Africa Part 2 – Tanzania – Dar es Salaam & Zanzibar
Tanzania is far wealthier than I expected. While there’s still mudhuts and people living in poverty, there’s less wells, more electricity, more vehicles, more people.
There’s less waving, I think more kids in school. Kids had pull along toys like plastic trucks, not a stick and a wheel, not 2 bottle caps.
After another long drive day, we arrive in Dar. It felt more built up than we’d seen in a long time, large city, huge billboards with Tanzania’s fastest internet advertised. We passed a giant mall, surrounded by apartments and razor wire.
It’s slow going, really slow going. Worse than Nairobi, the traffic is reduced to the slowest we’ve seen, it takes us nearly 4 hours to get from one side of Dar to the other.
But the beach we get to is glorious. White sand, and the bluest sea I’ve ever seen. Somehow it’s more beautiful than the deep blue of the Mediterranean or the green opaque seas of the Marlborough Sounds. Maybe it’s that I just need a break, but the Indian Ocean offers unexpected (and much needed) peace & tranquility.
The first swim reminds me why I should always live close to the sea. It’s warm, clear, and cleaner than I expected being so near such a busy city.
We’re here for 2 nights, and we decide to upgrade from tents – beach bandas with a double bed and mosquito net are a welcome change.
Our free day we spend by the water, swims and relaxing, a couple of beers at the bar. We could have gone into Dar proper, but the lure of a day doing nothing is too great.
While we don’t get to bed too late, drums start early. And don’t finish. Sleep doesn’t come. The chants and drums and drums and chants are loud. The beach is full of people. Even at 5am they’re still going, right through the night.
We emerge the next morning both feeling like death, unprepared for our onward journey to Zanzibar.
The ferry terminal is in Dar, which we get to by boat to save time. I feel like I recognize the city, smelling hot and rotten, not unlike parts of Bangkok. Cooking and rubbish in a hot soupy smell, merging with fish as walk alongside the water. There are people living here, under a basic tarp.
Traders are on the waters edge, phone cases, newspapers, shoe shining, snacks – while we walk towards the terminal passing workers in suits, women in kitenge (bright cloth wraps), kids on their way to school.
The ferry crossing to Zanzibar is quick and uneventful. Thank god. We both snooze a little, trying to relax a bit after such little sleep. I can feel an argument or sharp words underneath the tiredness, it’s hard to keep pushing it away but I realize it’s just from no sleep.
The stone town is full of people, and it’s the middle of Ramadan, so I’m covered (you should be in the stone town any way, there have been acid attacks recently). No shoulders, no knees, no water no smoking no eating.
The town is beautiful in a strange way. The carved doors really are something else, but it feels more run down than I was expecting, not unlike Fez in Morocco. We’re met by a guide who takes us for a local lunch. With such a big group he’s repeating himself 3 times, while the sun beats down I’m getting more intolerable, wishing we were on our own, that our group was 8, that the guy would just shut up. I’m exhausted.
We’re taken to the old slave market, it’s now a church. Strange in this land of Muslim religion. Lunch is a tablespoon of meat ladled on to my plate alongside the famous spiced pilau, full of clove, cinnamon & cardamom it’s delicious.
The tour goes on and on and on, but just next door near the church, the promise of free time dragging by, 2 hours pass and I feel like we’ve done nothing but hear things 3 times 3 times 3 times.
We see other guides, moving their people through. For some reason this feels slightly strange, a guide ushering us through Zanzibar customs, then to the slave market and lunch, then through to other places in the evening. Organised why? Are there things we shouldn’t fund for ourselves?
We breakoff for free time, and nearly run to the promise of coffee, and find ourselves at the Zanzibar coffeehouse.
This was the greatest coffee I’ve had in my life. It’s been so long coming, it’s the best in Africa. The hearts that border my coffee bring an instant smile, I don’t want it to end! We wander the stone town, past shops, past a MASSIVE family of spiders. It’s strange not to have our cameras, but we’ve made a conscious decision not to take photos.
People seem friendly in the stores, but bargaining isn’t very easy. I see girls in short shorts, shoestring singlets, I’m finding it hard to keep my mouth shut as I feel they are being disrespectful to the local culture.
