Crossing the border into Tanzania was an ordinary affair…usual money changers, customs clearance agents, and insurance agents heckling for your attention and your business…except for one thing. A customs official who actually knew more about the carnet de passage than we do. The Tanzanian customs officer had the knowledge and presence of mind to fill in the middle section of the carnet. Usually the officials don’t even care or don’t understand what its for. Obviously after going through 23 countries without one customs official knowing what to do with their half of the carnet, our mind had become numb to it.
In Malawi the hills had started but in Tanzania they really started to reach new heights! Slowly the terrain became greener and greener. We found a great guest house for cheap. We knew something was different about Tanzania…people were walking around, going to shops, eating at restaurants. It seems this country has found it’s groove and people are not at the mercy of others to set up their country for them. We were hungry, interestingly enough they had chapatis, curries, samosas amongst other things on the menu. The samosas were meat filled…so yummy! We also had a tv in our room…wow! This may seem like a silly thing to be happy about but it had literally been 3 months since we’ve had a tv…try to deprive an American (or an Indian for that matter) of a tv. Surprisingly there were not only English channels…but…wait for it….Zee TV! Life OK! StarPlus! All the Indian channels you could think of! Instead of wrapping ourselves in the local culture, we indulged in watching tv for the entire evening. This made us very optimistic about Tanzania…not just the tv, but that there was food available, we could go to shops, go for walks around busy little towns. Tanzania was the start of Swahili which is not too difficult to pick up and is definitely fun to speak. I remember some words from when my Mom would tell us about our family that used to live in Kenya. Before we hit Dar, it started raining in a town called Iringa, we had no choice but to stay the night. It was an okay town. There wasn’t much accommodation available but we were able to find a place and settle. Nice thing is we were able to try some local fare…I had a curry of sugar beans, spinach, and rice…Nick had all of that with some chicken curry. Not bad at all!
The road to Dar-Es-Salaam (Dar from here on out) was an eventful one. Obviously a lot of traffic comes this way because the road was badly deformed! We passed through amazing hills and baobab trees (the ones with the huge trunks) and plenty of Masaai in their bright red shawls herding their cattle. In Africa it’s been a bit frustrating that we haven’t been able to visit too many national parks but we got a chance to ride right through Mikumi National Park! We got to see giraffes, elephants, and zebras grazing on either side of us! We were pretty happy we got to see that without paying the ridiculous fees (anywhere from $50-$100 per person). The rest of the road to Dar became more and more congested by rally racing buses, trucks and impatient cars. We planned to Couchsurf at Sonija and Clause’s house. Dar is a big city, not crazy crowded but enough traffic to get you to say ‘yikes’! We hung with their family at the Yacht Club and even attended a North Indian classical music concert where kids showcased their talents. On Sunday we went to the Gurudwara in Dar which was a great experience. It had been a while and the first time Nick had been to a Gurudwara since Woolgoolga, Australia. Felt great to listen to some kirtan and langar was amazing (as it always is)! The next day we were off for our next adventure…Zanzibar!
A big thanks to Sonjia and Claus for their kindness and hospitality!
