Istanbul to Dar es Salaam was uncomfortable, but relatively easy, a couple movies, a nap, and 8 hours later we arrived. All the tourists were then hearded into a line for visas and passport control. They took our money, $100 for my American self, but a mere $50 for Jessica smartly traveling with her German passport. Then we all waited nearly an hour as they very slowly typed up all our information, took fingerprints and scans of our passport pictures to make an unnecessarily intricate visa sticker for our passports.
Backpacks strapped on we met our Couchsurfing host holding an 8×11 with Dave & Jess scrawled in pen. He was a very nice guy named Albert and guided us to a waiting taxi. With Couchsurfing sometimes you do not know what to expect. Will we be on a couch, on the floor, in a bed with our own room? To be fair we were technically brought to a bed in our own room, however the location was something that took us quite a bit out of our typically very flexible comfort zone. Our new room was smack in the middle of the concrete jungle.
I hesitate to use the word slum because that brings to mind plastic sheet walls and a tin roof held together with twine, but aside from a bit more concrete, it wasn’t too far off really. Sprawling concrete complexes where entire families lived in a space the size of many an American bathroom. When we walked down a narrow alley to our complex, Albert had to call a neighbor to unchain the outside gate to let us in. There is a central dirt courtyard with a rubbish heap in the middle next to a few stalks of sugar cane. The communal bathroom is two porcelain holes set in a crudely thrown together concrete box.
We did sleep, but not particularly well mind you. The bed was comfy, but the sounds of loud music through cheap, cracking speakers, and a two hour long Swahili sermon given at 4am by a monotone Christian preacher, mixed with the already nagging fear and uncertainty given these incredibly foreign surroundings did not make sleep easy!
We awoke to Albert knocking. He asked if we would like to eat, then he took me on a stroll through the town. At 3am this place was scary, but in the soft light of morning, with chickens clucking, friendly children kicking crude soccer balls through tire holes, and women in beautifully colored dresses cooking breakfast in smouldering coal-filled metal pots, I felt much more at ease. Kids stared at me with wide, curious eyes, muttering “muzungo, muzungo” (white person) but a smile and “Mambo” was quickly responded with a flash of friendly white teeth and the local response “Poa!”.
The woman serving us Chapati rolled the dough in a chipped wooden bowl and cooked with lots of oil in an iron pan over wood chacoal. She told Albert that she like to hear me speak English. We smiled back and forth; her teeth bright white against beautiful ebony skin. Albert taught me to say “Asante” to thank her for the meal.
Jess was still napping as we entered and Albert began scooping water from the top of a stack of plastic buckets we assumed were filled from a somewhat distant source. This is the only water nearby to be used for bathing, washing, cooking, drinking; nothing runs, only what is stored in these buckets. He procured a metal, coal powered cooking stove and began heating water. We sat and ate the tasty, though a bit oily, Chapati and sipped tea.
Albert had to go to work, but his friend Ramsey came over to take us through the city for a bit. After having driven through windy dirt roads packed with brightly dressed people, and then insufferable traffic of the paved streets we arrived at city center. Just as I stepped out of the car a bit of unintelligible commotion came from behind. Two sharply dressed men smushed their way into the backseat, and it was clear they weretrying to prevent us from exiting. Events turned surreal at that point.
When I looked back our new host Ramsey was holding a plastic card handed to him by one of the men. His hand shaking and fear in his wide eyes did not do well for my own stress level. What in the world have we just gotten in to?! Rapid chatter in Swahili came from each inhabitant, except of course myself and Jessica who stared at each other, wide eyed, a mix of confusion and fear plastered on our faces, as I mouthed to her an appropriately phrased “what…the…fuck?”
It soon became clear that these were police officials. Our taxi driver had pulled over “illegally” and they were threatening to take us to the police station with a huge fine. The driver handled the situation after some time by subtely handing a wad of cash to one of the upstanding officers. Everyone smiled awkwardly, shook hands with each other, with us, and the men were on their way to extort more money from the citizens they are sworn to “protect and serve”.
Obviously frazzled I strapped by bag across my back and we began walking. It did not feel like a safe neighborhood, many eyes staring at us, so I rearranged by bag to hold it closer to my chest. About two minutes later I got a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the officers from before. In his hand he held a little metal box; my medicine box! Funny, my bag was unzipped, it must have slipped out. The second officer came from behind with a third man pinched at the neck between his fingers. They explained (mostly in pantomime) that this man had been rooting through my bag in the 60 seconds I was not paying attention.
