Tanzania - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 64
Thursday 15th May
It was a bit of a rush around this morning, as we had to decide pretty quickly whether or not we were going to go into town with Kenny and Robson. Since we needed to withdraw money somehow, we decided to go with them after all. The camp-site staff were good enough to lock up all our backpacks for the day so that we could venture out into what has developed into the ‘real Africa’ to tend to our chores.
For some time now, there has been no distinction between white Africa and black Africa like as I had described it in South Africa. It’s been mostly black Africa in Botswana and Zimbabwe but pretty much exclusively black Africa in Zambia and Tanzania – with the exception of some of the camp-site staff here. We feel very much out in the thick of it here and I can scarcely imagine any place more daunting or rugged – or challenging for that matter.
Kenny dropped us off in town and I gave them a tip for all that they have done for us. Pretty much everyone at Wildlife Adventures has bent over backwards to accommodate us and these two guys have been no different. We will miss then both.
For the first time since we arrived here in Africa, we were now completely alone. No rental car or cell phone; no tour guide to turn to and nothing more than our wits and recently acquired experience to help us make do. To emphasise this even further, we were dropped off in the middle of downtown Arusha, which is an extremely busy and bustling middle African town. It almost seems like we were transported to another time. There are masses of people just about everywhere that you look. The roads and pavements are in an extreme state of disrepair and pretty much don’t exist a lot of the time. Noises of people, trucks and buses hit you from every direction and I think I’ve come as close to culture shock here as ever before. The whole experience was quite overwhelming and I would describe it as a controlled crash that never ends.
Somewhat dazed by it all, we set about trying to obtain US dollars – we always seem to be doing this in this continent. As with so many other countries in Africa, hard currency talks louder than the local funny money and we were customarily short of it. Over the course of the past few weeks, our ATM bank cards have been getting more and more unreliable. We think this is partly due to the unreliable nature of ATMs in Africa in general but also because the strip on the back of the cards seems to be losing their magnetic properties. Why this affects the ATM cards and not the credit cards is still a bit of a mystery to us. Perhaps because we’ve been using the credit cards far less frequently in the ATM machines? Either way, it seems that both our ATM cards are now completely shot and our only alternatives are to use the traveller’s checks or to use to credit card either as an ATM card (at €7.50 charge per transaction, this is an expensive option that we are trying to avoid) or a cash advance on the credit card (an equally expensive and undesirable option). Since the traveller’s checks are the last remaining certainty, I want to keep them as long as we can so that they are there for real emergencies. Accordingly, we went in search of some means to obtain cash using the credit card.
We shopped around a bit at a couple of banks and bureau de change offices but nobody seemed interested in our credit cards. We were eventually told to visit the Barclays bank in town. There, we were eventually able to use the credit cards to make several ATM withdrawals. The maximum that we could withdraw in a single transaction was four hundred thousand Tanzanian Shillings (about $400) so we did this twice with my card and once with Sandy’s. Our bank in Holland will charge us €7.50 three times for this but at least we now had the money in hand without having to swallow a 20% finance charge for a cash advance. Unfortunately, Barclays do not offer an exchange service to non-customers so we went to the Impala hotel where we could change the money. The rate of exchange was not too bad at just over one thousand Shillings to the dollar and there was no commission charged at all.
Whilst at the Impala hotel, we stopped off in their Internet Café (supposedly the fastest in town) to catch up on some e-mail and to let everyone know where we are.
We left the Impala hotel after an hour or so altogether and ventured off into town to peruse the curio stalls and just generally soak up the atmosphere. Touts ‘attacked’ us from all directions once we got to the centre of town but our recent experiences in Victoria Falls had prepared us for this and we skilfully fended them all off.
We saw some nice curios in the market but with less of an emphasis on carved animals and more of a reflection of the local Maasai culture. Strangely, the Maasai people can be seen in their traditional, full-length, plaid robes wandering through the streets of downtown Arusha looking just as much at home as they do walking around in the surrounding bush areas. It actually seems a bit surreal.
After wandering the streets of Arusha for a couple of hours, the feeling of culture shock was starting to subside and I actually found myself enjoying the chaos. Almost all of the shops in town closed down between twelve and about two-thirty in the afternoon for lunch – albeit a very long lunch. Soon thereafter, school must have been out as the already full streets and pavements were now starting to overflow with school children in their various school uniforms. With so much happening on the pavements, people were now overflowing into the road in both directions.
We had lunch at a place called McMoody’s. We’d passed it yesterday in the truck and it looked like it was the local equivalent of a McDonald’s so we decided that this would be as good a place as any to try to get something to eat that was to our liking. It was, in fact, a nice little restaurant and we enjoyed a very tasty and filling meal there. Our waiter was very pleased to receive a tip amounting to about a dollar and some change and we got to chat with him a little. He gave us some good advice on how to get back to the camp-site (the next problem for us since the truck was by now on its way to Nairobi). We stopped off at one of the local pharmacies to pick up some odd bits and then headed farther down the road to catch a ride on one of the dozens of mini-buses that littler the roads here.
