The Royal Tour – Epic Adventure With The President of Tanzania
Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief of Travel Weekly, went behind the scenes during the filming of “The Royal Tour: Tanzania.” Here is how he described it:
“The Royal Tour,” photojournalist Peter Greenberg’s occasional PBS series, features heads of state acting as Greenberg’s tour guides in their respective countries. The shows include well-known tourist highlights, but they also connect the leaders’ personal stories to the stories of their countries, providing a more intimate view of the destination.
Greenberg has previously had kings, presidents, and prime ministers as co-hosts, but he has never had a leader-guide quite like Samia Suluhu Hassan, the history-making first woman president of Tanzania and featured leader/tour guide in “The Royal Tour: Tanzania.” President Samia Suluhu Hassan — or ‘Mama Samia,’ as she is affectionately known in Tanzania — took office after the death of the previous Head of State, John Magufuli.
Tanzania is a large country, roughly the size of France and Germany combined. The country is made up of more than 120 tribes, some of which have a strong patriarchal social structure and do not believe a woman should be in charge. “You have to do twice as much as a man to be recognized,” Mama Samia Suluhu tells Greenberg during the program.
The Royal Visit
Weissmann accompanied Hassan and Greenberg for a few days of filming last September and had the opportunity to observe her interactions with ordinary Tanzanians, the film crew, and Greenberg up close. They were all smitten by her.
Many Americans associate Tanzania with safaris and, possibly, Mount Kilimanjaro, but the first half of “The Royal Tour” explores parts of the country that broaden viewers’ understanding of the country.
It starts in Dar es Salaam, the country’s de facto capital, which is rapidly developing, with skyscrapers and major infrastructure projects in various stages of completion.
The film then shifts to a Unesco World Heritage Site, the still-bustling Stone Town on the Zanzibar island of Unguja.
Tanzania Is In The News
The contrast is stark: unlike Dar es Salaam, which has wide, often congested avenues, Stone Town is a maze of narrow streets and alleys with a strong Arab and Indian influence.
However, many of the extraordinary, ornately carved doors on residences that one passes are a reminder of Stone Town’s shady past: It was the site of East Africa’s largest slave and ivory market, and its distinct character, though endearing today, was defined and created by wealthy slavers.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan was born on the Zanzibari island of Pemba, which is less populated. The narrative becomes more personal as the show shifts locations there. Greenberg and viewers are taken to the modest home she grew up in near the beach village of Kizimkazi, as well as the mosque and school she attended. She says that her village shaped her and her approach to government because it was there that she first learned about her rights as a woman, including the right to an education (she eventually received a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of Manchester). They observe a class at the primary school where she had attended and where her father had been the principal; she tells the students that any of them could grow up to be president.
Hussein Mwinyi, the President of Zanzibar, leads Greenberg to a nearby beach for “a surprise,” while Mama Samia remains on land. Their destination off the coast is the Manta Resort, an ecolodge with a twist: its bedroom is a submarine sunk into a blue hole within a coral reef. Fish peer in from every angle.
The next stop is not accessible to tourists; in fact, its location is unknown. It’s a warehouse filled with over 49,000 elephant tusks confiscated from poachers by the government. It’s a moving segment interspersed with disturbing still images of elephants that have been killed and mutilated. However, it also emphasizes how serious the country is about anti-poaching efforts. Poaching has been reduced by 90%, according to President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who has arrested 2,300 poachers in the last six years.
The following scene, while beautifully shot, also has a somber undertone. From an airplane, the couple circles Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak. Those who imagine the mountain as having a large glacier covering much of its summit will be surprised to learn that, due to climate change, the snow has shrunk to cover only a small portion of the mountaintop.
The tour moves from Africa’s highest point to one of its lowest — and another look at a Tanzanian site that, sadly, is not open to visitors: the country’s Tanzanite mines. The blue gemstone, discovered in 1967, can only be found in Tanzania, and only in a four-square-mile area. The stones are mined three miles beneath the surface. Despite being less expensive, they are rarer (in fact, twenty times rarer) than diamonds. The mine is expected (or perhaps feared) to be depleted in 20 years.
The show concludes with images of Tanzania that most people will recognize, as Greenberg and Hassan visit the popular safari destinations of Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Greenberg’s goal in Ngorongoro is to see all five of the Big Five: elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, and Cape buffalo.
The crater, which has an 11-mile-wide intact rim, has the highest density of large predators on the planet. It is home to over 25,000 large animals and over 500 bird species (including ostriches and flamingos).
Greenberg’s Big Five wish is finally granted after he discovers hippos, warthogs, giraffes, zebras, and antelope. The elephants were easy to spot, but the pair also saw one of only 5,000 black rhinos left on the planet (the species has been slaughtered by poachers only interested in their horns), a solitary leopard, and a pride of lions within sight of a buffalo herd.
Serengeti Will Not Perish
Hassan and Greenberg follow the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, viewing it from a hot air balloon, and also visit a Masai village, where Greenberg attempts to join in a tribal dance with young men leaping straight up, repeatedly and rapidly.
What distinguishes the “Royal Tour” series from most tourism-related programming is that, in addition to presenting an informal and personal side of a leader, it also provides a 360-degree view of a country. Poaching, climate change, slavery, and endangered species are not topics that most tourist boards want to discuss, but they are necessary for gaining a comprehensive understanding of Tanzania.
If by the end of the presentation, your interest in visiting the country is even higher than it was before you watched it, visit our website to learn about the many Mount Kilimanjaro treks and safari tours we offer. Or contact us to help you plan your very own Tanzanian Royal Tour.
Even though the show premiered last week, most PBS stations will air it several times over the next few months. If you are thinking about visiting Tanzania or are simply interested in the Tanzanian culture, this video is a must-watch. You can view the highlights or purchase the full-length video.