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Beer and Biryani :: The Travelling Adventures of Matt & Donna  
Omani Architecture Dominates Stone Town
JULY 06, 2007

Dar Es Salaam

No Cash, No Visa, No Reservation, No Plan, No Luck... No Idea.

This perfectly describes our entry into Tanzania, and with a sigh of relief I look back and marvel at how we managed to push through to Dar Es Salaam in one piece.

After the relative tranquility of The Mushroom Farm, sleeping in a bush built A Frame overlooking magical Lake Malawi, it was a bit of a shock to the system to finally hit the Dalla Dalla trail again. Rising at the crack of dawn we secured a ride down the mountain with a traveling salesman who dumped us back at the Chitimba Roadblock. After our previous four hour wait at this intersection, and with a two to three chain of mini bus rides ahead to get to the Tanzanian border, we were settling in for a mornings frivolity when a mini bus packed to the gills appeared and offered to take us all the way to the border. The proviso was, at least until some space freed up inside the vehicle, we would be riding in the very very back sitting on the luggage - at least the back would be tied half open to let some air (and dust) in.

How could we say no - it's all part of the African experience, and I think even the locals took a little amusement from it. Thankful to say it was only 50-60 km's until the next town where we were squeezed into the inside of the bus.

After spending the best part of a full 30 day visa in Malawi enjoying the laid back atmosphere and friendly locals, the impact of crossing the border into Tanzania was quite a shock. After the simple process of getting our Malawi exit stamps we proceeded across the bridge to Tanzania Immigration and were set upon by local touts offering everything from money, bus tickets, accommodation and souvenirs. Even the normally friendly immigration staff were a surly bunch. We managed to walk about 2-3 km's up the road (touts in tow) to the next village where against advice secured a minibus to Mbeya.

So far we have been pretty lucky with petty theft, other than a couple of rouge incidents we have managed to get through half of Africa with all our gear intact. We have however built a fairly callous attitude towards people who even remotely look suspicious. This instinct went into overdrive on the bus north to Mbeya, I was sitting in the very back seat while Donna was riding up front. At every little village we pulled into hands would dart in and out of the back window probing the luggage. Every time they opened up the back of the bus people would run in trying to grab bags etc. It was bloody hectic to say the least.

Mbeya is the first major town when traveling north from Malawi or Zambia into Tanzania. It sits conveniently on the TANZAM highway as well as on the TAZARA railway line. The plan with our impending Kilimanjaro climb edging ever closer was to put a few hikes in in the surrounding mountains and volcanoes before catching the train north to Dar. This plan changed very quickly on arrival however.

With darkness setting in, and no other passengers left on the bus, our driver dropped us off at the main bus terminal. Bus stops in Africa are places to be avoided if you value your property. Mbeya Central was no different. Loading up our gear we brushed off the usual touts and quickly headed out into the town. I had a rough idea of a couple of hotels within our meager budget and after the relative ease of getting accommodation in Malawi was pretty confident things would be the same here in this little remote Tanzanian backwater. Boy was I wrong.

After trying every place on my shortlist and finding them all full, we ended up settling for a dodgy little motel on the edge of the bus stop, at least we had a single bed to share, a cold shower and a hole to shit in. Most importantly was the revelation of a small TV, our first in six months. Other than numerous interesting "African" channels, the only English speaking option was Dubai One - a pleasing flashback to our past. Even better was our first taste of 'Tusker' Beer - a brand that's been bandied about as one of the best beers in Africa for the last six months and until now has been tantalisingly out of reach.

With no cash, we managed to talk our way into a nights accommodation with food for no money up front, and early the next morning we set out into the township to try and find a bank. According to our Lonely Planet the nearest bank was Dar Es Salaam, a good 500 km's away but after talking to a few other travelers a week or so back we had it on good authority that things had changed and ATM's were to be found. Within 20 minutes we had tracked down a number of ATM's, this however did not mean they were functional. In fact, five ATM's and two banks later we were still cashless. With the first signs of doubt setting in we queued with all the other locals at the Stanbic Bank for a good hour and half where thankfully we were able draw some precious funds.

After spending an afternoon perusing through the local market - we basically decided to give the whole "hiking" thing a miss and just push straight on to Dar. One of the handy things about staying in the dodgy part of town is it's proximity to people selling bus tickets. Within minutes of making the decision to push north we had secured a couple of tickets on the local Scandinavian Express leaving at 6:00 am the next morning.

Or so we thought.

Surprisingly Mbeya gets bloody chilly at 5:30 in the morning. Here we were standing patiently at the bus stop freezing our tits off and guess what - there's no bus. Well there was a bus, but it broke down, but "don't worry, we're fixing it and it will be along at any moment". By 10:30am this story was getting tiring and by 11:00am - Donna was pissed. Thankfully the company had another bus coming through from Zambia and we managed to jump on board just before midday.

After a foul start to the day, things improved dramatically on the way north. One of the many things I love about Africa is the unexpected. Halfway to Dar we passed through the Mikumi National Park. We knew this because the bus slowed to a gentle 100kms per hour to cross a "cattle" grid. We were then given a free safari with amazing animals appearing on either side of the road (Giraffe, Buffalo, Baboon, Elephant and Antelope). Brilliant.

No busses are allowed to travel at night in Tanzania - it's due to the massive road toll and an effort to try and reduce some of the unnecessary deaths. That's one of the main reasons why the busses leave at 6:00am instead of a respectable time like 10ish. So you can imagine how impressed we were when night set in and we were now cruising the dark streets of Tanzania with death lurking around the next corner. Our reason for choosing Scandinavian was their supposed track record in safety which came through for us arriving in Dar Es Salaam in one piece late but alive.

Why is Tanzania booked out - European and American holidays. No problem, after the last debacle in Mbeya we rang ahead and booked a room - wrong. At least they had our booking, only problem was that someone was in the room - great. I can think of nothing better than driving around Dar at night in a taxi, no phone numbers are working thanks to a change of system a few months back, and everywhere we try is full. A night at the local YMCA was better than sleeping on the street.

After five months Dar was a breath of fresh air. A city that promised so much, a place where we could find real shops, subway, coke AND pepsi. More importantly a place where we could stock up on everything that has depleted slowly over the travels, malarial's, hand wipes, energy supplement for the upcoming Kili climb - fresh food.

I would like to take a moment here to thank the Lebanese, they won't stop blowing shit up, but for damn sure they can cook a mean sharwarma. Queue Al Barsha Lebanese Restaurant in the Asian quarter of Dar. A brilliant little restaurant serving amazing food and hommus that rivals Al Nafoora in Dubai.

After a week of stumbling around without a plan, with no cash in our pockets and with all the fumbling's that go with African travel we bit the bullet and went down to "A Novel Idea" and bought the Tanzanian Rough Guide. Hopefully a few hints from those who have gone before us will help sure things up for the coming weeks. In addition to out own 'travel stress' we've had the added issue of my brother Andrew in Aus, hopefully joining us in a week or so to climb Kili. We're still yet to make a firm booking on Kili, a safari or anything in Zanzibar and with all those bloody yanks around things aren't looking good.

Unfortunately Dar offers very little to the traveler other than a place to refuel and restock for future adventures. For us it's the Zanzibar Archipelago. With the help of the guys at Jambo Inn we booked the slow ferry east, and so our tour of Tanzania Proper begins...

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I can't believe you are so confident in your travels and take what comes when it comes. Donna you will be a very patient lady when you finally come home.

Mum - September 24, 2007


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