Into Tanzania Feature

This is Tanzania

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck

Tanzania is color.

It’s houses of orange clay with rusty tin roofs. Emerald grass curling over the roadside and being severed by a machete as we pass. It’s brightly painted murals that splash across colourful storefronts.

It’s women in boldly printed khanga, perfectly balancing baskets, buckets, bowls, or bags on their heads. It’s only women that carry things in this way, so we were told, if men were to do so it would be an abomination. In northern Tanzania, it’s the layers of beads and sparking silver of the semi-nomadic Maasai people that catch our attention. The clothing varies, although all of dazzling hues, but it is clear that a deep red is widely favoured.

Shop and Bike
Tanzania Women

Tanzania is savoury.

Stews, stews, and more stews. Beef stew, banana stew, served up over fresh rice and all of delicate flavours to sooth the more spicy salads which often occupy the same plate. It’s an abundance of carbs, a little bit of meat, and plenty of fresh vegetables.

It’s fresh banana beer, served in a large plastic glass that is shared by everyone. In the town of Mto Wa Mbu, we passed it around inside a small grass hut that was barely tall enough to stand in and with just enough seats for our dozen. The beer was yeasty and bitter, but we both still declared it tasty, preferring it to the banana wine which also made the rounds. Without being bottled and made of only three ingredients, the beer lasts only a few days before another batch is made. The alcohol content is barely registrable (at about 2%), but it is the ultimate social lubricator. It is shared between elders of the Chagga tribe when negotiating marriages, and it is poured onto graves of ancestors to welcome luck in the new year and deposit bad luck from the past.

Tanzanian Cuisine
Tanzania Kitchen
Banana Wine

Tanzania is wild and alluring.

We had morning coffee within sight of a tower of giraffes, after a night of hearing hyenas howl around camp. We caught the end of the zebra migration and were mesmerized by the erratic black and white stripes, numbering in the thousands, that stretched into the open field around us as far as we could see.

Tanzania is twisty acacia trees that cast equally twisty shadows in the falling sun of the Serengeti. It’s blood red sand to corn fields to sunflowers to rough side streets lined with shops. It’s stark white sand beaches and the industrious locals who work them – with men fishing or selling tours, women and children collecting seaweed for sale to Japan. It’s the tough job of guarding a field against elephants, tending to a nightly fire made smoky with green grass to deter them.

It is the maddening tease of the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, who showed only her faint outline before disappearing into the clouds for two days. It’s the tiny man in rubber sandals named Fred who has summited the mountain 200 times. With clients it can take up to ten days, on his own, he insists he could be up and down in two.

Tanzania offers a satisfying spectrum of adventure and comfort. It is anything you want it to be.

Tanzania Zebra
Irente Viewpoint
Beach in Zanzibar

Tanzania is an adjustment.

It’s poor internet. It’s a perpetual cover of dust on everything and the smell of burning garbage. It’s that guy who ripped us off on the purchase of our local phone card. It’s learning about sensible laws against abhorrent customs (like that of female genital mutilation) that frustratingly go unenforced.

But it is also a place to find inspiration. Surrounded by more tribalist neighbours, Tanzania is a strong nation. Tanzania is full of selfless people doing NGO work – like the radiant Floreen at the Amani Children’s Home – tending to the basic needs of dozens of local children, including their broken hearts. Tales abound of families who can’t sustain them, or of AIDS leaving them without one entirely. At Amani, they have a chance to build a life.

It’s a country that I want to wrap my arms around and smother with my love.

Stop and Say Hello
Cool Dudes
All Smiles
Tanzania Countryside

Because Tanzania has a luminous spirit.

It is art based in reality. It is many carvings of baboons because they steal all the bananas in the village. It is a popular and symbolic totem, representing the socialist environment that encourages Tanzanians to take care of each other.

You are very welcome here, we were enthusiastically greeted by every single person we meet. Kids waved, jumped, and yelled Hello! Hello! as we passed.

Of all the countries we have visited, Tanzania is one of the most disadvantaged, but also one with exalted hospitality. And that’s what we will remember most.

