I love firsts and my maiden trip to Tanga, in north east Tanzania, is full of them.
It is my first time in the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) train too and I’m super excited to get in.
The world class buildings and the meticulous security checks were a sight to behold.
But my excitement is short lived because it ends as soon as I see the uncomfortable seats in the economy class of the train.
The seats are designed to make the journey to Mombasa, where I will connect with a bus to Tanga, as uncomfortable as possible.
A few of my travel-mates also complain of the same discomfort.
Also, what is it with Kenyans and reading people’s texts? I sit next to a mid-forties man who’s hell-bent on helping me read my WhatsApp and SMS messages.
I shift uneasily and sit in an angle that would make it impossible for him to crane his neck in a natural angle.
ADVENTURE IN THE MAKING
Like I said, I love firsts so not even a nosy neighbour can dampen my spirit of adventure.
Thoughts of Tanga, a place dubbed “Tanga Raha” by the locals, and the buzz of adventure dulls any feelings of annoyance I harbour against my nosy neighbour.
We arrive in Mombasa in eight hours to the warm reception of the team from Tanga Beach Resort & Spa.
Their reassuring sing-song Tanzanian Swahili accent delights me.
The resort has a shuttle service offered to their customers at a small fee, depending on the number of passengers.
The 10-year-old resort, located just a few metres for the beach, has majestic buildings with an occupancy of 118 rooms.
I take the junior deluxe suite, which costs 200 dollars (Sh20,000) for bed and breakfast, gym, sauna, steam bath, swimming and Wi-Fi.
A pretty sweet deal for a four-star hotel, if you ask me.
I hog the endless tamarind juice that the hotel provides during all meals. If you have never had tamarind juice, then you might just want to start there when you visit the resort.
It was my first time drinking it too and my taste buds thanked me.
You may also want to try out the red or white snapper fish too if you are a fan of sea food and if you're not, you may just discover you are after having your first ever bite as I did.
The resort is separated from the beach by a mangrove forest, which it conserves as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.
The food is locally sourced, means you will find all the traditional vegetables and seasonal fruits. Ugali too, is available and the menu is as unpretentious as it gets.
LOTS TO SEE
There are lots to see in Tanga as the town centre, located a few minutes away from the hotel, has a rich history.
According to our guide, Mwinyi Bwanga aka Mr Happiness, the town was on the frontline in the beginning of the first World War.
Britain gained control of Tanga after World War One, taking over from the Germans.
There are a number of buildings in the town which symbolise both the German and British occupation.
The Amboni Caves (Mapangoya Amboni), located just a few minutes from the resort, are also a popular tourist attraction and a national heritage.
The limestone caves are arguably the most extensive and perhaps oldest in East Africa, according to our guide.
“You have to bring your imagination with you,” warns Mr Happiness, promising that if we do, we’ll see a sleeping leopard, elephants, phallic symbols, yonic symbols, a deejay, a king’s seat and the map of Africa.
“Only your imagination can limit you,” he adds laughingly.
The caves, formed more than 150 million years ago, are 10 in total but only two are open to the public: The Natural cave and the Gender cave.
We see the reason we needed to pack our imagination as soon as we step into the Natural cave.
It’s pitch dark-we have to carry torches-and the most distinct smell is that of bat guano as they are the major inhabitants .
The sleeping leopard is actually a trail of bat guano left behind on the roof of the caves which takes the shape of a leopard.
Everything else that we see after this is either a pattern created by the bat guano of naturally shaped by the limestone.
Some are exaggerated, and the guide embellishes the myths with his own renditions, which makes the trip worthwhile.
He even spoils us with a bongo rap when we reach the “disco” area. The disco is a round, flat space that has the sun rays seeping through the limestone which is reminiscent of disco lights.
The caves also have places with Christian and Islamic symbols. One section has a stone shaped like Mary, mother of Jesus while yet another section has some stones with naturally formed Islamic inscriptions.
"An interesting fact about the limestone is that is takes 100 years to grow just one centimetre," adds Mr Happiness.
We end our cave tour at the Gender caves, named so because of the aforementioned phallic and yonic symbols which are naturally shaped.
The caves hold great spiritual and religious significance to the locals and we witness a section full of gifts or sacrifices to the gods.
HOT SPRINGS WITH 'HEALING POWER'
Our next stop is the Galanos Hot Springs. The sulphurous water is believed by the locals to help with skin conditions like rashes and pimples.
We stop by a “bar”- a makuti shack where mnazi (coconut wine) is brewed and we enjoy the refreshing, freshly-tapped wine.
The teetotallers have the option of madafu (fresh coconut juice).
The hot spring is located in a coconut plantation, and we take some time to splash ourselves with the “healing” water, with some even taking it away in bottles to use later.
We end our stay in Tanga with a night out at a soundproof disco where I showcase my two left feet on the dance floor.
Overall, it’s an intense and exhilarating experience and the words of the guide run through my head as I say goodbye to Tanga: Tanga raha, kutoka matanga (Tanga is so full of fun that leaving is a problem).
And don’t forget to pack your imagination when you visit Tanga and you may just want to throw in sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses while at it because it is hot, hot, hot.
HOW TO GET THERE
By train: The best way is to use the SGR train to Mombasa as Tanga Beach Hotel offers transfer services at a reasonable amount.
By bus: One can also take the bus. The buses include: Modern Coast, Tahmeed, Tawakal and Simba.
By air: Coastal Aviation and Auric Air are your best flying options.
WHERE TO STAY
Try Tanga Beach Resort for your stay there but if backpacking, a number of options exist, too.
Try Tanga Wonders Adventure as your tour guides during your stay there.
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