Thursday, 3 May 2007

Bagamoyo – Where the Past comes Alive

Bagamoyo is a heritage centre illuminated by its rich history. The Old Fort, the German Boma, and numerous semi relict old Swahili buildings, some still with fantastically carved doors make India street running parallel to the sea a must walk, particularely pitoresque early morning or at sunset. Bagamoyo was one of the principal trading centers of East Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. For several yers, it was the terminus for caravans of ivory traders and notoriously involved in slave trade. Bagamoyo means “Here I lay down my heart”, a reflection of the pain of the slaves who on their capture could not bear to think what laid ahead. Bagamoyo was also the starting point of the explorers on their way in search of the source of the Nile. Livingstone, Stanley, Speke and Burton, all crossed through here sooner or later. In the North of the town, a huge cross on the beach is marking the spot where father Anthony Horner landed in 1868, with the purpose of founding the first Catholic Mission in East Africa. The Mission, today still located at the end of the beautiful Mango tree ally starting just behind the cross, established a Christian Freedom Village, where freed slaves were accommodated and educated. The excellent mission museum offers glimpses of the slave trade in the form of old photographs, documents and relics. In the vicinity the beautiful fathers’ house, now in dilapidated state, is under slow restoration. It is hard to imagine how in the same little town down on the Beach slaves were shipped to Zanzibar, while a few hundred meters further up in the mission freed slaves – the museum reports about the prices of slaves – were educated and found a new life. Bagamoyo gradually lost importance after the British took over rule from the Germans. Post independence, maintaining the historical buildings of the town was not the first priority and much of it since has decayed.

Walks along the Beach in Bagamoyo are interesting, however avoid the lonely stretches towards the North. Fishing dhows are repaired, transport dhows arrive from and depart to Zanzibar with passengers carried on strong shoulders on land, fish is sold, and young folks are training in gymnastics and acrobatics. Currently, the Badeco Hotel is closed, but on the long concrete bench in front, you still can sip a small cup of coffee with the locals towards sunset, and fresh fish is fried in huge pans in the sand, just behind in the shacks at the harbor.

About 5km South of Bagamoyo are the Kaole ruins, the relics of a once prosperous town of the Shirazis. Here you find remains of pillar tombs. The mosque at Kaole dates back to the 13th century.

A visit to Saadani National park can easily be combined with an overnight stay in Bagamoyo. The Traveler’s Lodge (Tel. 023 244 00 77 or 0754 85 54 85; Double Bandas are 65’000Tzsh per night and banda) has bandas and camping opportunities in a spacious garden, and food is good – try their sea food pasta, or the generous sea food platters for two! The next door French run Bagamoyo Beach Resort (Tel. 023 244 00 83 or 054 58 89 69) prepares excellent Seafood Pot au Feu, and great sea food fondue bourguignon, however ask for more vegetables and salads to accompany it.

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