Before I could even say thank you, the officer holding the theif by the neck swung his right arm in a strong uppercut to the thief’s jaw. The officer continued slapping and beating the man for a good minute as a small crowed formed around us. Then the officers walked off, and the thief stumbled quickly away. Ramsey said the thief was lucky, if he’d stolen more or harmed us, the crowed would have almost definitely killed him.
All in the first 12 hours of being in Africa! Quite a welcoming!
The massive guard with a shotgun outside the money exchange office still didn’t quite set us at ease. The rest of the day was spent exploring Dar es Salaam. Nothing much of a city really, dusty, busy, concrete jungle. There were a couple nice parks and some tall government buildings, but the real highlight of the day was the fish market, though it did smell a bit fishy.
There is one major difference between here and any other city we have ever visited: the surprising lack of white people. Now obviously we don’t expect the locals to look like us, but what I mean is, aside from two Japanese tourists, we seem to be the only tourists. Probably not a great signifier that we should stay long in Dar. As you can imagine we are somewhat more of a curiosity to the locals than anywhere else we have ever been, receiving long stares. I get the sneaking suspicion some of them are thinking “what the hell are they even doing here?”
We met later with Albert after his shift as a driver at the YWCA, and the four of us ate dinner at a cute pub. Fried chicken and rice dinner was good and we got a taste of the local beer, Serengetti Lager. Our hosts tried to teach us more Swahili, then we headed back and slept a bit more soundly than last night.
In the morning Albert brought us to the bus station in a taxi. We boarded and said our fond farewells, thanking him profusely for being a great host. Then we sat in the hot, diesel fumed bus for over an hour until it grumbled to life and headed off to Tanga.
The scenery along the way was beautiful. I knew that people in this part of the world still lived in traditional mud huts, I just thought it would be in far away rural areas, not just along the side of a major freeway. Bright red earthen brick filled in between wooden stakes and sealed with more red mud. It is humbling how many people still live in these types of domiciles, but I it is cheap and efficient!
We arrived in Tanga 8 hours later and were swarmed by touts offering to take us to this hotel or that. For once we trusted the driver to take us to a place better looking than the one we had picked out. Inn by the Sea was an oasis compared to our last location.
For 25,000 Tshillings/night ($17) it was a serious bargain for the beautiful view over the beach! We settled in, took showers, then walked one building over for some prawns and chicken masala dinner overlooking the bay. Down below a massive wedding party comenced, with a large crowd in their finest garb dancing to upbeat Swahili music.
We made an arrangement with a guide for a bike tour to some caves and villages. I was certain his price was far too low at 9,000Tsh, but I re-confirmed many times and while he has a thick accent, it sounded very clear that this was the extremely low price he was offering for a tour.
He met us after breakfast, we walked to town, grabbed bikes and took a lovely ride along the coast. My tire went flat and a gentleman with a very convenient spot set up along the road helped fix it.
We passed through cute villages along red dirt roads and children calling out “Mambo, mambo!” Then our guide asked for payment now so he could easily give money to the guard at the caves. This is when it would have been handy to write down the number I thought I heard him say, nine-thousand, although this time he was much more clear pronouncing the ty in ninety-thousand! $60 for a bike ride to some caves?! I think not buddy! I handed him 20,000Tsh, more than enough for his services and said we would pay the entrance fees ourselves.
We have dealt with trickery of this sort before, not quite a scam, but certainly quite aggravating. Sure enough the fees to enter the caves were equally ludicrous. 1,000Tsh for locals and 20,000Tsh for tourists. Now that is a scam; just to enter some granite caves and get crapped on by bats. High tourist prices have always been a thing of annoyance; when they charged us an arm to enter the Taj Mahal, we paid it, but that was the Taj Mahal. We cut our losses this time, figured it was at least a beautiful ride, and headed back. But not before stopping by a local village and drinking some funky tasting coconut wine.
We strolled the city of Tanga, but there is not much to see. Some crumbling concrete structures built by the colonial Germans and that’s about it. We had a good lunch served by an albino waitress at a little hole in the wall place then made the walk back to our hotel.
