Another African road trip! This one was a quick weekend at Mkadini Beach at Fish Eagle Point Lodge, which is a short 40 km from Tanga. At least I thought that last 40 km would be short....
(An update as of 2012: the road along the coast--that last 40 km that I describe dramatically, below--is completed and paved and the last 40 km out to Fish Eagle Point is now less adventurous, but much easier. See the comment from the lodge managers' son, at the end of the post, for more information about current travel conditions, including the dhow option if you want to put the adventure back into the trip.)
Let me start from the beginning. About two weeks ago, I met Shanette and Cynthia. They both work in Moshi in HIV/AIDS research. Shanette is a friend of a friend. And here's why I totally changed my mind and now I like Facebook. Martha is a friend I knew back in Idaho when I was a teenager. I wasn't in contact with her for over 30 years, except that I heard from a mutual friend that she lived in Africa now. A year or so ago, I came across her on Facebook through that mutual friend's profile. She's in Zambia, working in HIV/AIDS research and Shanette is her former coworker. When Shanette got a job in Moshi (about 90 minutes drive time from Arusha), Martha linked us up. Shanette's from the Bahamas, by way of several years in America, followed by a stint in Zambia. And now I'm hanging out with her in Tanzania. And with Cynthia, her coworker, who is Kenyan and recently back in East Africa with her husband and baby, also after several years in America.
All three of us agreed we needed some fun, and settled on a trip to the beach. I left Arusha bright and early Friday morning, cruised into Moshi, went the wrong way through the first roundabout (kipuleftu in Swahili), quickly recovered, and swung by Shanette's place to pick up Shanette, Cynthia, and Amaya, Cynthia's beautiful 11-month-old daughter.
We sailed right on out of Moshi to Himo, where we somehow didn't notice two big road signs marking our turn. Twenty minutes later, we were puzzled to see a barrier closing the road as it entered a large area with several men in uniform and a sign saying something about leaving Tanzania. Oops! It was the Kenya border, which we were not planning to cross. The Tanzanian customs agent laughed at us and gave us directions, as I executed a three-point turn to avoid the need for a visa.
Back at Himo, we made our turn to the east and were on our way...to the Indian Ocean this time. We expected about six hours of drive time from Moshi. We passed through quite a swath of Tanzania. First the green mountain landscape of the Kilimanjaro area, next a desolate area of orange soil and scrubby acacias and shrubs and mud houses. Finally we eased into the coastal zone of lush tropical vegetation, complete with mango and coconut trees. The roadside vendors changed with the landscape. We started out with dozens of vendors lining the highway with buckets piled high with tomatoes. Then for hundreds of kilometers, no vendors at all, just groups of people hanging out together in every patch of shade. As we approached the coast, the vendors were back, with piles of big, bright green mangoes everywhere. The young male vendors vied to outdo each other in aggressive sales tactics, stepping halfway into the travel lane and shaking mangoes at oncoming cars. The women stayed off the road in the shade. I guess the effects of testosterone are pretty much the same in every country--young men everywhere will shake their mangoes.
We tried to stop for lunch in a tiny town along the way. But the waitress in the little pub was reluctant to speak to us, even with Cynthia speaking fluent Swahili. She did finally tell us we could have rice or ugali, but nothing to accompany them. We were a little bit early for Tanzanian lunch time. But she was annoyed when we left without ordering! The second try for lunch an hour later was successful, in Mombo, a bigger town where buses going to and from Dar es Salaam stop for meals. As we relaxed at an outdoor table in a pleasant shady spot, we were entertained first by a flock of guinea fowl and then by an American male voice wailing loudly, over and over, "Patricia! Patricia! Patricia!" It seemed to be emanating from a bus that was pulling out. But I guess he got them to wait for Patricia, because the bus and the wailing both stopped for a few minutes. Lunch was nice, but it took almost two hours.
Back on the road, we passed through one village after another, each with its own array of speed bumps in varying symmetrical arrangements. Usually you bounce over three sets of four small bumps, then sometimes over two widely spaced big speed bumps, then usually over another three sets of small ones. Kind of like the warm up, the workout, and the cool down. The little ones varied from not much of a bump to slam-on-the-brakes-or-you'll-knock-out-your-front- teeth. Cynthia got the worst of that because she was riding in the back seat with Amaya and all her baby gear. Each of these little towns sported a sign with the town name before the first speed bump and a sign with the town name covered with the red diagonal slash after the last speed bump. Instead of "Entering Pongwe" and "Leaving Pongwe," simply "Pongwe," followed by "No Pongwe."
Traffic was light all along our route. So it was easy to pass all those big, lumbering cargo trucks without being stuck behind each for more than a few minutes. And easy for all those careening buses to careen right around my Suzuki without being stuck behind me for more than a few minutes. Several times we said to each other, "Just be glad you're not on that bus!" We passed a few accidents in which the big trucks had just rolled onto their sides and slid off the edge of the road due to taking a curve too fast. We also passed one bus lying on its side in the ditch, with a group of stunned passengers sitting on the ground making cell phone calls.
We hadn't booked rooms, because I had thought we should take a look at the place first. If the rooms weren't nice, we could retrace the 40 km and head south to Pangani where we would find several other lodges to choose from. But just as we bumped off the end of the tarmac and onto a sandy "rough road," it became clear that it was too late in the day for that. Shanette called the lodge and booked a bungalow. The lodge manager described to us the horrors of road construction just ahead of us and told us to take note of our odometer reading and watch for the turnoff at 35 km, because it could be hard to spot in the dark, which it certainly would be by the time we got there, especially if the construction crew had taken down the resort signboard, although gosh, it had still been there at lunchtime.
There were several villages right along the road, and many locals were riding motorcycles on the new roadbed. It looked temptingly smooth. But at one point, when I misinterpreted the signs and drove on it for a few meters, it was actually too soft and slick. Conscious of approaching darkness, I kept trying to drive a little faster. But no matter how much I tossed Cynthia around the back seat, I couldn't get much over 20 kph. As we settled into twilight, I had to slow down and really look for the red arrows and really ponder what exactly they were pointing at. Shanette had to lean over and read the odometer (can't drive with my reading glasses on) to track our 40 km. We pulled over several times in wide spots to let large oncoming trucks driven by Chinese engineers with African crews riding in the back pass us. They didn't give an inch (a centimeter?). It was up to me to get out of their way. We passed one large truck lying on its side.
At the very moment that deep twilight was leaning into true dark, Shanette spotted the Fish Eagle Point Lodge sign, still standing, and we turned onto a narrow dirt road through the bush. But with my high beams on, it was easy to see the route here. Shanette called the lodge manager again, and he gave us directions. We got briefly lost only once more and drove a hundred meters into a village and had to be escorted by a man on a bike back to the turnoff. We rolled into the car parking area around 8:00 pm, way after full dark. I said, "Let's just check the rooms and see if they're OK. If they're not, we'll head down to Pangani." Shanette and Cynthia were tired enough to laugh at my joke, and then we went off to a lovely dinner. The manager had asked our dinner choices on one of our earlier calls and had food waiting for us. Great service!
We were dreaming of relaxing on a white sandy beach--especially Bahamian Shanette. We consulted Steve, the British manager and he steered us to the perfect spot, and even recruited one of the askaris to help us carry our stuff. (I had more "luggage" for a few hours at the beach than K2 takes when he's out of town for three days! Plus, a really cute basket to carry it in.)