Most of you know I had a brief holiday to Tanzania last week, but until now I have been quiet on how it all went. Rest assured, ladies and gentlemen, other than the semi-shocking experience with my hair cut this week, I am OK! The hair is growing back and I’m actually getting lots of compliments around Tala. Hah, they just don’t understand the beach/hippie thing here I guess! Before I get to the trip, a brief bit of background…
Tanzania is just to the south of Kenya, and while it has a similar population the country covers some 300,000 square kilometers more area than Kenya. The country received independence a few years before Kenya, and immediately pursued socialist economic policies. I spoke with several people who credit Tanzania’s strong society (yet poor economy) with their socialist beginnings. Even now, with over 100 ethnic groups (keep in mind Kenya has about 40), everyone speaks one language and is united over a common Tanzanian identity. Kenya, on the other hand, followed “free market” economic policies and made English an official language in addition to Swahili; as a result Kenya’s economy is the strongest in East Africa today. Despite a relatively booming economy, Kenya has suffered from endemic “tribalism” (in quotes because tribalism is a loaded word, and Kenya’s situation is more a lopsided system of powerful haves and impoverished have-nots) since its independence and subsequent inception as a republic in 1964. Those in power in Kenya have repeatedly used the thriving economic prosperity to inappropriate ends, and now land grabs, nepotism, and corruption have created deep wounds that still have ramifications to this day.
Anique and I had heard so much about Tanzania and its people that we were very curious to see how/if two white tourists would have a different experience. Kenyans always tell us that Tanzanians speaks the “pure” Swahili, unlike the English-influenced “sheng” spoken in most of Kenya. We were also reminded by our friends and colleagues of how kind and warm the Tanzanians are.
The journey started on bus from Nairobi to Arusha, which was relatively painless. Because I had a US passport I was told I could only purchase the year-long multiple-entry visa, while every one else had the option of buying the much cheaper single-entry visa. After that minor problem we were in Arusha in no time, passing through the beautifully green Masaai country. Here the Masaai are unofficially allowed to travel freely between Kenya and Tanzania because as they are a pastoral people they have historically followed their cows wherever they needed to. Ngorongoro Crater was too expensive so we decided to go explore some of the rural areas around Arusha. We hired a local guy from Arusha to take us out into the bush about four hours away (two of those by landrover!) to a village by Lake Eyasi. I don’t know the village’s name, but it was quaint, rural, and beautiful. Oh, and they grew lots of onions there!
After that we decided we really needed to see the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro; it is the tallest mountain in Africa, after all! To access Kilimanjaro you have to go by bus to Moshi and then by minivan to a little village on the slopes of the mountain. We met some pretty happy Korean monks who said they had a Buddhist school on the slopes of the mountain. Anique and I really hoped they’d invite us to see their place, but alas, we went our separate ways after only talking to them for a few minutes. We hired a local villager to show us the village and some waterfalls and stuff… he even brought us to a local “pub” where they drink fermented banana and millet beer. The local guys were hilarious, happy, and they loved their beer. Anique wasn’t so fond of it, though!
From Moshi we headed to Dar Es Salaam; a long ride for what was to be a cold, dirty, rainy, and expensive city! I wondered why we had left the beautifully green and cheap countryside for this big, ugly city! Despite its lack of charm, Dar Es Salaam has some great restaurants and late-night street eats. We chatted with lots of locals about Kenya, Tanzania, and politics, and drank a bunch of tea (which is better in Tanzania than in Kenya, by the way). We had planned on going to Zanzibar, the Arab island off the coast of Tanzania, but the ferry was expensive and it looked like it was going to be raining all day. In the end Anique decided she’d come back, and I decided that I had seen the Arab island off Kenya’s coast (Lamu) so I didn’t care too much that I was missing Zanzibar.
As we left Dar Es Salaam to head back up to Kenya we met some Swedish students who had been working in Kenya and traveling in Tanzania. We had a good time talking about politics and sporting Canadian flags while traveling in the developing world. We were both heading to Mombasa so we just stuck with them for the night in Tanga, the last major town before Kenya. The stretch of road between Tanga and Mombasa is terrible, almost worse than the road from Malindi to Lamu in Kenya (just not as long!).
While we certainly felt limited with our paltry Swahili, it wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. In the end I think the Tanzanian people definitely live up to their “kind” reputation, but something tells me it’s hard to gauge something like that when you’re a white tourist and you feel extra cautious when anyone is a little “too” nice too you. All in all it was a safari njema (good trip).
Check out more pictures here. Stay tuned until next time when Alan starts teaching again!