Soon I could detect an unmistakable faint glow over an invisible horizon in the inky black world. A short while later, the emerging thin strip of duck-egg blue was accompanied by an orange tinge. This delicate hue seemed to last for an eternity as we sped across the skies, like a comet, down the Persian Gulf. Then, it happened, a bright red diamond appeared on the horizon, which rapidly grew to a glowing red ball, hugging the boundary between heaven and earth before reluctantly letting go and beginning its long ascension on its journey to the opposite horizon, across skies that had now taken on electrifying shades of blue.
The terrestrial body, in which we were encased, glided over the U.A.E., just kissing the southern border of the Musandam Peninsula, before skirting the Oman coastline and gracefully arcing over the Gulf of Oman as we made our approach into Muscat.
My crossing through another security hurdle to my connecting gate was painless. As I waited in the departure lounge for my connecting flight to Dar es Salaam, I became very much aware that I was in a totally different culture here. I sat in an area predominantly occupied by Arab men, the majority dressed in the traditional Dishdasha robe and a Kummah cap on the head. Even though I was clearly in the minority here, there weren't many stares in my direction. I felt quite at ease.
My connecting flight slowly climbed the skies above Muscat, performing a complete circuit as it did so. Below, I could see a multitude of scattered houses, ranging in shades ranging from greys, to creams, beiges - all natural earth colours. The ground upon which they sat was a uniform mousy brown carpet. Any semblance to a garden was not distinguishable. Occasionally, a dark green smudge, like a stippled brush stroke, indicated a solitary tree.
We continued to climb rapidly in order to cross the Hajar Mountains, which hem the sprawled Muscat right next to the coast. The geology of these mountains was that of a land whose strata had been torn apart by unimaginable forces, and stacked at crazy angles, all of rich shades of ochre, burnt umber, reds and greys.
I spotted Nizwa far below me, an historic city I wanted to visit later, and followed the course of wadis as they swept down to the Umm al Samim quick sands, which marked the western extremity of the Hajar Mountains. I identified these sands by the lack of tracks of any description. The surrounding sand was strewn with dusty trails, but none crossed these notorious quick sands. I had learned about then when I read Wilfred Thesiger's book, "Arabian Sands." He described how a group of camel raiders had once mistakenly ridden out onto the sands and sank into oblivion. A herd of goats followed the same fate too.
Beyond the Umm al Samim existed a land where many tribes lived and feuded during Thesiger's time of travels in the 1940s, and indeed still feuded up to the 1970s. Today, numerous trails and pipelines criss-crossed the desert. The sands and rocks took on a variety of colours, from light beige, to delicate pinks and russet reds. One immense region seemed to bleed into the sky in one continuous sweep. Eventually, all trace of human activity petered out. Below lay miles of desolate, monotonous sand, a real desert. This region was known as the Empty Quarter, a region well documented in Thesiger's book.
Our big bird effortlessly crossed the parched earth, leaving land behind near Salalah to make its long haul over the Arabian Sea towards Zanzibar. I tried to strike up a conversation with the young fellow sitting next to me. I gathered he was heading to Zanzibar, and had been to Dubai on a business trip. "What sort of business are you in?" I enquired. After a small iteration of the question, he understood and replied, "I'm a buyer." "Really," I replied, "and what do you buy?" We skirted around this loop umpteen times, but I never did get an answer. I might have well been speaking Latvian. He spoke Swahili and Arabic, not my strongest of languages, but he understood very little English. I pushed the boat out one more time with variations of, "What do you recommend to see and do on Zanzibar?" This soon resulted in an unwritten and unspoken understanding between us that this wasn't going to work.
The bland blue sea was replaced by eastern Ethiopia, comprising kilometre after kilometre of low, desolate, parched hills with no sign of humanity. At one point the hills shelved away under a broad valley of sand, the Rift Valley, only to resurface again. I gazed at a plane a few thousand metres below following the same course at a slightly faster speed. The hills gave way to a flat, dry, featureless land, and soon we were back over the sea again, the Indian Ocean, heading down towards Zanzibar. An eternity seemed to pass before we skirted past Pemba, and had Zanzibar in our sights. The bland blue sea now had a polka dot of fluffy white clouds dressing it to provide a little welcome variety.
We skimmed over the low lying island. I could see below, marked out building plots, some of which were empty, some containing a dwelling, and others containing buildings which were either being built or wrecked. Unlike Oman, there was colour in these buildings and greenery washed over the entire island. A graceful curve above Kiwani Bay brought us down into Zanzibar airport.
At last, after an epic sixteen hours of travelling, I was making the final short hop across from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. I was looking forward to stretching my feet in the warm sunshine, and catching up with Dan and his tales of Dubai.
