Tanzania Part II: Dar es Salaam

In most countries people use bumper stickers to express things about themselves from their cars.  In Tanzania, particularly in the financial capital of Dar es Salaam, people sometimes like to decorate their entire car especially if it is a taxi.  Whereas in the UK you might see a Manchester United sticker on the rear window in Dar you’ll see entire vans covered in Manchester United livery.  In America I saw a lot of Obama/Biden stickers still present following the Obama campaigns but in Dar an entire vehicle will be decked out in the colors of their favorite party complete with a portrait of the leader.  I found this endearing especially when I noticed a lot of Bob Marley and President Obama portraits on the backs of taxi vans.  But I distinctly remember a sobering chill spreading through me when I noticed the first Osama bin Laden image shortly followed by one of Colonel Gaddafi.  It suddenly seemed plausable that the Obama ones were a kind of protest at the presence of terrorist and terrorist dictator portraits.

Whilst everyone is entitled to their political views I would argue that portraits of bin Laden do not offer a political viewpoint.  His message was a hatred of the West and of anyone who didn’t follow his particular extreme interpretation of Islam, meaning that he hated the vast majority of Muslims too.  He wanted to destroy everyone who didn’t follow his radical ideals through massacres and fear.  He encouraged attacks around the world that have killed thousands of everyday people like you and I plus his organisation spawned ISIS who have continued his mindless and cowardly killing spree.  I don’t know a whole heap about what Gaddafi thought and I viewed him as an unhinged and corrupt dictator but I do know that he ordered some of his citizens to bring down Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988 killing 270 people.   In my view all of that is psychopaths and thugs finding excuses to be violent jerks and therefore should be lumped in with organisations like the KKK and the Nazi Party.  It isn’t politics if your political solutions exclude the rights of citizens because they are viewed as sub-human, that is just being dangerous douchebags.

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The top images were taken in the outskirts of Dar.  The lower image shows one of the many sign shops that specialise in painting portraits on vehicles.  I apologise for the poor quality but like most of my Dar images this was taken from a moving vehicle.

The reason for the chill I felt was that among all the other people they targeted Al Qaeda represented a blanket hatred of Westerners of which I am obviously one as were my fellow travelers.  You can easily tell that by looking at us.  Our truck stood out like a sore thumb and it was obvious that Westerners were on board.  So seeing the portraits of bin Laden confirmed that we were now among some people who hated us so much they were willing to say so all over their taxi.  In fairness I only saw maybe 5 or 6 of the bin Laden and Gadaffi vans amongst probably hundreds of ones adorning people like Obama, Bob Marley, Tupac and Cristiano Ronaldo but they were enough to make me feel uneasy.

Uneasy is pretty much how I felt during my whole stay in Dar.  It began with the bin Laden portraits then continued with the lewd gestures men would make at myself and the other females in the truck from the road.  If you were paying attention you could see this happening every few minutes or so and they had rape rather than date written all over their faces.  I remember being stuck in a traffic jam by the port for a very long time and seeing lone men staring at us with what I can only describe as hatred in their eyes.  It put me on full alert so that if one of these men suddenly disappeared I’d be worrying that they were up to no good and noticed that I was bracing myself for something bad to happen.

It wasn’t all bad though.  Many people still waved happily from the side of the road and lots friendly vendors would approach us when we were stuck in traffic to try to sell us fruit, water or soft drinks, often staying for a chat even when they realised we weren’t going to buy anything.  So far the city itself looked like any other big city in a developing country with people absolutely everywhere, the streets clogged with traffic, people living in all manner of housing from tarpaulins under billboards to fancy apartments.  The actual city centre was small yet looked modern, clean and well designed but there were very few people walking around there with most foreigners who work in Dar living in company or government compounds and getting around with a private driver.

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We were at the tail end of a day-long drive from Iringa and I think it took us over 2 hours to get from the outskirts of Dar to our campsite on the Indian Ocean.  Once we got through the traffic jam by the port we eventually crossed a bridge near the ocean where there were some nice riverside suburbs and into Kigamboni District, a more sparsely populated area south of the city where there is a lot of new development happening.  We drove around a naval base, past a giant rubbish dump where we saw entire families living actually inside the dump, through the small yet crowded town of Kigamboni and eventually reached Kipepeo Beach Village that would be home for now.

