Two months of backpacking in Tanzania has taken me from the coast to the hinterland, on the border with Mozambique first and later with Malawi, to then return to the coast, before reaching Arusha where I had started the Safari, landing in one of the Tanzanian villages that I liked the most: Pangani.
Not far from the border with Kenya, buses depart from Tanga to Mombasa, Pangani perfectly sums up the Swahili spirit of the Tanzanian coast offering the ideal compromise between the Indian Ocean coast, the Swahili village and genuine environment, which makes this place one of my favourites, where I have well been back twice, so as to enjoy in full the sea air and beautiful coast surrounded by a peaceful environment not influenced by mass tourism that, I regret to say, especially in these countries, causes a kind of tourist dependance in which, inevitably, before a hello, will come a "money" with a little hand outstretched waiting for a gift.
After a journey of 12 hours, on the usual rough roads of a country that I expected logistically better equipped and of which now, after a month of dust, broken windows and parts of buses that occasionally fall off at each bump taken in full (I got used to all that), I arrive in Tanga , considered on paper, in short on the guide, as the third largest city in the country.
Tanga right from the start stank of something that I did not like, a strange attitude of the people that the first day I found a bit annoying.
Starting from the piki - piki, motorcycle, who, to take me 300 meters more, unknown to me, asked me to pay 4 times as much as I have always done in any other place, you have to negotiate first but not knowing the place and putting my trust in that "third largest city" I had believed him, and then after that, to make me pay twice because the hotel where he had decided to take me was full.
After finding a room at a price that suited me (about $ 13 per night and with lukewarm water) the end of the day exploded in a fight in a street restaurant where I was finally about to prepare to eat the first NON chips mayai of the journey that until that day had forced me to chips and egg, rice and beans, meat skewers for lunch and dinner, so that at times to give up one of the two.
In front of me I had: Zanzibar pizza, shrimps, octopus. I admit that I have never eaten as badly as what had happened in Tanzania so that the sight of something different to me was a happy omen for the days to come.
Like an happy little girl I waited for the dish but he, an elderly man that had been staring at me already for a while, had probably already decided to spoil that dinner for me, to the point as to make me get up and leave my dinner on the table and go back in the hotel with a half-empty stomach.
The truth is that Africa is wonderful and the people are what makes this continent really very special, there are no safari or beaches that can hold its own against the humanity and sensibility of the African.
But Africa is also tough and harsh at times, it is a continuous pounding and often it takes calm and patience not to get angry in front of insistence unwanted or that in some moment of the day is unbearable for us.
I was just back from a 2 day trip that had exhausted me. On the buses the music was loudly played without interruption, my head had not had a moment of peace and the noise was starting to become intolerable. I just needed peace and quiet. A moment of silence and solitude, I could not speak and talk about this and that (where you come from, what's your name, where you have been to etc etc) was the last thing I wanted that day.
But this gentleman, had no intention, despite my having asked him, first gently and then a little angrily, to leave me in peace as I was tired and very irritable. Notwithstanding my explicit request, he took a chair instead, sat down beside me beginning to pound me with questions that I did not want made to me and that I had no intention to answer.
After 5 minutes I jumped up, left the dinner on the table and walked briskly away in the pitch dark of the classic night of Tanzanian cities where the times without electricity are more often than the times with.
The next morning with the taste of the onion of the Zanzibar pizza, of which I had eaten 4 pieces, re-presenting itself again, I angrily decided not to leave, I'm tired and the idea to get going again attracted me as much as having broccoli for breakfast. I venture out for a long walk in the city that had not welcomed me with open arms but which I wanted to give a chance .
And I did the right thing. I discovered beautiful walks in the green and in the silence passed my time in the afternoon reading in a protected area overlooking the sea. Finally alone . Finally silence.
Two days later, backpack on my back and in a better mood, I headed for the bus station and in two hours that covered 50km of narrow streets and packed like sardines, standard condition for those who travel by minibus, I was rewarded by the view of the place I had arrived in.
It was exactly what I had been searching for but had not yet identified, maybe I had felt the same in Matema on Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi).
The feeling is more or less the same.
A small village, where the inhabitants are totally indifferent to my passage, and where there are no hands tended towards me in the hope of bestowed coins, a small market, men playing strange checkers, kiosks and the inevitable restaurants around the central open space, that doubles as a market / bus station / square, where the only things that I can order are the inevitable: mayai chips and skewers of meat.
Once in a while a boy will come round with a tray with pieces of octopus to be paid per piece, divided into 2 shillings and 3 shillings depending on whether you choose the large or the small piece.
I was welcomed with open arms by the boys of the Pangani tourist center and in that moment I felt I was exactly where I wanted to be, so instead of staying in one of the lodges on the beach I decided to remain in Mboni Lodge, behind the market, and enjoy what I liked most, village life and the new friends that always seemed to me happy to have me around all day .
Every evening the lady, who spoke to me only in swahili and accompanied by her two children, one of 9, who helped her by washing the dishes and serving, and one of 4 who loved boats and paper airplanes that I gave him every day, cooked chapatis and prepared the tea, now my customary and usual dinner.
I was a regular customer, so much so that when she hadn’t seen me in the neighbourhood for two days she got worried just like how I was worried myself that night, one of the many without electricity, I had not found her in the usual place, which forced me to turn back to the usual tortilla chips, but not until I had asked everyone where she might be and where I could find her.
The highlight of Pangani is, however, HOT HOT, one of the leaders of the tourist center who has decided to take me under his protective wings coming over to visit me at the hotel and on several occasions inviting me to his house, a room decked out with colourful streamers, to drink tea and eat biscuits and to spend some time together .
