East Africa Day 1 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

It had been 2 weeks since I’d returned from Venezuela, but I felt glad to leave again for various reasons. I flew JetStar Asia to Bangkok, and then checked in for my flight to Tanzania via Kenya.  As I sat on the plane preparing to take off, I was starting to feel the weight of the last 2 weeks lifting off my shoulders.  Here we go…Africa here we come….an as yet unexplored continent for me.

I was surprised – possibly more by my naivety than anything else – that at least half the passengers were of European, American or Asian descent.  I was sat next to a pleasant chap from Nigeria, a miner who had been in Bangkok on business to sell gems.  I slept a bit, though my Kenya Airways flight annoyingly left the cabin’s bright lights on for the duration of the night flight.

I transited at Nairobi airport, and went to Nairobi Java House for a cappuccino.  I could see a number of travelers here – the rich GAP students with their upwardly turned snub noses and laptop computers; the seasoned African expats, one or two with stunning African girlfriends or wives; the rich older travelers – usually husband-wife teams on package safari trips, complete with resplendent safari boots, khaki shorts and shirts.  A lot of African businessmen too.  And so, I thought, I’m on African soil.  African sun….at last.  What will the trip bring?  I hope it brings a bit of excitement, adventure, danger, discovery and education.  I was tired waiting to board my flight to Dar es Salaam.  3 flights to get to my destination is a lot.

At the gate, it was busy, and all the seats were taken.  I did notice one seat, however, that was sandwiched in the middle of 2 African ladies.  I needed it, so I went and sat down, and got talking to one of them, a leggy beauty from Dar es Salaam.  She was friendly, and gave me her card.  I said I’d call her later and maybe we could meet up for a drink.  On the plane, I got talking to an Indian chap who lived in Nairobi and worked in the IT industry.  It was his first time going to Dar as well.  He was very informative, and advised me on many things, from personal safety to which SIM card to buy for my phone.  Vodacom or Zain, apparently.  When he spoke of Nairobi, I imagined an African version of Jakarta.  My confidence in walking the streets of ‘Third World’ countries comes from that eye-opening year I lived there.

As we flew, we passed over the Rift Valley, and over Mount Kenya, an awesome sight rising above the clouds all around, with a number of snail trails running up it where climbers ascend for sunrise.  It really looked like I was in a new continent now.  Far away from Asia, Europe, South America….or anywhere.  My anticipation intensified.  We landed on a sunny, 30 degree day in Dar.

Upon arrival, we were asked to produce our Yellow Fever cards, and I felt grateful I’d got my vaccination.  I then got my Visa, which cost $50, picked up my bags, and headed outside confidently, as though I knew exactly where I was going.  I found a small moneychanger, and changed most of my US dollars into Tanzanian shillings.  I got a Zain SIM card, some credit, and found a taxi driver called Richard who took me to the Holiday Inn.

On the drive there I saw typical scenes I’d imagined I’d see.  Through the dusty, chaotic streets buses chugged, belching out black smoke, people pushed carts of chestnuts and peanuts, women walked down the middle of the streets in colourful kanga balancing baskets of fruit, fish and vegetables on their heads, groups of men sat on the edge of the road smiling and chatting.  Here were scenes of Africa, my first scenes of Africa.

We arrived at Holiday Inn, and I paid Richard the $25 fare.  I was welcomed with a towel and a glass of tropical juice.  I was told that the room fee hadn’t been taken out of the credit card, and that I needed to pay for it in cash – $135.  Reluctantly, I did so, then checked into room 503.  A nice room.  I showered, changed, and set out for my first walk on African soil.

The streets were busy, with lots of food and fruit carts and small wooden kiosks.  I walked for a while, past throngs of Africans strolling around, some heading to work in suits, others just chilling.  I was surprised to come across a British Council.  I went in and had a look around.  Very nice.  Very quiet, not at all like the business-style corporate machine of a centre I work for in Singapore – this was more like a village school.  After that, I went for lunch – oriental noodles with vegetables, and took another nice walk, not knowing where I was going, but that was the point.  Here, trees lined the roads, and created leafy, shady, almost peaceful boulevards.  I saw a huge billboard that proclaimed:  ‘Graduate with A’s, not with AIDS.’  I walked to the botanical gardens, and the Civic Hall, before continuing towards the western side of the ferry port.  Walking back towards the eastern side, I met a guy named Hans, who befriended me and took me around.  He was very knowledgeable about Dar – explaining the history of buildings we passed, the national psyche, and even what the colours of the Tanzania flag mean (Yellow  = the sun, Green = the environment, Blue  = minerals and precious stones, Black = the people).  Everywhere we went we saw flags, both the Tanzanian national flag and the CCM (Party of the Revolution) flag.  We saw St Josephs Cathedral, and then went to the ferry terminal, which was chaotic and full of hustlers looking for commissions or to sell you fake tickets.  I went for the Sea Ferry booking office, and was ushered inside by the two women behind the glass.  They opened the door for me and slammed it shut to stop a hustler following.  I bought a one-way ticket to Zanzibar for $35.  Hans and I then went for a walk around the Indian area of Dar, where I saw some mosques with some fantastic Arabian style doors and windows.  I met a few local ladies, who were very chatty and eager to give me their numbers.  Then, Hans and I went to Breakpoint café, a real locals’ hangout.  I had a coke, a safari beer, a plate of cooked meats….delicious.  I then went back to the hotel and for a drink in the hotel bar, before retiring to my room for a while.

A few hours later I ventured out to Red Onion with a lady friend I’d met earlier for a chicken tikka masala.  After this, I went to the Kilimanjaro Kempinski hotel, and to the bar on the 8th floor to meet Judith, the girl I’d met in Nairobi airport.  32, a professional working at the Korean embassy, she oozed confidence, sassiness and beauty.  It was nice to have a drink here, overlooking the water.  I had a vodka-martini, and we fired down a red sambuca each.  I got back to Holiday Inn and went to bed exhausted. What a day.  Dar is a rather drab city by any standards, but it was still an interesting enough starting point.   The allure of Zanzibar had me dreaming tropical dreams of sailing dhows and sunsets…paradise wasn’t far away.

Author: Neil

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