One can't speak of Tanzania without mentioning the magic of safaris – meeting with his majesty the lion king, the greatness of the city of Daar El Salam or the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar... However we didn’t suspect for one second that it would be possible to find vines in this country. And yet... Tanzania is indeed a wine-producing country !
There are different ways to get to Tanzania from Mauritius. We decided to fly to Nairobi (Kenya) and to cross the Tanzanian border by bus. This allowed us to stop in Arusha, a strategic « crossroad » between Dodoma (the production area to the South) and the Kilimanjaro to the East. Looking back on our trip, I must admit that it was the fastest option… but that was assuming we took the right bus !
Our guide – with whom we exchanged e-mails in a very schollar-like English fashion – advised us to take a bus “leaving from Nairobi at 2pm and arriving to Arusha at about 6:30pm” which seemed perfect! Well, almost… Because there are two buses going to Arusha – but that we learned only later.
The first one is an express bus departing from the airport. Bad luck, we took the second option : a mini bus from the airport to the city Center, then a bus to Arusha – which was very difficult to find and made us run like madmen in 35° C, 70 kg bags on the back, arriving right on time at 2pm to buy two tickets, soaked from head to toe. Except that this bus left to Nairobi at 5pm in reality, 3 hours more later the express… and finally dropped us in Arusha at night, at 2:00 am !
Luckily our guide still waited for us at the meeting point. Yes, he is always there at night. It’s a small miracle.
The next day at breakfast we laughed and smiled about our misfortune over a good cup of coffee. Then it was time to go to a Tanzanian vineyard.
Our guide announced that there is wine production 40 minutes south of Arusha : Masika Brand winery. Nice scoop! We decided to go and see for ourselves. Once there, we were greeted by Erik Zweig, the owner. Ah, but where are the vines? No vines to be found here Erik explained, we only produce plum, banana and mango wines. Oops, wrong place… We took the time to chat with our host, sipping a glass of sweet wine made from banana and lemon. Erik told us about vineyards 5h drive east of Arusha : Sakarani Monastery, run by the Benedictine Brothers.
The opportunity was too good to resist! We contacted the monastery. We spent two days waiting in Arusha – where we tried going out downtown a few times but were constantly harassed by people begging for money. Taking out the camera is unthinkable in these conditions.
Still we had no response from the monastery. We decided to get bus tickets for the next day. Nothing beats an improvised exploration on the field. The same evening we received an answer from Brother Selestine : ”we effectively have a small vineyard but consider closing the winery this year. At the moment we are quite overburdened with repairs on our buildings and farm work. Unfortunately we can’t received anybody. We’re sorry”. A little disappointment…
Fortunately we are flexible. So we fashioned a new plan. We decided to leave for Dodoma, the capital and wine region of the country, the next day. We would depart at 6am with our guide, as there are no less than 10-hours drive to Arusha-Dodoma. However, our guide never turned up… and only he could drive in Tanzania, pass police checks and ask for directions! We waited for three days before we admitted the obvious: our guy disappeared in the wild.
So, we lost a week and could no longer afford to stay where we were. Time was running out and other vineyards were awaiting us, so we we spent our time searching for a new guide. No pictures of vines to be found in Tanzania dear readers, we do apologise.
But the Wine Explorers are tough ! After looking in every supermarket in the city we finally found four bottles of Tanzanian wine. A real war treasure !
We decide to improvise a tasting at a hotel in Arusha, where we ask for two wine glasses per person, not to mix white and red. Let’s be professionals. The terrace overlooking the hotel will be the ideal place for a tasting in rules.
In hindsight, I will quote here the most famous expression of the country – so incredibly appropriate to our misadventure : Hakuna matata ! Which means : “no problem, everything is fine.”
Always keep things in perspective. Tanzania is a beautiful country and we will come back, words of explorers. The wines are light and without much complexity but who cares, we had fun with this impromptu tasting. Next time, we will go straight to Dodoma.
But for now let’s focus on Kenya and the Rift Valley, where new explorations are waiting for us !