update 27.

our time in tanzania

Cycling through Tanzania

5 October  2008

Total kilometers cycled: 41,993 

Specific country info on routes & roads/food & accommodation/the locals available here.

Border crossing number 36.  A sleepless night  in a cheap guest house filled with truckers next door to an all night bar had left us bleary-eyed and grumpy.  Never again, we vowed.  We were on the road before sunrise.   Riding in the dark was preferable to lying  curled up on the stained sheets with a tatty pillow over my head which served as an (ineffective) shield against the boom,boom from down the road.  

Border crossings in East Africa can't compare with the hassles you encounter in lawless lands like Congo.  That would be like drawing a parallel between a Sunday afternoon jaunt through the park and scaling Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Officials are polite and efficient.  They have flat screen computers rather than well-worn ledgers.  Their offices are sturdy brick building instead of tatty huts. Officials can actually read a passport and will never be found examining one upside down.  

And they follow the rules.  Which isn't a bad thing...most of the time.  It means they won't invent any special processing fees because you arrived on a Saturday or between 12PM and 2PM or import duties because you're on a bicycle or fines because you can't produce a license for your bike. These are all good things.   What isn't good is when you want to use your French passport to enter a country instead of the American passport you used to enter the previous country because Tanzanians charge Americans $100 for a visa and French citizens only $50.

Not possible I was told.  

    Where's your exit stamp from Malawi?  

I dug out my American passport.  


The officer scowled.

    No, no, not possible.  Different passport.  You need exit stamp in French passport.

I let out a sigh of exasperation and returned his scowl.

How could I get an exit stamp when I had no entry stamp and I'd already left Malawi?  I certainly didn't want to continue using my American passport for the rest of the trip.  The Kenyans also charge Americans twice as much as Europeans.   And the Sudanese?  Something tells me they're not too keen on handing out visas to those who come from the land of Uncle Sam.

    But sir, pleeeaaaase.  Just stamp the passport.

$50 is a quite a chunk of money to two travelers who've just  endured a night next to an all night disco in the name of sticking to the budget.

Go back to Malawi, madam, no problem.  They will give you exit stamp.

Sure they would. My chances of that happening were about as good as my chances of finding a vegetarian restaurant in the next village I passed.  Why should the Malawians be any more flexible than the Tanzanians?  Would they really just stamp anything you shoved in front of them?  Eric and I went outside to sit on a bench and consider our options.  Going back to Malawi wasn't one of them we concluded.

    Sir, pleeaaase.  Please.Please.Please.  Just stamp the passport.

He was surprised to see us back so soon.   We obviously hadn't followed his advice and gone back to Malawi.

    Oh, alright.  Give me that passport.  I'll go to the Malawi side myself and get you your exit stamp.

And, true to his word, he did.  An entry and an exit stamp(although I'd neither entered, nor exited).  And then finally the prize we were waiting for: the coveted Tanzania entry stamp, allowing me 90 days of travel for the low, low price of just $50.  We were satisfied and thanked him profusely. 

Yes, yes.  You are most welcome.  Enjoy your stay in Tanzania.

The sun was scorching hot by the time we had settled that little immigration matter and a painful 50 kilometer climb awaited us.  More than painful actually, excruciating, given the lack of sleep.  When we finally arrived in Tukuyu, having climbed from somewhere near sea level up to around 1,700 meters, we had a hard time moving on.  After five days of unabashed laziness we were ready to pack up the panniers.  

The area surrounding Tukuyu is lush and lovely, with tea plantations and tropical forests.  We left in a downpour and spent a few soggy hours climbing yet higher, all they way to the Mbeya turnoff.  There we ducked into a small eatery to warm up with a cup of steaming chai and fill our stomachs with chapatis.  Our 5-day stint of laziness in Tukuyu hadn't been entirely  unpleasant and we debated whether to call it quits at 60 kilometers and take a quiet and cozy room for the night.  We looked around at the dirty and dreary town, where trucks lined the road and bars bellowed highly-distorted music.   Suddenly recalling our sleepless in Malawi experience, we pushed on.  A cozy and quiet room in that kind of town would be about as easy to find as a girl in a mini-skirt in Teheran.

Lush and lovely soon turned into dry, drab and very dangerous as we swooped back down to the bush, following one of Africa's main transport arteries which links the port at Dar Es Salaam with the interior.  Lorry after lorry  thundered past (on the flats) or trundled by (on the climbs) often forcing us off the narrow two-lane road.  When the wind kicked up--which was most of the time--we'd get caught in the draft as vehicles passed and had to hold tight just to keep upright.  Each day left us weary and our enthusiasm for cycling quickly waned.  The highlight of our ten days on the way to Dar Es Salaam was a ride through Mikumi National Park where we spotted lots of zebras, elephants and giraffes and were feasted on by swarms of tsetse flies.  We grudgingly gave our blood to these tiny tormentors.

So it was with some relief that we finally made it to the capital and jumping off spot for our trip to tropical paradise in Zanzibar.  Never mind that I hate islands and always swear I'll never be lured onto another one again.  Zanzibar promised 
white sands and turquoise waters, an exotic melange of the Arab, Indian and African worlds, an irresistible mix of cultures that would stun even the most jaded of travelers.  

