Peponi Beach: Our Zanzibar Alternative

by Michael

It seemed that every other tourist in Tanzania started or planned to end their trip in Zanzibar. But we did not care to pay (in money and travel time) for white sand beaches, nice resorts, or a spice tour. But we did want a place to relax, where the only appointment time is sunrise. So we went to the coast with a reservation at Peponi Beach Camp & Lodge.

Of course, this involved taking another bus. Once again, we took a “direct” bus to Tanga, which made lots of stops. The bus even spent an hour idling at a station — we have no idea why. After 6 hours (for what we heard would be 3-4 hours) the bus dropped us at the Tanga bus lot. We tried to take a bus toward Pangani, knowing that it could drop us at Peponi. After fending off half a dozen aggressive touts, we appeared that no bus or van would leave soon, so we gave in and took a taxi with a pushy driver. I’m not proud of giving in like this, but we were spending the next few days sleeping in a tent so paying for the taxi seemed alright.
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Not our bus, but at the station. The picture of a footballer and club logo on the back of the buses is very common.

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One time the bus even had a referee rather than a player.

Peponi is a “budget resort” with bandas (beach cabins), big safari-style tents, small tents, and spaces to park travel vehicles and camp using your own equipment. We opted to rent a small camping tent, which sat under a thatch roof canopy. It wasn’t much, which was probably good at getting us up and out, but it was comfortable enough.
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Our tent and canopy.

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A monkey near the office.

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Getting close to low tide.

We booked one excursion — to a sand island that appears only at low tide for some snorkeling — but the weather didn’t cooperate so the trip was canceled. While we had patches of sunshine, it rained off and on throughout our stay. There was also quite a bit of wind. But our tent and the bar were under thatched roofs, so it was fine. I read most of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and I think Elizabeth read three books.  [Elizabeth: only two…]

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Rain clouds coming toward us.

The morning sunrises were magnificent. Even with no other appointments during the day, we got up for them. Well, I was a bit late once, but it was still beautiful.
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Sunrise.

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More sunrise.

I got back out running for the first time since Bosnia. I went for a couple runs on the beach, and Elizabeth joined on the second run. I started earlier, so I saw her as I was running back toward Peponi, and she had a team: three young boys running with her!
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Peponi Beach Running Club.

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“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” — Rodger Bannister.

I turned around and we ran together for a while — and the boys continued to run with us. Eventually we turned around, and the boys left us about where they joined Elizabeth (we’re guessing that we passed an invisible line in the sand that they weren’t supposed to cross).
We finished by wandering around the tidal flats and mangroves. The tide goes way out!
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This area is submerged at high tide. It is a great place to run at low tide.

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One mangrove tree apart from the group.

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Also on the run: a rock with monkeys. How many can you find?

Peponi also hosted “overland” travelers — often Europeans with large vehicles that can handle dirt roads across Africa. The travelers made for nice company, and their vehicles were an interesting curiosity.
One overlander even had a propellor suit to use with a parasail. He had crashed into Lake Malawi before traveling to Peponi, so we got to see his test flight after fixing up the gear.
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In our 2.5 days at Peponi we never took a tour, never were asked to buy trinkets, and never felt like we were spending too much money. The manager and part-time bartender, a 25-year-old English/Kenyan woman, seemed able to answer any question about traveling in Tanzania, including our impending bus trip to Dar es Salaam.
As recommended, we took the Ratko luxury bus from Tanga to Dar. Concerned about our connection from our dalla dalla that we intended to catch on the dirt road outside the camp to Tanga, we didn’t book the Dar connection ahead. And not trusting the touts at the bus station, we didn’t book there either. We just waited until the bus arrived and charged on with the intention of purchasing the tickets on board. Unfortunately there was only one passenger seat left, so one of us had to ride in the sideways-facing “jump seat.” Elizabeth took it for the first half, then we switched. That said, the bus was a huge step up from the others that we had taken in Tanzania and was quite luxurious!
We didn’t really visit Dar es Salaam. Our first taxi (bus station to hotel) got lost and had to call our hotel twice for directions. Our hotel was fine for a morning of Internet access to complete our applications for our Russian visas (this took forever!). Our second taxi took us to the airport, which felt more like a bus station, and included an aptly named souvenir store: Out of Africa.
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We never saw Zanizibar’s Stone Town, white beaches, or spice tours, so we can’t really compare. But we were satisfied with our slice of life on the Tanzanian coast.
Arriving at the airport in Dar es Salaam, perhaps what we were most excited about was our next stop… New York City!  Yep, that’s right — due to a friend’s wedding (and the need to get our Russian visas), we were heading back to the US for a week.  Dreams of burritos were already swirling in our heads.
[We’re making yet another attempt to get caught up on our blog posts.  This post describes our visit to Peponi Beach Camp & Lodge, just south of Tanga, Tanzania and Dar es Salaam on August 25-29, 2016.]
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