Retro Air Travel Returns to Tanzania

When I was a little boy in the 60s and 70s, the Douglas DC-3, which, like they did in Britain we used to call the Dakota, was all the rage. I used to travel around the country in that aircraft with my mum and dad. It was an awesome experience. I used to love the way the tail dipped when the aircraft was on the ground and how it lifted as it taxied down the runway before take off. A remarkable airplane, and one I couldn’t forget even when the Fokker Friendship came to replace it on domestic routes. As it happens, the DC-3 never really went away. 73 years after the DC-3 first flew, it has remained in the skies in quite a few countries around the world… it is believed there are 400 DC-3 aircraft still in service. In this article, I will discuss retro travel and the opportunity that awaits you to rekindle vintage travel in a remarkable tourist haven and setting that is, Tanzania.

One of the most successful airplanes ever built, the DC-3 made its maiden flight on December 17, 1935. The Gooney Bird, as it was sometimes called, was one of the first airplanes built primarily out of metal, replacing the wood-framed-and-doped-fabric airplanes that had evolved out of the Wright Flyer and the many models of airplanes developed during World War I. In the 1930s and 1940s, this American fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft — generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II — is still taking to the skies to this day in many parts of the world. Like its land equivalent, the marvels of yesteryear engineering — the steam train — offers a lap of luxury to its passengers to this present day on packaged rail safaris like the Blue Train in South Africa, aviation too brings back the the beauty and luxury of vintage travel to the skies.

Air travel in the 50s was much more regulated than it is today. All fares were fixed by the International Air Traffic Association (IATA). It seems almost inconceivable today, but IATA dictated exactly what could be charged on any particular route. Airlines could compete on standards of service, but not price. Hence a desire to offer the passenger the very best prevailed. In the early fifties there was only one class of travel: first or better than first class. Such luxuries as cocktail bars, and even beds had been provided on transatlantic flights. Fares were expensive and passengers were either very wealthy or claiming the trip on expenses. By the end of the fifties, there were four classes of travel, deluxe (better than first), first class, tourist class and economy class. The Indigo Aviation Dakota plying the Zanzibar, Selous, Pemba and Mafia routes from Dar es salaam, Tanzania, judging from the luxurious cabin alone, takes you back to the early 50s when, literally, there was only one way to travel – first class.

When I saw an ad on the cover of a local magazine (Advertising Dar) back in May 2009, I was thrilled to see the DC-3 back in action. To me, she is the most beautiful bird that ever took to the skies. My plan is to get on that plane to travel to Mafia island, a fascinating island steeped in history, and what I consider to be the ideal destination to fly to to write a series of articles on, in retro style.

What is Responsible Travelling?

Responsible travelling is about respect. Respect for the environment, the place, culture and the people. Responsible travelling is about reducing your carbon footprint and it is also about conservation and protection.  

Obviously when we travel, especially by air, we have inevitably contributed to global warming. However, we can try to reduce the carbon emission in other ways like planning your travel plans in advance to avoid unnecessary travel. Whenever possible, use public transport like buses and cycle to sightsee. Abstain from unnecessary travelling using domestic airline for interstate travelling if possible, travel by train or coaches to reduce your carbon footprint. Walking holidays and cruises are also ideal form of responsible travelling.   Responsible travelling is also about supporting the local produce and not imported goods. However, it is also important not to buy products of unethical practices like slave labour, company that exploit the young and the vulnerable. When you buy local produce, you inevitably create jobs and help contribute to the community.  

It is always an eye opener or sometimes even a culture shock to discover practices and way of life that is so different from our own. We should always respect the different cultures and practices of the locals, we should never try to judge and pass snide remarks about them. Imagine how you would feel if a tourist passes undesired remarks or do something disrespectful.   We should also be aware of different religious beliefs and should always try not to offend them.   It pays to learn more about the country, culture and the people before going there. You can obtain the necessary information from brochures or do your research on the internet. With a good understanding of the place you are visiting, you can immerse yourself into their culture more readily. It also enables you to have a more authentic experience about the place rather than just visiting the usual tourist attractions.  

Responsible travelling is also about visiting local conservation projects like forest conservation, animal sanctuary and learning about what people do to preserve their environment. There are responsible holidays where you can stay and participate in the conservation projects like forestry, wild life conservation and protection.  

Conservation is also about keeping the environment clean, not wasting water especially in places where water is scarce and not wasting food.   When you participate and practice responsible travelling, you encourage the good practice of tolerance and respect. When you take an interest in conservation projects and wildlife, you help sustain the livelihood of the local people and indirectly help build their community.

