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Published: June 23rd 2014
Episode 1: Hello Tanzania – Dar es Salaam.
23 June, 2014
Hello to all.
Our trip up to Tanzania started off well when we learned that we had been up-graded to business class on the three hour South African Airways flight from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam. Excellent food and service.
Anyway, Dar es Salaam (Dar) is the capital of Tanzania in everything but name, a large, bustling and rather chaotic city of some 3 million souls (local Swahili folks, Muslims and descendents from the German and British colonial days). The airport in Tanzania was organized chaos, with officials simply mingling with the arriving passengers in one big mess and snapping up the $50 required for on-the-spot visas. While waiting in the crowded mess, we encountered a group of teenagers from – of all places – Xavier boys college in Kew, Melbourne. They were on a school excursion - off to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with their teacher. (In contrast, I recall visiting the local Woy Woy fire-station for my high school excursion. Woo hoo). I was impressed that the 16 year olds were climbing Kili, a rather grueling five day trek that Ross and I certainly were not doing (especially with Ross’s sore knee).
Our cab ride into town was a culture shock, with all manner of people all over the roads and sidewalks, evident poverty and traffic gridlock. Minibuses full of people sailed up onto median strips to get ahead of traffic. Groups of motorbikes went along the street in the wrong direction, while young girls and guys wandered amongst the gridlocked vehicles to sell drinks or snacks from tubs balanced on their heads. The city itself has many decaying buildings, pot-holed streets and crumbling sidewalks, although with a certain faded grandeur. Our hotel room was quite nice, but their food quite unappealing. At breakfast one morning, I realised that I probably should have brought some little UHT milks from home for my tea, since I think the milk in Tanzania might not be pasteurised or something. I walked up to Ross, who was staring at a plate of bizarre meat labeled “meat bacon” and said:
“I was just thinking, guess what I should have brought from Australia - ”
“Food”, he said.
The streets were very busy with people, with many blokes just sitting around on sidewalks or strolling aimlessly, and it all looked a bit gritty and intimidating. But we decided to have a quick look around in the last light of our first day, making sure to be back in our hotel before nightfall. We wandered around carefully, and found a little local bar and decided to try a Tanzanian beer or two. There were no tourists at all in this part of town, just some merry local Tanzanians. The young guy behind the bar was most welcoming, and poured us a Kilimanjaro beer.
“Where are you guys from?” he asked, putting a humungous bowl of stale popcorn on the bar.
“Have a guess,” I said.
“Oh, I dunno, man.” He replied. “Ireland?”
“No, I’ll give you a clue. Kangaroos.”
We ended up deciding that “Serengeti” was our favourite local beer, and left before night fell.
The next day, we endured breakfast and set out on our own to do a walking tour, following a route suggested in the Lonely Planet. But as a westerner, you cannot walk far in Dar without being accosted by a tout or someone after a buck. We sidestepped a guy dragging on a reefer the size of a large texta pen and proclaiming to be Marley’s cousin, but a bit further along we were unable to shake a young man called James.
“Are you going to the look at the buildings in the old colonial quarter and go to the fish markets, my friends?” he asked.
I stupidly said yes and so he immediately attached himself to us. Much of what he said about the city as we walked along I knew to be wrong, but he endeared himself, and without him I actually doubt we would have ventured into the fish markets at all, which were an intimidating and seething mass of people. It was truly an assault on all the senses. James seemed to know many of the vendors, and he fended off the occasional tout (we were his “toutees”, after all). The markets were amazing, with piles of prawns, crays, octopus and all sorts of fish in the hot sun and people everywhere, bargaining, yelling and occasionally stopping to stare at us and shout “Jambo” (hello). It stank, but it was mesmerising to watch the sellers peddling their overnight harvests. After some time, we made the excuse that we needed to meet someone at the nearby Hyatt Hotel Kilimanjaro, gave James some money for his help and retreated to the roof top bar to watch the passing throng of walkers, bicyclists, tuk tuks and overloaded minibuses below.
On our last day in Dar, we scoured the neighbourhood of our hotel, in an attempt to find an alternative place for dinner later that night – somewhere close enough to be within safe walking distance from the hotel at night. But to no avail, so we inflicted the hotel’s restaurant upon ourselves again. We scrutinized the menu to find something to order that we figured they couldn’t stuff up. Ross chose lasagne and I chose spaghetti bolognese. My spag bol was pretty bad, while Ross’s dinner didn’t resemble any recognizable foodstuff whatsoever. At one point, a guy with a chef’s hat and checkered apron emerged from a swinging door and walked past the small number of people in the restaurant.
I said to Ross: “I guess that’s the chef - “
Ross said: “Well if not, he is fucking brave to be walking through here dressed like that.”
Well enough of Dar es Salaam. Tomorrow we catch the ferry for the two hour trip across to the island of Zanzibar.
Craig and Ross.
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