Cool as a Banana in Tanzania
The drive to Mbeya from Malawi is all mountains, trees, lake views, and small villages. Mbeya is elevated above the malaria line so it’s cold but the valley is beautiful. Looking at google maps, I realized that Mbeya is settled in The Great Rift Valley which is not really one large trench but a network of similar trenches that extends from Lebanon to Mozambique. I realized that I had been to a few separate sites of the rift valley at this point (Jordan Rift Valley, Blue Nile Valley in Ethiopia, The Great Rift valley in Kenya outside Nairobi, Arusha and Mbeya in Tanzania, Lake Malawi in Malawi and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe), I don’t know why this seems so interesting to me, maybe because a lot of separate trips lead me to a similar geographical location.
Malawi might be known as the friendliest country in East Africa but Tanzania brings a smile to my face and a sense of overall joy I didn’t know possible from simply arriving somewhere. Maybe it was the knowledge that we’d nearly reached our final destination, maybe it was the unpleasantness of the money confusion at the border with our driver but it felt amazing to be back in TZ. I had only ever been in tourist TZ before this (Arusha, Moshi, and Zanzibar), this was my first time in a non-tourist centre of the country but it was no less impressive and the people no less friendly, in fact possibly more friendly. People were curious as to what had brought us there, they didn’t always speak a ton of English but were helpful and friendly.
It was dark when we finally arrived in Mbeya and of course we ended up at the wrong hotel but they called the right place and the owner’s daughter came to pick us up. Once situated, Jackie in her room farther away from the road and Andrea and I in our roadside room we went in search of provisions. A short walk across a very busy street revealed an array of street meat and chipsi (fries), we got 3 orders of chipsi and Jackie decided to gets me street goat. They put our orders in separate black plastic bags, like just shovelled the fries in the bag and then squirted some chili ketchup sauce in the bag (very popular condiment in TZ and very delicious), I think we paid max 3000 shillings for the fries, and goat. Andrea was rather disturbed by Jackie’s street goat, but I thought it was pretty good, nicely grilled, but a little chewy.
Later on we sat on the front porch of the hotel drinking Kilimanjaro beers and playing Go Fish. We taught our delightful hotel receptionist how to play the game and he thought it was basically the best thing ever. Everytime he got to tell someone to “Go Fish!” he would laugh in a gleeful sort of way as if to suggest that “Ahhhh I got you!”A business traveler joined us for some time and convinced Jackie to go dancing with him but I wanted to go to bed so off they went and I went to bed. Andrea was already in bed but was not sleeping and she was ANGRY about it. This ws because the noise outside of our guest house was nonstop motorbikes, cars, people, horns, dogs, doors slamming, and on and on and on. I am not sure if much sleep was actually had that night but for 3$, the place was clean and the owners incredibly friendly. The owner of the hotel picked us up the next morning to bring us to the airport, he told us he is actually an engineering professor at the local University in addition to guest house owner and was very proud to inform us that his daughters were studying at prestigious universities in the US and UK. The airport served up one of the best coffees I had had so far on this trip which helped take the edge off of our sleepless night. This would be our last day of travel until our departure back to the desert and it turned out to be one of the most effortless, efficient travel days of the whole trip. We flew from Mbeya to Dar Es Salaam, took out a bunch of shillings out at the airport, jumped in a cab to the ferry, got to Zanzibar, hopped in another cab to Paje, easy peasy, Poa Kachizi Kama ndizi!
Our taxi driver in Dar Es Salaam took us through a lot of back and side streets to avoid the worst of the traffic, all the while teaching us Swahili phrases and making sure we wrote them down so we wouldn’t forget. Tanzanians love to teach people swahili, it’s basically one of the happiest sounding languages I’ve ever some across, who doesn’t want to be greeted with JAMBO accompanied by a friendly smile and a wave!
Here are the Swahili phrases I know:
- Niet Wanani: What is your name?
- Nakupenda: I love you
- Jangwan: Please
- Jambo: Hello
- Mambo: Hello how are you
- Poa: Good
- Pole Pole: Slow slow
- Asante Sana: Thank you
- Karibu Sana: You’re welcome
- Oonaendawape: Where are you going?
- Na endan ferry boat: I am going to the ferry boat.
And the most important of all.
- Poa Kachizi Kama ndizi: As cool as a banana.
In Dar Es Salaam there are so many influences from various parts of the world, most notably, Arabia, and India. You see women draped in Saris, Kangas and Abayas, colourful fabric is the norm and the streets are bustling with women in all manners of clothing, often with little cherub babies strapped to their backs in a kanga. The streets in Dar are crammed with people, vehicles, people selling all manner of things amidst the traffic, the boda bodas zipping by and the dalla dallas overstuffed with people. Dar Es Salaam has the largest population of any East African city, with over 4 million people. From the airport to the ferry in Dar takes about an hour depending on traffic and Dar’s traffic is legendary! Having been stuck in traffic for over an hour trying to get to the airport the last time I was there, I can attest the claim. Don’t worry though, you can always buy a bag of peanuts from a traffic vendor (people who hang out in traffic selling gridlocked travelers a variety of goods.
Zanzibar at long last!