Dar es Salaam wasn't always the mainland port. Bagamoyo, just opposite Zanzibar, became prominent as a mainland terminus of both the slave and ivory trade and the exploration of the interior. In the 19th century, further south of Bagamoyo on the periphery of Indian Ocean trade routes, a coastal fishing village, Mzizima, existed. Mzizima is Swahili for "healthy town". Around 1865, Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar began building a new city very close to Mzizima, and named it Dar es Salaam. The name is commonly translated as "harbour of peace" or "home of peace", based on the Persian/Arabic bandar ("harbour") or the Arabic dar ("house"), and the Arabic es salaam ("of peace").
Dar es Salaam fell into decline after Majid's death in 1870, but was revived in 1887, when the German East Africa Company, recognising the excellent natural harbour there, established a station in the town. In 1891, the Germans moved their administrative headquarters here. Dar es Salaam's growth was facilitated by its role as the administrative and commercial centre of German East Africa and industrial expansion resulting from the construction of the Central Railway Line in the early 1900s.
Fine Example of Dar es Salaam Street Wiring
As our transport weaved its slow, ponderous way through the gridlocked Dar es Salaam rush hour, we swapped stories of our travels, and then Dan regaled me with tales of his stay in Dubai. It was not the stereotypical image that he had conjured up before he reached the city. Of course it is a shopper's paradise, but he managed to find plenty more to do than shopping, and architectures to admire. As an added bonus, he met up with one of his previous work colleagues, Michelle, who lived with her husband in Dubai, high up in a flat overlooking the city. They lived the lifestyle of selling themselves as consultants for short term contracts all over the world. Michelle showed Dan around the city for two days, and he took himself to the top of the tallest building in the world, the 828m Burj Khalifa.
It was a long crawl into Dar from the airport. Dozens of people walked up the gaps between the lanes of vehicles, hawking all manner of goods to whoever may be in the vehicles. An occasional motorbike whizzing down the gaps caused a momentary scattering of these corridors of humanity, but like a colony of ants, they immediately returned to their daily struggle of peddling their wares to stay alive. Vans and trucks in the lanes were often piled high with goods, held together by men and boys perched on top. Everybody seemed to know everybody else, and a constant banter took place between drivers and occupants of adjacent vehicles.
Near the hotel was the Askari Monument. "Let's go and check that out first," I said to Dan. We knew the vague direction, but the maps we had were totally inadequate. Street names were almost non-existent in Tanzania, so we stumbled along roads, some almost dirt tracks, and some pavements were pure sand. We started asking locals where the monument was located, and were always greeted with a ready smile. Some folk shrugged their shoulders; either they couldn't understand me, had no idea where the monument stood, or even that it existed. However, one chap shouted across to his mate, and a lady parking her car became involved in the discussion, and soon there was a vigorous committee that homed in on an explicit set of directions for us to follow. I thanked them profusely with a few, "Asante sana"s (thank you very much), which they appreciated and chuckled at, and within a few minutes we reached the statue.
The Askari Monument stands on the location of a statue to Major Herman Von Wissmann, a German explorer and soldier, who became Governor of German East Africa in 1895. The first statue of Von Wissmann was erected in 1911 to celebrate the German victory in 1888, and then demolished in 1916 when the British occupied Dar es Salaam. The current statue, Askari Monument, is cast in bronze and depicts an askari (soldier) in a World War I uniform, the bayonet of his rifle pointing towards the nearby harbour. The monument pays tribute to the native troops who died in the "Ice Cream War", the East African campaign during World War I, so called because the British were convinced that their German enemies would "melt away like ice cream in the sun". The monument has come to symbolise the sacrifice made by all the native African troops in conflicts which were not of Africa's making. World War I alone caused the deaths, directly or indirectly, of 100,000 of them. The inscription on the monument that appears in English and Swahili was composed by Rudyard Kipling.
St Joseph's Cathedral
We meandered down this "delightful" promenade, avoiding pedlars and broken ground, but as to be expected, a chap cottoned on to us, and gave us his unsolicited tour, not that there was anything particular to see. We shook him off by visiting St Joseph's Cathedral, which was packed for a Friday evening service. We thought we'd shaken him off, but like an unpleasant smell he suddenly resurfaced again. My monosyllable negative responses to his spiel didn't deter him, but once he introduced the concept of me giving him money, I firmly responded with, "Hapana!" (No). He got the hint and hump eventually.
We cooled off in one of the very few local bars, full of friendly locals; we appeared to be the only non-locals. The bar seemed to be over staffed; one guy served behind the bar, then we discovered another chap would take your order, yet another deliver it, and one more would continuously shuffle around sweeping the floor. I couldn't wait for the cabaret.
Suitably refreshed, we retired to a restaurant where I sampled Tanzanian cuisine, and excellent it was too. In the bar attached to the restaurant, a brilliant small band was playing. I love the lightness and rhythm of African music. We popped in to watch and listen, sample a final beverage, and toast Katie's birthday, which was today. As an added bonus, a large TV screen was showing a live rugby match - Worcester v Gloucester; how bizarre.
When a couple of good time girls sidled up and sat next to us, we decided it was time to make a quick exit and left. It had been lovely to meet up with Dan again, and catch up on his exploits, and we'd shared our first enjoyable evening in Tanzania.