The early evening continues with our guide, feeling again very weird. Africa House for a cocktail and sunset, beautiful Dhow in the distance, it’s picture perfect, the sun still red.
Dinner is at the “night market”. It’s not like Marrakesh, no locals eat here. It feels totally put on for tourists, and surrounded by hundreds of skinny cats. One comes near us, young, pregnant and starving – I start crying.
A local woman passes as – completely surprised that I’m upset, I manage to get out that it’s the cats, she says “silly cats”. In one of the stupid moments of “I’ll change my life and do this” I’m determined to come back with a vet qualification and spay them all for free, but realize this will fade away like all the others.
The one local thing I do try at the market is amazing, Sugar cane juice. Determined to not thing of the calories, it’s like icing sugar water and lime. Liquid sherbet. I can feel it on my teeth it’s so sweet, but it’s delicious.
The next morning we’re up earlyish for a spice tour and on to the beach. Again the spice tour has too many of us, things are repeated 3 times 3 times 3 times. None of this is new to me, I know where ginger comes from, I used to grow lemon grass. I know cinnamon is from the bark of a tree. The whole thing is put on for tourists, the main spice they grew was cloves which they save to the end. The fresh cloves smell incredible though, I wonder if the trees would grow back home.
The beach can’t come soon enough, after a local lunch at our guides house (rice with some spices, spinach, tomato plus the similar meat we’ve had a few times now), we get to the beach late afternoon.
I could swim in this sea forever, it’s warm, clear, the sun hot – I wish we were here for a week.
I had pretty much forgotten it was my birthday, so we venture out for a cocktail & dinner, I put on make up for the first time in a month. I look in the mirror properly for the first time in weeks, it’s strange.
While we have a cocktail I connect with home, emails and facebook messages and posts I guiltily don’t respond to, homesickness coming in waves like nothing else. Babies are nearly due, people in new jobs, people wishing us both well, I’m so lonely for our friends from all over.
It’s hard not to spend the night feeling this way, so we decide to turn off phones. Dinner is simple but delicious, salad and tuna with the most incredible Massala. Pity the tuna was cooked to death. It had the same texture as canned.
But still wonderful to have a nice dinner, bottle of wine and some time together. Makes a change from flapping plates and trying not to eat too much rice/potatoes/pasta.
Snorkelling is our next morning, with fins (not flippers), and a mask that doesn’t fit and constantly steams up. For some reason I’m afraid of the water, the sea urchins, the pipe fish – trying not to nudge the coral I spend most of the time treading water looking down.
Black and white fish past, small schools of “Dory” fish. Bright yellow ones, black and turquoise parrot fish, my favourite. Little tiny babies close to the coral, it should be amazing but I spend the entire time frustrated.
The next morning it’s a long trip back to Dar, another snippet of Stone Town, which we rush through and get lost looking for the coffee house, with 20 minutes I chug down my coffee, no time for languid enjoyment, and we rush through back to the ferry.
On reflection there was something bizarre about our experience on Zanzibar. The guided element throughout the entire thing felt very strange, but it seemed like most people across the island were doing the same thing? It made it relaxing to be back in Dar, mosquitos and all.
This time the tent was a blessing – the drums were still going, while our start was even earlier (3:30) we at least got some (little) sleep.
The long day got even longer. Leaving the campsite at 4:45 we got to 5:10 to an accident, head on collision between an oil tanker & truck carrying clay. In the dark we tried to snooze while they were cleared, a tow truck looking unbelievably small, but pole pole (slowly slowly) it was cleared. 2.5 hrs later.
Our day continued to drag. And drag. We’ve had long slow days but this was somehow worse. We barely seemed to raise above 50kmh, often at 30 as we slowly crept over hills.
2pm, the truck stopped again. A massive piece of metal dug into the side of a tyre. Another 45 minutes while we changed it.
Early evening we drove through the most incredible valley, the trees looked dead, but their fat round trunks show they are baobabs. Their branches like families of fingers reaching up to the sky. The sun sunk behind the hills, fingers reaching into the darkening dusk, still hours and hours to go.
We didn’t arrive to the campsite till after 9pm, 17 hours travelling. I’m ready to leave this truck and go somewhere else.