Arusha, Tanzania – We’re not in Kansas anymore….

We landed, after a gruelling 24 hour stop and start flight, to Dar Es Salaam on the east coast of Tanzania. To cross from the west to the east coast was a challenge, but we arrived to hot, sub saharan heat – the first time we had ever been below the equator. Luckily enough we had a pretty good connecting flight to Arusha where we crashed on our beds for pretty much 16 hours.

Where Morocco had been an assault on all our senses, Arusha was a whole new world: shanty houses, poverty and people. The capital of the Arusha District, Arusha is a hub of commercial businesses and the central place where tourists book and commence their favourite big animal safaris. The Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimangaro, and Arusha National Park are all major attractions that you embark to from Arusha. Luckily we arrived at slow season so we didn’t have to mingle with all those nasty Mizungus (white tourists). But, it also left us being the few white people in town. Boy did we get stared at!

But here’s the difference with Morocco – the people are wonderful! Warm, easy to smile and I have to admit beautiful! Not to down play Moroccan people, we met some wonderful ones too, but here, we didn’t get the constant harassment from vendors or the disapproving stares from the staunch religious men… and the women actually looked at you (even unabashedly staring at you! No shyness there…) The number of shouts “hey Mizungus!!” we got from the side of the road, or from a open stall, followed by an eager wave and huge smile, was amazing. Every where we went, children would start following, pointing, staring and smiling with a final wave – so heart warming. I was so used to males staring with total mistrust – which happens here too, until you smile, wave and greet them with “Mambo!” They then show a huge smile and heartily wave back. I felt a huge relief to be able to be friendly and outgoing, which I really try to be.

(Courtesy of MyTanzaniaTimes)

We stayed in a friend of Jenna’s apartment about a 15 minute Dala Dala ride from the center of town. Now for those of you that travel to Mexico and Central America, you would remember Collectivos. These are full size vans with rows of bench seating and can take 12 to 16 people. They’re reliable and cruise down the roads at unreasonable fast rates. Well the Dala Dala is another thing altogether. Same size van, same seating for 12 to 16, but in reality, takes up to 28 people! These are full size adults, a lot of ‘plus’ size adults, with babies, boxes, bags etc, etc. Just when you think you can’t fit another person in there, the conductor (not the driver, whose focused on the road with his cel phone in his hand) is leaning out the window whistling to people on the side of the road. The van stops, and I kid you not, I peer through the breasts of the oversize lady who is leaning over me, to see two more ‘Mamas’ (an affectionate term) pile on and squeeze (as they laugh) between the three people on the bench in front of me, which makes 22 on the Dala Dala. Jenna has counted 28 – it’s an unbelievable thing to witness. Everyone laughs, takes it with a handful of salt and makes it to their destination.

(Courtesy of SendKelly)

I was heading to a specific electrical gadget store and although I told the conductor, missed my spot. I ask him if I had, then he bangs on the side of the van, the van immediately stops in the middle of the road, the conductor and I pile out, he stops traffic in both directions, flags down a Dala Dala going in the opposite direction and off I go without so much as an African fart. Laughs and smiles all around. Amazing.

Sorry, I get too carried away about Dala Dalas, but I think that kind of represents how Arusha works. Totally intimidating, but kind, friendly and patient. We still had a few issues – if you accept help from anyone, they generally want to be paid for it, but life is hard here. People find anything and try to sell it to eek out a living. Clothes hanging from trees, baskets of nuts, cobs of freshly roasted corn – whatever they can find. Seeing people riding their old bicycles to market with 4 foot rolls of wire or bundles of sticks is not uncommon. Bicycle taxis, motorcycle taxis, all either flying down the rough road with passengers seated calmly on back, or parked on the side of the road with the driver lying on the seat waiting for his next customer.

There’s other things to talk about Arusha – food, local sites, music. But not a lot of that stood out for me. We luckily travelled with our daughter Jenna who has travelled and lived in Africa off and on for 4 years, so we had an advantage. We took motorcycles up to the falls just outside of Arusha, which I have to say was harrowing – all I can say is ‘do something everyday that scares you’, so I won’t have to do anything scary for a week or two, and we walked and explored local shops, markets and restaurants. but it was the people, the poverty and customs that stood out for me the most.

Arusha is definately for the hearty traveller. Wealthy vacationers fly in to Arusha, get picked up at the airport by their safari company and taken directly out to their safari of choice and then fly out with no interaction with the locals and no local experience – I get that, but I think they’re missing out.

A week there was enough. We planned our safari for later on and worked out a curriculum for our next adventure – Tabora.

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