It was a great campsite where you could pitch your tents with an ocean view and the only thing between you and the beach was a large security fence protected by armed guards.   It is not uncommon in Africa for staff out in the bush to have weapons in case of a rogue leopard or buffalo but I hadn’t seen these specifically being used in such an obvious way to protect us against humans.  I pitched my tent right by the fence facing the ocean so I could enjoy the sound of the waves and wake-up directly facing an Indian Ocean sunrise.  However I regretted that when I needed a pre-dawn visit to the bathroom because as I emerged from my tent a guard thought I might be an intruder breaching the fence so quickly pointed a gun in my direction thankfully along with a torch so that I was quickly identified and didn’t get shot.  Still that was the last night I spent in the tent there and chose to upgrade to a grass bungalow set away from the beach after that.

Their security wasn’t overdone.  In the time we were in the area a tourist couple were abducted from the beach with the perpetrator threatening to rape the wife at gunpoint until the husband handed over their money.  There was also a rumoured rape of a different female tourist also abducted from the beach.  Apparently this is common so if you are in Dar and you are told by locals or staff to stay out of certain areas then please listen to them.

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The next day we were heading to Zanzibar for three nights and I’ll cover that off in a separate post however the most memorable parts of the journey there and back happened in Dar.  There were nine of us plus our tour leader traveling and first our driver had to take us to the Kigamboni Ferry Terminal where an old commuter car ferry crosses a small stretch of water between the old Kigamboni fishing village and the city.

The village is a compact but crowded town with narrow streets lined by shops that you access via boards over drainage ditches meaning there is no sidewalk so that trekking down to the ferry terminal involves dodging lots of motorbikes and tuk-tuks.  Our tour leader ducked into one of these shops to purchase ferry tickets for us and we made our way down to the ramp to board.  It was the tail end of rush hour so it wasn’t too crowded and our guide had told us that it was an open air ferry we’d be sharing with local commuters on foot and in vehicles along with plenty of chickens and perhaps the odd goat for the short ride to the city.

As we boarded we found his description pretty accurate and it was an uneventful yet interesting trip to the ferry terminal in the city.  From there we made our way with the crowds to the bus station where we had to take a short ride to the Zanzibar ferry terminal.  We found the bus station and the actual buses to be very modern, clean and well-organised compared to everything else we had seen so far.  The government had invested in a commuter bus overhaul in recent years leaving the citizens of Dar with a system that was far more pleasant to use than similar services in cities like London or New York.  At least on that day.

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Image sourced from Wikipedia Commons

On a Sunday a few days later just three of us returned to the campsite in Dar with our tour leader.  The rest had finished their African trip in Zanzibar apart from my two friends who had been with me since Cape Town who were already waiting at the campsite.  We disembarked the Zanzibar ferry after a rough ride and I managed to get through far quicker than the others so waited on the street outside the terminal.  I found myself surrounded by a large crowd of men who were either meeting people off the ferry or touting taxis.  My tour leader anxiously kept an eye on me whilst we waited for the others to come through and I was getting hassled mercilessly to take a taxi until a few nice men in the crowd formed a protective circle around me until we were ready to leave.

We walked back to the same bus station that seemed deserted on this Sunday afternoon and soon boarded a bus that was fairly empty apart from a group of women sat close to the door with babies and toddlers.  I stood close to them and slightly separated from the my group as we made the short ride to the ferry terminal station.  As we approached the stop the women with their children moved to the door intending to get off but when the doors opened a large throng of shouting young men piled into the bus without waiting for anyone to get off and thus blocking the exit.  They knocked over children, shoved the mothers aside and for a brief moment I realised I had lost sight of my group and there was no way for me to get off despite my attempts to get to the door in all of the shouting and pushing.