We met a Dutch couple there and sat down for a chat overlooking the beach. One of the most (potentially) fatal errors we made coming on this trip was not bringing Malaria prophylactics (I know, sorry parents, stupid mistake). Before coming we researched and learned that A. Tanzania does not have as much Malaria as the rest of Africa, and B. that it was low mosquito season. According to the locals and everyone else we asked, those figures are dead wrong and mozzies are definitely out and about! To our luck our new Dutch friend, who has been living here for 6 months, had exactly enough pills leftover for us to start taking now and last us through the rest of our trip. Here’s to a Malaria-free adventure!
After a stroll along the beach during sunset the dutch couple took us to a wood-oven pizza place around the corner for a lovely dinner and gave us some advice about traveling in Tanzania, what we could and couldn’t miss, how to stay safe, etc. They made us jealous and excited with pictures of the awesome wildlife they saw on Safari.
While the novelty of being some of the only tourists around is nice, it is also nice to meet folks like this to show us the ropes and swap travel stories.
A dala-dala is a small chinese-built bus that goes back and forth through cities cramming as many people in as possible and stopping every 20 seconds to pick up more. This is what we took to the bus station in the morning. Though thankfully Tanzanians wake up later than we were up and the bus was rather quiet.
The journey to Pangani in the next dala-dala was bumpy, I had no leg room, people sat on me, but otherwise painless. The tire went flat halfway there and we all got out to some beautiful jungle surroundings along a dirt road.
The driver’s assistent was very helpful and dropped us off at the road to our hotel, suggested by a friend, a few kilometers from town. The hotel was a serene 5min walk through jungle from the road. When we got to the iron gate, a pair of legitimate Maasai warriors in traditional red garb, recycled black tire sandals, thin wooden canes, and facial scarring gave a friendly greeting. We later found out these guys are not asked to dress in their traditional clothing just for tourists, they do it merely because they know how badass they are. Our soon to be hotel host explained later how effective the Maasai were at preventing anything bad from happening on the grounds. Hell, I wouldn’t mess with these guys either.
The Mkoma Bay Luxury Tents Hotel was far beyond anywhere the two of us have stayed without parental accompaniment. “Luxury tents” barely begins to describe the spacious, well-decorated safari tents, complete with hot water, a massive bed, and modern bathroom. We have come a long way from slumming it my friends, but some would say we deserve it (mainly us…we would say that).
The hotel grounds are immaculately groomed, covered in cute white & grey Vervet monkeys, poolside bar, cushy dining nooks overlooking the stunning ocean atop a cliff, with a constant cool breeze. Lisa, a native Californian and her grey-mustachioed Danish husband Ulrich along with their two beautiful German Shepards run the place like pros, ensuring each guest is experiencing the maximum level of comfort. With an occupancy of maybe 50 guests, there are five of us. Just before hitting the on-season. Sweet.
The rest of the day involved swimming in the pool and laying in the sun, chasing monkeys. A vacation away from vacationing. An incredible candle-lit dinner was served in the evening and we got to know the three Germans we were sharing the entire grounds with.
In the morning we bushwacked a hike along the completely empty and stunningly beautiful coast. We were in awe of the mangrove forests, massive birds, purple sand beaches, funky tide pool life, and absolute lack of any other human beings. Bliss.
On our return, more pool, more sun, some delicious lunch, monkey chasing. Then we braved the rough surf and took out a kayak. Probably not the best idea, but we didn’t go far.
In the morning the five of us were driven to the city with our gear and hopped on a wood motor boat with two guides. In an hour we were snorkeling a beautiful reef then lounging on a completely desolate white sand beach. We didn’t see lion fish, but lots of Parrot fish, clown fish, clams, and just about all the colors of the rainbow. On the beach we ate lunch and watched the crabs wander by.
Got back with some sunburns, took naps, did the usual relaxing stuff, then had a BBQ 4th of July dinner with the now larger population of guests who arrived today. No fireworks though, how tragic.
Well the first part of this blog was good, but writing the last few days certainly did suck. Nonetheless it was amazing to experience. Our photos should be more entertaining visuals for those last few boringly read days. We’ll get into more trouble so there is better stories in the future.
The pics might not be all on the Flickr site. It is challenging to find fast internet out here, but check soon: