Day 27: Zanzibar to Songwe
Friday 2nd December 2016
Nautical mile 436
We left Zanzibar, coasting out over the sea and crossing over the deserted beaches of eastern Tanzania. Soon after coasting in we began to cross over the most beautiful baobab forest. From the air the boabab appears to be a rather anti social tree. They do not crowd together as European trees might, but instead maintain a respectful distance. Thus, they are very visible from the air. Their thick trunks and bare branches have fleshy look like a polyp or a plant that would look more at home on a reef. Legend says that the baobab offended the gods and as a punishment they were turned upside down with their roots in the air.
As the land became less dry the baobabs gave way to the thicker forest of the Mikumi national park. This was one of the most beautiful flights so far. There was no sign of human intervention and the hills and the trees stretched from horizon the horizon many covered with red and pink flowers. Although such a landscape is fantastic to fly over it has some alarming aspects in that any engine failure would be very bad news. I believe the technique is to autorotate backwards so that the tail will take some of the impact as it crashes through the trees. Not something I would like to try in practice.
Refuelling was at Dodoma, which has only recently become the capital of Tanzania. In fact the long expected move first muted in 1973 was only officially accomplished this September. However, the airfield still feels quite provincial and I suspect the population will continue to think of Dar es Salaam as the real capital. Once on the ground we learnt that the larger of the Cessnas had put out a Mayday call just after leaving Zanzibar. It had lost power as it climbed out from the airport. As it sank through 700 feet they made the call as they tried to nurse it along in hope of making a beach landing. Luckily it then recovered, the problem may have been a result of dirt in one of the fuel injectors. But, there must have been a few sweaty moments flying over that forest. The air traffic controller at Zanzibar who had found the arrival of 19 aircraft with bizarre call signs extremely stressful, must have been so relieved when we eventually left his air space.
After Dodoma we had another 230 nm to fly to Songwe. This town is billed as being a typical industrial African town and its existence lends a lot to its position on the Zambian border. The flight took us over beautiful forested hills of the Ruaha national park. Tanzania seems to be blessed with many National parks although it has been suggested to us that the poaching here is worse than in Kenya. The weather was beginning to get worse, it is the case here that the mornings start clear, but by midday big cumulus begin to gather and you fly weaving between the storms. As we flew over the hills we passed low clouds which hung only a few feet above the ground looking like large animals. They had such a defined shape you could pass them by with only a few feet clearance. On the outskirts of the park there were signs of what could only be described as artisan gold mining. Shafts have been dug into the hillside and appear to be lined with bamboo scaffolding. Each excavation surrounded by temporary camps of blue plastic tents.
Songwe has a brand new airfield and like much of the new infrastructure in African it is financed by the Chinese. It was so new that it did not appear on our old Bendix GPS and the details on Skydemon and Foreflight lacked any frequency information. Thus, we were in the position of making traffic calls on the area frequency and after looking left and right on the runway, scooting across. The controller was understandably unamused that we should be so cavalier at their beautiful and completely empty airfield. It is a slight mystery as to what attractions are going to entice people to use the site. The drive into Songwe did not lead one to revise ones opinion. But, if you wanted to buy a bath plug, mend your motor bike or buy a new alternator for your tractor this is the place to come. The roads were lined with small engineering outlets their wares spilling into the road. You could buy tyres, half a car, a bath, an exhaust pipe, a bed frame, a lavatory seat or alurid three piece suite.
The hotel was called the Hill View and in that respect it adequately fulfilled its potential it was on a hill and there was a view. It was obviously used as serviced apartments for the foreign workers, probably the Chinese working on the various road and mining projects. It was a desperately depressing place, the dirty net curtains kept the interior constantly gloomy. On our floor was a TV constantly on, but with no sound and a selection of grey shiny sofas. The small dining table and rusty fridge testament to many lonely dinners. As we tried to sleep in the small hot bedroom, outside the window arguments raged all night as lorries were loaded with tables and bunches of green bananas, maybe destination Zambia. It was an uncomfortable night. But the next night was to be worse.