The Top Ten Travel Sights of Africa

It is difficult to list a top ten African travel wonders list without leaving out a number of other superb sights. Here is my list. How many have you seen?

1. Mountain Gorillas of Central Africa

It is an indescribable experience to spend an hour visiting an habituated gorilla family in the rain forests of Central Africa. With over 98% commonality of DNA with human beings, you can sense and feel their emotions and familial ties. A family group which varies from 8 to 20 is led by an alpha male – the silverback – with a silvery blanket of hair down his back. Seriously endangered, tourism is their only chance of survival.

2. Wildlife Safari in East Africa

The African rift valley offers the most remarkable variety of wildlife to view anywhere on Earth. Across the protected game parks in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, seeing the great African wildlife is a special experience to savor. Way beyond reading National Geographic, seeing in real life a pride of lions stalking and hunting down its prey gets your heart racing. Vultures and jackals hover nearby for their share of the feast. Many plan to see the so-called Big Five, the buffalo, elephant, lion, rhinoceros and leopard, along with the familiar antelope, giraffes, zebras and wildebeest, along with a wide variety of colorful birds.

3. Pyramids and Sphinx of Egypt

The Great Pyramids of Giza, just outside Cairo, have stood and overseen over 5000 years of Egyptian history. These giants structures stand in a stark sandy desert expanse while local touts sell camel rides or their various crafts, souvenirs and knick-knacks. The nightly light and sound show describes the rich history with colorful lights and lasers.

4. Victoria Falls

The locals describe it as the “The Smoke that Thunders” in their native language, where plumes of spray from the thunderous water can be seen for miles around as the calm waters of the mile-wide Zambezi River plunges well over 100 yards into the deep gorge below. These famous waterfalls change mood across the year from the dry to the wet seasons and often appear with dazzling rainbows in the misty spray.

5. Nile River and Egyptian Temples

Small armies of river boats travel the famed Nile River between Luxor and Aswan in central Egypt. From the cool of the boat, you can enjoy the narrow fertile strip of land being intensively farmed in much the same manner as it has sustained the population for centuries. This thin strip of greenery is the only break from the desolate Saharan sands which seem to extend forever. Luxor’s Temple of Karnak is an ancient construction on an unequaled scale with pillars, carvings, ceremonial lakes and temples extending over an area beyond a mile by half a mile. The pharaohs’ final resting places sit on the opposite bank of the Nile in the Valley of the Kings – a stark, empty ravine.

6. Sahara Desert

Incredibly hot by day and surprisingly cool by night, the dry vastness of the Sahara Desert is striking in its beauty. Eroded over the centuries by wind, jagged mountains, rocky escarpments and sweeping sand dunes detail a harsh terrain. The small oasis towns reveal a battle for survival over the many centuries, the refreshing patches of green highlighting the invaluable resource of water.

7. Moroccan Cities of Marrakesh and Fes

With their souks woven like ancient mazes, Marrakesh and Fes both boast remarkable medinas (walled-in areas of the town) which ignite every human sense. Rich in craft shops (tanners, textile makers, dressmakers, jewelers and carpet weavers), food stalls and teashops (with their enchanting sweet mint tea), the alluring aroma of spices clash with the nasty odors of the dye pits. Every night, Marrakesh’s immense Djemaa el Fna square becomes a virtual circus of snake charmers, fortune tellers, jugglers, comedians, spruikers and magicians as you enjoy the tasty delights from the variety of fresh food stalls and juice bars.

8. Dogon Villages of Mali

The Dogon people live in simple villages along the imposing 120 mile Bandiagara Cliff. Their strange adobe (mud-brick) houses are built along the cliff edge providing areas to sleep and relax, common areas for village meetings and for storage of grain. The houses are remarkably cool in this hot arid area.

9. Leptis Magna

Africa’s most significant Roman ruin overlooks the dazzling Mediterranean Sea. Being a major Roman city in its time, Leptis Magna includes the ruins of athletic arenas, theaters, markets and temples, along with the traditional central Roman Forum.

10. Zanzibar

The Spice Islands are a haven, providing a chance for a relaxing break from African travel and game parks. It has a number of sights with its Arabic heritage, the old Stone Town and tropical palm-fringed sandy beaches. The maze of ancient alleyways and narrow lanes are lined with whitewashed houses with superbly carved wooden doors. Culturally separate from the African mainland, small bazaars and gleaming tiled mosques provide mouthwatering cultural walks, between relaxing sun-baking sessions on the beach.

Africa has a wide variety of attractions and travel wonders to experience from the Arabic north through the jungles of central Africa to the rich jungles of southern Africa. Travel with a spirit of discovery and enjoyment to experience this wonderful and diverse continent.