A weekend in Bagamoyo
"Be happy, my soul, let go all worries
soon be the place of your yearnings is reached
the town of palms, Bagamoyo.
Far away, how my heart was aching
when I was thinking of you, my pearl
you place of happiness, Bagamoyo"
This is an ironic song about a tragic, forgotten place. Bagamoyo was a key stop for the approx. 769,000 slaves transported from the east African coast during the 19th century. The name itself means "to lay down my heart"- which may be interpreted to mean a number of things. It is said to be the phrase uttered by slaves who had no hope of escape upon reaching the coast. For them, "Bagamoyo" literally meant "crush your heart". Another explanation is that caravan porters so named the town as it was a place to "lay down the burden of your heart"- an expression of relief after a difficult journey from the interior. Regardless, due to its ideal location, the town became a starting and ending point for many explorations of the region. When the Germans acquired the territories of Tanganyika (now tanzania), Burundi and Rwanda- Bagamoyo was the choice for the German capital of East Africa, (until the move to Dar in 1891). That is the very shorthand version of Bagamoyo's interesting history.
I met Amelia early friday morning and we trotted off to the bus station. Unfortunately, the bus station is EXTREMELY chaotic, and no longer has services to Bagamoyo. So, we had to backtrack thirty minutes to the even more chaotic, half-under-construction Mwenge station. We happened to ask a woman standing on the corner how to get to Bagamoyo, and as luck would have it, she was heading the same way. We hunkered down until the dala dala (yes, dala dala) arrived to drive us 72km north. Luckily, I managed to grab a seat in the back next to the window and our occupancy was only about 15-20 instead of the normal 20-25. It was the most comfortable uncomfortable dala dala ride I've had yet.
Escaping the city was a great delight. We whizzed past many villages, green pastures, rolling hills, palm trees, cows/chickens/children, incomprehensibly neck-strong women with hulking bundles on their heads, carpentry shops selling handcrafted beds, dressers, and coffins. I'm sure I looked the tourist with my $1 shades and my nose glued to the window- giggling and waving at all the children. Our first glimpses of Bagamoyo were bewildering...honestly I wondered: "um, where am I?" I knew the place was small, but not SO small!! I loved it.
We tumbled out of the dala dala onto an extremely dusty, pitted road. We'd come to a rural fishing village so far removed from Dar my lungs hoorayed at their first breath! Clean (kind of dusty) air!! We saw tiny, haphazard, utterly charming little buildings with tin/thatched roofs, run-down remnants of German occupation, friendly locals, and very few mzungu's. I was sold.
We made our way to "Bagamoyo Beach Resort", and selected a tiny, perfect little banda on the beach that was well within our budget. (you can see the newly posted pictures on my website). The views of the ocean were incredible and the waterfront (at high tide) was scarcely more than 20 feet away. We walked back to town and did a little exploring. The arts college is at the complete opposite end of Bagamoyo, but we'd read that there are often free performances in the evenings. The performance we managed to catch was unexpected- it was a troupe of 20 or so children, ages 7-15, practicing the most incredible routine. The boys were doing some remarkable tumbling on the cement floor and the entire act was mesmerizing. There is something about African music and dancing that touches the deepest, most primal part of your soul. It is so raw, natural, untamed and remarkable- I was completely entranced.
After a simple, filling meal, we hiked back to our banda and I unexpectedly discovered several little "gifts" all over my bed...(just my bed, not Amelia's!) At first I thought we had a mouse in our midst...but how (and why!?) would a mouse climb all the way onto my bed? In the end, I deduced that it had to be a gecko. Luckily, I am not so easily fazed- I brushed it away and tried to get comfy. But, once I discovered the holes in my net and Amelia enthusiastically shared her favorite bed bugs story, I could feel my skin crawling for the rest of the night. I even woke up around four to epically battle a relentless jurassic park-worthy mosquito buzzing around my head. I swatted the air crazy-woman style until I emerged victorious. Even the sound of the waves couldn't pacify my night. Kels, you'd also be happy to know I found an enormous spider crawling on my arm when I woke the next morning. Ah, such adventure.
We reserved the entirety of the morning to do more exploring. We wandered down to the fish market and visited all the remaining colonial ruins. Bagamoyo is a ghost town where time nearly seems to stand still- everything is fairly well preserved, and entirely abandoned. Daily African life moves on while a handful of tourists attempt to comprehend the atrocities of the slave trade. The Old Arab Fort was particularly disturbing- slaves were held in tiny, dark, overcrowded cells until they were led blindfolded through the fort and up a perilous stairwell to the upper level of the fort. Then, they were led down another equally treacherous stairwell and out to the waiting boats. This was supposedly to deter any last-minute attempts to escape. It made my stomach turn.
We were hot, dusty and sweaty by mid-afternoon so we rewarded our exploration stamina with a little beach/pool time. The pool was particularly entertaining as a racously intoxicated frenchman deemed it necessary to entertain us with sloppy aquatic acrobatics. (try saying that three times fast). All was well until he vaulted out of the pool in his completely transluscent white boxer briefs and tried to assist me with my pool-side sudoku. It was another 8 or so hours before we figured out he owned the place. (He had on real swim trunks by then). haha
All in all, it was a wonderful, educational, entertaining, relaxing weekend. I encourage you to check out the new photos if you get a chance. (sorry, I didn't take any of the frenchman)