on Africa time, so shouldn’t expect anything to happen in a hurry or on schedule.

Chicken Arms , and not for the first time


Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city that was founded next to a tiny fishing village by Sultan Majid of Zanzibar. It’s thought that it’s name is a corruption of Dari Salaam meaning House of Peace, a name the Sultan gave his palace in honour of the original fishing village, Mzizima, which means tranquil place in local dialect. On first impressions Dar is anything but a tranquil place, it’s a typical busy African city. For now Dar is a place to fly in to and spend as little time here as possible here. Although it may have a few colonial buildings and a little bit of character, it’s not somewhere I can be particularly bothered with right now. 


The ferry to Zanzibar was full so we were forced to spend a little more time in Dar than originally anticipated. We came across a congregation of folk from all over East Africa selling all sorts of herbal medicines and handicrafts. There were some excellent and very reasonable priced items here, but how do you explain to the pushy Kenyan woman that you’ve just arrived and would rather not hump around a rucksack full of tribal masks for the next two months? 

The Burundi Department

 A little further afield is the Kariakoo market, a place where the British army corps were stationed during WWII. Both sides of the streets are lined with manic stalls mainly selling fresh fruit and not so fresh electrical appliances. It’s here where a saw my first Tanzanian bum sporting a Sunderland shirt, no matter where in the world you go, some things never change… 






Categories: Tanzania | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.