Our waiter had told us to head towards the supermarket where we should ask for the bus to the town in which the camp-site was located. The ride should cost four hundred Shillings each (about $0.40). Other than that, we had no idea what was in store for us. It turned out to be a real cultural highlight.
We neared the supermarket but could not see anything that was obviously a bus stop until we looked over to the other side of the street. After a while, we realised that we were looking at the bus depot. This epiphany brought with it the chilling realisation that we would have to venture into it to find our ride. I’ve nerve seen so many people in such large concentrations before. Pandemonium reigned supreme as thousands of people were all busy trying to find their minibuses whilst touts and traders we whizzing around trying to sell things. After managing to get just a few feet into the crowd, we were approached by someone whom we surmised was trying to ascertain what our destination was. Although many people here speak English pretty well, this is one of the few places where the first language of choice is something other than English – even towards us obvious tourists. I blurted out the name of the town where the camp-site is located a few times (some fifteen kilometres outside of Arusha) which was received by a few indecipherable words in reply but the body language revealed that he understood where we wanted to go and motioned for us to follow him, which we did for about ten meters or so through the crowd. At this point, he called out to another fellow and effectively handed us off to be taken still farther and deeper into the crowd. We followed this next guy before being handed off yet again to someone else. This last guy eventually motioned us towards a minibus that was crammed full of people. It seems that we had found the right vehicle that was going in our direction but I was a little disheartened at the fact that it was obviously bursting at the seams and was worried about having to spend the rest of the afternoon in this mayhem waiting for the next bus. Quite amazingly, we were ushered towards to side door and invited to get it!
It was quite a squeeze but we ultimately did get inside the bus and sat there for about ten minutes whilst the guy that squeezed us in continued to walk around outside screaming out the name of our destination repeatedly. After a while, I realised that our man was actually still advertising for more passengers! I was completely stunned by this revelation, as there was clearly no way anyone else could possibly fit inside. The bus by now was already at over twice its design capacity and putting quite some strain on the suspension. Sitting there with the rest of the crowd of sardines waiting to get going, we must have been approached some thirty times by various traders wanting to sell us everything from loaves of bread to biscuits to watches and just about anything else. A strange sort of calm washed over me and I chuckled to myself at the sheer madness of the situation. This must have been the most bizarre experience of my life to date.
Just when I thought I was going to lose all sense of reality, the bus finally started to move. The only problem was that the side door was still open and I was sitting in the seat nearest to it and was barely able to keep myself from falling out due to the pressure of the sheer number of people inside. Our man then jumped onto the side railing and just barely edged himself inside. He then somehow managed to slide the door shut. The bus slowly navigated its way towards one side of the plaza and, to my complete and utter amazement, stopped to let another two passengers on. Madness, I say, sheer madness. The worst was yet to come! As we turned out into the main road, we slowly inched through the traffic with our man sticking his head out the window and still shouting out the name of our destination. He was still trying to attract more passengers! Where would he put them, on the roof?! It wasn’t but a few minutes into the journey that we had found another couple of people along the side of the road wanting to go in our direction. Unbelievably, the side door was eased open and yet two more people got it. By this time, I’d completely lost it and just sat there (squeezed) shaking my head and chuckling in the direction of my lap. There was absolutely no sitting space and several people were by now standing half up and arched over.
With the bus now crammed full with enough people to start a small soccer league, the driver put his foot down and let the engine roar. My seat was facing backwards and I was so very glad of it since I would probably have cringed to death had I had to face forward to confront the full horror of the bus motoring at high speed through the still busy streets, trying to avoid pedestrians and other vehicles meandering around in all directions.
I was starting to think of all the things I’ve achieved in my life and all the things that I might not get a chance to finish when we thankfully arrived at our stop and we ‘fell’ out. I think I would rather be charged by an angry elephant than go through that again – although that has already happened too.
The adrenaline slowly worked its way out of my body during the remainder of the afternoon and we even visited a few market rondavals (round, thatched, mud huts) next to the camp-site where some Maasai women had made various Maasai jewellery and other trinkets.
We had earlier arranged to meet with a man known as ‘Fish’ to arrange our custom safari itinerary into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. He was several hours late arriving (pretty good by African standards actually) but did eventually show up and we now have everything sorted. We’ve bought and paid for a four-night/five-day excursion with just the two of us, a guide and a 4x4 Jeep. It is a full-board arrangement with lodge accommodation and we paid $1200 for the total package ($120 per person per night). We will be picked up tomorrow morning at eight o’clock. This will be our last chance to get to see Cheetahs and Leopards in the wild and I do so very hope that it will be worth it. Another tour group that just came back from a similar trip told us that they saw Lions and Cheetahs and Leopards so there is hope yet.