Setting sail with a taarab orchestra (Zanzibar, Tanzania): Listening to a live performance of taraab (roughly translated as "to be moved by music") -- preferably on the sea-facing terrace of the Serena Inn -- is wonderful. Like so much of the island's architecture and cuisine, this Zanzibari music form is a blend of styles from Africa, India, and the Middle East, and dates to the 19th century during the sybaritic rule of Sultan Barghash. The Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club, which his court musician established, remains one of the leading Zanzibari taarab orchestras, with 35 active members playing a variety of instruments.
Taxying up to Mafia's "airport" (Mafia Island, Tanzania): Having run the sandy palm-lined strip that passes for a runway, the Cessna's pilot taxis up to a whitewashed shed, juddering to a halt near a neatly placed row of white plastic chairs behind a hand-painted sign that reads DEPARTURE LOUNGE. Mafia airport is the most charming we have yet arrived at (or, sadly, departed from). Step inside the whitewashed shack to have your luggage weighed on an old stainless steel scale; it's as if you've traveled back 50 years, to a time when air travel was exotic and thrilling, and it was actually possible to find yourself marooned on a tropical island.
Driving the road to Ol Donyo L'Engai (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania): If you like getting off the beaten track and revere stark and desolate landscapes, a trip to Lake Natron, which takes you past the last active volcano in the Rift Valley, is a must. Aside from the volcano's spiritual significance (rumblings emitted by the mountain are believed by the Maasai to be the voice of their female deity), Ol Donyo L'Engai is one of the most arresting sights in East Africa. Entirely barren, its single-cone peak dusted in white ash, the triangulated shape rises from flat plains that are blackened and strewn with volcanic rock; hot and hostile, it is as humbling as any of Earth's great natural wonders, a truly surreal and post-apocalyptic vision that will have you stopping your vehicle every few minutes to try, yet again, to capture it all on film.
Gazing into the Ngorongoro Crater (Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania): Like Victoria Falls or the Taj Mahal, the world's largest unbroken volcanic caldera is one of those wonders that does not disappoint. Created some 2 million to 3 million years ago, the crater walls drop a sheer 610m (2,001 ft.) -- a circular embrace enclosing a 260-sq.-km (101-sq.-mile) valley, in which even a 6-ton elephant appears no larger than an ant. Standing on the lip and gazing into this vast natural arena, the opposite walls of which rise almost 20km (12 miles) away, one is struck not only by the sheer size and symmetry, but by the visible ecosystems: From the dark montane forests that clad the southern crater walls, to the open yellow grassland and acacia thickets, intersected by veins of freshwater streams and the tell-tale white crust of its very own salt lake, Ngorongoro's great caldera falls into the archetypal realm of an isolated "Lost World."
Boating the Rufiji (Southern Tanzania): The Rufiji is Tanzania's largest river and the lifeblood of the vast Selous Game Reserve, its wide, sluggish waters feeding a labyrinth of small lakes and reed-lined channels. Boat trips along this riverine wilderness provide a thrilling variation on the conventional game drive -- the indignant harrumphing of hippos, outsized crocodiles basking gape-hawed on the sandbanks, buffalo and giraffes filing down to the riverbank to drink, and elephants cavorting playfully in the shallows. The birdlife is fantastic, too: Storks and skimmer wade close to shore, colorful bee-eaters and kingfishers nest seasonally along the mud banks, and pairs of African fish eagles deliver their piercing trademark call from high in the palms.
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