Half term break? Hmmmm…what’s a girl to do? Travel, of course! Nairobi was definitely in the forecast, especially since I wanted to attend a conference given by Tony Gaskins, Jr. that was scheduled for the same weekend that I wanted to travel. I’ve been following him for some time now and thought it be nice to see him speak in Kenya, however, I changed the game plan at the final hour because of the incredulous responses I kept receiving about the safety of Nairobi. Now, if you’ve lived in a big city in the states or anywhere near one, I will hardly accept that Nairobi is any worse off. So, I decided to change my East African country of choice by visiting Tanzania instead and believe it or not, I’m glad I did!
So, I purchased my ticket on Cheap flights two days before my departure. Now that, my friend, is what you call a last minute spontaneous traveler. And…what do you know, my ticket was still under $250! I think that’s a steal considering the cost of flights these days and my last minute purchase. So, let me say that my decision to travel to Dar Es Salaam was primarily based on the fact that I have a good friend who lives there. Life is better when you have a companion to show you around their city as an “unofficial” tour guide!
One of the repercussions of getting a cheap flight is that you may have to deal with a layover. I had a 3 hour layover in Kigali. It wasn’t half bad, although the airport itself is miniscule in comparison to most others I’ve frequented. Just a bit of info if you ever have a layover in Kigali: The wifi is horrible!
I finally arrived in Dar and met my friend Elly and his buddy outside the gate. I’ve known Elly for about 2 years now. I appreciate his friendship, consistency and genuine concern. It’s so hard to meet good people these days (more on that later). Once I got my luggage, we were on our way. First stop: My hotel. Well, it really wasn’t a hotel…but a B N B or bed and breakfast for you non-traveling folks.
The bed and breakfast was hidden on a regular residential block with a fancy security gate and all. Elly found it through a good friend of his. It wasn’t the Ritz Carlton or anything but it was safe, comfortable and clean for the most part, considering that I only paid $30 per night. Now, again, my friend, I think that’s a steal. Traveling on a budget is the new thing. If you didn’t know, get with the program! I needed to freshen up a bit so Elly dropped me off and promised to pick me up later so that I could see a bit of nightlife in Dar and grab a bite to eat!
After a very short while, Elly picked me up from the BNB and we were on our way. Then, it hit me: I was in Dar, another amazing East African city full of culture, life, humanity and distant relatives. I always get this euphoric feeling whenever I think about the goodness of the continent and how prosperous it is, despite false media representation.
Before getting a bite to eat, we stopped at a local car place to fix Elly’s tire. Remember, I can’t complain, since I explicitly stated that I wanted to see…local, right??!! So, we walked around one of the local malls that were across the street until the tire was fixed. Malls are on the horizon in larger cities, even Kampala, although they are non-comparable to Dubai mall or the Mall of America, for that matter. I was over the mall adventure before it had even started. I don’t really like going places that I know I can get to in Kampala, heck, anywhere! I was definitely ready to eat at this point and live life like a local! All day travel, non-stop…let’s eat!
Elly took me to a neighborhood outdoor eatery in style. I ate some traditional fish dish. When I say fish…it was truly that. They added this spicy marinara sauce that I wasn’t ahuge fan of, though.
It was tasty for the most part but next time, I’ll order the fried fish instead to keep things simple. The other cultural difference when eating is that in most cases, Africans do NOT eat with their left hand. I, on the other hand, can’t seem to get this through my head so I randomly and incoherently picked up food a few times in my left hand. Oh yea, let me back up. It’s traditional in East African culture to eat most foods without utensils. Sinks, wash basins and towels are readily available for the average foodie. When I asked for a fork, I was given a look that said muzungo! Since the fish was boney, it was easier in the end to eat with my hands. In hindsight, it’s much less formal than when I go to those work dinners where everyone is holding both the fork and knife poised to perfection. I could actually eat with my hands in public and not be completely out of place. So, I felt right at home.
Of course, all this good food and half a cocktail made me sleepy. I say a half of a cocktail because I ordered a Malibu and pineapple. Well, the drink could have easily passed for a pineapple juice on the rocks because it tasted like there was no Malibu present at all. Elly pleaded with the waitress and even went to the bar but no additional shots were given. (sad face). Ah well, it had been a long day. I didn’t feel like putting up a fight. Plus, I needed to rest anyways.
And the story goes on…
The next day…
…I felt considerably more rested. This time, I told Elly to take me around the city a bit. I want to see more of this port city…more of Dar Es Salaam!
In hindsight, I don’t know if I can fairly compare Dar to Kampala. I was only in Dar for 2 days so I didn’t get the true swag of the city. I must say, however, that the city was just as lively as Kampala. Some of the same characteristics were consistent between the two: business negotiations, public transportation woes and worries, eateries full of patrons, and people enjoying…life carefree.
Ok so I knew Dar was a Muslim city but I didn’t think I would be as completely out of place as I actually was. That day, I wore jeans and a tank top which was a definite indication that I wasn’t from around those parts.
