89 – Destination Mombasa

Tues 23rd Feb, Tana Guest House, Mombasa, Kenya

Today was another full day of travel, with me blitzing through the towns. From Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, by boat, we arrived at 6am. The nice Zanzibari guy from the boat helped me flag a city bus bound for Ubungo bus station. Once there, i was hassled by many touts, and i just went with one. Being “spoken for” meant everyone else leaves you alone. I got my ticket from the counter. His demeanour completely changed when he noticed me writing my muslim name on the tix. He took it as his responsibility to take me safely aboard my bus, even telling the bus conductor he better take care of me. The bus company was Tahmeed (25000 TSH), one that i was completely unfamilar with. It was a smaller bus too, and i worried when we traveled on the bumpier stretch between Tanga and the border. The center of gravity was obviously higher on this bus and speeding might just flip it over. Thankfully that did not happen.

It was a 9 hour bus ride from Dar Es Salaam, stopping for lunch in Tanga (fish, yummy samaki, since its near the coast now), before heading on to the border at Lunga-Lunga. The Kenyan immigration was really getting suspicious as to why this fella was travelling to and fro so much. “Business?” “No, tourist”. He gave me one week, but i asked for two since i needed that much before going home.

The bus ride culminated in the ferry crossing at Likoni. All the vehicles went aboard a barge. Pedestrians followed suit and the whole retinue was transported across the channel. Prior to that, the bus conductor told everyone to go to the back of the bus. I was wondering why, but found out later when Security got everyone off the bus during the crossing. Going to the back of the bus was to hide so we won’t be asked off. Hahaha.

It was near dark when we reached Mombasa proper. There was no time to really do much, so i got my ticket to Lamu (Tahmeed again, 800 KSH, 8am departure, 7 hours – but theres a 10am departure too) and went to draw cash from the Barclays bank. I got myself some fried fish to eat with my home cooked pasta. And i got a much needed shower, after almost 48 hours in stinky sweaty clothing.

88 – Soaking in the Swahili Culture

Mon 22nd Feb, Ferry to Mainland Dar, Tanzania
I woke up early and spent a great chunk of the morning walking around Stone Town and taking in the architecture. The streets and alleys were in close proximity of each other, and each one of the buildings had intricately decorated wooden doors, some of them seemingly too grand for the humble houses they lead into.

Then i sorted out my ferry tickets back to the mainland. I decided to stay only 2 days here since I want to reach Lamu before the 26th, and also because it was a bit silly walking about the city with no electricity. Staying in a hotel without light and fan was one thing, but as i was later to discover, visiting musuems and squinting at exhibits because they were not lighted up as they were supposed to be, can get annoying. Hence, i decided i would probably enjoy myself elsewhere along the coast, where hopefully it is not too hot!

Next, as mentioned, i made my way to Beit Al-Ajaib, which is the museum “of wonders”. The entry  was 3500 TSH and well worth it. I realised after Egypt’s museum that i like museums, and can easily spend hours in one. This one was no different. The inside had a large replica of an old Swahili boat, mtwempe (or something), that was reconstructed in the middle of the building. Elsewhere, the Swahili history, culture and travels were recreated as exhibits and informative entries. The first floor was all about the dhow routes, travels up and along the indian ocean, as well as the swahili dress, lifestyle, festivals, food. I especially liked the bit where the link in history between cultures meant that 25% of the Swahili language is of arabic origin, mostly modified, and even some comparisons with Swahili and portugese. Like flag is bendera in swahili, and bandeira in portugese. I add mine mentally to the list: Bendera is flag in malay as well! There’s something to learn from here. Others: Pump is bomba in both Swahili and Portugese, while in malay bomba is fireman/fire brigade. Table is mesa in Swahili and Portugese, and meja in Malay. Fascinating indeed.

The other thing of note are the doors and plaques in the building. Inscribed with the names of God, the doors were really grand and a sight to behold. These wooden doors were carved in exquisite detail on every available space. And since it was not a boring flat door, but layered with arches, there was arabic inscriptions on the inner wall and the underside of the arch as well, which i only noticed when i took photos in the light.

Upstairs on the 2nd floor was an exhibition about Sayidda Salme, a Zanzibari princess who wrote a books about her experiences as a princess living in Zanzibar, and later about letters home, when she moved to Germany with her husband. Her point of view was interesting because it was the first from a local perspective, since all other accounts of the island prior to that were those of European visitors.

The third floor lead to the balcony, upon which i could see brilliant views of the sea, the forodhani garden, and the old fort below. I then made my way to the impressive Ijumaa Mosque, renovated many times in history, most recently with Dubai contribution. Being muslim helped and i remained in the mosque after commual Asar prayers, taking pictures of the mihrab and the interior.

