Home is where the heart is and after having almost circumnavigated the world, my heart still belongs to Africa. Arriving in Mikindani Bay in southern Tanzania was like coming home; we were welcomed by the shrill, haunting cry of the fish eagle from high above the grove of steely pinkish tinged Baobab trees still standing sentinel over the bay after eons. For me these two epitomize Africa!
Whenever we arrive in a new country the first priorities are to clear in, withdraw local currency and purchase local sim cards. We were also in dire need of fresh vegetables, so we made our way to Mtwara, the nearest big town.
We spent the first week in well protected Mikindani Bay, busying ourselves with various tasks. For one, the boat needed cleaning as it is unbelievable how dirty the interior of a boat becomes during an ocean crossing. At sea we had entangled a thick stray rope from one of the Chinese fishing boats around our starboard propeller and so we decided, rather than battle underwater to get it off, to beach Moondust and clean her hull at the same time.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time anchored in front of The Yacht Club, a restaurant/pub on the beach, and had many a cold beer and tasty Swahili meal here, served by friendly and helpful staff.
We also walked to the nearby Mikindani town, which is not only an example of a beautiful rural village, but it also is quite historical: Livingstone stayed here on one of his expeditions and the town was occupied by the Germans for some time. The old slave market had been converted to a retail outlet selling curios; a far cry from its former ghastly purpose.
Our plan was to day sail north with the prevailing south easter and stop in at protected anchorages where possible. A pleasant way to explore Tanzania, especially after the long Indian Ocean crossing. We were surprised by the number of islands and having been in Tanzania before, how the scenery of the coast of this beautiful country differs from that on land. However, the people are as friendly as ever and we accumulated numerous telephone numbers, including those of the Mtwara immigration and customs officials, who encouraged us to call should we need help.
At Kiswere Harbour, which is in fact no harbor but a big protected lagoon, we felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin when just about every kid from the village accompanied us on our walk, all talking non-stop with their limited English and our even more limited Swahili.
We had heard from other cruisers about the ruins at Kilwa Kisiwani and were quite eager to go see them. In order to get to this protected island, we had to sail a dogs’ leg into the big tidal waterway between Kilwa Masoko and Kilwa Kisiwani, which proved quite challenging upon exit into the wind and short, steep waves.
At Kilwa Kisiwani we visited East Africa’s greatest medieval port city, which is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving the island which had been inhabited since at least the 9th century AD. At the peak of its prosperity in the 14th to 15th centuries, it was the wealthiest Swahili city and controlled the sea trade routes of the African coast. Ships carried gold, ivory and slaves from Africa for trade in India, Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
Kilwa’s wealth and strategic position was envied by foreign powers and thus the island was subject to rule by the Portuguese, the Omani rulers of Zanzibar and Germany at different periods between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Today extensive scattered ruins testify to the island’s earlier prominence and the once bustling city survives as a quiet fishing village with some 1 000 inhabitants.
On Kilwa Kisiwani the most impressive remains of the ruins are the Great mosque, the palace of the Sultan and the fort built by the Portuguese.
Further north we encountered many islands where we could anchor. Even the smallest was used as a base by fishermen who would erect rudementry houses using natural materials – wood and palm fronds. When we went ashore we were always greeted with smiles and a ‘karibu’ welcome.
Working dhows abounded and we marveled at their ability to sail these wooden boats up and down this coast. Their build is primitive; hull planking on wooden ribs, caulked with cotton fibres to stop leaks. A tree trunk mast held aloft with heavy lines, with a longer, thinner tree used to support the cotton lateen sail which is controlled with ropes that run through large wooden pulley blocks.
No matter how crudely built, these and larger dhows have been crossing the Indian Ocean for hundreds of years. At times fishermen trolling for fish would slow their vessel as Moondust approached, hardening up their sail when we drew alongside and greeting us with waves and big grins as they matched our speed and ability to sail upwind.
It was a joy for us to at last witness this use of the wind, so different from the Yamaha and fibreglass culture that has displaced sailing in all areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indonesian waters we had visited.
Finding no attraction in big cities, we normally avoid them. Thus we did not plan on going to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital. However, we needed to do some shopping and get our starboard engine starter motor fixed after it burnt out when the corroded ignition key stuck in the on position. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we enjoyed the few days anchored off the modern waterfront area called The Slipway.
Zanzibar is Tanzania’s biggest and most iconic island and thus quite touristy. We anchored off historical Stone Town, which proved a good vantage point from which to enjoy the buzzing promenade and from where we could wander in the labyrinth of narrow and colourful alleys; everyone selling something, insistent touts in abundance and many of the prices geared for the gullible tourist carrying strong foreign currency. We enjoyed dinner at Mercury’s, a tribute to Freddy Mercury of Queen fame, who was born on the island.
Unfortunately the anchorage space was limited and very crowded overnight with huge ferries and small tour operator boats back from day excursions to the surrounding islands. On our third night, the neighbouring boat became too well acquainted with Moondust, having us up at 2 a.m. to deploy fenders, so we decided to leave the next day. It was near the end of October and time to start heading south for our final run home down the Mozambique Channel to South Africa.
5 Replies to “Tanzania, the warm heart of Africa”
Another lovely blog – what a great adventure you have had. Safe travels back to Cape Town. Is there a book in the making?
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Loved this particular delivery of your news. 😊
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Hi Les. We’d love to make a book of our circumnavigation, even if it is only for our own memories.
So lovely to hear all the news of your amazing travels and lovely photos. Hope the rest of your trip goes well and wishing you all the best for the final stage of your adventure.
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Wonderful writing and photos! Thanks for taking us along with you on your travels. Wishing you good luck and fair winds on the next passage!
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