Published: April 22nd 2012April 16th 2012
Inside Dar es Salaam International Airport I came across the most convoluted visa-on-arrival system I had ever come across. First of all I had to fill in a couple of lengthy forms, repeating information the whole time and while I did this, a young man waited by my side. He looked lost and confused and so I asked him what he wanted but he only nodded. Ignoring him I filled in my forms and after I’d finished he passed me his passport and his forms. And I’d been thinking he only wanted to borrow my pen. Ten minutes later I had filled everything in for him but was then tapped on the shoulder by a woman. She too proffered her passport and forms, but I shook my head and headed towards the Place of Torment.
There the real confusion began. There were no signs telling me what to do or where to go, only a set of Perspex-fronted booths where officials sat dealing with whatever they dealt with. There was a confusing piece of paper pasted into one of the windows displaying the various prices for the different types of visas available and so wandering to the hatches near it
I was rewarded with a shake of the head and a gesture to say I should move away. All around were crowds of people seemingly at a loss as to what to do.
“This must be your first time in Dar?” said a voice. It belonged to a tall white man who sounded like he was from South Africa. When I nodded he smiled knowingly and told me to pass my forms and passport to a uniformed man standing to one side. “He deals with it all but no one will tell you that. Otherwise you’ll be here for hours.” I thanked the man and did as instructed.
My passport quickly disappeared around the other side of the hatches and so I began to wait like everyone else. Periodically a passport would appear and that lucky person was allowed to proceed. Sometimes a person would be summoned to one of the hatches to answer questions. Where my passport was I had no idea. The South African man appeared by my side again. “I’ve been here forty minutes already. It’s an insane system, if you can even call it a system.”
A group of Chinese tourists arrived and
looked totally bewildered. And who could blame them? The man in charge was nowhere to be seen and no one was helping them. They stood looking this way and that until I took pity on them and explained what I knew. They gleefully smiled at me, one of them shaking my hand vigorously. Twenty minutes later new pile of passports appeared from somewhere and the crown thinned. Mr South Africa rolled his eyes as he was summoned to the stamping booth - he was free whereas I was still trapped. I shuffled my feet and huffed and puffed. Even the Chinese contingent had escaped. I was down to the last three people.
“Jah-son...Smat?” said a woman’s voice. I turned around and saw a woman in uniform summoning me towards her booth. With a stamp and a big African smile I was through, almost an hour and a half after landing at the damned airport.
Compared to the Comoros, Dar es Salaam was back to civilisation. The roads were in good condition and large billboards advertised the latest Samsung phones and tablets. But being Tanzania’s largest city, the traffic was hellish, with cars, trucks, motorbikes and small ice-cream vans
causing tail back after tail back, all in a never ending snarl of vehicles at every set of traffic lights. Taking advantage of this though were the hawkers trying to sell maps, mops, newspapers or cashew nuts. I lost count the number of times there was a tap on my window.
With only a few hours of daylight left in Dar es Salaam I wasted no time in venturing out into the streets. It was hot and humid but I didn’t care. I was leaving the next morning and it would be the only chance I’d get to see the city. Armed with my Lonely Planet map I headed along a street filled to the brim with people. I was soon lost.
Getting lost in some places is no big deal. Just look for a street sign, or perhaps a passing policeman and you’re soon on your way. In Dar es Salaam it was a different matter. Street signs were virtually nonexistent and the only police I could see seemed busy directing traffic. Besides, lingering too long in one place would draw a few glances and possibly street hawkers but the worst thing was the heat. Whenever I
stopped to look at the map, the breeze generated by my walking pace would cease and would break out into a hellish sweat. So I kept moving until I arrived at a church. According to my map I should have been at a supermarket.
The church looked good though and seemed like belonged in Europe somewhere, especially with its tall spiky tower covered in red tiles. The only thing spoiling the illusion were the tropical palm trees sprouting in its grounds. Just then I noticed a sign reading: Azania Front Lutheran Church. I looked at my map and saw where I was. And then it made sense: my map reading skills were so abysmal that I had set off down the wrong street immediately after leaving the hotel.
I could see the ocean behind me which gave me further bearing but it looked to be full of container ships rather than tropical character and so instead I headed towards a nearby monument that looked interesting. It was in a small park favoured by sleeping men. I looked on the map to see what the thing was. It wasn’t on there. Shaking my head, I walked through the park
and until I came to a main road. I crossed over and with the ocean on my left-hand side, I walked and walked.
