Typed up: on the bus from Dar es Salaam to Arusha, at Sakina Campsite in Arusha Posted from: Cybernet Internet Cafe in Arusha
Thursday evening (July 31) we took the U-bahn to the S-bahn to Munich’s international airport. The airport is great. It’s only 5 years old, so doesn’t have any of the shops-are-on-the-other-side-of-security problems that some US airports have. Also, because Lufthansa is on strike, it was pretty quiet and we breezed through security.
We did stand in line for a bit at Qatar Airways to get our boarding passes. When we told them we did not have a departing flight from Tanzania that caused another slight fuss and a manager had to be called over. But they agreed to take us on anyway. Technically Tanzania requires proof of onward travel before they let you into the country. From what I’ve read, if they ask about it, you can just buy a refundable plane ticket on the spot and then get your refund once you’re inside. However, I didn’t want to do that unless we had to. Qatar Airways did make us check our bags, which were just a few kg over the 7kg weight limit.
Since we had been up all day in Munich (where it was pretty hot), we were feeling pretty stinky. So we spent some euros on baby wipes and freshened up. I even washed the shirt I was wearing, and with fancy quick dry fabric it was all dry (except for the collar) by the time we got on the airplane a few hours later. We also used this time to acquire two \$50 bills, which the guidebook says we would need for Tanzanian visas.
The plane flight was as good as we could hope for. We had personal video screens, more flight attendants than on other flights, and tasty Hindu food. If you have the dough, Qatar Airways is the way to go. I’m not sure why they were the cheapest airline when I was looking for flights. Presumably all the really cheap flights had filled up already. Anyway, they got us to Doha in good time. We arrived in Doha at 6am, and it was already over 90F. No wonder nobody lives there.
We spent a little over an hour in the airport there. Enough to take a look at the expensive wares the stores sold and not buy anything. There were lots of expensive European brands represented: Mont Blanc, Swarovski, Gucci, … We also saw separate doors for men’s and women’s prayer rooms. The crowd wasn’t as colorful as you might imagine. The majority appeared to be western tourists, although there certainly was no shortage of Arabs in full gear. (I’m not trying to be flip here, I really don’t know what the Arab dress is called.)
From Doha we flew into Dar Es Salaam. Herberth, who sat next to us on the plane, taught us a little bit more Swahili. The sounds are very foreign which makes it hard to remember words, but the pronunciation is fairly straightforward. And as always, I don’t spend enough time studying. Anyway, we landed in Dar and took a bus to the main terminal. To our surprise it didn’t feel very hot, just warm and a bit humid.
At the terminal we filled out Visa papers, and then made the unhappy discovery that the visa for US citizens costs \$100 and not \$50. All we had is \$100 and some euros. We explained this to the immigration officer, and it was no problem. She called somebody over to escort me to the money changing place in “real” Tanzania. I changed my euros, and everything is fine. (We do actually have some emergency money hidden in various places, but I hope never to have to use that.) On the form we just said that we’re planning to travel to Malawi by train/bus, and nobody complained about lack of onward travel plans. As expected, Tanzania is happy to have rich American tourists come visit them.
Once we picked up our luggage we went in search of an ATM, because we have just a few shillings which might not be enough for a cab right. The ATM outside the airport was broken, though. We looked for another one, and ran into a taxi driver who said he’d help us. This reeked of rip off, but we were tired and went along with it. His car was parked in the official taxis-only section of the car park, so we assumed it was safe.
He drove us to an ATM at a nearby gas station, where my card didn’t work but Danielle’s did. Afterwards he drove us to the hotel, and we paid 27,000 shillings (\$25) for the privilege. Apparently the going rate after you haggle a little is more like 10k. Driving through Dar, it was clear the people here are poor. There are lots of shacks, and lots of people on the street. Traffic is relatively light. There are quite a few very full carts that are pushed by one or two people. Lots of people carry stuff on their heads. It is hard to describe the scene, since everything is so different from what we’re used to at home.
Our hotel was the Econolodge, a little bit outside the center of the city. It’s down a dirt alley where people work on cars. There are no jacks or lifts or anything. Just some people working on cars along the side of the ally. Inside is a dark but clean lobby, and we had no problem checking in in English. They even let us in our room without paying first. When went to our room, a small army of housekeepers was cleaning every floor with a mop and broom. No vacuums or any power tools were used at all.