After grabbing some street food for dinner, i wasnt’ sure what it was. Looks like grilled satay meat in hot potato soup, but it tastes delicious (1000 TSH), i picked up my bag and made my way to the ferry terminal (tix was 20 USD). This time though, the VIP lounge had air con on, and dimly lighted. I slept well on the couch, even though i was blighted by the noisy tv blaring over the speakers directly above me. It was a night boat, we got in at 8pm, i got comfortable and slept, probably the boat left around 9.30pm, and somehow we reached mainland only at 6am. How this was possible, the boat here took 3.5 hours for the same distance, i never knew.

87 – Zanzibar (the places just gets more and more exotic!)

Sun 21st Feb, Haven Guesthouse, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar, the name brings to mind other similarly mythical sounding places like Timbuktu (that exists too!). The island however, was just a four hour boat ride away now. In ancient times, the Zanzibar kingdom was ruled by the Omani king, who shifted his capital here. It was also on the dhow trading route along the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Arabia, to India, to Indonesia and around peninsula Malaysia, all the way up to China. They traded everything from spices, slaves and   jewellery.

Upon boarding the Flying Horse, i was ushered to the VIP section. Not bad, all foreigners by default get sent here, where you get to sit in armchairs, as opposed to the regimented seats down below. Unfortunately, they must have forgotten to turn up the aircon, so the VIPs basically were trying not to suffocate throughout. It was also crowded, locals got themselves comfortable and lay down on every bit of available floor.

We reached Stone Town’s harbour at around 4pm, and it was completely different from mainland. The streets of Stone Town were narrow cobblestoned alleyways. Zanzibar town is built for tourism, but it retains an old world charm. I made my way to the guest houses south of stone town. The Haven Guesthouse was 18000 TSH, pretty costly, as per all hotels in Tanzania i’ve noticed. Also, there was no electricity on the whole island. Three months ago, the underground cable was cut and they only expected it to be fully repaired in maybe a week’s time. Hence, any place without their own generator (like my hotel) would be in complete darkness at night. I was a bit silly and should have gone for a slightly more expensive place with electricity, but it all worked out, because i could leave my luggage at the hotel the next day for 8 hrs for no charge.

The Stone Town itself wasn’t exactly a large place. It was evening so i just made my way to Forodhani gardens, a open air park by the sea. Locals and tourists alike were there, soaking in the atmosphere and the windy surrounds. Stalls were set up selling everything from BBQ barracuda, zanzibar pizza, sugar cane. I must have taken too much sugar cane, for i ended up with a mild case of the runs. Immodium is the best single piece of medication. It was pretty much relaxation at its best, youths were jumping 2m into the sea,

After dinner, i made my way back to the hotel. There wasn’t much to do without electricity, so i just figured it would be better to sleep early and then wake up early. Malaria’s a risk here at the coast, so i hid underneath my mosquito net all night. It was terribly hot though, since the ceiling fan was not working. I tried everything, i woke up in the middle of the night, took a shower, stuck a wet towel atop my head, all useless until i just left the window open to let in some fresh air, and in the process probably dozens of mosquitoes as well.

86 – The Streets of Dar Es Salaam

Sat 20th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar Es Salaam is the unofficial capital of Tanzania. The administrative capital is in boring Dodoma, but Dar is where everyone else comes to for everything else. Today’s agenda was simple. Go to the northeast of the city centre to soak in the Asian quarter around India and Mosque street, try to get connected online, and pick up ferry tickets to Zanzibar.

But first, i moved to a cheaper room in the hotel. Less jazzy, no mosquito net, no aircon, and i see cockroaches. What a big difference. The tv is there though, and the hot shower was working, so i’m set.

Wandering the streets of Dar, i noticed the locals are multi-ethnic. Sure, there were the east africans i’ve seen elsewhere over the past 3 weeks, but here were also ladies clad in indian saris, masai dressed tribal people, kanga clad ladies, kids with arabic features.This, as well as all the towns along the coast, were the result of centuries worth of trade along the Indian ocean, intermarriage and migration. The Swahili coast is where i will be spending the next week or so, and this is going to be very interesting.

As for the buildings, they were grand structures, and each proudly stated which year they were constructed.

I cannot find an Internet joint anywhere, the few shown in the 2008 revision of LP have all closed. I finally found one, the post office. Old machines, with no working flash drive slots (i didnt bother asking if i could plug in my laptop). But there are wireless connections elsewhere, i found out later, and i think everywhere you could get connected by paying a subscription fee.

