Getting There is Half the Journey: Tanzania Edition

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The longer I travel in Africa, the more apparent it becomes that adventure is unavoidable here if you’re trying to get anywhere. Many tourists here step right off the plane and into clean and comfortable safari vehicles, all together avoiding public transportation. There’s nothing at all wrong with this and I often dream about my few days here in a safari company car when I’m stuffed in an 11-passenger minibus with 25 other passengers, when I’m pushing a minibus up a hill in flip-flops, and when I’m fervently checking that my bags aren’t leaving any bus without me. Despite the inevitable chaos that comes with getting yourself around in Tanzania, I’ve learned a lot and made oodles (yes, oodles) of memories on public transport here. So, without further ado, let me tell you about them.
Daladala/ minibus: Like Kenya’s famed matatus, Tanzanias daladalas go everywhere all the time. They also have a habit of stopping to pick up every last passenger on the road, which causes them to be severely overcrowded. I’ve never ridden a daladala where every passenger is happily and comfortably in their seats and are not made to share this seat with 1,2, or 7 other passengers. The worst daladala yet, as mentioned above, was made for 11 passengers but was carrying 26. With this, I recommend that if you plan on taking a daladala you get in your seat and quickly say a prayer for safety to God, Allah, the Universe, and the Fates before the thing starts moving. Next, daladalas break down a lot in many different ways. One day we found ourselves piling out of the vehicle and pushing it up a hill. Then, once it got going, we were running and jumping in in true Little Miss Sunshine Fashion. Ladies first, at least. Other times the vehicle breaks down and the driver and other passengers and bystanders will spend a considerable amount of time just banging on parts of the car until it seems fixed for long enough to reach the destination. There are also buses a little bigger than daladalas called coasters and there are the glorious charter-type buses (Sumry bus line is the way to go!!). Sometimes the will have similar problems, but never quite as severely as the daladala. On the recent coaster ride to Matema Beach, we contemplated bargaining the price of the ride, as we spent half the route walking around deep mud holes. So what have I learned from riding on buses? Always wear good pushing and walking shoes, bring something to do in case…no, wait..because the bus will be hours late, and don’t be afraid to make jokes in Swahili about having a big butt…this might get someone to scoot over and give you an inch more of room.
Wooden canoe: If you’ve been reading this blog, you know all about our recent wooden canoe debacle at Matema Beach. Yes, we did come dangerously close to sinking a boat. Yes, our boat was saved and bailed out by a man in his underwear. In the end, we made it to our destination market and, in noticing our subsequent seasickness, walked back to our hotel. I learned here that I’m not meant to be a boatwoman, that most Tanzanians will help you when they see you are in peril (or sinking their boat or their friend’s boat….), and to always laugh at your mistakes.
Ferry: Oh glorious ferry! Two days ago we got on, by far, the most comfortable vehicle in Tanzania. It’s the Kilimanjaro ferry to Zanzibar. With air conditioning blasting down on me and Mighty Joe Young playing on three flat screen TVs, I almost forgot I was Tanzania. Again, I am not a seafaring gal so I was feeling a bit queasy on the ride. But it’s nothing that looking at the horizon and eating a crispy Samosa couldn’t fix. I learned…always take the ferry if there’s a ferry to take! Except some of them sink here, so avoid those rumored to be faulty.
Bicycle: One of the good things about Tanzania is that you can get almost anything you want if you just pay up. With this, we decided to “rent” bikes from a man in Madibira one day. I guess all renting really is is paying money to borrow someone’s personal property. So, yes, we rented bikes. The brakes on mine were reversed and the brakes on Alex’s didn’t work. Luckily, we checked these things out before we needed the breaks and went rolling away easily enough on the rickety things. Sarah has her own bike and although it has brakes it has a problem with the chain falling off. We biked to Madibira’s rice scheme, sharing the road with all the usuals-walking pedestrians, motorbikes, cars, the occasional farm tractor- and also with migrating cows and goats. It was fun to ride on crappy old bikes and lay them haphazardly on the side of the road to walk somewhere, like kids on summer vacation! With Sarah’s chain breaking outright by the end of that day, she hopped on the back of a power tiller with her bike and we followed her home on ours. We also practiced the art of riding twoesies in Madibira; Sarah and I were considerably more successful at this than Sarah and Alex and, luckily, none of us crashed…this tends to happen to me on bikes.
Walking: Once we reach a place by the various means of public transportation, we walk. Walking through Madibira was the best way to meet people. Each day we saw the same people outside the same shops and restaurants. We stopped to greet them every day, and it was easy to see that we would never have met these people if we had been in a car. This, to me, feels like what small-town America is too. But still, if I were walk to the store every day at home there’s a good chance I wouldn’t encounter anyone or greet anyone, but I was always happy for this interaction in Madibira. Additionally, walking attracts children. Yesterday we were walking through the town of Bwejuu on Zanzibar and we suddenly had a small gaggle of young schoolgirls by our side. Soon, both my hands were in their hands as we walked along and they were chattering away in Swahili. I like kids and I usually don’t mind them hanging around me, at least for a little while! Lastly, I’ve seen a few amazing sunsets and starry nights while walking in Tanzania, those little things that remind you that life is good.

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