My favourite place in the entire world..so far…Zanzibar is a dream, everyone you pass along the beach smiles at you, waves and says Jambo! I have never felt so relaxed in my entire life, never felt so at ease to lay around for hours/days reading a book, drawing, and just generally staring out at the ocean with a fresh squeezed passion fruit cocktail, uninhibited by thoughts of work, thoughts of ‘what the hell am I doing with my life, thoughts of general failure; Zanzibar is a place to let go and just melt into the azure sea, absorb the brilliant sunshine and let every worry you’ve ever had fade away. Zanzibar is the place you need to go if you suffer from anxiety (like I do) if you suffer from the modern day ‘busy syndrome’; Zanzibar is the place that lets me feel most at ease and in touch with myself.
After braving the traffic and the sweltering heat of Dar Es Salaam we board a ferry for 35 minutes and disembark in Stone Town, we meet our driver, after some confusion and get the full taste of what it means to try to drive through the tiny, meandering streets of Stone Town; trying a failing to go one way, turning around was painful and finally bursting through to larger open streets on the way to the South East of the island. An hour or so later we come upon a roundabout with a sign that says “Karibu Paje”, ‘Welcome to Paje’ and this is when I know we have made it, New Teddy’s Place is 1 minute from this roundabout and as we roll into their driveway I feel a sense of wonderful familiarity. I never return to places, being too excited to see new places, but I HAD to go back to Zanzibar before leaving the Middle East..literally this whole trip had been planned around getting back to Zanzibar for New Years. We checked into our thatch hut bungalow, equipped with a fan and an actual concrete floor (normally you have sand floors) and proceeded to hit the beach, and the bar and finally meet up with my friend Ramsan who I had met the last time I was there. He’d been bartending at New Teddy’s Place and we’d become fast friends. That night we all walked down the beach to a club that housed some very uppity types and we were quickly bored and left. Ramsan said that everyone was tired from the Christmas festivities and were resting up before the New Years party so things were a bit tamer than usual.
The following day Andrea and I went out to the beach, Jackie was too sunburnt from laying out in Malawi so she chose to stay in a hammock reading a book. Andrea and I laid out for maybe an hour, went swimming and then sat in a beach bar eating and drinking. In that little amount of time, covered in 50SPF sunscreen I still managed to get THE WORST SUNBURN OF MY LIFE! I didn’t move the rest of the day, I don’t think I could have, I just laid in my sarong on my back, with the fan blowing hot air on me, reading a book. This sun burn was sooooo bad that every exposed bit of skin was red as a lobster and 5 days later when I started peeling, I don’t think the peeling stopped for nearly 2 weeks.
Blue Safari Day!!!! We drove out to a beach farther up the coast. We got our snorkel gear and then followed a man out to his boat and set out into a blue colour field painting…you could never escape the colour blue here. We spent the next few hours jumping off the boat into shallow water over coral. I could try to explain but I’d rather just show you photos. Even photos don’t do it justice.
That night we went out and I danced my ass off in the sweltering heat at the Demani Lodge club. I love dancing in Tanzania, the music is so fun, and the rhythms easy to move to; tourists of all ages and backgrounds, as well as locals, and Masai men were all having a great time together.
Our last day in Zanzibar, December 31st, Andrea and I decided to get a ride to the North end of the island, Kendwa Rocks to get tattoos. This is the end of the island I had wanted to stay on my first time but they were fully booked but then I found out that its the most touristy, more expensive area and I fell in love with Paje instead. So we get our tattoos and don’t feel like sticking around. Zanzibar is so popular on New Year’s Eve and even though I had emailed New Teddy’s Place months in early October, we are unable to get a room there for that night. We switched to another place which was nice enough and they had a massive seafood BBQ that night soooo…YUM! But Jackie booked us into a huge dorm which I was not so pleased about. At least it was one night and we’d be gone for most of it and up early for the ferry back to Dar.
New Year’ Eve was spent at Jambo Beach Bungalows beach party. It filled up slowly but at a certain point you looked around and there were people EVERYWHERE! The bathroom got an completely, never before seen unusable mess and I just started going in the bushes on the other side of a half built building. We enjoyed some quality time with a few Rastas, and danced the night away. At the end of the night we lost Andrea, turns out she gave in to the street meats and had to go back for seconds and also got a little lost and scared but she’s still with us so it’s ok.
The next morning was the worst part of the whole trip, hung over, up early, rushing to the ferry, we had timed it perfectly. As I had mentioned in previous posts, I planned and booked almost the entire trip, hotels, planes, ferry’s, etc… So I knew the timings and thus KNEW without a doubt that I had booked the 9 am ferry NOT the 7 am ferry because there was no way we’d get up that early on the 1st of January to travel. Somehow during either the booking process online or when we picked up our tickets on the way to Zanzibar, the time got changed and we did not notice until we got there 90 minutes “late” for our ferry. They almost refused to let us on and we kept insisting we HAD to get on, we would sit on the floor, didn’t care but we had a flight to catch and couldn’t wait for the next one. This ferry worker was the least friendly person I met in TZ, I think that terminal must be a very stressful place to work. But all was well in the end, they let us on, Andrea got sea sick, and we made it to the airport on time and back to Abu Dhabi with plenty of free airplane wine in our bellies.