Tanzania is a country known for sweeping vistas, undisturbed wilderness, national parks and masses of free-roaming wildlife. I think of flora and fauna when I think of Tanzania – an elephant happily plodding his way through the bush, a giraffe gently nibbling on an Acacia tree, and a Hornbill hopping from one tree to the next. Those images are true of course, but upon my visit to Tanzania, I discovered that there was much more on offer in this East African country than I could ever have imagined.

The road was bumpy as we made our way through the afternoon heat. Riding shotgun as Clement, my smiley guide from Maasai Wanderings, focussed on the road, my eyes were free to wander. Scanning the dusty horizon, I spied movement out of the corner of my eye. Suddenly, a group of children popped out from behind a small house and waved enthusiastically, smiles beaming. Delighted, I waved back and watched as they returned to their task at hand – besting the other team in a game of football. Every minute that slipped by as I sat in that seat gave me yet another reason to love Tanzania. The sheer magnitude of the country is one thing, but the fact that 25% of the land mass is dedicated to national parks and conservation areas is quite another. Completely inspired by the country’s respect for nature and wildlife, my mind was squarely focused on the animals and the habitat in which they live. Not once, that is until I arrived at Ziwani Lodge, did I spare a thought for the human history of the country – the culture, the tribes, and cuisine. Though all of these things make a destination what it is. The natural perfection here will distract you, and only once I reached the edges of Lake Eyasi did I learn that Tanzania is nothing without its people.

Ziwani Lodge, owned and operated by Anita Warrener and her husband, Finias Laizer, stands proudly on a rocky outcrop overlooking the dry and crusty shores of Lake Eyasi. Constructed entirely of local stone, the lodge allows for a different type of enjoyment in Tanzania. Gone are the early-morning wake-up calls for game drives and the tsetse flies, as too are the sounds of game vehicles and the sight of other tourists. What replaces those things is serenity.

The word “serenity” is thrown around often in my line of work – a spa, a lunch, or basically anywhere that the word “relaxing” doesn’t fit, is referred to as serene. Ziwani Lodge is different. Like the waters of Lake Eyasi in the distance, serenity washes over you at Ziwani Lodge. It almost caught me completely by surprise. Before I knew what was happening, the tension of the journey and still-subsiding fear of the close contact with elephants in Tarangire National Park, started dissolving. The muted headache in my temple dissipated and the knot in my stomach, tied at the thought of traveling to a new place, quietly unravelled.

The lodge itself is idyllic. A sparkling blue pool stands in stark contrast to the pale hue of the natural stone used to create Ziwani. Ornate doors were imported from Zanzibar, with furnishings tastefully curated to create the perfect atmosphere of delightful isolation. Pops of colour in scatter cushions and table settings enhance the feel of the lodge. A courtyard complete with a cactus garden is what greets the guests, with the view of the distant lake framed by the two doorways separating the courtyard from the veranda.

Ziwani Lodge offers guests an alternative to the usual – the opportunity for personal interaction with Tanzania’s people. The East African country is home to 124 tribes, each with their own dialect. The national language, Swahili, is often spoken between the tribes (however basically) to facilitate trade and communication when they meet. Having the privilege of meeting two tribes – the Hadza and the Datoga – my eyes were opened to a side of Tanzania that few get to encounter.

One early morning started with a trip to the Hadza, and it was well worth it. Arriving just after sunrise, we found the tribesmen around the fire, discussing which direction they were going to head in for the morning hunt. Then, almost as soon as we were introduced to the tribe by our guide, Hassan, the men picked up their bows and arrows and headed out into the bush. They walked so smoothly, they seemed to float – my movements seemed clumsy and slow in comparison as I tried to keep up. Hassan, always at my side, insisted that I was faring better than most and managing to keep up with the action just fine. Thankfully for my weak stomach, the men did not manage to successfully hunt anything too big. Like most in the Western world, I am not overly fond of hunting, but how can I object when the Hadza only hunt to feed their families and nothing (and I really do mean nothing) goes to waste? After handing over some donated goodies from previous guests at the lodge (clothes, a few knives and a saw), we parted ways with the Hadza.

Next, it was onward to meet the Datoga, a blacksmith tribe. I have to confess, the idea of heading into a forge when the weather outside was a scorching 31ºC was not overly inviting, but to my delight, a Datoga forge was far from what I expected. The craftsmen work just fine in a well-ventilated space, with specialised tools and processes adapted specifically to work in their bush forge. The result of their labour is a selection of intricately decorative pieces, including the arrowheads that the Hadza use on two out of three of their arrow types. The Hadza trade animal skins or meat for the arrowheads, and the two tribes meet periodically and converse in very basic Swahili.

Thoroughly educated on the ways of these two tribes, we headed back to Ziwani for brunch on the veranda, a swim to cool off, and then a well-deserved afternoon nap.

That night as the sun was setting, while the guests toasted to another perfect day in Tanzania, it struck me that simply by opting to stay at a lodge slightly off the beaten track, my eyes were opened to a side of Tanzania that I would have completely missed, had it not been for Ziwani. For that, my gratitude is endless. For more information on Ziwani Lodge, visit www.ziwanilodge.com.

Ziwani Lodge forms part of Tourism Corporation Africa’s extensive portfolio of destinations across Africa. Tourism Corporation Africa, which celebrates 25 years in 2019, invites you to explore the best that the continent has to offer. For more information, visit www.tourismcorp.co.za.

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Text: Charlotte Rogers Photography © Ziwani Lodge.  This article originally appeared in SLOW magazine.