Dar es Salaam
Jun 03, 2004
"Kifo cha mende"
Let's start with a Swahili lesson. These are Swahili phrases for sexual positions. The local peace corps volunteers taught them to me, and it turned out to be a fascinating bit of Sociology.
The English translation of the first phrase is, "picking vegetables". Swahili slang for "doggy style". Imagine a woman bent over, pulling a carrot out of the ground, to understand the reference.
The second phrases translates to "death of the cockroach". Dead is about the only time that you'll see a cockroach belly up. I'm a bit disturbed by the connection between cockroaches and sex, but that's Swahili for "missionary position".
Wake up and do yoga. Read a bit after breakfast. Go for a good long swim. Read some more and do some writing in the afternoon. After the heat of the midday sun had passed, run a couple of miles. Fit in a bit of introspection, during reading breaks. Take a final dip in the ocean and then finish the day with a couple of beers after dinner. I achieved the perfect balance of physical and intellectual activity on Nungwi. I was healthy, happy, and getting in better shape every day. I could have stayed there for a very long time. But then one day I felt sudden inspiration to move on, and left the next day.
The beach is beautiful, but it's not uniquely African. I abandoned the plan to go snorkeling. Snorkeling would have undoubtedly been nice, but not any better or different than in Indonesia or Egypt. I'm here to see Africa. It was time to go to Northern Tanzania in search of lions and giraffes and mountains to climb. I can't afford to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (approx. $750), so instead I'm planning on climbing the lower, more affordable, and possibly more beautiful Mt. Meru. An armed ranger has to accompany you on your trek; not to keep away bandit, but instead stampeding rhinos. Now, that's Africa.
Dar es Salaam
I've only been here two weeks, and I can already tell you conclusively that Africa can be very frustrating. First of all there are the "friends". Slick young guys with good English who approach you and start a conversation. They're hard to dismiss, because they are incredibly nice and friendly. They start walking with you, and it's not until half an hour later that they start giving you a hard sell for their money changer or safari company. After the 5th or 6th friend in a day, it becomes exhausting.
Then there are the beggars. There are beggars all over the world, and in some places they are much worse. But it's a bit different in Islamic countries because Islam encourages charity (it might even be required). There are two sides to this. Sometimes, it's wonderful. Sometimes you're invited into people's houses and treated to lunch. The flip side is that Islamic beggars expect charity. They ask for 500 shillings (50 cents) and then instead of accepting a "no" answer they are shocked and annoyed by it. Annoyed beggars are a bit of a challenge for me to tolerate.
Basic things in Africa often turn into epic quests. I thought that I'd spend two days in Dar es Salaam replenishing my supply of US dollars and buying the warm clothing that I would need for climbing Mt. Meru. Then I slowly discovered that there is not a single trekking or camping store anywhere in the country, despite trekking and climbing being a major tourist activity. I scoured Dar es Salaam for 4 days before finally turning up a pair of waterproof pants (found at a used clothing market) and a sweater. There is not a single pair of long underwear for sale anywhere in the nation's capital.
Getting US dollars also turned into a pain in the ass. Many of the hotels and tour companies insist on payment in US dollars, so I assumed getting them would be straightforward. Bad assumption. One travel agent does credit card withdrawals in US dollars, but they charge a steep 6% (possibly 9%). After 4 days of checking every bank in town, I finally decided to withdraw a large amount of Tanzanian shillings from an ATM. I then took the shillings to a money changer across town who converted the shillings back into dollars. It seems backwards, but I'm pretty sure that it's the cheapest way to get dollars in Tanzania.
Based on the progress that I'm making, I also realized that I'm going to have to overstay my visa. There is no way that I can do a mountain climb, and a safari, and make it out of the country in the two weeks before my visa expires. I checked the guidebook, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that extensions are easy and free.
I arrive at the immigration office, find a long line of Africans, and ask the guy with the name tag, "Is this the line for visa extensions?"
"Get in line please", he tells me.
"Yes, but is this the line for visa extensions?", I ask again.
"Get in line please", he repeats.
"Yes, but is this the line for visa extensions?", I ask a third time.
"Probably", he replies.
That's Africa for you. Fortunately, Asia and Central America have taught me patience; I get in line. 20 minutes later, I'm at the right counter. I hand the lady my passport. I can't believe how easy this has been. I'm shocked and delighted. But then, the lady hands the passport back.
"It's too early. You have too many days left. You can't extend the visa until it's almost expired." For the first time in my life, I did not procrastinate and look what happened. How about that for irony?
One hour ago, I survived my first African pickpocket attempt. Nothing was taken.
A guard carrying a rifle protects the gate to my hotel. Perhaps this should have worried me, but my ghetto-sense told me that the neighborhood was reasonably safe. For 4 days I had no problems. I even carried my laptop three blocks to the cybercafe and back every night (though I camouflaged it in a sarong). Then, this afternoon, on the way back from the bus station, I saw a fight breaking out. I stopped for a moment to see what was happening. This is the first fight I've seen in Africa.
Stopping for a moment gave the pickpockets the chance they needed. One guy tugs at a corner of my shorts, points at my leg, and says urgently "Look! Look!". While my head is turned, the other guy reaches into my bag. It was a classic ruse. Fortunately, I notice what is going on before they get anything, and grab my bag. They swear at me, but take off quickly.
Nothing was taken, but it is a reminder to closely watch my possessions in Africa.
Traveling the 'stans
While on Zanzibar, I met an American medical student who spent a year in Turkmenistan as part of his studies. He gave me info about the Eastern route from Iran to Moscow. He highly recommended going through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. He tells me that they are a bizarre, fascinating places. All sorts of difficult, eye-opening fun he says. Tourist visas for some of the countries are impossible to get, but there are ways around that. By getting a visa for Uzbekistan, I'll be automatically issued transit visas for the surrounding countries. Transit visas are only good for 3 days, but that's enough to get glimpses of the countries.
If your knowledge of Central Asian geography isn't perfect (and no one's is): This little talked about region is wedged between Afghanistan to the South, China to the East, Russia to the North, and the Caspian Sea to the West.
I still haven't decided which route I'll take from Turkey to Moscow, but this is an interesting possibility.
sounds great- keep telling us about it= as you decide on your route and if you make it up the mountain before the expiration of your visa
ari - Jun 08, 2004
more fun on the way... traveling the 'stans sounds like a good time.
congratulations on surviving the pickpocket attempt intact.
Carmel - Jun 20, 2004
Thrilling stuff, Adam, I'm so glad you're getting to do all this.
When I was living in Rome I went to dinner with a guy who had overlanded across Uzbekhistan. I only went out with him because I wanted to hear his stories about the trip; unfortunately he had nothing interesting to say, just complained about how he was constantly cheated, could never get local prices... I'll be fascinated to read your account when it's time for you to post it.
Take care of yourself.
gbemisola abideen - Aug 31, 2004
can nigeria take part
kevin - Sept 04, 2004
i live in london have a nice house and a good business , work 40 weeks a year , travel for 12 , have been to some great places , thinking of packing it all in and becomming a world full time traveller , i can afford it , im 38 , reading your stuff has been a inspertion to me , hope i have the guts to do what i love most just to travel , thanks for your journal . not all those who wander are lost , not all that glitters is gold .