Next i walked down to Sokoine Drive, parallel to the sea, where the rain of touts immediately fell upon me, asking me to buy from their ferry ticket shop. I ignored them and looked for the Flying Horse office, the cheaper option taking 4 hours, instead of the many faster 1.5 hour ferries. The Flying Horse (20 USD, locals pay less) departs from Dar daily at 1230 pm (arrive early so you don’t get squashed). Despite ignoring the touts, i still got conned. I paid 25 USD (LP says 25!) instead of 20 USD. When i asked why the ticket was handwritten 20 USD, i was told 5 USD was port tax. This was true, but it was inclusive! That will teach me not to completely trust guidebooks.

Dinner was self-catered. By now, i am so well equipped i could do a pasta dinner with cream of mushroom. One last thing, the coast is hot and humid. I am drenched with sweat the whole day, and i don’t know what to do with my shirt. I’ll keep on wearing them since changing into new ones will mean that new shirt will need washing again.

85 – Saying Hi to Mount Kilimajaro

Fri 19th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

And so the story goes, at 2am on this Fri morning, a sleepy traveler boarded the bus bound for Dar Es Salaam. He read that the journey takes 12 to 14 hours, therefore reaching Dar at 4pm or so, perfect in that there is enough of daylight left to hunt for suitable lodging and get oriented with the city. (2am)

The road from Nairobi to the border was bumpy, but since it was dark, the traveler could not make out the terrain outside. Instead, he did his best to make himself comfortable and get some much needed sleep. This was next to impossible since he was jolted awake each time the bus passed over a particularly high hump. So it was with much good fortune, he thought, when the bus stopped suddenly. He could finally get his desired rest. (4am)

It was light when he woke up. The bus was stationary, and there was a commotion outside. The traveler peered from bhind his window curtain and saw to his surprise, numerous trucks and buses on the road in front of and behind his bus. All were not moving. He was to later discover that the road was blocked. Continuous rains over the past few days meant that the sandy road was now mud, and a huge container lorry had sunked in and blocked the entire path. Other smaller lorries had tried to navigate around and similarly got themselves into trouble. No one was going anywhere. (7am)

The traveler thought to himself “Let them sort it out” and proceeded to read his book back on the bus. He had spent enough of his traveling life on long distance buses and nothing fazed him anymore. Eventually a giant JCB tractor came along and pulled the lorry out of the way. Getting the tractor to the scene was an effort in itself. Cars and buses and lorries had to make way for the tractor. It was like playing those block puzzles where you had to shift the blocks around limited space to form a picture. (9am)

The bus chugged along the bumpy road (why such a well-trodden route was not tarmacked the traveler could not understand) to the border.  The immigrations officers started to ask the traveler questions about his constant ping-ponging between countries, but let him through all the same. (10am).
It was bad road all the way after that, but the scenery was spectacular. Like the traveler mentioned elsewhere before, Tanzania has the best clouds. And along the way, the bus route took the traveler to Arusha, skirting the regal Mount Meru in the process. And beyond that, to the town of Moshi, where the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, loomed in the background, its summit hidden completely by clouds. The traveler was contented to see this spectacular mountain up close (a lack of time and budget prevented him from attempting to summit the peak). (3pm)

The bus company, Kampala Coach, included a meal with it’s ticket price. The traveler stopped for dinner at 6pm, by which time he was utterly famished. He suspected that the dinner was actually lunch, but we only arrived in the evening. It was more travelling by night, and the traveler kept himself occupied with his copy of Newsweek. (7pm)

On reaching Dar Es Salaam, the passengers were dropped off at Ubungo bus terminal, an inconvenient 8km from the city centre. It was 12am. Not wanting to travel anywhere on foot by dark after previous unsavoury experience, the traveler engaged the assistance of a Kampala Coach mechanic to hail a cab. The price was exorbitant, he bargained it down from 150000 to 10000 TSH, and instructed the driver to Kibodya Hotel. (12am)

Accomodation is always more expensive here in Tanzania, he thought to himself as he forked over the 24000 TSH for the nicer rooms, since the basic rooms were full. He had a tv and airconditioning, both unnecessary since his laptop and the fully blasted ceiling fan are able substitutes. He would change to the cheaper 16500 TSH rooms when they are available tomorrow. (2am)

Photos below are from previous day

79 – Mwanza to Nairobi: Aftermath

Sat 13th Feb, On a bus to Nairobi

From Kahama to Mwanza. I took the TML bus, a four hour trip to Mwanza. I was asleep 80% of the time, but the time i was awake, we passed through town after town. Africans i realise can really balance anything, and i mean anything on their heads. The street vendors come up when the bus stop in town, carrying atop their heads anything from bananas, peanuts, fish and other assortment of stuff. Elsewhere i’ve also seen on their heads firewood, cloth, even a pickaxe!

