Monday, December 29, 2008

To the sea (Dec. 16/08 - Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania)

It occurred to me as we hauled our butts out of bed at 3:30am that since we crossed into a new time zone yesterday, it was actually only 2:30am as far as our brains were concerned. Damn, that's early! It didn't help that the road was so rough that it was impossible to sleep, and every few minutes I would get bounced fully out of my seat and crash into the aisle. Eventually I just gave up and watched the sun rise a bright orange over the surprisingly high mountains ahead of us. The road snaked its way down between them, and we saw our first flat-topped acacia trees - the ones that are stereotypically associated with Africa. With the hills behind us, we carried on and soon came to the entrance to Mikumi National Park, which is the northern tip of the Selous Game Reserve - the largest in Africa. So we went into animal spotting mode and were soon seeing giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, elephants, and impala beside the road. About 50km later, we were out of the park and driving through the town of Morogoro, which interestingly enough was the home town of a guy I worked with a year ago. Field after field of sisal plants spanned both sides of the road on the other side of town. This is a giant pineapple-like bush whose leaves are used to make coarse brown rope. We were treated to a local lunch at a roadside spot in Chalinze, which pretty much marked the start of traffic headed to Dar Es Salaam. Even though we were staying just outside of town, we had to drive right into the heart of the city to pick up ferry tickets for tomorrow's trip over to Zanzibar. The city looked pretty much like any other large African city - loud, crazy traffic, people selling fruit and peanuts and shoes on the street. Being a major port city, the downtown area is right on the harbour, which reeks of rotting fish coming from the beachside fish market. Raymond learned of a new ferry service that takes you across the long, narrow harbour to avoid the nasty 45km drive that we were facing otherwise. It took a couple wrong turns to find the ferry line-up, including a wrong turn into a huge gated mansion that turned out to be the president of Tanzania's house! We found it odd that the guards didn't hesitate to open the gates for a big safari truck just needing to do a U-turn!

The campsite was on the ocean, just a few kilometres from the ferry landing on the south side. With outdoor showers, a nice pool, a beach, and some very friendly resident pooches, it was a great place to stay. The security guards were Maasai men who walked around dressed in their traditional red garments, with the characteristic hairdo and of course the scary stick. We actually noticed a few of these guys wandering around some of the towns we passed through today wearing their traditional clothes. We also notice dthat the people were generally taller and with more slender faces, some wearing turbins or burkahs, and usually carrying their babies on their fronts instead of on their backs. Something like 40% of Tanzania is Muslim, so the abundance of mosques noted today also makes sense.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be a wonderful day, as we get to sleep in and then make our way across for four days of exploring Zanzibar and its many beaches, markets, and spice plantations. Sounds like paradise!

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