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Dar es Salaam – A Quick Trek to the Coast

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

After a relatively short plane ride from Kigali, Rwanda we were happy to be back at sea level. No, this was not the Caribbean, but the immediate intimacy with increased humidity and hotter daytime temperatures were a bit of a surprise. Just a bit. This trek would get us back into the ocean and on the beach. Tanzania’s land boarders are still closed (from and to Rwanda). Flying was the only option including expensive Covid protocols. We would by-pass Zanzibar (too touri$ty) this time with a keen interest in exploring the coastal areas around Dar es Salaam and a drive up North to the coastal region of Ushongo Mabaoni. Camping and traditional over-landing were not included in our travel plans.

Street Vendors Kivukoni Fish Market

Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam sits on the shores of the Indian Ocean with a uniquely rich Swahili culture and history. The blend of cultures and bloodlines unfold before you as you wonder about the streets and alleys of this old trading port. The city itself offers an array of cuisine that is unique to this part of Africa. In Rwanda and destinations further inland, the fish was more along the lines of farmed Tilapia, but in Tanzania one is spoiled for choice when it comes to fresh seafood. Grilled, fried or boiled? On this adventure our Crew was unanimous in our preference for grilled fish served with a small salad and chips. This combination of food was widely available and extremely economical throughout our journey along the coast. Even on the out islands it was easy to negotiate a meal of fresh fish and inexpensive beer. The local beer brands were okay but did not approach the full-bodied and tasty beer that is abundant in Rwanda. Renting or chartering a small boat in Dar es Salaam proved to be nearly impossible. One can find boats for hire that come with a crew. We even approached the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club with hopes of renting a day sailor. Our enquiries were to no avail. Visiting the Yacht Club was a neat experience. Although I would describe this club as not being overly friendly, the grounds and facilities are situated in a very inviting spot in Dar es Salaam. I am sure the Members are proud of their club.

We finally found a motor launch that was suitable for our mission and the Captain was not put-off by our unorthodox (non-touristy) plans to explore the coast and out islands. His only objection was Snake Island. The Skipper made it clear he would not land is craft on this island. Our Crew was fine with that. We had no one in our group that had a proclivity for highly venomous reptiles (that can swim). Our calm and cool under pressure Captain lost his usual reticence when this island was mentioned making our Crew wonder about some of his previous customers.

On the Water

On our first day of cruising the coast the weather was sunny with puffy white clouds that hung over the seaward horizon and were also visible looking towards the West in an inland direction. This part of Tanzania features a tidal range with appreciable water heights throughout the tidal cycle. This was one of the many things we did not have to worry about. Our Tanzanian Captain (though very young) was very much on the ball with local knowledge and on point with suggestions of places to cruise to. I also noticed our Skipper did not drink beer or any alcoholic beverage. This was not surprising considering the strong Islamic population of Tanzania. We did tote a small cooler with ice and drinks so enjoying a cold beer onboard or onshore would never be problematic.

The Tanzanian coastal water and beaches were very tropical and pleasurable. The beaches on the out islands included pristine white sand, many varieties of trees and birds and a cooling breeze that was reminiscent of the Caribbean Trade Winds. Best of all, there were no people. Dar es Salaam may be wall-to-wall people but once on the ocean that scenario fades away. The people and street noises of a modern coastal city swiftly melt away only to be replaced by better audible alternatives. We had traveled from Rwanda so escaping multitudes of people was high on our wish list. Getting on a boat may not guarantee tranquility but it sure comes close. Once anchored the engine can be shut down. The portable Bluetooth speakers can be deployed along with swimming gear and cameras. We had one crew member that was always over the side and into the water just as the crudely welded sea anchor splashed.

Our Skipper was friendly and polite and never appeared to be shocked by our frivolity and antics. He knew we were there to have fun. The weather held for the initial two days on the water. We were day trippers so by 17:00 PM our boat landed our group near The Slipway complex. The Slipway area is clean, modern and a bit upscale in style. It also has a good hotel, restaurants and many small gift shops. The Dar es Salaam Yacht Club is a couple of kilometers to the South. After showering and cleaning up we would walk the streets for a bit. We used taxis and three-wheeled Bajajis to get around. The motorcycle Boda-Bodas (Pikipikis) were too dangerous, and the Uber App never failed to deliver dishonest drivers. Discussing and finding a place to enjoy dinner was always amusing although getting to our dining destination sometimes required patience. These Folk may not drink beer, but some were intent on lightening our pockets with inflated taxi fares and other gimmicks. To be fair, the people in Tanzania are on average genuinely friendly, welcoming and honest. Although being subject to a two-tiered pricing system may be irritating, the experienced traveler will accept this and other circumstances as part of the local environment.

The Drive North

After three days in Dar es Salaam, it was time to rent a vehicle and head North. The destination was Ushongo. This is also a coastal area but is generally more rustic in flavor. The drive required about three hours of road work at the wheel. The roads were mostly in good condition. The local traffic as you entered and exited populated areas required continuous caution. On arrival there were a few beachside lodges and boutique hotels to choose from. We rented a small cottage on a fairly deserted section of the coastal beach. It was classic paradise with a cooling breeze, swaying palm and coconut trees. On the beach there were no vendors or similar distractions. We hung hammocks between coconut trees and had no trouble zoning out to better places in our minds. Our cottage was full board with breakfast, lunch and dinner. We made life easy for the kitchen staff. With the exception of breakfast, we were intent on exploring the local marisco. If it came from the sea, we would eat it. The seafood to the North was often prepared with a coconut sauce and a hot peri peri if requested. The vegetables and fruit were organic and first quality. After a fabulous dinner and a glass of South African wine, long walks along the sandy beach were another delightful routine that could be surrendered to.

Our return flight to the Lakes Region was scheduled for the late afternoon on our last day in Tanzania. We departed Ushongo early. It was still dark as we motored contentedly down the road that would take us back to Dar es Salaam. Our cottage host prepared take away coffee and sweet cakes for the occasion. This was an unexpected surprise and typical of Tanzanian hospitality. It was absolutely luxurious to get back on the water after a long absence but having miles of mostly deserted beach and sand dunes to trek was truly the restorative experience we were all looking for. Please notice there is little mention of businesses or even locations visited. Travel to Africa and do your own exploring. No two adventures will be the same. Forget the noses on YouTube and find your own gems!

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