Reached Mwanza at about 10am. After the events of yesterday i was a bit cautious. Slapped the hand of a pickpocket who halfway unzipped my pouch when i got off the dalla-dalla, i walked around the town centre looking for onward bus travel companies. It wasn’t such a big town, so i decided i might as well get to Nairobi, where all the amenities are there and i can relax. I couldn’t find the Scandanavian Express ticket office so i went for Akamba Coach. The bus leaves at 1pm (30000 TSH, 13 hrs) so i had a couple of hours to walk around and grab some lunch. There is a high concentration of Indians in this town, migrants who have set up businesses here.

From Mwanza to Nairobi. Again, more bus journeys, but this time the route took me pass the western edge of the Serengiti, so i was treated to a free mini safari. The scenery was spectacular as always, and i must declared that Tanzania has the best clouds i’ve ever seen. Oodles of fluffy clouds sitting on top of each other. As for animals, there were baboons, zebras and various birdlife.

At the border crossing, the Kenyan border official asked how long i’d be staying, he must be curious as to why this tourist is criss-crossing so many countries in such a short span of time. I had a lot of Tanzanian shillings on me, but the exchange rate at the border wasn’t good. One money changer guy tried to use sleigh-of-hand to swipe 10000 TSH from me, i just got pissed off by all these conmen, thieves and general jackasses, i shouted at them and stomped off. I’m trying hard not to be pissed at the general east african population, telling myself the actions of a few should not determine how i react to everyone, but it’s really taking some effort at the moment.
There was one guy from Burundi, now an Australian citizen, after he fled there as a refugee and gained citizenship after 3 years. He came back to visit family and his sister in Tanzania, and was on the way back home via Nairobi. Nice guy, and i didn’t have the heart to tell him “Hey you, i got robbed by your countrymen yesterday!” Like i read somewhere, no one is interested to listen to your sob stories. “Half the people in the world don’t care about your problems, and the other half are probably glad you have them.”

I reached Nairobi at 4am, together with Acchi, a Jap guy who was on the bus with me, we decided to stay at the bus office till daylight. The hotel was less than 200m away, but there was no way i was going to walk there in the dark this time.

78 – Mugged

Fri 12th Feb, Brashi Guest House, Kahama, Tanzania

Bother. That’s it, i’ve gone and gotten myself robbed. I was headed towards the Taqwa bus station in the morning at 530am when one of the bandits popped out and walked towards me with a huge rock. “Give me money or i kill you”. This was on the main street, then one after another they seemingly popped out of the shadows. I was overpowered by 8 to 10 of them, pushed onto the ground before they helped themselves to my valuables. I was more indignant than afraid, but i knew it was pointless to retaliate. The mob walked away with my stuff, i went after them and asked for my wallet back and got it, without the money of course. In the end, the list of items lost are as follows: 1 camera, 1 nokia handphone, 1 watch, 21USD, 23000 Burundi Franc. The items weren’t that valuable, besides the camera (i had that out to look at the map on it for directions). I lost about 55 SGD of cash in total. The Nokia hp was those basic cheap army ones with no camera or radio functions. And my Casio watch was those retro ones you wear back in primary school. And most of my money (USD etc) were hidden in my money belt tucked inside my pants. The problem is the inconvenience all this has caused me.

First, i have no way to tell what day and time it is (both watch and phone gone), which is very important for all these bus/flight timings. And i now have no alarm clock (phone gone) to wake up for the early buses. I use my camera (you guys can forget about seeing any more photos on this blog until i find some other way to take pictures) to take photos of maps of all the places so i dont have to keep opening the guidebook on my netbook. Now i’ve to copy the maps on pieces of paper. And i got shit rate just now exchanging USD for Tanzanian shillings since i had the exchange rates captured on my camera.

At least i still have my wallet with all my debit/credit cards as well as my passport. And this laptop.Got to be thankful for that.

Ah #&*@, …trying to not let it affect me right now. Took the bus out to Kahama, where i stop for the night before heading off to Mwanza. The border was wasn’t a major one, at the Tanzanian side, they checked my Yellow Fever Vaccination. Took a bit of time too before they decided Singapore passport did not require the 50 USD visa fee.  Stayed at the Brashi Guest House (8000 TSH), in the main square of the bus station. Immediately went out to look for a new phone, not so much for calling (my M1 sim card is gone!) but just to get an alarm clock, and some way to tell the time, in the process i also got a local prepaid line. Got myself a ZAIN hp and line (30000 TSH and 500 TSH respectively), thats about 30 SGD. Got some cash out of the ATM (VISA again! Sigh).

Expected this to happen sooner or later. I keep hearing from other travelers i meet about them losing their laptops, cameras etc (like the Jap guy and those Polish dudes). Just upset with myself that I wasn’t very wise not to take a taxi down to the bus station early this morning. Anyway tomorrow i’m headed to Mwanza. Got the tickets off the big Trans Mohamad Limited bus company (8000 TSH).