A Travellerspoint blog

November 2014

18. Out of Dar es Salaam

Traffic mayhem on the city streets

The heavy rain continues all night and by the time we take the tents down (left up during our stay on Zanzibar), everything is sodden. We line the land rovers up in the ferry queue about 7.30am for an early start to the day, but the streets are gridlocked and nothing is moving. No one knows what the problem is and after waiting for nearly an hour to board the ferry, Eddie decides we will drive the long way around. It gives me plenty of opportunity to observe city life from my elevated land rover perch. Join me on a journey through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city of nearly 4 ½ million people. Literally its name means ‘harbour of peace’, but driving through is anything but peaceful.

In the countryside wide areas of low land are flooded after the recent rain and muddy puddles abound. As soon as we reach the outskirts of the city, throngs of people converge around the bus stops and the mini buses overflow with passengers; three wheeler taxis dodge between the buses, and motor cycles, bearing three or four passengers, weave precariously in and out of the trucks. We pass a bicycle truck loaded with sugar cane, hanging wide over both sides and out the back, vulnerable to any small bump or accident.

Football is highly valued in the culture, for we pass two huge circular stadiums dedicated to the adoration of the sport; a team of yellow T-shirted young men jog by, singing as they go. Goats browse in the rubbish piles beside the road and a man sleeps with his feet on the tarmac, oblivious of the traffic mayhem.

It is a world of traders. Beds for sale are laid out on the rough grass next to stacks of timber. Vendors come along side our vehicle at the traffic lights, offering a myriad of merchandise – a red emergency triangle, a fire extinguisher, a mini vacuum cleaner, ear phones, and soda drinks, anything you need as a driving accessory. When a young man offers to wash our windscreen, we yell, ‘no, no’. But he goes ahead and we agree that it does look good, much better for snapping photos. I hand him a 1,000 shilling note, the smallest I have. Cyclists risk life and limb to sneak across the traffic lights between the changes.

I watch in amazement as one woman helps another lift a package on to her head, an item so heavy that the pair struggle to raise it up to head height. The heat inside the land rover increases as the sun comes out, raising the humidity in the damp environment. We pass churches and mosques. Women dressed in bright colours, covered from head to foot against the dust, sweep the road edge. Another worker wields a grass slasher with one hand, expertly mowing the centre verge.

Martin frowns behind the steering wheel, intent on his driving, refusing to give an inch to the other vehicles. He goes through a red light, fearing to lose Eddie in the lead vehicle. In front a man struggles to peddle his bicycle, laden with bulging bags of charcoal, one on top of the other, so heavy that the rider can hardly steer – I count nine bags. Another cyclist carries trays of eggs, ten high on his back carrier, balancing between the buses and trucks. White uniformed police beckon the traffic onwards, seeking to disperse the congestion.

In the chaos, we come to a halt behind a truck, broken down in our lane. As other vehicles nose in from the left, Martin, perspiration increasing, attempts to change lanes to the right and pass the truck. As he crosses the line, a bus driver gives him a loud blast with his horn and rumbles past; no one voluntarily lets another into his space. Other motorists seize the moment of opportunity to gain a few feet. Half a dozen police start pulling all the buses over to the side of the road, but they wave us through. The heavy traffic temporarily easies and we relax a little.

We turn onto another main arterial route and recognise it as the one with the new bus shelters that we travelled on five days earlier. We find ourselves unintentionally in the concrete bus lane and forced to stop behind a bus that has broken down. No, it seems it has run out of fuel. Martin extricates himself from the stationary line and rejoins the slowing crawling traffic, only to find we are at a standstill again behind road works. Everyone fights to change lanes again. A truck load of bananas strewn over the road adds to the chaos. A truck ahead spews out thick black evil smelling smoke. We pass him and breathe again. Then six army Leyland trucks drive towards us on our side of the road, adding to the bedlam.

The dual carriage way ends and the congestion increases on the old road. The trading on and off the road is endless – local tomatoes and potatoes, plastics from China, newspapers, bikes, bananas. I note a building with the grand name of ‘Glory to God Miracle Centre’; it carries a cross, so it must be a church. We swerve around another broken-down vehicle, this time a petrol tanker. We are almost in the country now, surrounded by plots of maize, but travel is no faster at 25 kilometres per hour. At last we reach a ‘Safari Njema’ sign, announcing farewell and bon voyage. We are officially out of Dar es Salaam after nearly three hours of driving. And hallelujah, there’s a weigh bridge into which all the trucks are issued. The road clears and we speed up. Another sign announces ‘Nende Polepole’, ‘slow down’, a timely reminder.

