The Ghost Town of Bagamoyo.
My friends were moving on, and I knew it was time to bid a farewell to Mikadi Beach and to Dar es Salaam. I once again crossed the harbour on the old car ferry, this time in a record hour and a half. It was low tide and I was glad I had adjusted the Alfa’s hand brake that morning, as it was a slow, uphill shuffle with the all the people and other cars off the ferry on the other side. I had decided over dinner the previous night that I would head to the old port town of Bagamoyo, about 75km north of Dar es Salaam. Apparently there was a good backpackers there, and the weather in Dar was starting to turn. It’s often the weather that moves me on from a place.
It took a painfully long time to get out of Dar, just like getting into Dar. And the road north was more of the same Tanzanian maddening traffic and difficult police; “Money for friendly”. Eventually the typical roadside villages gave way to old coral buildings with arabic doors and I could sense something melancholic in the air. Which was great for my already self-pitying mood.
Bagamoyo felt like a ghost town, or a place where there had been a terrible war and people had never really returned. Historically this was a centre of slavery in East Africa, the port from which slaves were transported to Zanzibar before they were sold off to Arab slavers, who trafficked them into North Africa and Arabia. The name “Bagamoyo” is based on an old Kiswahili phrase, roughly translating as “Lay down your heart” or “Give up all hope”. Perhaps on a sunny day the ghosts are banished, but my rain clouds continued to follow me and Bagamoyo seemed haunted to me.
I found Firefly, a charming little backpackers in a restored coral building, and set up camp between two trees in the grounds. I could see how it would change if the weather was sunnier, but it didn’t do much to lift my creeping sense of unease. I took a short walk around town (it doesn’t take long) and I found, not more than a minute’s walk from Firefly, a really lovely restaurant, which I began to frequent for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I found it a little odd that in a town where most of the building were falling down, there was a restaurant doing banana-coffee milkshakes and pizza. Anyway, I couldn’t really complain.
With no internet connection I spent my time in my tent reading, or by the pool, reading. The rain poured down. For the first time I had to put the securing lines down on my tent to stop it folding flat in the wind. I spent a while listening to the rain hitting the nylon above my head. I also spent a fair amount of time watching my tent be rained on from a far, wondering whether a rescue attempt for my towel (which I had hung out to dry after being rained on earlier) was really worth it.
On my third day in camp the weather cleared in the morning, so I took the opportunity to take a walk to the old Catholic mission on the end of town, home to East Africa’s oldest church. I soon regretted my decision to walk as without the rain it was awfully hot, even in mid July, Tanzania’s winter. I arrived at the mission and agreed to a tour with an irritating little man, which was a mistake, and I couldn’t quite work out how to get out of it. So he led me around, providing the sort of information one could piece together from a quick look around alone. It rather made the whole experience rather worse.
After my guide led me around for the heat for a while, he showed me the enormous graveyard of the missionaries who dedicated their lives to this church which was slowly becoming a ruin, and I couldn’t help but think “What the hell was it all for?” Maybe that was cynical, I’m not sure even now. So many had come to bend Africa to their will. To force the locals down mines or into churches. Maybe everyone would have been happier if none of it had happened.
The tour ended with the 2nd church of Bagamoyo, the huge coral building. It seemed to be slowly falling apart too. I had a short walk around and headed back to town, missing my car once again.
On my walk back the town seemed very much to be dying, or at least wounded. Perhaps as an outsider who spent only a few days here I was grossly misinformed. Maybe it’s on its way up. I don’t know. It just felt rather sad while I was there, maybe because I was sad too. There’s nothing quite like a bit of pathetic fallacy to get you down.
After my walk around town I resumed my routine of sitting around in the rain, and going to Poa Poa, which was fantastic, for pizza and milkshakes. I had made friends with Jo, who runs firefly, and became rather at home. However, I knew that this was probably not too productive in my mission to get to Ireland, so I knew that soon I would have to move on again. However I still had a sense of unease and dread about what lay ahead of me. I felt as I had felt laying in my tent in Botswana. What had I gotten myself into? Without the easy comforts of friends the prospect of going north alone into the unknown once again seemed frightening. Maybe that was a good thing. Anyway, I couldn’t hang around Firefly forever. Or could I?…