We somehow managed to lose the ferry tickets (slow ferry, $20 each for foreigners, locals pay much less).  That was fate intervening, I concluded.  No trip to Zanzibar, after all.   My budget-conscious husband certainly wouldn't want to fork over the money to buy tickets a second time around.  The island-hater in me secretly rejoiced.  But no.  
Come, come.  You are our brothers and sisters.  Board the ferry. No matter you have lost the tickets.
It was Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting.  Everyone was being so nice to us.

Strolls around Stown Town (the historical center) where highly atmospheric and, jaded though we may be, we were duly charmed.  A labyrinth of narrow alleyways leading past tiny shops, children shouting out 'Jambo' in greeting as we pass, mosques on almost every corner, elegant colonial era buildings lining the seafront.  The only drawback to traveling during Ramadan to a place where the  population is overwhelmingly of the Muslim faith, is that youre inadvertently forced to take part in the fasting.  Really.  Apart from pricey tourist restaurants at fancy hotels, no food is available before sundown.  One shopkeeper even refused to sell us a coca-cola unless we promised to package up the bottle and drink it hidden away in our hotel room.  Opening a bag of biscuits on the street brought comments and furrowed brows.
You're not keeping the fast? Tsk, tsk.

Tanzanians love Barrack Obama.  We even found a shrine to the presidential candidate tucked away in one of Zanzibar's side streets.  When I mention I'm from the states, I'm always asked who I'm voting for and a Barrack answer earns me a smile and a thumbs up.  

We spent the obligatory few days at an idyllic, palm-fringed coral beach, wallowing in laziness, going through books at  breakneck speed.  Feeling that we were about to overdose on all that sloth, we boarded the night ferry for the return journey to the mainland.  I was keen to take the fast ferry (3 hours, $35).  But Eric insisted the night ferry (8 hours, $20) would be romantic and everyone was promised their own mattress.  
The mattresses turned out to be a myth, and we spent the night listening to the other passengers puke and moan as the ship was tossed about by the waves.  Fortunately, we found our sea legs quickly and were able to pass the voyage without expelling any of our dinner.
All that rest and relaxation on Zanzibar and we arrived back on the mainland feeling fatigued.  Luckily, we had the address of a couchsurfing contact in Dar Es Salaam. Couchsurfing is great.  It's revolutionized the way we travel.  Who would have thought that there are millions of people around the world who are ready to welcome complete strangers into their homes? That they expect nothing in return for their hospitality?  Simply amazing.
We had detailed directions and a rough map to Frank's house which was just 12 kilometers from the port.  Street names and numbers are not so common in this part of the world, but we had useful information like cross the metal bridge, continue 3 kilometers past the roundabout and turn left at the dusty patch of road.  As we were drawing nearer I saw a white guy out jogging.  Perhaps that's Frank, I thought.
'Are you Frank?'  I called out from the other side of the road.
'No, I'm not French, I'm English,' was the reply I got.
With all the traffic noise, he clearly hadn't understood my question.  No matter.  Frank's German, so that obviously wasn't him. We continued pedaling for awhile and then pulled over to consult the map.
'Hi, are you lost? Maybe I can be of help.'  
It was the jogger.
        'Yeah, we're looking for Frank's house.  It should be nearby.'
        'A German guy?'
        'He's my next door neighbor.'
And with that we were given detailed directions to Frank's big white house.  We knocked at the tall, metal gate and were let inside by one of the servants who informed us that Frank was inside having breakfast.  Not being shy, and enticed by the thought of breakfast we made our way to the house.  We were greeted by a tall African woman who introduced herself as Lilian and invited us inside.  It was a lovely home, right on the beach and I began to imagine myself relaxing with a good book on the wide veranda.  Frank was a burly man with a firm handshake who greeted us warmly and offered us a glass of fresh orange juice.  We chatted  amicably for a few moments and then asked about Francesca, who was the fellow cyclist also staying with Frank.

        'Francesca.  Who's that?'
        'You know Francesca, from couchsurfing.'
        'Couchsurfing?  What's that?'
        'You are Frank, from Germany, aren't you?'
        'You agreed to host us.  We spoke with Francesca yesterday.'
        'No, I don't know any Francesca.'
The coincidence seems impossible, but in fact there are two Franks from Germany living in big, white houses not 500 meters from each other.  To get to Frank from Hannover's house you turn right at the corner, Frank from Bielefeld's house is located up the hill on the left.  We had a good laugh together before heading off to the other Frank's house.  

Those people were so friendly, I think they would have let us spend the night at their house without ever letting on to their confusion at our out of the blue arrival .  They acted so unsurprised when we interrupted their breakfast.  I guess stranger things happen in Africa.

So here we are at Frank's house.  Relaxing, which seems to be the thing we do best at the moment.  Tomorrow we head on to the seaside town of Bagamoyo and then north towards Moshi to get a look at Mount Kilimanjaro towering over the continent.  We're crossing our fingers for clear weather, fine views, tailwinds and light traffic.
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