Beach babies and bush babies
Francis reports on his recent family trip to Tanzania
She is no longer a baby at nearly five years old, but she certainly loves the bush and the beach. Mu wife Liz and I took Jemima (said five year old) to Zanzibar and Tanzania in February for a combined holiday and work trip. We stayed in some wonderful places, and met some great people, and Liz and I revisited Zanzibar where we started our honeymoon nine years ago.
Much has changed on the island, as happens anywhere that grows in popularity; the number of new hotels and lodges that have appeared since we were last there is astonishing, and the quality of many is remarkable. But it is still a deliciously charismatic island with plenty to see and do apart from relishing the stunning beaches of the east coast. The island is laden with history, style, and colour, and makes for a thoroughly satisfying destination in its own right.
I have always enjoyed the chaos and dilapidation of Stone Town, and in the past I much preferred this ancient town to the beach. I accept that it is not for everyone, but to me it offers an insight into a lifestyle and culture that has long disappeared from Europe, and is on the way to disappearing from Africa. This is still a place where family and community count for much more than money or possessions, and is the sort of town where each corner opens up a surprise, be it a dhow under construction, a massive door studded with brass spikes, a shop selling antique pieces from Arabia or Asia, or an old place of worship.
Despite being predominantly Muslim this is a very cosmopolitan town, and feels as much Asian as African. My big new discovery this time was however the beaches of Zanzibar. Having a child who loves the sea, and swimming, it was far more important to keep her happy than to satisfy my own curiosity about an old haunt, and we therefore headed for the beaches of the east coast.
Warm turquoise sea and palm-fringed white sand that feels like icing sugar under your feet; it’s an old cliché, and Lord knows we all dislike them, but in this case there is irritatingly, no better or more accurate way to describe these beaches.
They are gorgeous places to be, and of course the natural courtesy, warmth and curiosity of the Zanzibari people means you are impeccably looked after here as well, and Jemima made many new friends during our 10 days on the island. In the smaller lodges the staff were able to get to know her by name, and made a real effort to talk to her at any opportunity, which was a joy to watch.
After some time by the sea, we flew to the mainland in a six seater Cessna, an adventure in itself, and soon found ourselves at Kisampa in Tanzania. This is a wonderful small family owned and run eco-lodge not far from the sea or from the Saadani National Park.
The Barbour family have two children who were delighted to see Jemima, and introduced her to the joys of the African bush in no time at all. The children played in the mud of the Wami River, went for bush walks, explored the lush riverine forest, collected firewood, learned how to light a fire the African way, lay on a blanket and watched stars at night, enjoyed sitting round the campfire, and went looking for wildlife. These are things that are so rarely on offer for children in our climate, and yet so readily available in many places here.
We all visited Matipwili village where the presence of the lodge has given rise to unprecedented levels of entrepreneurial activity, as well as a renewed library, a new secondary school, and a new office for the village council.
Projects such as growing food for use at the lodge, growing Jatropha for bio-fuel, teaching people how to make clothes and bedding have all created new income streams for the village, and the lodge employs more than 20 people who would otherwise have no job.
This is a great place, where one can enjoy the bush, and activities not usually on offer in a traditional safari destination, as well as getting into the life of Tanzania’s delightful people. There is wildlife around, the evidence of which was plentiful, especially the elephant tracks on ground that had been very wet not long before.
We also took a day trip to Saadani National Park, where we enjoyed a game drive, a picnic lunch on the beach, and a boat trip on the Wami River, where we saw masses of birdlife, plenty of hippos and many crocodiles. All of this was a wonderful experience for the three of us, and especially for Jemima who had never seen any of these animals before.
It is just 20 minutes from Kisampa to Dar es Salaam by Cessna, and from there we took the short hop to Ras Kutani where we stayed for a couple of nights before returning to Dar for our final night at The Oyster Bay Hotel.
This is a truly fantastic hotel on the sea front in Dar, where you are made to feel like part of the family, while being lavishly entertained, watered and fed. The rooms are huge, effortlessly luxurious and stylish, with some of the best beds I have ever slept in. We often have clients saying that they wished they had spent more time here, which is incredible for a city hotel in Africa.
I said farewell to Liz and Jemima with a heavy heart the following day, as I so much wished they could come with me for the rest of my trip but Jemima had to go back to school. We had enjoyed a fantastic holiday with great variety, wonderful people and delightful places, and introduced Jemima to the wonders of this awesome continent.