Tanzania: A Trip to Pangani Part I: Journey

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Ratco Express Bus © Kandi Kwok

It doesn’t matter where I happen to be in the world, I always need an escape to the coast. I find the coastline calls when the hustle and bustle of a town becomes intolerable and I need time to recharge. A weekend devoid of plans appeared in both mine and two fellow travelers diaries which we read as a sign that a trip to the seaside had to be made.

The island of Zanzibar is usually the first choice for holiday makers and for travelers with a bit of money to spare.  However, flights,  a couple of nights stay in the prestigious Stone Town and the cost of eating out soon totals up leaving your pockets a little empty.  So, as Zanzibar happened to be out of budget, we settled for Pangani, a secluded coastal town accessible by coach and taxi. A cheaper option indeed.

Before we booked any accommodation, we did our research online as well as asking friends and staff at the Guesthouse. We were recommended a few places to stay; Peponi Beach Resort, The Tides Lodge and The Beach Crab Resort. Peponi Beach Resort wasn’t located directly in Pangani as it is in fact in Tanga. The Resort is positioned facing outwards towards the Pemba Channel, situated in an area known for deep sea fishing as well as tropical reefs to snorkel amongst. As the beach on the coast of Tanga isn’t as beautiful as those found further along in Pangani, they provide a small swimming pool and offer a more family oriented stay. The prices were a little out of our price range as they ranked higher than our budget of $20 dollars a night.

The Tides Lodge was the more expensive of the three, offering secluded bungalows overlooking Pangani’s beach, aimed  more at honeymooners and families staying for a week at a time. The Lodge could be found 45 minutes away from the ferry crossing point at Pangani Town. This was out of our budget also however was situated on the same stretch of beach as our chosen resort: The Beach Crab.

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Our Beach Hut at The Beach Crab Resort © Jessica Gatfield

The Beach Crab Resort neighboured The Tides Lodge for a much more affordable price. The rooms were $18 US dollars a night and offered a small beach hut sleeping up to three people. The huts were positioned just a stones throw away from the sea and offered a camping option for those who who preferred to pitch up a tent. Breakfast was included in this price as well as offering lunch and dinner at set times throughout the course of the day. This seemed the ideal option for our trip away. We simply emailed the staff, booked a beach hut for two nights and we were ready to go!

To get to the Resort, it meant enduring a 6 hour coach journey to Tanga and continue in a taxi to the ferry point in Pangani town.  We were recommended a number of coach companies too, each ranging minimally in price but largely in comfort. We were suggested Simba Coaches, priced at a cheaper 15,000 TZS a trip which after research and asking around, the reviews were terrible. It has been said that the driving is wreckless, people and luggage find their way onto your lap and with no fresh air or air conditioning, the stench of everybody’s sweat soon becomes unbareable. We chose the Ratco Express, the more luxurious of the coaches at a slightly steeper price of 18,000 TZ shillings (£6.68) one way. This appeared to be a newer coach company which to our surprise provided us with air conditioning, leather seats and assigned seat numbers. In addition to cold snacks and beverages and an array of cheesy movies to keep us occupied.

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Ratco Express © Jessica Gatfield

Getting to Tanga would be the simple part, however the journey onwards would be less so. Our guesthouse manager recommended a friend of hers who specialises in escorting people to Pangani and around the coastal towns. Rasta Ali as he was called would arrange transport from Tanga to Pangani and then onward to the resort. Furthermore, he would book our return coach home and our night stay in Tanga to ensure we wouldn’t miss our 6.30am coach home.

We endured the 7 hour bus journey to Tanga with cold bodies (sometimes aircon can we worse than hot air but we shouldn’t complain!) and numb bums. Rasta Ali was there to meet us at a nearby cafe and he had arranged a taxi to take us to the resort. At which point, it was 3pm in the afternoon and to our knowledge, the resort wasn’t another 5 hours away. Our taxi set off on the three hour journey to the ferry point, along Pangani road, a straight dirt track for two of those hours. Although equipped with music and each others company, we were eager to get to the resort to have a proper meal and rest for the night.

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Pangani River Ferry Crossing © Kandi Kwok
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Pangani River Ferry Crossing by Night © Kandi Kwok

The taxi cost 70,000 TSH (£25) which I believe is a good deal when split between three people and covering the large distance. We had to wait for the next ferry by which time the sun was beginning to set. The ferry cost was covered by Ali (which we in turn covered on our 20,000 TSH tip) which I believe is around 1,000 to 1,500 TSH per person. We disembarked the ferry in complete darkness faced with our next challenge: No taxi drivers on this side of Pangani work after dark.

‘Boda Bodas? you know motorbikes?’ Ali asked.

‘Er no! We can’t ride them!? What’s our other option?’

The other option was sitting in a trailer attached to a Boda Boda. We had to take it and looking back it was an experience that will never cease to amaze me. However, at the time it was rather terrifying. We hopped into the trailer, bags at our feet, with a padded bar to sit on minus handles or seatbelts of course. We picked up two additional passengers along the way, two Tanzanian men who just so happened to be going towards our resort in the pitch black on a friday evening. To make matters worse, we were outnumbered, accompanied by 4 men out in the wilderness in a foreign country. All we knew was the name of the Resort and that they were expecting us around 6pm. Alarm bells starting ringing at this point and we all looked at each other in fear, only to laugh at the situation we had found ourselves in. It came to our knowledge that this journey would take up to an hour, in which time we could be raped, murdered or left for dead out in the sticks and nobody would ever know. The beautiful night sky and fireflies settling on our clothes kept us occupied the whole way as well as plotting our escape routes in our minds. Come to think of it, we did have one card in our favor,  their payment of 35,000 TSH that they would recieve at the end of the journey. Looking back, they must have realised that we had a lot more than 35,000 TSH on us and mugging us wouldn’t have been difficult.

We arrived in one piece and are thankfully we are still here to live another day. We arrived at the resort at 8.30 PM, exactly 12 hours after our 8.30AM start. Check – in, food, and sleep were on our minds, and exploring the resort would be left until the morning.

5 Top Tips if travelling to Pangani:

1) Ask around for coach and resort reviews before booking anwhere

2) Be sure to work out exactly where the resort is situated as Pangani is a deceivingly large area

3) Pre -book or pre-plan all transport in advance. In particular book your return coach trip when arriving at your destination i.e. at the bus station’s ticket office

4) Check coach times when booking: We soon realised that RATCO only offer one coach per day leaving Tanga at 6.30AM. This meant we had to book a hotel in Tanga on our final night to ensure that we could get back to Moshi

5) Unless you have a brief knowledge of the area, having a guide to take you from one place to the next isn’t a bad idea! You are in safer hands than if travelling as a group of solo women with no Tanzanian point of call or accompaniment.

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