Dar es Salaam - Peace In The Home
Some of us yearn to see the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Opera House, or Table Mountain. I have always wanted to see the Kigamboni Bridge.
Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar began building a new city close to Mzizima and named it Dar es Salaam. The name is commonly translated from Arabic as “abode (home) of peace”, from Dar (“house”), and es salaam (“of peace”).
At last, we were on our way. Dar es Salaam we're on our way. The road soon became busier and more congested as we approached the city—no longer travelling quiet country lanes but highways ever more gridlocked with hooting taxis, flying motorbikes and jay walking pedestrians who flood the roads and sidewalks as informal market stalls mushroom and trading gets underway.
Traders were eager to secure a sale before the trucks and humming busses filled with commuters entered the city and disappeared like mist in the morning sun. Streetfood vendors were ready to serve breakfast.
As I flip through my photographs, my overwhelming impression is the colour, bright, sunshine, clean, unfiltered, unadulterated vivid colour. People are colourful, stalls are bright and even vehicles are festooned in colour.
Out of the blue there's a downpour, yet not even the fat globular drops could diminish the vibrant reds, yellows, tangerines and cobalt blues.
The rain also filled every pothole, ditch, and indentation. Water pooled and dammed everywhere and would take its sweet time to evaporate or sink into the red clayish soil.
After the rains, the greens were more saturated, and the landscape washed clean, sparkly and crisp. All the dust washed away. The joy of feeling the heat and humidity, so unlike our customary autumn rains in the Cape.
We could not find a suitable camping spot within the city limits or along the coast and had to settle for the Sunrise Beach Resort, south of town. The display of blow-up pool toys was an excellent way to direct us to the beach and campground.
The recommendations suggested that the manager was tip-top and the chef was an ace at preparing Indian cuisine. Butch had a list of questions for the manager and I couldn't wait to have lunch.
Our entrance was a wet one. There was a new manager, but the price was right, and we were the only campers and seemingly the only guests at the resort. There were facilities, a long stretch of beach, the sign advertised "the biggest swimming pool in Dar es Salaam" a restaurant, and we were only a ferry ride away from Dar es Salaam.
With a site facing the beach under the shade of swaying coconut palms and an ocean as calm as a pond we couldn't complain and soon settled down.
Rainy weather cooled our heels and kept us indoors fingers on our keypads and devices. We had work to do. I have decided I prefer a Mediterranean climate, one can get all the nasty weather behind you in one fell swoop. The summer rains really upset the apple cart for us and at times we endured wet clothes, soggy towels and damp, musty mats, table cloths and even our bed linens inside the Badger were clammy for days. On two occasions we woke to fogged up windows and wet floors. The hatches hadn't locked sufficiently. There was a wet puppy odour all around us.
The main reason for spending time in Dar es Salaam before sailing to Zanzibar was to catch up on various admin chores, and most importantly, the Honey Badger needed a check-up. Her brakes made a scraping noise, like a niggly horse she was pulling to the left. I had also noticed the steering wheel shaking when I was behind the wheel. Butch assured me she just needed her wheels balanced.
Here we were in a strange city, at the other end of the world, a time zone away from our familiars, and we needed someone to look at our brakes. Those things that stop you from careening over the edge of a cliff on a downhill. Who do you trust? It takes me months to trust my neighbour with my wheelie bin, and here we were thinking of handing our beloved over to someone we hadn’t found on Google yet. Daunting.
But Google is one’s friend when you’re at a loss. Easy peasy, we found Isuzu Dar es Salaam, and within minutes we had Mohammed, the technician, on WhatsApp. He would be with us within the hour. He assured us he’d bring his box of gizmos, check our vitals, diagnose and arrange the service.
Everyone uses WhatsApp. From the Tuk-tuk driver to the orthopedic surgeon can be reached with a voice or written message. It is the prefered method of communication in Africa.
Butch and I had just put our knives and forks down in the restaurant after a delicious chicken curry when we heard a car pull up to the Honey Badger.
From a big blue car, a giant uncoiled himself. Mohammed, a titan, had us both in a bear hug upon meeting us. Jovial and full of joy, he oozed confidence and had us mesmerised.
Without further ado, he sailed under the truck inspecting the brake drums and came up with his diagnosis. We could leave it all in his capable hands. The brakes needed to be adjusted. Easy Peazy
Within the hour, Mohammed had checked our vitals and Anurup Chatterjee, the country manager of Izuzu Tanzania, arrived and gave us the once-over.
We were so overwhelmed by the efficient service and the friendliness that we wrote all about our experience on the Isuzu FaceBook page. This was unheard of in our experience (although I must acknowledge that we’ve only had five-star service with our Isuzu dealings.)