Getting to Zanzibar included the usual hecticness, which ferry? How much? How long? Blah blah. Luckily we met two gals from England and the Philippines that were great company! the mix of people boarding the ferry for Zanzibar was already getting interesting, you could definitely see the Arab/Indian influence as ladies filed in in their black burkhas and henna covered hands (black and red mehndi!). It was a 2 hour ride on the ferry and we reached Stone Town, the older port and headquarters for the sultanate. Walking around was a step back in time, with plaster peeling from the buildings, carved wooden doors and windows and small alleyways. It instantly reminded us of Sangrur, Nick’s hometown and where his parents live. Taking a walk around Sangrur, you see the same things…carved balconies, windows, doors, small alleys, people living in what seems a tiny house but opens up to a huge courtyard and haveli. We felt right at home! We found a guest house and decided to hit up the night market. We were expecting some good Zanzibar curries and biryanis but couldn’t find any of that. We tried the Zanzibar pizza which reminded us of martabak in Indonesia, samosas, some fried lentil balls, sugar cane juice (too watered down) and a cup of chai. Everything was OK…nothing to rave about. The chai was nice though…it was heavily spiced with cinnamon and before the old man poured the tea water, he put a few drops of vanilla in the bottom of the cup. As soon as the hot water touched the vanilla the aroma filled the air. Beautiful touch! The next day we walked around and rented a dirt bike ,Honda 250cc from a dude who was half Punjabi-half Muslim but only spoke Swahili and some Hindi. So far people in Zanzibar seemed to want to rip us off since we’re obviously made of money?! It was no different as we rode to Jambiani, a small village along the eastern side of the island. It was just white sand beach and light blue waters. The guest houses were greatly overpriced (just like everything else in Zanzibar for the quality you get) but we settled on one that seemed nice. We were cornered by Maria, the massage lady that Nick negotiated with to get a massage for me, he can be a sweetheart! So it turns out there’s not much in terms of supplies and food in Jambiani. You basically have to order from a restaurant or a random dude who runs a restaurant out of his house 2 hours in advance. We ended up ordering dinner, coconut fish curry, a nice fragrant rice and Zanzibari pizza from him. Turned out pretty good! Don’t imagine Indian food when you eat it, it’s definitely tame on the spice. The guy is quite the businessman though! The next morning Nick and I took a swim in the water which was awesome…the water is nice and warm and so clean and clear. Then I got my first full body massage and Maria’s worn hands did well. Unfortunately after feeling fully relaxed it was tough to get my butt moving since we were headed towards Nungwi. It was a dirt bike we had rented so it was super cramped…we had Nick riding, me on the passenger seat (thank goodness for the foot pegs) and our trusty yellow Ortlieb bag strapped to the back! Finding a guest house in Nungwi was a pain in the ass because it just felt like we were getting cheated and played left and right. We settled on one and ended up enjoying a candlelit dinner on the beach, not too shabby! All in all we felt that Zanzibar was a bit overrated…there is a historical allure that goes along with the island, architecture, food, and art but I felt it was too money-driven! I had read other’s accounts of how the food was amazing and the scents and colors tantalizing, I didn’t feel that. Maybe because the spices, scents, surroundings are familiar? I hate to say it but it felt a bit overrated. Out of everything, Stone Town was definitely interesting to me because I enjoy going for walks and discovering. Beach wise–Jambiani was beautiful, peaceful, and clean! Nungwi is where you’ll get more supplies and food easily. If you are going on a special vacation to Tanzania, include Zanzibar. If you’re on a budget…think a little.
After resettling in Dar, we rode to Lushoto (not to be confused with Lesotho!)…an even hillier area that was a throwback to Nepal. The tree covered mountains rose alongside the banks of a river that snaked through. The late afternoon sun gave the misty mountains an ethereal glow. The road was beautiful…tarmac smooth…and lined with flowering jacarandas, their purple petals falling on the tarmac like confetti. We had gotten a bit late going to Lushoto so it was dark by the time we got there. Turns out there was a graduation going on in town and everything was booked solid! As a last ditch effort, we tried a small guest house. The only guy who spoke English reluctantly showed us one more room when Nick told him we just need a bed for the night. It was his own room. We told him we couldn’t take it, but he was insistent and gave it for $4. The staff changed the sheets and set up the room. The bed was tiny, but the hospitality and generosity…huge. There’s something so amazing that you feel inside when you meet good people and you are able to interact positively with each other across language, racial, and cultural barriers. The amazing thing in Tanzania is that breakfast is included, which usually means you get toast, eggs, coffee, bread and jam…more than enough! The next morning we went riding around the cute town of Lushoto and ran into another biker from Switzerland! We hadn’t seen a biker since Namibia so it was really refreshing to see someone!