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Unexpected Stop in Tanzania

Written on: Thursday March 19th, 2009

Over the last week I had researched a ridiculous number of possible destinations to visit after Kenya, but one that I hadn't even considered was Tanzania.  After all, I spent a fair amount of time here on a previous visit, and I didn't want to cover ground that I already knew.  But....and isn't there always a but...Irena, my wonderful friend from Oman, had written to say that she wanted to take a holiday, and was strongly considering Africa, specifically Tanzania.  Did I want to take a side trip and meet up with her for a while?  Absolutely!  We had such a fun time together in Oman that I could only imagine more of the same in Africa. 

So I boarded the 7:00am bus that barrelled its way across the Kenyan country side and into neighboring Tanzania, past Kilimanjaro, eventually halting in Dar es Salaam thirteen hours later.  The bus ride brought back horrible memories of a similar journey I took with Angie in 2003.  Only THAT trip was three times longer, and the ever-present odor of rural Africans was significantly stronger than the stench offered today.  Nonetheless, I was irritable and anxious to get to a hotel to take a cool shower and relax. 

While haggling with the highly overpriced taxi drivers I came across an American girl and her Kenyan friend.  We quickly struck up a conversation and agreed to share a cab into town.  In fact, they were being met by a friend and brought to a nice hotel, and I was certainly welcome to check the place out for myself.  Well, the girl turned out to be an ameture female boxer with six years of experience.  The guy was an agent for up-and-coming boxers.  They had come to Dar to see a fight scheduled for the next evening, featuring an undefeated Tanzania plucked straight from the slums and put on the potential path to fame and forture.  Their friend who met us was also in the industry, and was serving as the referee in tomorrow's fight.  As you might imagine, the conversation was interesting as we drove further into the city.  A quick stop was made at the boxer's residence.  I actually got to meet the undefeated brawler, who certaily looked the part: lean, mean and absolutely ripped, this guy couldn't have had 3% body fat on him!  Eventually we departed and located the hotel, which was fine enough.  The only problem was that we were not even close to the city center, resulting in very few places available for internet or food at this hour.  After a refreshing shower, we decided to cab it to town to change money, eat and use internet.  We managed two out of three, but were out of luck when it came to checking email.  Damn...I hope that Irena doesn't have any problems, as there is now no way I can contact her before she leaves!   We returned to the hotel and I fell into a fitfull sleep, worried about every potential problem that might arise and cause me to miss Irena tomorrow afternoon. 

As expected, I woke early, very early, and immeditately sought out the nearest internet cafe.  She was on her way, that much I could verify.  The next three hours were spent researching the city for things to do and places to stay.  Although I thought that Irena was extremely flexible when it came to what we did and where we stayed, I didn't want her to feel uncomfortable by sleeping in the type of place I had spent my last evening. 

Returning to the hotel to pay and grab my bags, I was subjected to a bit of a surprise: the exterior door was locked and nobody was responding to the bell.  So I climbed and jumped the razor-wire covered fence and entered the property.  A thorough check of the premises revealed no people on site...not even a guest.  And to top it off, the door to the building in which I was staying was locked!  F*CK!  How am I supposed to get in to get my stuff?!?  After regrouping I examined the two sets of doors blocking my way:  the first one was steel and it was locked; the second one was wooden and it was only latched.  I managed to climb the steel door and access the latches on the wooden door, opening and swinging it out of the way before attempting the next step in 'Operation Get My Shit Back'.  I didn't want to do it, but I couldn't afford to wait here all day for the dingleberry guard to return.  I needed to pick up Irena at the airport in two hours, and I still had to go downtown to look at hotels.  So I kicked in the door.  It only took two kicks before the lock gave way, allowing full and complete access to the building.  I grabbed my bags, left the key on the dresser and split.  Had I not wasted an hour in this whole ordeal I may have considered leaving the $10 room charge on the bed too.  But chances were that Dingleberry would have just pocketed the money and claimed that I never paid anyway. 