Joseph, the workshop manager, made an appointment, and it was agreed that the truck could stay at AL Mansour Auto. EA (Tanzania) Ltd for the duration of our Zanzibar sojourn. We were assured that we had nothing to worry about and that our pride and joy would be in good hands. Joseph was so concerned about the batteries he'd send regular messages and photographs assuring us that our batteries were 100% charged. That is service.
Anurup, Mohammed and Joseph have since come to our rescue on numerous occasions and stay in contact with Butch finding out how we're doing and progressing.
The second order of business was Butch’s leg. I was unhappy with the stitches busy dissolving while the wound hadn't closed up, especially where the affected area was directly on the bone.
Besides, I had witnessed a similar wound on a friend’s leg, and her laceration had taken months to heal. Doctors even threatened to do skin grafts. We were not in a position to contemplate such a possibility.
We would do the touristy thing we decided and strapped on our day packs, and hitched a ride on the ferry. From there, we went in search of a hospital.
Like any city, there are numerous hospitals and clinics catering to all patients with many different ailments and life-threatening conditions. Eventually, after walking for hours, we hailed a baja and were dropped off at the front entrance of the Aga Khan Hospital.
The clinics and hospitals of the Aga Khan Health Service make the service the longest-serving not-for-profit private healthcare institution in Tanzania. It established its first health Dispensary in Dar es Salaam in 1929.
Soon we had the formalities sorted, and Butch was seated in front of a clinician who took one look at the leg and agreed he needed to see the orthopaedic doctor on duty. With the necessary phone calls made and the doctors on high alert awaiting Butch, we could chat.
This young emergency doctor had specialised at Tygerberg Hospital, which meant we had common stomping grounds. He went on to give us excellent referrals to good restaurants in Dar es Salaam and warned Butch not to put his foot into the water while we were in Zanzibar for fear of an infection in the bone. He also suggested new gut stitches on the outside of the leg.
In the orthopaedic section, Butch was consulted by another young doctor. We seem to think we’re on the old side, everyone is so young. He agreed with the trauma doctor. The old stitches were removed, and extensive debridement was performed on the laceration. Internal and external stitches were applied and finally bandaged, and more shots were injected. Butch was beginning to look like a junky from all the needling.
We left there with more antibiotics and ointments to be applied. If the lesion healed, we could remove the stitches after ten days and then, if he felt an urgent need, could go snorkelling. We’d see about that.
One morning I happened to poke my nose out soon after Butch left to go shopping and found him making his great escape like a high jumper scaling the bar. Not exactly the Fosbury flop but if he fell those stitches might've come off second best and there would've been no dar es Salaam in the Honey Badger.
Not that we needed a reason to celebrate, but we did. To soothe the conscience, we took ourselves off to the Karambezi Café.
There we were seated at a table for two overlooking the ocean. The restaurant’s situation was a poignant reminder of Hermanus, and it gave us a feeling of nostalgia as we gazed over the cliffs so similar to the Marine Hotel and the position so akin to the Burgundy restaurant.
This popular restaurant was abuzz with guests celebrating a fortieth birthday, Moët & Chandon corks were popping at adjacent tables as friends and families gathered for Sunday luncheon and ex-pats or tourists like us were out to explore and enjoy the city.
The fresh Tuna fish cakes were scrumptious. Simple yet brilliantly executed precisely as we like them, Butch said his traditional Tanzanian fish dish was excellent, and my prawn curry was delectable. The flavours of the spices were perfect, not too spicey and never wishy-washy. The prawns were the hero of the dish, and the curry complimented perfectly.
For dessert, we decided to walk to the French-inspired Labanese Café Epi d’Or, where we joined the crowd of youngsters having coffee and tarts, eclairs, or a Madeleine or two. We went home with two pain chocolat and an assortment of Macarons.
Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the Gelato counter. Butch relented, and we walked to the Tuk-Tuk, licking our balls of ice cream in sugar cones.
The campsite a few meters from the waterfront was ideally suited to our needs but did not meet our expectations. The new manager was MIA. We never saw him, and the staff had no authority to use their initiative. The bathrooms, although clean, were musty. There was no designated scullery, but I could use a basin in a bar area under renovation.
The impression we got was that the resort had hit a bad patch and could’ve been in financial dire straights as no maintenance had been done for a while and required much TLC.
But with the jing, there’s always a Jang, and I can recommend the Chicken Breyani at the restaurant. A generous portion, exquisitely flavoured and executed. Tastefully garnished and enough for two. We would return for more on a few occasions especially when we didn't feel like preparing supper ourselves.
