Saturday, August 11, 2012

Solo Travel in Tanzania

Dar es Salaam

I flew in to Dar es Salaam from Muscat in the late afternoon and got picked up by a driver from the Mediteranneo Hotel, where the above picture was taken at sunrise the next morning. It was a great resort, but better if you're with your family units and you want to spend a quiet, uneventful vacation in the pool, on the beach, in the pool or on the beach. There was nowhere close by to walk to unless you either rented a car or got a taxi, but the atmosphere at night in the bar was cosy and it was beside the beach. I only stayed one night, as it was rather steep for this budget camper at $110/night, especially since I wasn't having $110 dollars worth of fun. Here are some shots taken from the beach and surrounding area.


After I checked out of the resort, I asked Acra, the same driver who picked me up from the airport, to take me to a hotel that was close to the bus station in order that I could leave early the next day for Moshi and I stressed for him NOT to take me to the most expensive hotel, as is usually the case if I'm not specific. Nevertheless, I wasn't specific enough as I got dropped off at the most expensive hotel in the area and had to walk around until I found another less expensive one. It was pretty grim on the streets but the hotel, the Kibadamo, suited the purpose and it was only $20/US a night. As you can see, I was right beside the bus station without having a bed at the station itself. These shots are taken from all around the bus station and from my hotel room.


That afternoon I strolled around the station looking at the buses (I'm paranoid about buses after my experiences in South America) and it seemed the best ones were from the Kilimanjaro Express or the Dar Express lines. They were the only ones not stuffed to the roof with sausages (er, people) as they roared off in different directions. A tout beside me pointed to the offices where the different bus companies sold tickets and I told him I wanted a ticket on either of the two bus companies I mentioned above.
'Oh yes, yes, no problems. No problems.'
It's hell when you can't speak the language, and English speakers are few in Tanzania, Kishswahili being the main language. I was taken into a small office.
'Dar Express?' I asked.  'You're sure this is the Dar Express because I only want that bus.'
The lad behind the desk nodded and wrote out a ticket for Arusha.  Thirty thousand shillings ($25/American) later I had my ticket for 7:00 the next morning on what I thought was the Dar Express. What a morning it turned out to be.

It was still dark when I took a taxi to the bus station at 6:30. Yes, a taxi to go 200 yards because it was deemed too dangerous to walk. I wasn't sure whether it was because of the atrociously potholed roads that you could fall into and cripple yourself for life, or muggers lurking in hideyholes, but for a dollar I took the ride because it also meant not having to drag my suitcase through the dust and dirt. 

It was a fight to stand still when I got out of the car, touts were on me immediately and people of all colors pushed past me with their bulky suitcases, cramming through the narrow turnstiles to where the buses stood rumbling and smoking at the back of the station.  We fell back as buses roared out of the lot to the jammed highway, where cops with whistles directed traffic through the swirling dust, waving the buses out of the station with one hand and holding back traffic with the other. I held my hand over my mouth from the dust and dug into my purse for my ear plugs.

A porter reached for my suitcase after I showed him my ticket and said, 'come.'  I ran after him through the turnstiles, pushing and shoving my way through in order to keep up with him. He stopped in front of a roaring double-decker orange affair and pointed.  'This your bus.'  The 'Video Express' was jammed to the ceiling with people and luggage, but nevermind I had to put my earplugs in because the roar from all the buses was deafening.  A huge, burly fellow strode over and looked at my ticket and jerked his thumb to the door of the bus.

'Moshi! Moshi!' he turned and shouted to the crowds.
'Is this the Dar Express? Hey, is this the Dar Express?' I shouted. He didn't answer, so I turned to the porter.
'This isn't the bus I wanted! I want to go back to the office! There's no way I'm getting on this piece of shit!'

 I glanced through the windows of the bus as it continued to fill, with lackeys throwing more suitcases into the hold. Sweat mixed with dust poured down my face and I fought through the mob back to the office whereI'd bought my ticket.  I didn't recognize anyone in the office.

'I was sold this ticket but it's not what I asked for.  I want my money back, please. I didn't pay for this bus and it's already full.'

I gave him my ticket and he glanced at it and shrugged. 
'You going to Moshi, this is to Moshi. This is the correct ticket.'
'Yeah, but the bus is full and it's the Video Express. I asked for a different busline and yesterday the guy in here sold me this ticket and it's not the ticket I asked for. Oh my God!'

He shrugged again and I wasn't into arguing so I stalked out and down the boardwalk with the porter to the Dar Express office and bought another 30,000-shilling ticket. Finished. Done. But as I sat there quietly in the Dar Express office I got to talking to the fellow behind the wicket who spoke English.

'How can I get my money back for this ticket I got ripped off for? Now I have two tickets. I told them what bus I wanted and they sold me this ticket anyway.'
'Yes, they do that all the time,' he said.  He shook his head and sighed. 
'Yes. They make money from the foreigners this way.'
'So what can I do about it?'
'You can go to the police station. They might help you.'
'Where's that?'
'He'll take you,' and he nodded to the porter that hung around the door waiting for me to pay him.

I trudged into the tiny police office beside the parking lot of the bus station and complained to the cop sitting behind the small desk about my ticket. He nodded to another cop to go with me and we pushed through the crowd to the Video Express bus I didn't take.  Burly dude was still trying to suit up the bus.  They argued while I stood there looking on then all of a sudden I was being handed 25,000 shillings, along with a filthy look by your man.

The cop shrugged. 'Take that.'  I didn't argue and thanked him profusedly for his help. They still made 5,000 shillings, but at least they didn't give me a complete shafting.

I boarded the Dar Express at 7:30 and everybody had their own seat and I sat back happily as I awaited the bus to pull out of the station. I felt smug about getting my money back, smiling when I thought about those mothers who thought they could sell me a ticket for the wrong bus with no seat available!  Standing up for hours!   I snapped pictures and said hello to my neighbor and tucked myself in for the 7-hour ride, but feeling the air-conditioning come on and the overhead speakers crackle with sound, I thought - uh oh. Not crappy music through awful speakers!

On the way to Moshi I had to endure a painful tapeloop of Celine Dion and air-conditioning that would have frozen the ass off a polar bear.  It was so excruciating that at one point I wished I had taken the Video Express bus after all.