After a Thanksgiving dinner of ugali and sukuma wiki in Nairobi, I headed down to Tanzania to see Ned and Emily. Ned is an old friend from Berkeley and Emily is his wife and traveling companion. They are there on their honeymoon/volunteering vacation. Plane trees under the gathering clouds of Mt. Meru, TanzaniaThey are working in orphanages and children’s homes. The one they were staying in outside of Arusha was run by the Seventh Day Adventists and was located in their Development agency’s compound. I caught the early shuttle bus from Nairobi and was in Arusha by that afternoon. (I’m leaving out the part about how I arranged this trip. It was supposed to be a free ride with a tour operator who wanted me to help him with his website. He never showed up and so I had to pay, but only half price. Not too bad.)

At the border crossing into Tanzania I had to pay US$100 for my visa. The price has gone up, I guess because the U.S. has increased the visa price for Tanzanians, though I’m not sure about that. It was worrying because I thought that I might need US$50 to get back into Kenya. Luckily, it turned out that my single-entry Kenyan visa was good enough. These visa fees all have to be paid in actual dollars, not their equivalent in local currency, so I only had 100 with me in the first place.

Entering Tanzania, I felt there was a noticeable difference. It feel more authentically African. That is to say it conforms more with my expectations of what Africa might be like. There are endless grassy plains sprinkled with plane trees and termite mounds and Maasais can be seen walking or herding their animals, dressed in their distinctive red and blue wraps. They can also be seen wearing baseball caps and talking on cell phones, but even this is more “African” than the crowds in western dress on the streets of Nairobi. The small towns that we passed were more ramshackle, but also more colorful and vibrant.

I arrived in Arusha but not at the bus station, because I was in a private shuttle. Luckily, the driver took me over to the bus station where Ned and Emily had been waiting and watching all of the buses arriving from Nairobi. The last bus had just arrived and it was fortunate that I arrived at around the same time, because they didn’t know what they were going to do if I wasn’t on that one.

We went out to a nice restaurant that has Italian and Indian food. (Actually, the waitress told us that there was no Indian food that day, or at that time, for whatever reason) This was to be our lavish Thanksgiving Lunch, a luxurious splurge for us all. And it was good.

Afterwards we made our way, by daladala, to the compound where the children’s home is. The volunteer accommodation, which sits above the children’s home, is very nice, being newly built. It would make a nice apartment anywhere in the U.S. with its leather couches, potable tap water and other modern amenities.

We went out to an art show to see my friend Barnabe’s friend who lives in Arusha. The show was in a luxe hotel and it was pretty cool, but I didn’t have any way of getting in touch with the woman I was looking for. I made a name tag indicating I was B’s friend, but that didn’t work to well. We went home unfulfilled, with me having let down B-nab once again on the meeting up with friends tip. Still, we had some beers in their swish little bar and it was interesting people watching the crowd of mzungus.

The one activity that we did complete was going to Arusha National Park, Arusha National Park gate with Mt. Meru in the backgroundthough, of course, it took much more time and effort than we imagined. And it was what we thought it would be in the end. They had read that it was possible to hike around some of these saline lakes that they have in the park and that was our plan. However, upon arrival in the park we found that we couldn’t actually hike at all and had to rent a vehicle to take us around. Speaking of vehicles I should back up a second to describe the daladala ride out there. Daladalas, Tanzania’s name for the matatu, are much less regulated in TZ than in Kenya, especially Nairobi. So, I was not accustomed to riding standing up, bent over other passengers or crouched by the door in the step well while the conductor (a young boy in this case) rode on the back bumper! Apparently they are much less rigid with the 14 passenger rule that is becoming the norm in Kenya.

Well, at the park entrance, where we could see the looming arcs of volcanic Mt. Meru, we spent some time skeptically waiting for the vehicle that we were forced to call to take us around.
Many dung-related items on this sign for a nature walk
A safari van showed up eventually. They look just like a daladala except with far fewer seats and a rooftop hatch; ours had to be held open with a rope tied off to the front bumper.

Just after entering the park, we saw giraffes (“twiga”: in Swahili) off the side of the road. We drove up to the top of a huge crater there with wildlife living down in the flat central region. Eventually the van could not go any farther on the dirt road. The driver’s English was not so hot. At the point where we had to turn back, Ned and I spent some time putting twigs and branches in front of the tire for traction. As the van was already stuck, we asked the driver whether he was going forward or backwards (he could not have misinterpreted the direction our fingers were pointing). So, we set up the branches in front of the tire so that he can continue to climb up the road and the driver gets in and, after some engine revving, proceeds to back up! We never figured that one out.