However, much to my dismay, most people greeted me in Swahili and proceeded to hold a full conversation (…in Swahili). When they saw me with Elly, they automatically assumed that I also spoke fluent Swahili. What’s crazy is that before I even moved to the continent, Swahili was one of the languages on my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to learn it because I hoped to visit east Africa one day. I also wanted more of a connection to Africa in such a way and felt Swahili would be a great start. That’s the one thing that Tanzanians have that the foreign man hasn’t taken: the language, culture and identity. Well, well, well-look at me now…it’s funny how life turns out. I’m living in East Africa!. I asked Elly everything I could about different words, phrases, etc. I learned quite a bit of Swahili my 5-day journey, to the point that I’d be inclined to return very soon due to my undeniable interest for learning the language.
So back to the Muslim women, clothes and feeling out of place. So, my clothes were a dead giveaway. I got stares from all over. I don’t know why I was such a spectacle but it became very uncomfortable after a while because it’s like come on now…Most women were dressed in traditional clothing, similar to the dress I was all too familiar with in the UAE.
Later, it was explained to me (by Elly, of course) that my complexion, style of dress, accent and the way I carry myself made me stand out like a red- headed step child.
So we proceeded to walk around the city. Here’s what I saw:
Dar Es Salaam seems to have a better infrastructure for the city in comparison to Kampala.
Next stop: The fish market. One of my co-workers told me that I can’t go to Dar without having fish. See, that’s one of the reasons I adore port cities: easy access to seafood. I am a LOVER of seafood so if you ever feel so inclined to take me out for dinner, keep that in mind. 🙂
So the fish market was truly that: Fishermen get their fish and bring it to the market for slaughtering time. Then, it is cooked and sold. It definitely wasn’t the most sanitary place but I tried some shrimp anyways. it was actually pretty good. I’ve been told on several accounts to not eat street food…I’m guilty! I couldn’t resist!
Anyways, now we need to make our way back to the bus because I’m ready to see a historical site now: Bagamoyo! Now, the same co-worker who informed me of the fish also told me that I can’t go to Tanzania without visiting Bagamoyo. Bagamoyo is the famous historical site for the Arab Slave trade. So, off we went on the bus for 2 hours to Bagamoyo. No wonder Elly kept saying he didn’t want to go…but I insisted so…. we were off!
Once we arrived, no one was insight except this disgruntled security guy who was clearly ready to leave. We asked if we could expeditiously (not that exact word) take a quick walk through to peruse the site, take a few photos and skedaddle, for a little change, of course.
However, once we were getting ready to leave, the same disgruntled security guard requested more money. Maybe it was my accent or the fact that he wanted to take advantage. When you travel to certain places, be aware that you will be judged because of your accent, dress and mannerisms.
Between Elly and the driver that we picked up that the bus stop, the guy backed down…pissed but he backed down. Even though it was only 5,000 Tanzania shillings, the principal is that he should of told us one price in the beginning. Don’t try to change now! No sir!
So now after the financial disagreement was squashed, we headed back to the main bus area. We decided to eat like locals…again. It was an extremely local spot in terms of look and feel. We ate outside on plastic tables and were served our food, very humbly. What I’ve come to realize is that presentation isn’t necessarily all that when it comes to the taste of the food. So far, I haven’t really been let down in the food department in Tanzania or Uganda, for that matter.
The bus ride back to Dar was long and tiring. I was ready to crash at this point. Besides, I needed to get back, pack my bags because I was leaving for Zanzibar the next day! Woooo!
The next morning, I ate my BNB breakfast and headed toward the ferry.
Elly met me after breakfast and ensured me that his friend would drop me at the ferry. He literally knows everyone. That’s why I highly suggest that you find you a friend in the city of your choice who knows the language, the culture and a good local driver.
Leaving from dar, you MUST experience the ferry at least once. Dar is such a beautiful port city!
Ok, I said the dreadful goodbye. It was hard to imagine going to Zanzibar solo after I just spent so much time with company. However, I knew my intentions were good. I needed some personal, quiet time. I needed to get away and experience life on the beach…alone.
Getting on the ferry was very interesting. I didn’t realize that so many people travel to Zanzibar daily or vice versa (To Dar). While waiting, one of the security guards made himself very friendly.
Again, traveling as a single, black female….don’t think you will stand a chance being unspoken to for any significant amount of time. So, as he attempted to make conversation, he decided to walk me on the boat. Dealing with him, I mis-read my ticket. After this picture, I asked him if I could stay at the top of the boat, unaware that it was also the economy section. No, there’s nothing wrong with economy, heck, that’s how I get down when flying. However, when your ticket says business class and you don’t realize it until you sneak into that section halfway through the ride in attempts to not get caught, you realize that was where you’re supposed to sit there all along. To my defense, I figured it would be nice to sit in the economy section see the view. You know, I imagined it like a cruise boat. This said economy section was very crowded, smelly, loud and cold.
Well, I quickly dismissed myself from the economy section because I had enough of the guy’s odor next to me and the cold breeze blowing in my face. I figured I could at least take a break from all that and get a few snacks from the bar downstairs. Fancy, huh. That’s when I attempted to shimmy my little self into the business class section and found myself a seat. Economy seating didn’t have anything on this. So there I was, comfortable, cushioned seats, inside, TV’s in front of me. I was ready to relax…but remember, as a single woman traveling alone…you will never fully be left completely alone because people are just that inquisitive! So we arrived, safe and sound…now, off to find the driver from the resort. What an adventure that was…the hustle to be a solo female traveler is real…and the story continues…find out what happens to me in Zanzibar!
Until next time, be blessed!