It is a long day. It takes another lengthy day of driving to reach Meserani Snake Park beyond Arusha, where it is a relief to do our washing and dry off our saturated gear after more wet weather. Debs from Africa Expedition Support has driven down from Nairobi to meet us and give our guides our Serengeti documentation. We talk into the night on a range of absorbing African topics – poaching and conservancy, the overland tourist business, politics and the impact of international aid and development. They are all thought provoking subjects with no simple conclusions.

We are in Masai territory, looking forward to learning about these remarkable people.

Posted by rhinospin 17:39 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

17. Zanzibar – a Different Africa

Stone Town, Slaves, Spices, Snorkelling and Shopping

We abandon our camping way of life for three days of comfort on Unguja. It’s the main island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous series of islands off the mainland coast of Tanzania and East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

We begin the colourful journey from the camping ground on the mainland to the hotel on the island by cramming ourselves and our gear in two miniature three-wheeler tuk tuks for the trip back to the harbour ferry. There we join the surging mass of humanity crowding onto the boat as walking passengers for the 10 minute crossing. The din of voices and motors, the pungent body smells, the vibrant colours of the women’s attire – all threaten to overwhelm one’s senses, but I actually do enjoy it. A taxi takes us from downtown Dar es Salaam to the Zanzibar ferry. I am relieved, in the light of some recent ferry disasters, to see that ‘Kilimanjaro 3’ is a fine looking modern tourist ferry, which should cope well with the two hour trip across the reasonably smooth water.

The island presents a very different Africa, with the Arab and Moslem influence unmistakable. Although Zanzibar is today mostly inhabited by ethnic Swahili of Bantu origin, with some Arabs and Indians, more than 99 percent of the population are Muslim. I look forward to our tour later in the afternoon around Stone Town. It’s the old historic centre of the city, now a World Heritage Site. We are met at the ferry terminal by Tim, who is to be our Zanzibar guide, and we head for our three-star hotel, Mtoni Marine, four kilometres from Stone Town. It proves to be a very pleasant and comfortable place. The swimming pool is splendid and we enjoy a wonderful dip between lunch and the tour, the first of a number of swims.

Our visit to Stone Town is a walking tour, so we have the opportunity to get up close and personal to the sights, sounds and smells. Tim walks us through the meat and fish markets. Plenty of beef, goat, sheep, but no pork. The strong smell of fish fills our nostrils – and attracts the buzz of flies, but we are fascinated by the variety of shapes and sizes of fish including the numerous squid. The black eyes of the vendors follow me as I inspect their wares, aware that our worlds are so very different. I wonder if they mind this daily intrusion into their everyday activities.

With the teacher’s permission, Tim invites us into a nearby primary school and says we can take photos of the children in their blue and white uniforms, but most of the girls, their hair scarved in white, duck down under their desks to avoid being caught on camera. I glance around the walls and note the absence of colourful stimulation, a taken-for-granted item in any New Zealand school.

In the narrow back streets Tim points out several of the 50 mosques around the town and shows us the difference in the beautiful doors that issue straight on to the street – the Arabic doors have square tops and the Indian ones are rounded. We walk through the Old Fort, now a centre for craft stalls, and past the house of Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with a German merchant. More on her story later.

We arrive at the harbour front and the huge National Museum, closed for renovations. There’s a fascinating story around every corner. We see the house that used to be the British embassy. David Livingstone’s servants brought his body, salted and dried in the sun, here before it was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey. Freddie Murphy of Queen fame was born nearby. We see the beautiful interior of one of the sultan’s palaces with its Arabic décor, now an up-market hotel.

It’s all so interesting, but perhaps the most remarkable, and certainly the most sobering monuments are the remainders of the former slave markets. The slave trade in Africa goes back many hundreds of years, but in more recent times, after several centuries of Portuguese influence, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman in the late 1600s. Arab traders continued the lucrative slave trade, leading expeditions into the interior to acquire villagers; they were often used to caravan ivory to the coast, and then sold in the slave markets for good profits. By the mid-19th century, thousands of slaves passed annually through the port.

Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire, part of the political impetus being the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, against which David Livingstone was a prime force. In 1873 the British forced the Sultan to abolish the trade in his territories, resulting in the closing of markets and the protection of liberated slaves; in 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate of Britain, gaining its independent in 1963. Subsequently it merged with its mainland neighbour to become Tanzania and though the archipelago remains a semi-autonomous region, its recent politics have been marked by tensions and violence between rival groups.

We sit in one of the restored slave holding cells, where up to 50 men or 75 women and children were kept on arrival at the port. Our party of five seems to fill half the narrow low-ceilinged room. How could that many people possibly fit in here, I wonder. I am reminded of my visit to Auschwitz several years earlier, and the horror of man’s cruelty to his fellows. Too dreadful to contemplate. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral has since been built in the slave market grounds. We are shown a wooden cross inside, apparently fashioned from a tree under which David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Nearby is a poignant memorial to the slaves – a sculpture of five figures standing in a pit, manacled together around the neck.
The memory of the dark past of Stone Town lingers as we end our walk at Africa House in a much more pleasant setting, joining Eddie on the terrace overlooking the harbour. We watch the sunset and enjoy a dinner of prawns and avocado fried in bread crumbs, a delicious end to a day filled with such a range of experiences and impressions.

The archipelago is sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands, for one of the main industries besides raffia and tourism is spice production, particularly cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. So a visit next day to a demonstration spice farm is part of the expected tourist undertaking on Zanzibar. We are introduced to numerous spice plants, including turmeric, cardamom, ginger and star fruit. A young man entertains us by scaling a towering coconut palm with great ease to provide us with a drink of coconut milk and the visit ends with a sampling of some of their beautiful fresh fruit.

On the third day we take a dhow to Changui or Prison Island and snorkel in the clear turquoise waters below the island cliffs, viewing the coral and small fish. Later we land on the island and wander through the old prison, built in 1893 but apparently never used for that purpose; instead it housed cholera and yellow fever victims. Today the island’s most well-known inhabitants are tortoises, originally brought from the Seychelles Islands, given refuge and allowed to multiply. Most of them have their age painted on their backs and the eldest appears to be 155 years. Goodness, that means it was born in 1859! If only it could tell us about its world then.

On our final morning Martin and I sneak a visit to the large rambling ruins of the Mtoni Palace, next door to the hotel. Earlier I referred to Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with the German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. She was the youngest of the 36 children of Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid, Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman, and spent her early years in the palace. While living in Stone Town in 1866 she became acquainted with her German neighbor. When she found she was pregnant to him, she fled on a British ship to Aden where she married him and the two relocated to Hamburg. She later wrote ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’, telling of her adventures.

We wander into the ruins. The first guard we meet allows us to continue when we say we are staying at the hotel. Most of the roof has disappeared, but tall walls surround spacious rooms, issuing from one to another through high Arabic arched doors. Smaller rooms contain steps and bathing pools for washing. Just as we are enjoying our visit to the past, another guard interrupts us to say we should have purchased a ticket. But by then we have seen as much of the site as we need to, and we retreat to the hotel, happy with our tour.

Our Zanzibar visit is rounded off with a bit more retail therapy at the Memories shop where every price is stipulated and you know what you are going to pay from the beginning. Not so on the street. As it begins to rain, a young vendor waves in front of us a highly coloured piece of fabric bearing African motifs. A scarf, a table cloth, a beach wrap – so many possible uses! He wants 28,000 Tanzanian shillings. We offer 10,000 and then feign complete lack of interest, walking into Memories to undertake some straight forward shopping. He is still there when we exit and he comes down to 20,000.

“No,” I say, “12,000 is as high as I will go.” We walk away, knowing that is what Judy paid the previous day. He really wants this sale and calls out 15,000. We keep on walking.

“Okay, 12,000,” he says, and the deal is done. We are learning how to trade in Africa.

As we arrive at the ferry building for the return to Dar es Salaam, the rain intensifies, thundering down on the tin roof and drowning out our conversation. I look at the rough surface of the sea, take a travel pill and sleep for the two hour ferry journey.

Posted by rhinospin 17:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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