Carving Wood
Picture Please

how to do it

This is a snapshot of our time in beautiful Tanzania thanks to our Intrepid Travel “Road to Zanzibar” tour. We began in Nairobi, Kenya and ended on the northern beaches of Zanzibar.In between we spent a couple of mind-blowing days camping in the Serengeti, played with chameleons in the Usambara mountains, and so much more. When we weren’t enjoying meals made in the homes of locals (one of the great things about Intrepid tours is their commitment to local experiences and sustainable tourism), we were being spoiled with our very creative cook. We were very well taken care of by our attentive guide, safe at all times, and thoroughly enjoyed all of our company on this small tour.

As we are pretty staunchly independent travelers who haven’t done a group tour in years, this was a different experience for us! Read more about our thoughts on group travel in this newsletter.

Our trip was courtesy of Intrepid Travel. All opinions, as always, are our own.

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  1. Ahh! These posts from Africa are KILLING ME! 🙂

    You’ve described the spirit of the African people to a T in this one! It’s so heartwarming seeing the children wave and jump up and down as you walk/drive by. I remember this one time somewhere between Arusha and Dar Es Salaam – a group of children just sang and danced beside the overland truck I was in while we were caught up in yet another typical African traffic jam.

    Thank you for capturing another beautiful place in the world that brings back such fond memories 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Melissa, glad it resonated. I know you’ve spent a lot more time on the continent than we have, and we can’t wait to get back!

  2. You’ve been knocking off (ok, and adding to!) many of my must see places this year! I’ve spent most of my time in Europe & SE Asia on my travels. But I really want to experience Africa & especially a safari. We’ve always done our travels independently but I’ll admit I’m a little intimidated by Africa, so after hearing your experiences maybe we’ll consider a tour….

    And of course, as always, the pictures are beautiful & indulge my wunderlust! 🙂

    1. I totally understand it – we were intimidated too. It’s a little rougher than other travel we’ve done recently, but we also felt very welcomed and safe (moreso than other places we’ve been to). But I am also glad we did a tour, especially with Intrepid, as it’s not just about the “big sights” but it took us to places off the path too (which we love)!

  3. Great post!! Tanzania is beautifull but is sad they live like that , for me is very frustrating when i look woman and children like that, where are their human rights

    1. I agree Izy, that is hard to take. It just needs education, education, education – and that is happening. It never seems to be quick enough, but it requires changing a whole mindset and I think they’ll get there.

  4. I LOVED reading this post! You have a way with words that made me feel as if I was on the trip with you. I tend to shy away from tour groups too however this one sounds like it is one not to miss. Thanks for the inspiration, I will add Tanzania to my wish list now.

  5. Tanzania is one of the African countries I most want to go to: Serengeti, Kilamanjaro, Zanzibar and Pemba in particular. I’m not sure if I would do it independently or with a tour but if I did choose a tour, Intrepid would be at the top of my list.

  6. I can feel the love that you put into writing this post, and the photos are stunning! Tanzania is one of my biggest eventual trips (I’m hoping to save it for Mt. Kilimanjaro when I turn thirty!) and ended this post feeling truly inspired.

  7. What a beautifully written post. I love the photos as well.

    I went to Rwanda and Kenya a couple of years ago and loved almost the same things about them! A tanzanian dance group came for the weekend one time and they were amazing!

  8. This post makes me miss Africa. Lived there for two years. Tanzania is indeed a strong country and even in hard times a country bursting with joy.
    Thanks for the happy memories.

  9. Hi Dalene,
    We truly loved Tanzania (though a love/hate relationship give our circumstances while there). We had some of the same frustations you expressed like the female mutilations that still occur. It’s difficult to impose western values and culture but when we saw the way tribes like the Masai were set up we had a deep reflection of what was going on and tried to be non-judgmental.

    Education goes a long ways and I think we don’t realize this all the time. We spent time as well at a children’s home and the hygienic (or lack of) practices was appalling. There are tons of NGOs doing great work there and we met a bunch of people that were mainly in the Arusha and Moshi area. The locals were really. We stayed in Zanzibar for nearly two weeks and were situated in front of a Swahili village and would take late afternoon walks through the tiny community and even ended up sitting at a community meeting. The next day tons of locals greeted us and asked if we were going to the next meeting. I didn’t know what we were sitting in on until we went out for our walk the next day. Haha. Needless to say it was an incredible experience.

    Also, I didn’t realize you guys went to Usambara but the chameleons are incredible aren’t they! This place was beautiful.

    Thanks again for your visit to Africa. People need to hear about these places 🙂


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