Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dubai to Dar-es-Salaam - 25th April 2011

Indian time refused to part ways with the body clock.  After readying material for the blog I ‘played’ around with the coffee maker for some time, even summoning additional sachets of coffee mix.  I impatiently waited till it was respectable time for breakfast in the Hotel Coffee Shop.  I was offered Dosa and Sambar, but opted for a masala omlette and accoutrements.  A huge helping of fresh fruits briefly embellished my plate.  Strong coffee with milk got me into the right frame of mind for the flight to Dar es Salaam.
The Airline gave me a drop to the T3 terminal and I wandered aimlessly for a while in the Duty Free, at times comparing the liquor prices with that in Bangalore International Airport.  The prices in Bangalore are definitely lower.  In the Emirates airport lounge I downed an excellently made Bloody Mary and filled out a feedback form (on the experience yesterday) while awaiting announcement for the flight.  The service on EK 725 to DAR was definitely better – the food and drinks I got what I wanted and not what was left over.  Moreover, the pretty Thai girl was friendly and full of life.
The flight from Dubai to Dar-es-Salaam lasted all of 5 hours.  When the flight was landing I got a glimpse of the various islands that dot the Indian Ocean close to the erstwhile Tanganyika coast, including Zanzibar.  No high rise buildings, just rusty, tin roofed single floor houses.  The port is a pretty sight from above and so are the water bodies.  I had planned to obtain a visa on arrival at the Julius Nyerere International Airport and accordingly filled out forms.  The way it was processed showed how entrenched the old British systems are.  They were neither fast not efficient.  But what saves the day are the friendly Tanzanians who man the counters and other services.  They have a smile for everyone and for everything.  After examining the documentation I had for yellow fever vaccination I was asked to pay $50 for the visa.  The officer examined the currency note studiously and informed me that they accept only notes that are 2001 vintage and later.  Apparently, this precaution is to avoid counterfeits that almost subsumed the ‘exchange bureaus’ a few years back. Later I learnt that the dollar notes of 1996 etc are not of much use here.  They could be exchanged, but at a huge rebate to the normal exchange rate of 1500 Tshs to a $.  100 Tshs is roughly Rs.3.  The Customs department did not bother about the two bottles of whiskey I brought in.  The climate was humid. I had worn a jacket as I was told that it is winter time in Tanzania.  I ‘burnt’ in the airport arrival hall and the jacket was quickly abandoned.
When I came out of the Airport I was received by Irfan Khan and Omar Noor.  I was booked into the Tanzanite Hotel, a new facility in the midst of a large Indian community in Dar.  The Hotel has large rooms and decent facilities. What immediately caught my eye were a few Masai tribesmen sitting in front of the Hotel constantly chatting amongst themselves.  Tanzanite is a stone discovered by the Masai in the 1960s.  A stone of immense color and beauty, it is much sought after.  What adds value is its limited availability.  Irfan has been doing business in Tanzania for a few years now and his local contact is Omar, a Somali by descent. After a wash we decided to go to ‘The Slipway’ for dinner.
The first impression I got of Dar from the drive from the airport and to ‘The Slipway’ is that people still do not have access to Malls and organized shopping places.  Dar is just an overgrown village with a desire to be urban.  Traffic blocks are legendary even though the vehicle density is not so high.  The population of the large country is just about 42 million – it is said that even if 10 hectares is distributed free to every Tanzanian the State will still be left with enough land for a few generations more.  This mineral rich country is still in a very nascent stage of development and prospecting.  The mineral wealth includes gold deposits in 19 of the 21 provinces of the country, coal, iron ore, limestone, copper, etc.  The country is blessed by huge lakes such as the Victoria, Nyasa, Tanganyika, Manyara, Nutron and Eyasi.  However, the presence of these natural sources of water and the abundant rainfall have not translated into organized irrigation and farming.  The potential for this is massive.  I made out from the tourist leaflets at the airport that the country is a tourists’ delight.  It offers a wide range of places to visit for the tourist from the revered Kilimanjaro to the amazing craterland of Ngorongoro to the rich wildlife of Serengiti National Park to the spice trading centre of Zanzibar to the Lakes of Victoria and Tanganyika to the picture postcard centres in the South like Mbeya.  It has so much to offer and I have very little time.  What happens in such a circumstance is a kind of desperation to visit this and see that and go there and be here.  I decided to spend time with Irfan and Omar and try to understand the place and people a bit more interspersed with a few visits to places of interest.
At The Slipway we took a table close to the waterfront and ordered a round of the local beer, ‘Kilimanjaro’.  Even the ‘favorite’ bottled water is called that.  Omar and Irfan decided to have a soda – all aerated beverages are called soda.  They settled for Stoney, a ginger drink from the House of Coke.  Over the drinks I got a flavor of Tanzania from my two friends.  The people are so friendly that one seldom sees them breaking out into a fight.  Everything is amicably settled with a smile and a handshake.  Even total strangers are greeted by the locals in traditional style. 65% of the population is Muslim and over 30% Christian.  There are many tribes in Tanzania, prime among them being the Bantus (mainly in the south) and the Masais (in the north and the north-west). However, a common language, Swahili, knits them together.  Swahili is an interesting blend of Hindi, English and local languages using a Roman script.  Casinos are many and so are the nightclubs.  Cabs are very expensive in Tanzania.  The cars are mostly used ones imported from Japan.  Hardly any major automotive manufacturer has a showroom in Dar.  Interestingly, both diesel and petrol are priced the same. In Dar a litre of fuel costs about 2000 to 2100 Tshs; roughly about Rs.60. Dinner consisted of Beef Misaki (barbecued beef), Beef Samosas, Kalamari, Red Snapper and chips. The preparations were delicious and Omar promised to get me ‘Ugali’, the local maize staple, tomorrow.

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