Thursday, January 22, 2009


We have been busy busy and the Internet connection speed in Arusha was not as fast as my expiring patience's with the dial up. So, I am going to do a little back tracking. My apologies if I jump around a little.

The first two days of planes and airports was a day at the beach compared to the first 3 hours in Dar Es Salam. I actually slept some on the second flight from Heathrow to Dar, and I watched a total of six in flight movies. We arrived in Dar at 7am and promptly made it thru customs (thanks to getting our visas ahead of time) as it was hot and muggy. The air in the yellow and green cinder block customs building was thick with the dank musty odor of years of flourishing African mold and the fresh scent of very ripe humans; it was a splendid introduction. Once thru, we ran the gauntlet of ticks (touts) to the taxi stand without any mishaps or rudeness on my part (that comes after a few days of dealing with the ticks).

My first impression was as expected, pock marked asphalt roads, dirt paths, wash board dirt roads, dilapidated buildings made of any and all construction materials, dust and more dust, and the omni present refuse. We wanted to make the early morning bus to Arusha so as to not have to spend the night in Dar, so we first tried the luxury bus line. The cabby did all the talking to the ticket agent (mistake 1). We were told the luxury direct bus was full and we need to drive to the main bus station, questionable at best but we were not yet wise to the penetrating bite the ticks make into your billfold. After haggling with the pleasant cabby about the fare for the next leg, we were off to the main bus bizarre!! The excitement we were looking to avoid was now in our cross hare.

Just driving into the parking lot before the large football field size bus lot was an assault to the jet lagged senses. I now know what it feels like to be swarmed be an aggressive mob which is willing to chew and tear at each other only to get best vantage point from which to try and sell a bus ticket or a fake ticket. The cabby parked in the middle of the chaotic mess of outdated and abused buses which come in all colors, ages, and sizes. He advised we stay in the car while he asked around which we heeded. It turned out the only escape left was the non direct, non luxury, Happy Trails bus ( painted in big bright colors across the front window). Sign of good things to come - Not Likely! And luxury only means there may be a bathroom on the bus ( doesn't mean it works) and that the bus doesn't stop at every road side village.

(mistake 2) - One never really knows the price or who actually works for what in the African transportation world. Identifiable uniform or insignia of any kind think not, timetable or fee chart think not. But that is the adventure and excitement of it all (at least that is my positive uplifting silently repeated motto). Truthfully, I do enjoy it. Back on topic - we graciously thanked and tipped the cabby for finding us the bus. We did pay to0 much ( the luxury price for the economy experience). Some guy grabbed my backpack to put it in the under carriage but I wasn't having that so we put it where our feet should have gone - not a wise choice for a 13 hour bus ride but I was just getting my traveling legs. And I still had to buy the guy a soda for helping, silly me I thought it was his job. We sat in our cramped sparsely padded 90 degree angle bench seat for 2 1/2 hours in the direct sun. We could not get off the bus or move to the vacant shaded side as the tickets were for specific seat and any vacant seat gets sold. Plus when I tried I was invited back to the seat I paid for. Once the bus was filled to capacity the cranky diesel beast was let loose into the morning rush hour. Traffic laws are for somebody's amusement, I am just not sure who's. So far things appear to be in total chaos but I am guessing that my foreign eyes just can't see the reasonable simplicity of daily grind here.

In short, the bus ride was hot, hot, and hotter. We stopped in every red earthed ramshackle village to pick up and drop off the day trippers. At each stop all kinds of drinks and snacks were hoisted to window level and sold. Some of the vendors got on the bus and fought there way down the isle to sell their wares and then get off at the next stop. We did not drink much as we didn't know when we would be stopping near any kind of facility. We finally did stop in the after noon in BFAfrica for a road side cafeteria and porcelain holes. I braved the rice and chicken but sleeping beauty only could muster the need for water. The bus only broke down once due to the need for more water in the radiator, that was nice got to stretch the legs a little. Natty just slept, she slept most of the ride. We finally arrived in Arusha around 8pm.

