Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tanzania (well, mostly Zanzibar!)

After waking up in Tanzania I headed back to the border to get myself stamped out and obtain my visa. It cost me $50 but seems to be for three months - the customs official also advised me that I should be able to cross into Uganda and Rwanda then back without getting a new visa (my experiences at borders so far tell me that is a damn lie but I will live in hope!) I walked the two kilometres to the bus depot, not really fun at 11am in Tanzania, but I made it a sweat drenched mess and jumped on the next minibus to Mbeya. Now came the race to get to the train station before the scheduled departure at 1400. The trip took a couple of hours and after hopping into a couple of local buses I was finally at Mbeya train station with thirty minutes to spare. I managed to grab an economy ticket for a seat - the only tickets left - and suddenly spotted some friends who I had met during my stay at Nkhata Bay, Paul from Canada two girls, Marilee and Eva, who were dozing while waiting for the train. We sat down in the shade and eventually it was boarding time four hours later (the Tazara train is reknowned for breaking down regularly and is pretty much never on time as far as I can tell).

That first day was pretty boring so after a short nap I headed up the train to explore and found the restaurant carriage with Paul and company at a table, I joined them and we got our food after about an hour and a half - hardly surprising as the tiny kitchen was trying to feed the whole train. The girls suddenly dragged out a load of sachets they had brought over from Malawi - possibly some of the cheapest booze in the world - and being bored witless that was the rest of the evening planned out! We sat in between carriages (the only place we could smoke) on some lovely 70s spinny seats we had 'acquired' and talked crap until the early hours when satisfied we had passed enough time everyone retired hoping to wake up in time for passing through Selous National Park. The next day we were back in the restaurant car just in time and while munching away were treated to the sight of the usual impala by the dozen as well as a few sightings of elephants and zebras - Hurrah, free game drive! No big cats, but that is hardly a problem since my time with the lions in Zimbabwe I think I have had my fill. We arrived in Dar Es Salaam in daylight and headed to the YMCA, a nice clean hostel in the centre of town. After a shower and shave the guys wanted to go out so we found an awesome restaurant serving every kind of food we could imagine, ate ourselves silly and went out to paint the town red. Dar seems a nice place, you can strongly feel the middle eastern influence is much stronger here through the architectural style as well as of course the abundance of mosques. One of the nice surprises I hadn't thought about was being able to smell the sea again!

After a couple of days in Dar I decided it was time to see Zanzibar (locally known as Unguja) and meet up with Shawn who was relaxing on some beach in the north of the island. A very modern fast ferry had Paul and I there in a couple of hours and after meeting Xabi from Barcelona at the island's customs area we headed to a hostel in Stonetown where we managed to convince the guy there to let us take the last twin room and shove an extra mattress in. Stonetown is lovely and reminiscent of the old town areas of Gibraltar as many of them were when I was a child but the streets are thinner and the Islamic influence is much stronger.

In the evening we found our way to an open air food market where fish such as snapper, barracuda, shark, tuna as well as various types of prawn, crab and lobster are sold cooked in various ways for relatively decent prices. After that we found a bar called Mercury's (Freddy was born here you know!) for a few drinks before we decided to retire and plan our trip north to the white sandy beaches in the north.

The morning saw a quick tour of Stonetown followed by some haggling to get a decent price for the one and a half hour drive to Kendwa Rocks, a place on the beach near Nungwi in the north of the island. The drive up was picturesque with the road flanked by palm and banana trees on both sides and on arriving at the beach I was greeted by white powder sand and azure blue seas like I have never seen before (in real life
anyway). The place we stayed at, while the cheapest around, was a real money eating place. The bar worked with cards that you have to top up with cash the net effect being that it is much harder to keep track of your spending.

I found Shawn (my fellow volunteer from Malawi) laid out on the beach in his shades turning himself as brown as possible. That day we set to finding out where we could obtain drinks and food that were closer to our budget. Shawn showed me a restaurant where the prices were great and all the fish was awesome and fresh - cue lots of tuna for me over the next few days - and we soon found a Rasta run bar where the beers were slightly less expensive than at the beach side.

The next few days were spent doing very little other than eating fish, lying in the sun and drinking beers. All great fun but even that started to pale as the christmas runup ramped up and the carol playing at the beach bar became constant. While the location is stunning, this area is still very much a resort style place with plenty of honeymooning couples and young wealthy families on the beach. A far cry from the backpacking Africa I have become used to so on the twenty third I decided to head back to Stonetown and prepare myself for the run to Uganda. Tanzania itself just didn't interest me enough as a lot of it is geared around game runs for many many dollars and klimbing mount Kilimanjaro (only around $1000 dollars - much cheapness, not). By the 24th I was back in Dar and buying my ticket for Arusha in the north of the country.

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