We then walked to a near-by (1 block) ATM to get the required money, which was pretty straightforward. (In Tanzanian shillings, we were millionaires.) Afterwards we returned to the hotel for a nap. We woke up early enough for an early dinner. This was important to us because the guidebook told us not to walk around after dark in Dar es Salaam. It also said not to take out your camera, and in general to leave all your valuables in your hotel room. This was reinforced by signs inside the hotel which said to leave your valuables at the front desk, and to lock your clothes in the closets. The locks on the closets, however, were broken.
For dinner we went to Chef’s, a restaurant mentioned in the guide book. It was pretty busy, reasonably priced, and the food was decent. We did not eat anything too exotic, but my chicken masala did have chicken parts in them that you wouldn’t usually find in such a dish in the US.
The next day was a day for errands. First on the list was to buy bus tickets that would take us to Arusha. We took a cab to the Scandinavian bus terminal, where you can buy tickets for the “fancy” bus. Fancy means it has air conditioning, and there’s one ticket sold per seat. Luckily the bus was not full, and buying tickets was easy. The cab waited for us and we returned to the hotel, and he also offered to drive us again to make it to the bus the following morning. (Another thing the guidebook says is not to take just any cab. Ask your hotel to arrange one; which we did, so the porter’s friend was our cabbie.) I think we only over-paid a little bit for this cab ride.
Next we went to organize a place to stay for the night in Arusha. We decided to call some places, which entailed going to the post office to buy a phone card. We must have tried at least half an hour to make a call using that card, and we had help from a few people, but we were unsuccessful. We decided to ask our hotel concierge because their English is better. They also didn’t know how to make it work, despite some help from friendly strangers there as well. They did let us make a call from their office phone. We called a hotel that was sadly full for the night. We didn’t want to impose anymore, so we went to an Internet cafe associated with a different hotel in Dar es Salaam. There it was no problem to plug my laptop into an Ethernet cable. Internet was quite intermittent and slow, though. However, we managed to make a reservation through hostelz with Sakina Campsite.
We declared victory and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant we passed. The food was very nice. Afterwards we bought some oranges and small bananas from a street vendor so we would have something to eat on the 10-hour bus ride tomorrow. Our final chores were to buy a nice blanket and a mosquito net for our safari. However, the hotel staff informed us that on Saturday afternoon all the stores were closed. We were very concerned about not having a mosquito net, but all we could think to do was to e-mail our safari company and ask them if they could help us get one. Internet was down, but after about 10 minutes of waiting it came back.
After another nap, we returned to the Chinese place for dinner. It got dark while we were there, and inside we strategized on how to get back to our hotel. Taking a cab seemed excessive because it’s only a couple of blocks, plus the book says not to take a random cab. But it also says not to walk around at night. In the end we decided that walking would be fine. We stuck to the busy streets, and felt perfectly safe.
Still, we were both feeling very overwhelmed on our second day in Africa. For me the constant worry about security was really draining. On top of that we also had to think about water (since you cannot drink the tap water here), deal with most people speaking a foreign language (although almost everybody can speak passable English). And we were still tired from the red-eye flight.
We slept soundly and got up too early. Right at 7 we were at the hotel breakfast room for the free breakfast. This consisted of some fruit, tea, and toast. The cab driver showed up at 7:30 as promised, so we were early at the bus station for our 8:30 bus to Arusha. The bus left a little late, but it was pretty nice. It was pretty much a standard tour bus. We had assigned seating, and Danielle and I sat across the aisle from each other. My window person never showed up, though, so Danielle took that seat. This worked out especially well because the woman sitting next to Danielle had a child on her lap which could now have Danielle’s seat.
Because the guidebook says not to take out your camera in Dar, I hadn’t taken any pictures of the city so far. The first pictures of Africans you will see are taken from the bus as we drove through the city. Driving we got to see what I suppose is the Dar es Salaam suburbs. Really it looked like a lot of people live within half a mile of the main road in small shacks (some made out of cement bricks, others out of less sturdy material). A lot of stuff is transported by man-power, either on heads, bicycles, or hand carts. There was still no shortage of trucks presumably carrying goods as well.
