Travel and tips from southern Tanzania
Being environmentally conscious, we found Tribes via the Responsible Travel website and were attracted by the Safari, Beach and Spice holiday; the idea of spending some time relaxing and exploring Zanzibar after animal encounters was too good to pass up.
From our first contact with Tracy, we felt the personal touch that Tribes pride themselves on. The itinerary was explained, questions answered and we were reassured that we would indeed see plenty of giraffe!
While we did explore arranging our own flights, we quickly decided that there were advantages in getting Tribes to do it – if any were cancelled or delayed, we’d have assistance, plus there was much less hassle.
We chose to fly Qatar airlines via Doha, which isn’t as direct as some of the other options but we have nothing but praise for the airline. It did seem like they fed and watered us every 10 minutes, with a gracious and efficient service.
Arriving at Dar Es Salaam airport was a little underwhelming, it was slightly chaotic and the staff there were sullen to the point of being rude to our eyes, however we eventually worked out which forms to complete and got through immigration to find a driver waiting with our names on a board and soon we were travelling in the rush hour – a mile to the railway station, the best part of an hour to make the journey.
At this point, we got the culture immersion shock. The number of people at the railway station was incredible. Our driver had told us where the first class lounge was but we weren’t sure we were in the right place. Tanzara railways first class wasn’t the same as British Rail!
We had also been warned from the start that the train would probably be late – it was, but only by 1.5 hours (we heard stories from others of much longer delays in the past).
The train took us through the outskirts of Dar but soon we were rumbling through open bushland, and after a couple of hours entered Selous.
Three pieces of advice we’d offer anyone doing this journey:
- Take snacks with you (there is food on the train but they don’t serve it for a few hours)
- Be prepared for the toilets, not for the feint hearted.
- The train is long, very long. When you get to a station you probably wont be near the platform and so won’t see which station you’re at (there’s no announcements either) so make friends with a guard and ask him to alert you. (Another tip is to look out for the green buildings on the left at Matawambe. If you see those, get off at the next stop).
So 5 hours later we stepped off the train and were met by Rama from Sable Mountain Lodge. We quickly climbed aboard the Land Rover and off we went. Rama immediately started spotting and pointing out wildlife so by the time we’d reached the lodge, we’d already seen loads of animals.
Sable Mountain Lodge is heaven! We were welcomed in the bar area with a cold drink and a chilled towel. The protocols of the camp were explained and we were escorted up the hill to our room, which in this case was called Rooftop which was just incredible. A huge room, with open views across the forest canopy.
Each building at Sable is setup so whichever one you’re in you can’t see the others.
That night we listened to the sounds of the bush from within our mosquito net and were soon fast asleep.
Next morning, after an early breakfast, we were escorted by Rama on a walking safari around the camp grounds and a bit beyond. We spent an hour in the hide by the watering hole, which is fed by overflow from the freshwater swimming pool (so have a shower before you swim – no suntan lotion or insect repellent).
A half day game drive followed which gave us our first sightings of big game, including the much loved Giraffe. (a happy Sarah!)
The next day we had a full day game drive, which included a few hours on a boat in a big lake – crocodiles and hippo’s aplenty!. We experienced what Rama called a “little shower” (deluge was more like it) so cut our water trip short and drove to a drier area where we had a picnic on the edge of a swamp, about 30 feet from a pod of hippos. It was just surreal, the two of us with Rama, and a pod of hippos.
The next day we went with Rama to a local Massai village where we learned something of their lifestyle, traditional and the changes they’ve made since settling in one spot. We got to see and sit inside one of their houses. Lightness, the chief’s main wife, was very welcoming to us.
All too soon, our stay at Sable was over and we said goodbye to Rama at the grass airstrip before boarding a 5 seat plane! Just the two of us and the pilot. Our two bags of luggage took up the spare seats. As it was just us and the plane was already there, we left straight away (about 40 minutes ahead of schedule).
After an hour and 20 minutes we landed in Zanzibar, still about 40 minutes early. After having a taxi company try to sell us a trip (saying it happens all the time and we just claim the cost back!) I was grateful we booked our flights through Tribes and called Tracy (my phone wasn’t enabled for international roaming outside Europe) who quickly arranged for our driver to come and save us.
An hour or so of Zanzibar roads (sometimes a little scary) we pulled through the gates of the Zanzibari and we welcomed like old friends. We quickly learned we’d been upgraded and given the Busani Suite, complete with its own patio and private path down the beach. Tough life!!
There were lots of tours and excursions available but the most energetic thing we did in 4 days was walk the 15 minutes to the nearest town (Nungwi). The rest of the time, we lazed decadently; eating and drinking far too much.
One night during dinner, the Massai came to give a demonstration of their traditional dance which was amazing. One of them ended up staying with us (and a lively group we’d made friends with) for an impromptu party. I never, in my wildest dreams, expected to be doing the jumping dance with a Massai Warrior or seem one swaying to Abba while standing on top of the bar!
Four days at the Zanzibari was not long enough and we were soon headed to Stone Town, Zanzibar’s capital.
We’d heard from another group that they didn’t like Stone Town that much, nor the Dhow Palace where we were going to stay. We decided to keep an open mind about it, and were really glad we did.
The hotel is very traditional, it’s old and creaks a little but it’s spotlessly clean and very much cared for. It’s conservative and quiet, not the place to stay if your are a party animal, but to us it seemed very much in keeping and absolutely part of the culture.
Three tips – go up to the roof!
The hotel doesn’t make a big thing of it but it’s absolutely beautiful. There are tables, chairs, the traditional sunken Arabic sofas and the views across Stone Town to the Indian Ocean are stunning.
Tip two, if you book the Spice Tour take swimwear. We didn’t know there was an hour or so at a hotel’s private beach included so spent our time at the outside bar chatting with other travellers – about which I have no complaints!
Third tip is to do the walking tour of Stone Town as soon as you arrive, it’s a great opportunity to learn the history, including the difference between Arabic and Hindu doors. Plus it’s really good for orientation – on our last day we had the morning free and felt confident to wander round because we knew where the landmarks were. I suspect the alleys and back streets may feel intimidating if you’re not familiar but Mo, our guide assured us we were completely safe.
So we did the Spice Tour around a spice farm which was fascinating and fun. One other thing we did (again arranged via the hotel) was a sunset sail on a traditional Dhow, sailing east with just the Captain and his two crew, then turning about into the setting sun, arriving back at the beach after seeing the most incredible display in the sky.
There are no shortage of good places to eat in Stone Town; Livingstone’s was a favourite but one place we discovered only on the last day is a old colonial building that is now home to a bar and restaurant called 6 Degrees South. We only had lunch (and a beer) but it was just beautiful.
And then, we were back at the airport for a 10 seat plane ride to Dar (all of 20 minutes!) and our flight home.
We had the experience of a lifetime and have the most incredible treasured memories, plus over 1000 photos and a few gem videos!
In a few years, we will return to Sable Mountain Lodge – it is just that special.
Mike and Sarah, very satisfied customers!
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