Twiga kidogo, Arusha National Park

We saw a good deal of wild life in the park, including buffalo, baboons, warthogs and zebra.

Baboon family

Saline lake in Arusha National Park

The lakes that we had wanted to hike around turned out to be pretty far from each other and in the end we were glad of the van.

Buffalo, chilling

We had been afraid that we were getting ripped off, but it turned out not to be that expensive anyway. After the park, we had dinner in a roadside restaurant. They were conducting a promotional raffle where they called out name after name of patrons who had already left, but unfortunately, we didn’t win anything. The grand prize was a microwave, if I remember correctly, but the lesser prizes were beers, which would have been nice.

Ned and Emily in the safari van

Kilimanjharo as seen from Arusha National Park, Tanzania

The next day it was already time for me to go. I spent some time with Emily down in the children’s home with the kids. We took them out for a walk to sit under the lychee tree with some of the Tanzanian childminders (nannies? child care workers?). It was cool to be eating fresh lychees, which the kids love, and playing with the kids. If you’ve never eaten a lychee off the tree, let me explain that the fruit is covered in a crusty skin which you peel off. So, for the kids it’s this little process of discovery where they get to open the fruit and then see if it’s good inside. The unripe ones are more bitter than sweet. I also got to talk to one of the nannies, Neema, who sat with us. That was nice as it was one of my only experiences interacting on a personal level a Tanzanian.

Emily stayed behind at the home while Ned and I went into town. We had lunch at a small restaurant near the bus station. Tanzanian food is more influenced by Indian cuisine than Kenyan food is and that makes it pretty interesting. They seem to have an obsession of sorts with salt; there’s often a lot of it in the food and sometimes they serve a pile of salt on the plate with the food. I fell victim to the pile on my plate, accidentally scooping it up with a forkful of food. Yech! Luckily, I had some avocado-passion fruit juice to wash down that salt chunk. Emily had told me that she would get the salt chunks all the time when they were eating out more. People of Tanzania: spare the salt! We can sprinkle it on afterwards.

After lunch and some shopping for spices and other souvenirs, before Ned saw me off at the shuttle stop. Passing through the bus station area, though, we were accosted by a two man pickpocketing gang. It’s possible that they actually got my license and two debit cards; all that I carry in my pocket. Their strategy was that one walked right in front of the mark and then stopped at the same time the other pretended to step on the mark’s foot at an angle that was back and to the side. The one who steps on the foot then goes through an elaborate process of saying sorry and wiping off the mark’s supposedly scuffed shoe. Presumably this is when the guy in front does the actual pickpocketing. They hit me very effectively, because we were between two daladalas at the time and so, I was boxed in. I realized what was happening and then pushed the guy in front of me out of the way. If I had pushed anyone not involved in a criminal activity like that they would have raised a ruckus, and rightfully so. The strangest thing, though, was that Ned was ahead of me and we both continued walking, even as I’m telling him what just happened. Then, the guys walk ahead and try to do the same thing to Ned, right in front of me! At which point I continued on my stride and this time pushed both of them. This was the closest I came to having any sort of problem with crime (unless you count the possible pickpocketing of my phone in a matatu in Nairobi). I have to say that it was really no big whoop and I can’t blame the Tanzanians who otherwise seemed very friendly and nice.

So after that little experience I got on the shuttle back to Nairobi, now crowded with other travelers. This time, crossing the border went very smoothly. It turned out that my visa for Kenya was fine for re-entry. We did spend a lot of time at the border crossing actually in the shuttle van waiting while Maasai women sold people water, jewelry, and phone cards. This was amusing because the shuttle then stops five minutes down the road at its usual resting place, a cheesy souvenir shop with an overpriced cafe selling refreshments.

Well, then I made it back to Nairobi and eventually back to my room at the Saiyorri house. I had a great time and was really glad to have had the chance to visit Ned and Emily while they were out there. Looking back, I should have planned my time differently. I had only two days to be in Nairobi before leaving on a short safari. The safari’s first stop? Amboseli National Park in Kenya, a stone’s throw away from the Tanzanian border.