Tuesday, April 6, 2010


It is a big old gorgeous country: with the help of an intrepid driver and a real 4-by-4 one can affordably see a lot of rural beauty. So, I took a break from The Big City and headed into the coastal hinterlands for a bit of R&R this weekend. I had planned to provide some deep musings on the beautiful historic town of Kilwa, the destination of this year's internal tourism weekend (aka Easter) jaunt. Sadly, the only thing we plumbed with any depth was potholes on The Notorious Sixty Kilometer Stretch of the Kilwa road. Oh, and some gin-and-tonics. Because it rained all day on day two, and there was no way we were going to get on some rickety dhow to sail across the treacherous sea to look at beautiful, if moldy, remains of civilizations past.

So what is there to be done in this ancient coastal town, aside from absorb the startling fact that little about the place has really changed since the 1600s? The sea. This is a seafarer's paradise, as the folks who snorkelled and sailed and fished (unsuccessfully) could attest. If you love water, Kilwa is a place for you. If you are like me, it is an excellent place to get a tan on the beach while contemplating the thick smell of history that overlies the place. No one with a writers' soul will be able to resist Kilwa, with its aura of melancholy- all glories lie in the past- and the whitewashed structures trying futilely not to decay in the fecund coastal air. And the air! So thick and fresh it is practically liquid oxygen (with a soupcon of dead sea things for flavor). Kilwa is the kind of place that makes you want to believe in, and maybe even talk to, the ghosts of travellers past.

Other stuff I picked up on while there: The Notorious Sixty Kilometer Stretch of unpaved 'road' can, and regularly does, kick the stuffing out of city slickers. If you think that conquering Mikocheni potholes is a skill worth mentioning you are out of your depth, wait until the dry season to go. Kilwa traffic cops are on the lookout for bribes, but they are not quite tough enough to bully Dar residents. If you get stuck, the going rate is about 2000 Shillings per Dude Who Unstucks Your Car, unless you can get a big strapping shushushu lad named Chilli to drive you out of trouble. When stuck, try to look as small and helpless and female as possible (attracts do-gooders, brings the price down).

And next time you see a trucker, be kind: only by the grace of God do they keep Tanganyika supplied with soap and cigarettes.


  1. "small and helpless and female" - I think 2 out of those 3 were not much of a problem for you ;-)

    I had the same feeling when we did the Spice Tour of Zanzibar way back in the day. Amazing how a place can have such a strong atmosphere. Ruined palaces, past glories, sultans, harems you can almost feel it.

    I really hope they preserve it, there aren't many places like that.

  2. Yes, some places just reek of history. I think that Kilwa will do just fine a hundred years from now, as it does at present- whether or not we actively preserve it. Which doesn't mean that we shouldn't wake up to our rich history and preserve it...

  3. 3 cheers for the truck drivers for sure!!!!!!
    and for some of the bus drivers not all.duh! some bus drivers acted like they were driving starlets with sacks of potatoes in the back.

    Now back to Kilwa...i cant begin to say how beautiful and i mean forget Kigamboni beautiful. peaceful. certainly not a place i would retire to anytime soon unless the roads sorted.that 65km is equivalent to a kamakzai mission.

    the sad truth is that it will remain the same for years to come because most of the historic sites seem to have crumbled in the sand and therefore there is nothing to preserve (well almost).


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