Arriving at a highly recommended hotel in the city center, I perused the only available room and laughed out loud that the asking price was $110 a night.  Even after I talked them down to $80, I couldn't justify staying in this dump for that fee.  I left my bags and performed a quick visual assault on five other nearby establishments, all of which turned out to be in further states of disrepair than the first one.  So, ten mintues before I had to leave for the airport I made an executive decision: I had briefly read about a nice looking property five miles outside the city center that was in the same price range.  I called them to confirm vacancy, booked a room and asked them to send a driver to the airport to pick me up.  At the same time that driver left the MediterraneoTanzania Beach Hotel, I flagged down an unhappy cab driver and raced to the airport.  Well, 'raced' wasn't really the best word to describe the congested traffic flow trickling across the asphalt; perhaps 'meandered' was better.  We made progress; slowly.  And just when I thought I would make it to the terminal a reasonably 15 minutes late, the roads were blocked for an indefinite period of time as the President of Tanzania was preparing to transfer from the airport to his personal residence. 

Pffffffffft.  There it was...all the air going out of my lungs and my plan.  I was going to be late, which meant that Irena was going to our emergency rendezvous location, which meant that I would have to meet the driver from the hotel at the airport and go after her.  Bad luck, I suppose, but TIA: what did I expect?

Twenty five minutes later we pulled up to the airport.  I paid the previously agreed upon price despite the driver's continual badgering about how he needed more money, sprinted to the arrivals, and immediately saw Arab women coming out of the doors.  Maybe the plane was late too...maybe she isn't gone yet.  Less than one minute later I saw Irena peering through the opened doors at the final security check.  WOOHOO!!!!  But, dang that was close.  The driver was already there, allowing us to immeditately hop into the air-conditioned vehicle, graciously escaping the intense, 108F heat!

Chatting like school kids on the first day of class, the trip to the hotel seemed to go by in a blink of an eye.  We got out, checked in at reception and were led to an amazing room overlooking an exotic garden!  This place is sweet!  I am SO glad I didn't stay in the city.  We dropped off our bags and walked the grounds of the hotel, thoroughly appreciating the layout, especially its beach front location.  We strolled on the beach, picking shells and playing with the crabs.  It was while digging out one such critter hidden deep in the sand that I lost my damaged fingernail!  Yowza!  That didn't feel so good! 

Evening came and, per the suggestion of our hotel desk girl, we went to see traditional African dancing while enjoying fresh passion fruit juice.  Unfortunately, the dancing ended shortly after our arrival.  Apparently our hotel girl needed to update her knowledge of local events, specifically their hours of operation.  No worries, we went back to the resort and shared a wonderful dinner.  We watched movies til early in the morning, laughing and catching up on events of the past three weeks since we had last seen each other.

Morning allowed me a chance to once again take part in one of my favorite activities: running on the beach!  I went about 7km, completely enjoying the sunshine and heaps of local fishermen hauling in their catches while the women sorted the treats into the appropriate five gallon buckets.  Man, I love this lifestyle.  I absolutely need to live on a beach somewhere!  Back at the resort I had a swim in the pool until Irena came out to meet me on the courtyard.

Throughout the previous evening we had discussed our plans for the week, and sadly decided to skip the previosuly planned safari at Selous Game Park.  Although we both wanted to experience it, the price was way too high and neither of us could justify spending that amount of money for two days on safari.  Instead, we chose to go to Zanzibar for the remainder of our time!!  So we scarfed a delicious breakfast before reluctantly saying goodbye to the hotel.  We dropped our bags at the ferry terminal and set off to explore the town for a few hours before the boat departed.  We went through the National Museum, which provided an interesting although rough look at the cultural history of Tanzania.  We stopped at old churches and new hotels, admiring each for their respective beauty.  We went through the botanical gardens, which were sadly lacking in groundskeeping.  But mostly we just walked around, taking it all in before it was time to get on the boat.  We were both extremely eager to spend the next week on the famously exotic spiced isle of Zanzibar!