Dar Es Salaam
Written by Caroline Lindstrom
You’ve seen the Big Five; summited Kilimanjaro; teetered on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater; slapped dust from the Louis Vuitton; ticked all the boxes for Tanzania…but have you?
For a start, chances are you will have been bundled on arrival past Dar Es Salaam, the city equivalent of a slightly disreputable cousin at a family gathering. And yet the port casts an irresistible charm, with its mix of cultures and colourful history. Spend a night at the Oyster Bay Hotel in ‘Dar’ and you’ll wish you could stay longer. A mellow experience within a short stroll of sugary sand, it’s a pity most guests use it as a mere springboard to safari. Here you get the distinct impression that you’ve dropped in as the weekend guest of a tasteful and well-travelled friend.
From the cool, elegant interior head out into the humid port air for a spot of post-safari shopping. Few travellers leave Tanzania without having heard the tantalising word ’tanzanite’. Most gems are found in several places in the world; not this one. Geologists are convinced that it occurs in only one location a few miles from the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on the Tanzania side at Merelani.
The stone, which is often likened to blue sapphire but is more brilliant with violet overtones, was formed some 585 million years ago, but not ‘discovered’ until 1967 by a Goan tailor – and subsequently given a name by the canny folk at Tiffany’s. Nomadic Maasai tribes had long pried chunks of the stone from outcrops on the surface of the earth, but it was only when the geologists noticed that the stone took off commercially. By nature, tanzanite is trichroic, showing different colours, depending on the direction from which it is viewed.
The most common are blue, violet, and salmon, caused by traces of the element vanadium in the crystal structure. Fakes abound, of course, so if you’re going to invest in one of Tanzania’s glittering exports don’t buy from street dealers. Most licensed curio shops and dealers stock different grades, cuts, and colours; so take your time, shop around, and be sure to follow export procedures. Just a short hop by small plane or ferry from Dar is the ultimate Zanzibaroque hideout, Kilindi Zanzibar, which last year hit all the hot lists for new hotels. Open since 2009, the 15 pavilions are set on 52 acres of tropical garden, planted with species most likely to attract birds and butterflies, a maze of split levels and staircases criss-crossed by waterfalls and rain-fed plunge pools.
This landscape of literally fabulous whitewashed domes and arches and curvy walls rises from the forest of Zanzibar’s north shore. The rooms are cooled by the sea breeze, and the décor is uncluttered and organic: polished concrete floors, baskets, squashy leather sofas in vast open spaces, seashells, and cotton kikois. In your domed bathroom you will have the most extraordinary al fresco shower you’ve ever experienced. By night, the scene is softly illuminated by lanterns lit by Maasai askaris, who patrol the premises. By day, float in the T-shaped infinity pool and watch the dhows sail out – or knock back cocktails at a bar that’s the best on the Swahili Coast.
The kitchen serves up yellowfin sashimi, lobster in curried sauce with mango and shrimp with aioli, grilled squid salad, and just about anything else you fancy; uShawari spa, staffed by East African therapists, features a hammam suite within a walled garden in which to enjoy post-treatment Champagne. If you planned to conclude your safari in Arusha, treat yourself to just one more luxury in the wilderness. In the shadow of Kilimanjaro, Chua Cho Farasi (‘School for Horses’) offers the sensation of infinite space, nobility, and grace of riding an Arab horse amongst wildlife on a private game reserve – and for non-riders, elephant whispering with handlers Dirk and Ricarda. Chua Cho Farasi is willing to adapt to your budget, be it the Lodge at Ndarakwai or Carlos da Silva’s atmospheric farmhouse, Casablanca, which was built by a German general during the scramble for Africa.
Carlos was once an elite Spanish horseman, who went on to work for Greenpeace International. He now lives a less hectic life with his friends and horses, which he says embody the spirit of the wind. On one side is the Selous Game Reserve, on the other is the Serengeti.
Chuo Cha Farasi offers a range of riding options, from equestrian clinics for advanced riders to day-long rides in the Kilimanjaro Conservancy. From June, Carlos will be offering horse safaris from the beach at Pangani. The team is happy to host long-term volunteers, particularly those with skills in hydrology, solar power, carpentry and construction, IT, horticulture, equestrianism, zoology, and biology, albeit in rather more basic lodgings.
There are certain experiences in life to which one cannot put a price – and being in the company of Carlos and his friends is one of them.
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
For visitors wanting to experience remote wilderness areas at a less frenetic pace, some of the most thrilling freshwater game fishing in Africa can be found on the Rufiji River. As yet virtually untouched by commercial or sport fishing, here the waters are teeming with the glitteringly sleek, rose-tipped tigerfish, a fearsome fighter which can snip through a 30lb wire trace – and on a good day weigh in at 15kg. Selous Impala Camp, in its perfect setting amongst borassus palms and tamarind trees, was scheduled to be refurbished and reopened at the end of May 2011.
With Qatar Airways increasing flights to Dar Es Salaam to twice-daily we revisit the Swahili Coast for what’s hot on the beach – and what to do après safari!
Dar Es Salaam is a good base for visiting nearby sites such as Bagamoyo, Bongoyo, and Mbudja Islands.
The most common form of public transportation is mini-vans called ‘dala-dala’. To hop off anywhere shout “Shusha!“
For centuries, beaded jewellery has been a mark of beauty and prosperity among the Maasai tribes of Eastern Africa. Tanzania Maasai Women Art supports the extraordinary beadwork of the women in Mkuru, and by joining forces with Italian jewellery designers has succeeded in developing truly fashionable, elegant designs which have retained a traditional Maasai look. No mere trinkets or souvenirs, these. The development of this alternative micro-enterprise protects the environment and creates a stable income source and degree of independence for the women.