Arusha, Tanzania

Arusha, Tanzania
October 23rd-25th 2010
October 30th 2010 (night)

Arusha is the city where most people launch their northern circuit safaris from. After taking a 10-hour bus from Dar, I stayed a few nights because the Tanzanian Tourist Board doesn’t open until Monday. The TTB has a blacklist of safari companies which have cheated people in the past and I wanted to take a look at that list first before signing up for any safaris. There are around 300 registered safari companies in Arusha so shopping for a tour company requires a little legwork. That Monday, I was approached by a couple of touts on the street whose jobs are to lead foreigners like myself to companies who probably pay them a commission if we sign up for a safari.

I decided to go with one of them to visit a few companies. Most companies are spread out location-wise so there was a bit of walking involved. I only visited 3-4 before getting fed up as they all offer roughly the same packages at almost similar prices-per-day but it all comes down to who is most reliable. I went on the internet to read reviews and found unfavorable reviews for each of them. Nobody was cheated out of their money, it’s just that some companies will offer better prices than their competitors but end up cutting corners here and there, leading to unsatisfied clients. Anyway, I guess no safaris are perfect, especially budget safaris.

I went with a company called ‘Victoria Expeditions’. I was told that there were going to be 4 others joining my group (2 Slovenians, 1 Dutch, and 1 Korean). The bigger the group, the better rates offered, supposedly. My tour was scheduled to leave the next day, which was what I wanted. After paying for my safari, I relaxed the rest of the day.

Not much in the town itself. It’s cool and drizzly in the mornings. The place I was staying at had a TV where I could catch a few weekend soccer games and international news. BTW, I used to think Al-Jazeera was an Arab-based network that mostly covered news in the Arab world but I’ve come to learn that it’s international and their English news is excellent, on par with BBC.

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
October 15th – 17th 2010
October 21st – 22nd 2010

Took about 8 hours to get from Iringa to Dar. Was supposed to sit in a nice bus but it apparently had technical problems so we were re-assigned to an older, more beat-up version. Sat beside a Tanzanian girl whom I was surprised to find, spoke excellent English. Very few people in that region spoke decent English so I knew she must be one of the educated ones. This was a great opportunity to get to know a local and so, throughout the journey, we talked a lot about different things.

Her name was (to my best spelling ability) Widabayo (some German word meaning ‘victory’, I’ll call her W) and she was 18 years old. She went to an all-girls missionary school in Lushoto, in northern Tanzania. She was studying to become a doctor. She told me about life growing up in Iringa, where she was visiting her family during the school holidays. She didn’t have traditional public schooling (the education system isn’t great) but instead, her parents sent her to an international school where all the Indians and other foreign nationalities residing in that area sent their kids to have a better education and to learn, among many other subjects, English. Her ability to read/write English opened up a lot of doors for her in terms of furthering her education. The education system in Tanzania is quite similar to the one in Malaysia in terms of structure and the need to take a few big exams to move onto the next level or to determine whether they could pursue certain fields or not. They were both British colonies at a point in time so I wasn’t surprised to find some similar educational terminology being used (A-levels, O-levels, Form 1,2,3…). She had an interest in what life in the USA and Malaysia was like so I gave her an account of my story. I was particularly impressed she could explain the political situation in her country and give her views on the upcoming elections. I mean, she’s only 18. Anyway, I hope W succeeds and becomes a doctor. I told her maybe I would see her running for the Tanzanian presidency one day, at which she laughed off. But you never know…

After arriving in Dar, I took a daladala (aka mini sardine-van) to a location near the YWCA (Yes, Young WOMEN’S Christian Association, but they accept men). Stayed there a few nights. Accommodation was cheap and the rooms were relatively clean but small. My bed had little ants running all over it but screw it, little ants never killed anyone. The room had charm though. The wood-paneled wall was filled with writings, anecdotes, quotes, and jokes from various travelers who’ve stayed in that very same room. I even saw one that said ‘F.O.B.s 4 Life’.

I spent a lot of my time walking around looking for things to do to fill my boredom. (I have to stay here more days than I want to due to the fact I arrived late Friday evening and the Indian High Commission opens again on Monday). For a capital city (edit: Dodoma is the capital city of Tanzania, not Dar), this place is severely lacking entertainment but then again, I’m speaking from a tourist’s perspective. The locals are perfectly fine with it. It’s especially terrible on Sundays when literally, everything is closed. I sat in my room reading or re-watching the World Series of Poker Main Event episodes for the umpteenth time (it never gets old). Luckily that evening, I found a Lebanese restaurant that was opened or I don’t know where I would’ve gotten dinner. I might’ve just bought from snacks from one of the stands on the street and called it a day.

The National Museum in Dar didn’t have the prestige or class of a ‘National’ museum. They spray-painted directions to point out where they museum entrance was. It’s basically a big house with several floors, very hot inside, filled with random artifacts or pictures here and there, with lots of computer print-outs (with scattered typos) of descriptions. In 1940, when the museum was first started, this might’ve been a nice place but it’s 2010 now and I don’t think they’ve upgraded the place ever. It was quite empty when I was there so either I came at non-peak hours or this isn’t a particularly popular tourist attraction and the locals just don’t care for it. Bottom line, it’s an issue of money.

After a few days of nothingness, Monday arrived and I rushed off to the Indian High Commission to submit my visa application. It would take 4 days so I decided to spend those days in Zanzibar. Left on the ferry that same afternoon.

Dar, Tanzania Pics