Languages: English and Swahili (official), several other Bantu languages
Zanzibar was first held by the Arabs who had set up trading posts all over the eastern coast of Africa as early as the 8th century BC. The Portuguese took over in the 15th and 16th centuries until they were replaced by Omani sultans who ruled until it was declared a British protectorate in 1890.
When the European powers sliced up the African pie in the late 19th century, England got Uganda and Kenya and Germany was awarded Tanganyika. After the first world war, control passed to the British who held it until the country's independence in 1961.
In 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar federated to form Tanzania under the leadership of Julius Nyerere, a remarkable statesman whose wise rule from 1961 to 1985 laid the bases of a unified democratic state while the neighbouring countries were being ravaged by tribal warfare and dictators.
Nyerere's successors, Mwinyi until '95 and Benjamin Mkapa since, who have maintained his policies of national union now face problems with Zanzibar where corruption and Islamic intolerance threaten stability.
It was a long trip to get here. I left Bukalagi in central Uganda at 7 AM, got a bus at 9 AM in Kampala for Tororo to do the exit formalities, then a taxi to Malaba for the Kenyan entry formalities, then a bus that got into Nairobi at 3 AM. I did not feel like staying in Nairobi so I slept in the bus until daylight and left for Arusha in another one at 7 AM.
The border formalities at Namanga went smoothly but the weather turned bad and this is all I got to see of Mount Meru as it remained hidden in the clouds.
I got to Arusha in the afternoon and met James Nethercott, a young Englishman backpacking around Africa like me. We got along fine so we spent a few days travelling together. We took a room at the Amazon Hotel, explored Arusha, had an excellent goat meat dinner and managed to get lost in the unlit streets.
When we finally got back to the hotel we met, and had a few beers, with Isaac Mgaya, a secondary school director who impressed me by his political awareness and broad African vision. He explained how frustrating it was to see the forces of tribalism prevent economic and social development in most African countries and to be able to do so little against it.
From Arusha we went to Moshi at the foot of Kilimanjaro. This is all we got to see of it on the way as it remained hidden in the clouds.
The Liberty Hotel in Moshi was cheap but there was no electricity nor running water and the chicken of our supper must have died of old age in the desert.
The view of the Kilimanjaro from the Coffee Tree House restaurant is said to be superb on a clear day but the great volcano stayed hidden in the clouds while we were there. Naturally we were very disappointed but I was not going to wait a week for the sky to clear so the next day we took a bus to Dar es Salaam.
We shared a room at the Jambo Inn shown here where there was good Indian food but no beer because of the Ramadan. We managed to survive for we found a bootlegger selling it for twice the normal price in a nearby alley.
We split to explore the city on our own but we went to Mwenge village together where we both bought beautiful makonde sculptures. I mailed mine home but it never arrived!
After a few days in Dar, we took the ferry to historic, romantic Zanzibar, a favourite route stop of luxury cruise boats like this big one in the harbour.
Zanzibar's old city called Stone Town is a maze of exotic narrow streets easy to get lost in. We maintained our practice of doing our exploration and getting lost separately. The old city is not large so eventually you end up either on the waterfront where this Fortress is or on Creek Road separating Stone Town from modern Zanzibar to the east.
Originally built by the Portuguese in 1700 the fortress was occupied by Arab sultans from Oman who built their palace, Beit el Ajaib (House of Wonders), just next to it. Zanzibar is quite touristic so we were lucky to find a room in the inexpensive Bottoms Up Hotel, (6 US$), not far from the fort down narrow alleys like those shown below.
This must be the widest of Stone Town's streets. Exploring Stone Town is interesting and safe enough during the daytime but it is not recommended at night.
On the second night, James and I had dinner at the reputed Two Tables restaurant where we met American tourists who came by taxi from their Cruise Ship. The food was worth the long walk getting there but on the next day we learned that two tourists had been mugged and robbed near the Africa House Hotel at about the same time we went by there on our way home. I had been lucky once more...
On the following day, I took the Russian hydrofoil across to Dar and bought a ticket for the night train to Mbeya, the closest town to Malawi on the railway line. I had time to spend and roamed around the nearby market until the train's departure at 5:00 PM. I shared a compartment with a friendly Danish couple (Steen and Pia) and a Zambian businessman.
The train pulled in Mbeya around 1 PM the next day. Steen and Pia were going all the way to Livingstone next to Victoria Falls so we said good bye. I had a mediocre chicken pilaf lunch in town and I set about finding a place to sleep. I ended up at the Moravian Youth Center with an aloof English couple and three noisy Germans from Hamburg.
The next day I found out that there was no public transport to Malawi. I took a bus to Kyela, then a second one going to Tukuyu and got off at the turn off, 7 kms from the Malawi border. I expected to have to walk that distance with my pack on my back but I got lucky again and several locals on bicycles materialized out of nowhere offering their services. After the inevitable haggling, I selected a sturdy fellow and we were off with me on a padded seat behind him. It was downhill most of the way except at the end when he really earned his fare before dropping me off at the Malawi border post.