After a long sleep in our tea bag (mosquito net) we introduced ourselves to Arusha. Our hotel was in the old colonial part of town with lush gardens and shaded by a variety of large trees. Jacarandas being the one I knew the name of. It even had a turn of the century putt putt course. I never did ask if they had clubs and balls. Tanzania is on fire, literally. All that omni present refuse is burnt in small piles every where. There is a constant smell of campfire in the air, nice at first but when the raw tailpipe fumes of an army of trucks, taxis, and Dalla Dalla's is added to the recipe it seriously hampers the required breathing I enjoy so much. Complain complain, on to some good times.

We met Losai, a modern Masai tout, while looking for safari bookings. He was very friendly and not pushy so we gave him the time of day. He recommend the safari company we went with and also offered to take us to a Masai cattle market and a day trip to his Boma (village). We had faith in him so we gave him a deposit and were going to meet up with him the next morning at our hotel.

We were so please, he showed the next morning. We walked thru the central market to the bus lot where he introduced us to the Dalla Dalla. It is a mini van with 4 rows of bench seats, a driver, and a guy who hangs out the side yelling for passengers and pounding on the roof for stops. We were in luck to get the back row as they DD don't depart till capacity is met, and capacity is relative to the amount of space need to expand the lungs for breath. Our capacity was 26 heads. A soccer team and then some!!!. It is an experience not to be missed I guess it is similar to the how many people can be crammed into a VW exercise except this is a business. I love it. Another thing is all the roads have massive speed bumps sporadically placed on them, and this part can be missed as the DD's only slow down for paying passengers - not road hazards.

The cattle market was the real deal - not a tourist trinket market. It was an amazing glimpse into rural life. The bright and vivid wardrobe colors was a sight to behold. The Masai essentially wear blankets, similar to kilts or the like except the colors pop and scream with a strange sense of joy and excitement. Natty, the intrepid, blazed the trail through the bony and scarred cattle and the Masai handlers. The beasts and men are all intermixed in a large soccer pitch size enclosed field. The cattle are not branded but instead they are cut to make intricate scarring patterns which act as the brand. Natty was as much a novelty to the Masai as the market was to us. Her height evokes much curiosity which allowed us some interaction with the Masai men. We were offered some tapioca porridge out of a plastic bucket but had to regretfully decline. It may have been very rude to decline but I think the health of our hynnies was worth it!!. There were troops on hand to quell any turbulence between the different clans. All the Masai carry big sticks with large knobes on the end and really big knives. We were told that fights do break out and when they do every one gets involved leaving many bleeding and some times the dead. That evening once back at the hotel sickness began to unwrap its nasty present for me; sinus infection and a cold. But I was not about to miss the next day in the Boma.

More to come.......


don said...

hey, this is the real stuff!! love your work. this sort of reporting suits you well. glad you 'love it'. you must if you are to travel in the third world. i think it wore me down too much. i am so glad to see you guys doing this and getting so much out of it. tea at the hilton is for wusses and wannabes. i have to laugh trying to imagine the masai reaction to natty. love and many thanks from maine - don, pat and all.

don said...

if i get chats from the kids and it is stuff not already covered i will go ahead and put it up here in comments until somebody tells me to stop. don

Morning Pops, I see your dot is green. We just did a spice tour out side of Stone Town. We tasted all the spices right off the tree and sampled all kinds of tropical fruits some of which I have never seen before, for example there was one called Bongo. Then we went to the beach for a swim in the 70 degree water. My pale frame could only handle a couple minutes int he sun thought, had to retreat to the shade and hamster size ants. We are off to Kendwa in the north of Zanzibar. We have a day of diving around Memba island lined up for tomorow. Love you lots - later

Sent at 8:51 AM on Friday
Donald: nice to hear from you. i love getting chats, but if it is between chatting me up and putting it on the blog for everyone, then do the blog. sounds like a very great trip so far. all the spices and food must open your head up to new ideas on cooking. love to you both. all of us here.

don said...

mon a.m. in maine. heard very briefly from ara.

zanibar has paid its overdue elect. bill to tanzania and had a few minutes of power coming - to cool off the morgue maybe? anyway, it is always 90f, the internet speeds suck bigtime, there is a current rash of sunburns amongnst white bread boys and that is about all the news.