Prior to leaving Joburg, sitting in the departure lounge I listened as exotic flight destination after another was called and then finally came the call for Dar Es Salaam. I could barely contain my excitement. I have been to North Africa, West Africa, and am now living in Southern Africa. Proving that no continent is too large to daunt me, I am about to hit the only side of the continent I haven’t visited – East Africa. After a smooth flight and even smoother landing, I disembarked into the Tanzanian airport. Walking into the airport was thrilling as here was a real African airport. It looked and felt like I am now truly in Africa.
Don’t get me wrong! I love living in Botswana, but it and South Africa are far more refined than the Africa I fell in love with 25 years ago. At last, I finally know that my love for Africa is not fickle at all! As I filled out my form for my visa in order to be able to pass through customs (there is no Tanzanian High Commission on Botswana) I was jostled about in the crowds flowing through and those filling out forms just like me. After passing the completed form, my passport and $50 US dollars to an official, I was sent to stand in a pen along with the other 50 people waiting for a visa. Expecting the procedure to take a significant amount of time, I settled in for a long wait.
While gawking around and enjoying the feeling of being in the heart of Africa, I noticed an official watching me. He called me over to edge of the cattle (I mean people) pen and asked me my name. After telling him and having a brief conversation about my excitement of being in Tanzania, he introduced himself as the chief official and then proceeded to go behind the counter where a team of about eight people were processing the visas. In a very short amount of time I was a proud owner of a tourist visa to Tanzania and on my way through customs (quicker than some others who had been waiting who were not happy about my quicker service). But first I asked my new friend if I could take a picture of the passport entry sign to prove to you all that I really did visit. He allowed it and I quickly passed through to collect my suitcase and on to meet the driver from my accommodations who was patiently waiting for me.
As he drove me through Dar (it was about 9:00 pm) the first things that I noticed were
1) there are so many more lights than in Gabs and
2) there is an insane amount of traffic and people.
In fact, it felt strangely reminiscent of Casablanca, Morocco. Safely buckled in, I was simply along for the drive but I was secretly (or not so secretly) thrilled with the madhouse chaos of cars, trucks, motorcycles and bikes. Neither motorcycles nor bikes are popular in Botswana but they are hugely popular forms of transit in other African countries. But the sight that made me the happiest to see were the buses with people both inside and outside. The rickety old buses are equipped with a ladder up the back so you can scramble up it and sit on the roof- literally on the roof and all you have to hold on to is the tiny railing going around the roof. It is insane but living proof that I was entering back in to the Africa that I fell in love with 25 years ago. Nothing says Africa more than a jammed packed bus with people and animals both inside and on the roof. You got to love it!
As we navigated the bustling streets, my driver gave me the complete tour whilst teaching me a few Swahili words. Surprisingly I find it far easier to pronounce words in Swahili than Setswana. The letter combinations and sounds come easier to me and he is a willing and patient teacher. Soon we are driving by the President of Tanzania’s house and boy, it is a large one! Apparently he has three wives and many children. He would need to have lots to fill the place up.
At the bottom of the street we hit the waterfront and enter into the queue for the Kibangma Ferry. We need to take the ferry across the bay in order to get to the South Beach Resort where I have booked my stay in Dar. By now it is close to 10 pm and the street is alive with so much action. Although the queue is long there is plenty of entertainment to capture my attention.
Honestly, I don’t know where to look. First, we sit alongside the Fish Market and I take deep breaths of the smells that I miss from home. Now we are talking! At last I am in a land where there is lots to smell! Again, I love Botswana but it is a land hugely devoid of smells (both good and bad!). I am a happy girl as I inhale the smell of the India Ocean and all the fish that you can imagine.
By now, Athomasanu is grinning at me and pointing out all of the sights. There are countless tables and stalls lining the street with everything that you can imagine for sale. There is fresh fish of course but also other edibles being cooked up street side such as chaptas, maize and other things that I still don’t know what they are. As we sit in line (at bit like waiting for the ferry at Borden, PEI during high tourism season) street hawkers tap on our windows trying to sell everything from cashews, sunglasses, DVDs….you name it.
Athomasanu proves his worth over and over as he keeps the van doors locked and alternatively opening and closing my window so that no one can hassle me but that I can still gawk and enjoy the surroundings. How does a girl get so lucky to find another gem of a driver? While he is not serious competition for Tabuche, he does earn many gold stars for effort. He will never be as smooth of driver as Tabuche but I have come to respect his nerves of steel.
You see, nerves of steel are required to drive on and off of this ferry. While it is only a six minute ferry ride, the boat is jammed packed with at least 1,000 people on foot and numerous vehicles of every size and description. As the queue snakes back through city streets for quite a distance, you must creep along with people, motorcycles and dala dalas ( a three wheel taxi used mainly by tourists) weaving in and out of spaces that you can’t believe they fit into. Motorcycles often have two or more passengers sitting on back and they are constantly cutting in and out in front of the larger vehicles. I soon to come to realize that there is a language other than Swahili spoken here, it is the language of horns. Beeps of varying intensity and length appear to convey messages to the seething crowds.
All the while I am grinning like a foolish idiot, so happy to be in the middle of the chaos, yet safe in the hands of Athomasanu. I know! I am the person that Tabuche thinks is crazy for going to the Gaborone Bus Rank on a Sunday just so I can people watch in the market-like throng of people. What can I say, I like a good city, and Dar es Salaam is a prime example of a city that never stops.
Finally, we make it on board after being gifted with a banana to eat from a passing woman who was selling her wares. I had declined purchasing anything as I had not been able to secure any Tanzanian shillings before landing in Dar. She instead made me a gift of a banana which of course I promptly ate so she could see that I honoured her gift. Sitting on board the ferry as foot passengers flooded on, we were again offered cashews for sale. Athomasanu, having seen me inhale the banana, promptly bought me a small bag of cashews to round out my meal. We shared the cashews as the ferry sailed along and I got to take in the lights, sounds and smells of the Dar seafront.
The trip off of the ferry into the warren of tiny streets on the other side was equally nail biting and exhilarating. By now I had also developed nerves of steel as it was simply too much to worry about every body, bike or motorcycle that cut in front of us with no room to spare and no easing of the gas pedal. My Mother would have been in hysterics by now as this would have been so out of her comfort zone. She was a mess in Paris three years ago when our taxi van to the airport decided to make up time by driving on the sidewalks. Driving in Dar would not be on her bucket list that is for sure.
Soon we left the warren of streets behind and entered the roadway that took us past equally lively settlements along the road. Once again, I was reminded of the drive from Marrakesh to Casablanca. It is hard to believe that such different Africa’s exist so close together. After turning off onto a long winding and extremely bumpy clay road we finally enter the secured compound of the South Beach Resort.
As soon as I stepped outside of the van I can smell and hear the Indian Ocean. That was the reason I chose this hotel. It is not a fancy place, the price was right and I had wanted to take the ferry ride. But most of all, I wanted to be able to get up and walk the beach at dawn so I could see the sunrise over the Indian Ocean and listen to the surf pound. And so far nothing about Dar es Salaam has disappointed me.