As we left Dar the scenery changed to include small farm plots and roaming cattle. Meanwhile the dwellings started to look more like sticks-and-mud huts than the cement block structures closer to the center of the city. Then a little bit later we started to see distinct tiny villages, separated by a mile or two of countryside. The countryside consisted of slightly rolling hills, brown grass, and many trees.
Then the bus broke down.
People were commenting on how slow the bus was going, when we pulled into the dirt next to a gas station. (Throughout the ride, the road was paved but driveways weren’t.) We were told a transmission cable broke and that it would take 2 hours for a replacement to come here. It was a nice place to break down. Next to the gas station was a large out-doors but covered restaurant. There were rest rooms, and I got to see my first real wildlife. Above the path to the rest rooms were 3 large spiders, each in their own web. The body was about an inch long, and including the legs each spider was 3 or 4 inches in size. I didn’t even notice them until Danielle pointed them out to me. On a happier note, I saw a gecko clinging to the tile inside the toilet.
Anyway, we ate and drank some at the adjoining restaurant. Our waiter was Chevi (Chebi?) who also owns the place. He was very friendly, taught us some more Swahili, and served up some really excellent lemonade. He called it lemon juice, but it was nice and tart. Much better than the sweet stuff we get at home. To pass the time, I also played a bit of harmonica for the first time in a while. Nobody told me to be quiet so it must have been alright, and it was quite fun.
After about 4 hours the part arrived from Dar es Salaam, and the fixing of the bus could begin. This took about another hour, so 5 hours delayed, we continued. The 5 hours were actually really pleasant, relaxing in the Tanzania countryside. We drove on, and even though this bus did come equipped with a toilet, we took a timely rest room break somewhere later. While Danielle and I were admiring a tree full of weaver birds and their nests, the bus honked indicating it was ready to leave. Even with that warning, some people didn’t quite make it, and the passengers had to shout a bit to prevent the bus from leaving without everybody on board.
The in-bus movies were Ong Bak, and a drama in Swahili about a pastor who is possessed, and somehow black magic came into it too. While on the bus we met several people. The first was Josh, who sat behind us and is travelling from England. At the same time we met Sheila, who sat next to Josh and spends a lot of time in Africa. She answered some questions about local customs, especially related to money. It seems Josh paid even more than we did for the cab from the airport, and Sheila told us firmly to never get in a cab without establishing a price first. She asked us what we’d paid for several things, and told us to haggle for just about everything. She had stayed at the Econolodge as well, and showed us a receipt where she paid much less than the posted rate. The lady who was sitting next to Danielle was Nema, who we also talked to a little bit.
Sakina Camp is a way outside of the center of Arusha, and as it was getting later, we were trying to figure out how to get there. Arusha is as dangerous or more so than Dar, so we wanted to make sure to have a plan as soon as we got off the bus. We borrowed Nema’s cell phone to try and call Sakina, but for some reason the call did not go through. Not knowing the local area, we decided to just go to the hotel that Josh had a reservation at, and see what happened. That hotel looked really close to the bus station on the map, so getting there didn’t seem so daunting. Clive didn’t have a place to stay either, so he planned to do the same.
Around 12:30am we arrived at the bus stop in Arusha. Nema organized for a cab for the 4 of us to follow her car (which was full). She also negotiated a locals-price for the service. I think the cabbie didn’t like that, because instead of following Nema’s car he just took off and raced to the designated hotel. At the hotel, after some confusion with the receptionist, Clive got a private room while Danielle and I got a double, and Josh got the private room he had booked. During the check-in process Nema’s brother stopped by to make sure everything was OK. Tanzanian people are very friendly.
That’s how we ended up at the Arusha Crown Hotel, which is certainly out of our budget (\$75 for the night), but was worth it for the safety and peace of mind. The stairway had cool ironwork and the railing was made out of very nice wood. We had a private bathroom with a clean, western toilet (with tp), and even a TV in our room. The beds were good, but neither of us slept very well. There was just too much going through our minds.