The busride to Dar es Salaam was long and beautiful. After boarding the Kilimanjaro Express bus and leaving Moshi about 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time (this is East Africa, after all), we left the shadow of Kilimanjaro and passed by the steep green slopes of the Pare and Usambara mountains on the way down to the coast, with plentiful pineapple plantations and small villages at their base. Stopping a few times to allow herds of cattle to cross the road, what was supposed to be an 8 hour journey turned into 11 hours as the bus constantly became stuck behind slow-moving trucks on the two-lane road into the city.
I had booked a room at a hotel near the airport in the Ukonga district, across the city from the bus station. With only vague directions my taxi driver needed to ask a local boda boda (motorcyle taxi) to show us the way down a dark, poorly maintained dirt road to the hotel gate. This scenario would replay itself many times over the course of the next two weeks (boda bodas are the local experts everywhere in East Africa, after all).
The following day I came face to face with Dar’s number one problem: traffic. Covering the 15 kilometers across the city to the Kenyan consulate on a bajaji (a three-wheeled open-air vehicle similar to a tuk-tuk in Thailand or autorickshaw in India) took over an hour and a half of dusty travel, complete with white-uniformed traffic police ignoring the horns of frustrated motorists at every intersection. With the help of Japanese engineers, the government has begun construction of an elevated “flyway” that should help alleviate some of the congestion, though when I asked my driver when it would be completed he shrugged and said it was supposed to be completed two years ago.
After a quick stop at the Kenyan consulate to confirm that I could obtain an East Africa Tourist Visa at the border (and a lunch of stewed meat and rice), I spent some time in the National Museum exploring a fascinating exhibit on human evolution and Tanzania’s role in the discovery of ancient hominid fossils in Olduvai Gorge near Serengeti. There were also interesting exhibits on Tanzania’s colonial history and the independence movement in the 1950’s and 60’s as well as a small memorial to the 12 people who died in the Al-Qaeda attack on the US Embassy in 1998.
Wandering the streets of Dar es Salaam it is easy to observe the diverse influences that have impacted the make-up of the city, with black African citizens from all parts of the country rubbing shoulders with Arab shopkeepers and Indian fruit sellers. Arab traders have a long history in East Africa (in fact, many Swahili words originally derive from Arabic), and many Indians arrived and established roots during the British colonial era. It is a very lively city and I would love to spend more time strolling through the city center and tasting all of the local foods (many of which are based on ugali, a soft corn-meal dough usually paired with meat or fish).
My next stop was the small city of Bagamoyo, located about 70 kilometers up the coast from Dar. In the 19th century it served as an important transit point in the East African slave trade, as slaves from the interior were brought to the port on the way to Zanzibar. It was also here that the Germans established their first colonial capital in East Africa in 1887, before transferring it to Dar in 1891. There are many interesting historical buildings in the city’s old town to wander through, including a caravanserai (lodge for traders) built by the Arabs where I learned a great deal about the city’s history and Tanzanian politics more generally and from the friendly curator. Inevitably when learning I am from the US a discussion on Trump arose, with the curator expressing her support of the new administration for its anti-same sex marriage bent (homosexuality is an extreme taboo in most of East Africa). Some younger visitors who happened to be passing by voiced their support of same sex marriage, and a small argument ensued.
I ended the day walking along the beach where fisherman carried in their dhows (a local boat with a triangular sail) and women sat on the beach cleaning the day’s catch to be sold at the fish market nearby. I bought a coconut and sat looking out over the Indian Ocean, listening to the calls of the fish-sellers blend with those of seabirds as the light slowly faded into dusk.