Everybody knows my friend who works devoting himself body and soul to his project of development of tourism in this little corner of Tanzania where only small numbers arrive because, for most people, the sea of Tanzania, is located in Zanzibar rather than on the coast .
But how wrong thy are!
I have discovered a delightful corner of the country, rich in natural beauty, genuine people and tranquility and here I have decided to stay for a long time .
Although it is a small village I find it to be a beautiful place where you can stay for a few days to relax but also to learn about Tanzania away from the tourist centers in which, those who have never had anything to do with Africa, at times it is difficult and tiring (you have to be prepared for continuous swarms of people who want something from you ) to endure.
All this do not happen in Pangani, and if it does, it’s just because these people want to make practice of and to exchange a few words in English.
Ushongo Beach is one of the little known secrets of the coast of Tanzania, it is a quiet place that prides itself of a beautiful white sandy beach edged with coconut palms, and in general is a great place to relax in.
The bay has no undercurrents, no sharks, there are no street vendors and above all no crime occurs there.
The white beach of Ushongo is three kilometers long, the water temperature is very pleasant going between the 25 and 28 degrees .
Highlight of my stay in Pangani. Hot Hot had organized for me a wonderful round in dhow, which alone is worth it regardless of the place where we had docked, he had handed me a bag with box lunch, and in the company of two fishermen, I navigated for 10 kilometers to reach the Maziwe natural reserve.
To enter the marine reserve one must pay a fee of $ 13 per person .
It is not as well-known as the Serengeti but this National Park has something really very unique. It is by the sea and offers an incredible and unique compromise made up of savannah, forest and ocean.
The Saadani National Park is located in the center of the historical triangle of Bagamoyo, Pangani and Zanzibar, and covers 1100 km2.
It is the only Tanzanian national park overlooking the sea, the climate is coastal, hot and humid, and it offers a unique combination of marine and continental flora and fauna in a charming setting.
The park has about 30 species of large mammals as well as numerous reptiles and birds and many species of fish, green turtles, humpback whales (nyangumi) and dolphins (pomboo).
Cost of entry and stay in the park
Maziwe Island is one of the oldest marine reserves in Tanzania and is approximately 10 km from the coast of Pangani .
The marine reserve was founded in 1981 with the intention of taking care of the complex and important barrier system.
At one time, what it is now a small island that appears and disappears with the tides was an island where there were mangroves and trees, but over the years the marine erosion has begun to submerge the island and the last tree was sighted in 1983.
Today Maziwe is a sandy island accessible at low tide and that is covered with water at high tide.
The depths of the marine reserve has 400 species of fish, 35 kinds of hard and soft corals , sponges and algae, and also of birds .
Although the map does not seem that complex, in truth, to get to Pangani, whether arriving from Dar Es Salaam or Arusha the journey will take one hour.
You have to take the bus up to Tanga, about $10, and from Tanga the minibus, about $ 2,400 shillings (remember that in Tanzania you should not pay for the luggage even if for some reason in Tanga they always try), and in about 2 hours you will cover the 50km distance to Pangani.
The options to for a place to stay once you are in Pangani are 2, remain in Pangani Village, there are guest houses which cost about TZSH25.000 per night ($ 12) or head to the lodges in Ushongo Beach.
To get to Ushongo beach you have to take the ferry to go from one shore to the other (TZSH200) and then pay a motobike (TZSH 4000) to reach the lodge, it is approximately 8 km. There are no shops or markets at Ushongo beach therefore lunch and dinner are usually consumed in the lodges, to be able to buy something you have to go to the village of Pangani.
Certainly not the choice that people who wishes to travel comfortably and safely would want to make, as can be the ferries from Dar that reach Stone Town (but this takes at least a day of travel and a night in Dar and then leave the next day ), but the truth is that from Pagani speed boats can be organized to get to Zanzibar, north, and the trip takes about 4 hours in the open sea in a wooden speed boat.
I have done it, the only problem I had was that I had to go to the bathroom and since obviously there wasn’t any, I had to jump into the water and then up again, and we were exactly half way from the mainland and the island.
I would not recommend it to those with children or those who are afraid of the sea.
Costs vary depending on how many people you are, the advice I can give you is to ask HOT HOT (responsible for the Pangani tourist center) if there are other people waiting and to join the group.
Boats depart only if arranged in advance and it is not a frequent service, you may have to wait 1 or 2 or 3 days before finding travel companions. The cost varies between $ 40 and $ 70 if you are in 4 or 2. If you are on your own the cost becomes high because you have to pay for the entire boat (about $ 150).
The boys of the Pangani tourist center work hard to bring attention to this wonderful area of the country but I have seen tourists arriving by bus who do not even want to listen them, taking for granted that they were flycatchers like those in Arusha.
In truth the Pangani boys organize many activities that are worth knowing and I find it good and fair to rely on them for rides around in dhows, canoes, cultural walks in case you are interested to know more of this area of the country and help with small contributions, a community that does its best to grow.
The tourist center is located in a building in the square of the minibuses and you will surely be received by one of the volunteers, as you must, in any case, record your presence on arrival .
Hot Hot has a great desire whivh is that of being able to bring volunteers who can help in schools with the children, teach English to the volunteers of the tourist center, all Tanzanians, and help in the building of the website.
For those interested in a few weeks of volunteer work you can contact me at [email protected] and together we can organize your volunteering stay in Pangani. The accommodation options are in homes with the locals or in Lodge .
The minimum time is two weeks .
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