“You want taxi?” asked a man who had jumped up from underneath a shady tree. Sweat was disgustingly dripping down my back. Already my shirt had unsightly wet patches but I waved the man away and cursed the map makers. Why, you idiotic bastards? Why couldn’t you make a map that had landmarks I could find on it? I was actually looking for something called the Askari Monument, a bronze statue built in honour of African troops killed in World War I, but without any photo of what I was searching for, I was stumbling in the dark.
Five minutes later I passed a small statue of what looked like soldier, but it seemed too small and insignificant to be the Askari Monument and so I carried on until I came to a street full of market stalls. Every time I neared a parked taxi men would suddenly jump up and beckon me towards their vehicles. Meanwhile, and despite the hefty pace I setting, sweat was flowing like a torrent.
I passed a tall
Poor parts of the city
On approach to the airport
thin clock in the middle of a roundabout and stopped to study the map. There was something called the Clock Tower marked on it, but this thing couldn’t be it because it was located right to the left of my position. Unless I was lost, of course. Besides the thing I was staring at was hardly a clock tower, it was of an advertising box with a clock on the top. I plodded onwards, this time passing residential blocks and furniture shops.
The heat was intense and I was cursing myself for getting lost again. After another half a mile I gave up and wandered towards a bunch of waiting taxi drivers. Two of them jumped up immediately, vying for my custom, but I gestured to the first man I had made eye contact with. Euphorically, he led me to his vehicle.
“Okay,” I said before we jumped in. “I want you to take me to the Clock Tower, the Askari Monument, the sea, and then a supermarket so I can buy some Kilimanjaro Lager. Then to my hotel, the Holiday Inn. Okay?”
The man nodded. “Whatever you say, boss. But it will be fifteen thousand shillings.”
He was staring at the sweat dribbling down my face. I must have looked a total wreck.
I nodded, six pounds seemed okay for such a journey I thought, especially though the clogged streets of downtown Dar es Salaam. I jumped in the back and we set off. The Askari monument was just down the road and had in fact been the statue I’d seen earlier. Mentally berating myself, I asked the taxi driver to circle the roundabout it stood upon a few times so I take some photos. The metal soldier was holding a bayonet-fronted rifle and looked like he meant business.
“This is the Clock Tower,” said the taxi driver as we passed the very same clock I’d earlier ignored. Bloody hell, I thought, in my aimless wanderings I had already passed two of Dar es Salaam’s prime sights – and was now paying a taxi driver to show me them again. Wiping my hot brow, I sat back and seethed.
Wee parked at what seemed to be a ferry terminal of some kind because there were lots of people all heading in the same direction - towards some large gates which I presumed was
where the ferries went from. I walked to a wall overlooking the water trying to ignore the stares I was getting from people sat on it. The water looked nice and there were a few wooden boats across the other side, but overall, it wasn’t very picturesque. Behind me was an impressive building that resembled an aircraft control tower but was in fact a lighthouse.
We got back in the car and began the hunt for Kilimanjaro Lager. The first place we stopped, a large supermarket, didn’t sell it and neither did the next shop. Undeterred my amiable driver headed along a main road under the control of a single policewoman. Her large frame had been fit into a white shirt and black skirt with socks pulled up to her knees. She looked like she was a lady not be trifled with. With a flick of her baton, our side of the traffic was given clearance to move forwards.
We pulled up at some sort of central area for taxis. My driver wound down his window and spoke to a group of them, obviously asking about the whereabouts of Kilimanjaro Lager outlets. Most of them looked nonplussed, but
one man pointed just behind us. Without delay we parked the car and found a shop. And there in its deepest recess was a tall fridge filled to the brim with Kilimanjaro Lager.
That evening I sat on the rooftop restaurant of the Holiday Inn. It offered a panoramic view of the city, and from my vantage point I could see just how high-rise Dar es Salaam was. And construction was going on rapidly with cranes littering the skyline, a sure fire indication of a city on the up and up. When the sun went down and the lights came on, I finished my meal and retired to my room.
-Friendly taxi drivers
-Hot and humid
-Not much to see
-The sheer amount of traffic everywhere
There are more photos below