Just when I was figuring out how I’d get back to the bus station should I have to go to the next stop alone I heard a man’s voice in English yelling ‘Come on!  Its okay!  Come this way!’.  One older man who was entering the bus had seen my predicament so blocked a space for me in the doorway.  By now the mothers were pleading with the young men to get out of the way, children were screaming and I had become more angry than concerned.  Between me and the door was a large young man who was yelling incoherently at the women so I planted both my palms on his chest and pushed him as hard as I could which created just enough space to get to the nice man in the doorway who grabbed my arm then pulled me through the remaining aggressors off  the bus just as the doors were closing and I stumbled into the very concerned arms of my tour leader.

As we rushed out of the bus station it was getting dark and the four of us walked in silence. I looked back at my two trip mates who looked a little shell-shocked by the experience.  All of us were experienced travelers but we had never seen the aggression and selfishness displayed by those young men before.  We had all seen grown women treated badly in situations like this so what was particularly shocking was their utter disregard for the safety of the babies and toddlers that they placed well below their desire to get a place on the bus to the point that they were willing to walk right over them.  I remember a very small baby getting elbowed quite hard in the head by one of these men and the sight left me shaken.

The ferry terminal is a vast shed-like building with large gates at one end that stay locked until the ferry is ready for passengers to board.  The other end remains open and is quickly filled by crowds of people jostling to get to the front so they can get on a ferry as quickly as possible.  This crowd of commuters were calmer than those on the bus but we were still shaken up by the experience so stuck closely together and felt nervous as the gates were about to open in case there was another stampede.  There kind of was but as long as you knew it was coming and kept up your pace you were fine although I’d hate to think what would happen if you tripped on the ramp down to the ferry.

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This aerial shot of Dar shows the small body of water separting the highrises of downtown from Kigamboni.  Although a new brigde now spans the two areas due to our location it was far quicker to get the ferry as do many commuters.

Image sourced from Wikipedia Commons

The stress didn’t stop once we got on board.  It was significantly more crowded than the ride we took a few days ago and quite dark.  There is no separate boarding area or location for the cars and they didn’t slow down a whole heap  as they drove on board with the drivers just kind of assuming everyone would get out of their way.  Everyone did but even local commuters seemed scared of accidentally getting jammed between cars or stumbling so that you got a foot crushed or worse.  We found a precarious position between some cars and a wall where we kept giving each other words of encouragement and fantasized about the time an hour from then when this would be just be a good story we’d tell our tripmates over a few beers at the bar.  We stayed there for the short ride and I remember it being so cramped that I couldn’t turn around without getting my small daypack caught on either car mirrors or railings.  It was clearly important to disembark before the cars started moving or you’d once again risk getting hurt.

It was over quickly and we were soon dodging scooters and taxis as we walked back through the town to our waiting truck.  I distinctly remember the three of us travelers giving the driver a huge hug and thinking that the truck could have been a Gulfstream private jet considering how happy I was to be on it.  Although the only incident that occurred was when we tried to disembark the bus there was just a generally bad feeling about the whole commute so that I felt uneasy and although I’m loathe to criticise an entire city based on a few experiences there is no getting around the fact that I felt unwelcome and intimidated.  This is something that I have rarely felt as a traveler or resident anywhere else in the world to such a degree however I think it is important to note that there are probably many people who have traveled to Dar and had a positive experience.  My opinion is my own and it is not one I’ve discussed with many other travelers who have been to Dar so if you are interested in the city I still encourage you to go there yourself with an open mind to form your own opinion.

We were indeed shortly relaying the story of our journey with the rest of our crew and tripmates over a few beers.  We all agreed we’d be happier when we left Dar es Salaam, something we’d get to do the next morning after a long drive that would take us out of the city and north toward the last big highlights of the trip; Serengeti National Park and Ngorogoro Crater.

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One thought on “Tanzania Part II: Dar es Salaam

  1. Emma F

    It sounds terrifying! I got butterflies in my belly just reading about it! Like you say, yours is only one opinion and others may differ, but I put a lot of value in intuition and if a place ‘feels’ like that there is most likely a reason for it.

    Looking forward to the next instalment

    Liked by 1 person

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