Photography and report by Bert Duplessis
High resolution photos available on Flickr!
Can somebody please perfect hypersonic jet travel so that we, our clients and our friends & family can get to Africa sooner, from the USA? Door to door, it was just on 24 hours from when the garage door rolled down behind us in Houston to when a smiling Sebastian Moshi welcomed us to Oyster Bay Hotel in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Not counting the eight time zones which we skipped.
Would it be enlightening to say that we were dog tired, jetlagged to our roots and in dire need of a bath and something horizontal to stretch out on? Probably not.
As exhausted as we were, we almost turned down the offer of a late meal which would have been a big mistake. We soon found out that it is not a good idea to decline any meal at the Oyster Bay Hotel! More about that later.
SOME CONCLUSIONS AND OPINIONS
Our second visit to Southern Tanzania confirmed much of what we already knew about the area: it is very much a remnant of the Africa of old, of long-forgotten journeys and undiscovered places, a little bit of Africa where you can still connect with the wilderness just like people did 30 years ago.
In areas like Ruaha National Park and Selous Game Reserve, you don’t expect to see other safari vehicles out and about and it is almost surprising when you do, and remarkable when you see more than two or three during an entire game drive. Most of the time, it is just you, your guide, the environment and the wildlife. Miles and miles of Africa with plenty of animals and few other vehicles – just the way we like it.
In hindsight, the overall game-viewing was not as good as we had anticipated but perhaps our expectations were a bit on the high side. Southern Tanzania delivers a fine and deeply satisfying safari experience, but it is not the Serengeti. Also, our visit came very early in the season just after a period of abundant rain so the bush was very thick which makes a huge difference in a heavily wooded environment. We would advise would-be visitors to schedule their visit from July through the first part of November. By then the bush is thinned out, the grass is short and animals are increasingly drawn to remaining sources of water.
We visited several properties for the first time and there are a couple of them such as Mwagusi (Ruaha) and Beho Beho (Selous) which we will be using a lot more in future. Other such as Sand Rivers Selous which we have been using for a long time, will remain in the rotation but perhaps in a slightly different mix due to changing conditions. And yet others like Kigelia Ruaha, Lake Elmenteita Serena Camp, Segera Retreat, Sabuk in Laikipia and Sasaab at Samburu will be good choices for specific guests.
We were intrigued and delighted by what we saw and experienced in Zanzibar and all four of the properties we tried out would be great additions to any East Africa trip; it is just a matter of picking one that suits your style and budget. Baraza was the single best property there.
DAR ES SALAAM
For once, it was a breeze getting through immigration at Dar-es-Salaam as we already had a valid multiple-entry visa from last November. It’s good for a year so we did not have to shell out another US$100 – thank you very much. We did have our bags X-rayed on arrival which was rather odd as we had chosen the ‘nothing to declare’ customs option. Fortunately we were not muling contraband or smuggling iPads so no harm done.
About an hour or so later, having briefly freshened up in our room at the Oyster Bay Hotel, we sat down to an al fresco meal on the edge of the lawn, a beautifully lit ficus tree forming an imposing backdrop. Every now and then a large fruit bat would dip down to the surface of the shimmering blue pool. Our senses may have been dulled by the deprivations of transcontinental flying, but we knew right away that this was a special place.
Certainly the meal was. Kathleen opted for some expertly grilled fresh jumbo prawns while I enjoyed maharage, a mildly spicy local bean dish infused with coconut milk. It was served with rice, tomato and cooked spinach. We indulged in a dessert as well: grilled fresh tropical mango served with a sweet coconut sauce. Delicious.
A RESTFUL DAY IN DAR ES SALAAM
May 31: We both slept through the night from sheer exhaustion. It felt good to strap on running shoes and jog about 4 miles along the main coastal road to the Sea Cliff Hotel and back. The Sea Cliff is a beautiful property with a near perfect location overlooking the Indian Ocean and the ‘cliff’ which stretches from the front of the hotel to the north (left). We looked around the well-maintained grounds and checked out the restaurant where we enjoyed lunch a few years ago – seemingly still a good place to go, judging by the number of people there.
It was the last Saturday of the month which is the scheduled day for the monthly farmer’s market at the Oyster Bay Shopping Center. We walked across from the hotel and browsed the various offerings which included some fresh produce, local cheese, cupcakes, a Moringa tree extract, cookbooks, various herbs and spices and a sugar cane juicing stand. Two local ladies were inserting long stalks of sugar cane into a small portable press – the juice was mixed with some fresh lime and ginger resulting in a tasty and apparently healthy drink. Cheers.
Over tea, I got a little work done, meeting with Cliff D’Souza, owner of Savannah Tours – a Dar and Arusha-based destination management company.
Then it was time for lunch: some perfectly grilled calamari for Kathleen while I noshed on a Mediterranean mezze with hummus, babaganoush and a white bean puree, served with pita bread. We spent the afternoon relaxing – and catching up on a few e-mails.
Despite what the New York Times may think – it nominated Dar-es-Salaam as one of the 50 places to visit in 2014 – this city of nearly 5 million people is not the most desirable Tanzania destination. It has a very short list of things to do and see (a couple of museums, a local market and fish market) and parts of it are best avoided – some of the public beaches being on that list. The road network is totally inadequate for the rapidly burgeoning population and as a result the 6-mile trip from town to the airport can take more than 90 minutes at certain times of the day, except on Saturdays and Sundays when traffic is usually light. Dar is a perfectly fine place to spend a couple of days resting up though.
Before we knew it, it was 8pm and time for dinner. Does it sound like we did nothing except eat in DAR? The quality of the cuisine at The Oyster Bay Hotel being what it is, that would not be difficult at all. Tonight it was fresh red snapper, grilled with a butter garlic sauce for Kathleen and a nicely perfumed vegetable curry with chapati, for yours truly. On the side we had a salad of shredded zucchini, broccoli and carrots and avocado with a mango salsa.
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