On foot, we explored the beach first one way and then the other and discovered the fish market, boat builders and the ice cream sellers with their cool ice boxes slung across their shoulders.
Filled with various flavours, we loved the small sugar cones filled with a ball of vanilla ice cream enrobed in chocolate. They were cheap and delicious and utterly irresistible. We would treat ourselves to one every evening after dinner.
On one of Butch’s walks to replenish our fruit and vegetable basket from the market, he was introduced to Rose, an Ethiopian lady who owned a restaurant at the fish market. She prefers to source her fresh fish daily, she said, and if she can find fresh fish and calamari, she will cook for her clients.
Butch liked the idea and made a reservation for lunch the next day, with the proviso that she messaged us beforehand to confirm that she could find the fresh ingredients.
Good as her word, she contacted us the next day, and we went to Rose’s for lunch— she'd prepared a beautiful fish platter, far too generous but outstanding, for us. While she put on the finishing touches we enjoyed the passing parade of locals. There is always a frenzied industriousness happening at the markets which we enjoy.
Rose was a concerned hostess, worried about every detail no matter how often we complimented her fine cooking skills. All the dishes were prepared on a small charcoal brazier with primitive utensils and woks. Her kitchen was spotless, considering her environment on the beach. I admired her greatly for producing the mouth-watering platters she prepares.
Although Rose always smiled and appeared to be happy there was the sadness of a displaced soul about her. Her anxiety and self-doubt showed in how she disbelieved our compliments. Her face lit up when we told her we hoped to visit Ethiopia one day. She will be the first person I contact when I cross the Ethiopian border I promised her.
Streets, alleys and paths leading up to the ferry terminal are a hive of activity. Everyone knows this is a catchment area for trade with clients flowing like a never ending river to the sea. The perfect spot to park your cart or trolley or set up your trestle table and umbrella for business.
Passengers would stop to buy snacks or do last minute shopping before going through the turnstiles at the ferry port and while waiting we found delicious peanut brittles which we nibbled while watching a very supple guy tie himself into knots for a few shillings. Here no talent goes wasted.
From the ferry's deck, we could admire Dar es Salaam's skyline. Modern high-rise buildings juxtaposed alongside colonial administrative buildings, churches and catherals and five-star hotels. This impressive modern city accommodates all the people of Tanzania regardless of their station in life.
On the roads, buses, cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, ox-drawn or hand-drawn carts are all welcome and treated with respect. Buses are treated with slightly more respect by all commuters as they’re a law unto themselves.
With an ever-increasing population of 7,405,000 people, it is unsurprising that the city streets, ferry terminals and most public spaces are crowded, loud and busy. Informal trading is a tradition, and everyone is hustling.
Fortunately, we’ve adopted local traditions and ignore most of the touts unless they’re unavoidable.
Once applied, there is a code of etiquette that makes the experience much more straightforward. Tanzanians are friendly, and people are expected to greet and inquire about your health, family and business (cattle). Then they’ll ask where you come from now, and if you’re a tourist, your nationality and home of origin must be explained. Once that has been established, you ask the same questions in return. When that has been settled to everyone’s satisfaction, it is polite to refuse the offered help or decline if someone is selling something.
Sometimes the traffic light changes unexpectedly, leaving everyone disappointed or frustrated as commuters move on. There will be no hard feelings if a deal isn't clinched. It’s hakuna matata, and everyone can go on their way. It is impolite to be impatient, brusque, or refuse something offered without going through the protocols. Pole-pole, they tell us. Slowly slowly.
The Honey Badger is an excellent icebreaker, and everyone we’ve met has been enthralled by our maps, seeing where we are and where we’ve come from is a revelation. Butch charts our journey with a red marker, and once he explains where Cape Town is, surrounded by the ocean and a mountain that looks like a giant table, comprehension lights up everyone’s face. Then he’ll patiently track our route and explain that it has taken ten months. When astonishment lights up a sceptics’ eyes we're humbled and realise again how privileged we are.
Everyone has heard about South Africa, but few people know the exact location amongst all the other SADAC countries.
Not only has our branding paid dividends when we’re pulled over by traffic officials, who immediately realise we’re tourists, but it makes explaining that we’re not a commercial vehicle so much easier. We’ve not been pulled over at any weigh stations. It has not prevented us from copping three speeding tickets, albeit small spot fines.
With utmost patience and delight, Butch continuously extends an invitation to do the Grand Tour to all and sundry. No one has ever refused. We’ve had a few offers to purchase or inherit.
We had the tuk-tuk or baja drivers on speed dial. These guys are very good drivers, they can manoeuvre their three wheelers in the most unlikely situations. We've even decided that one could do a trans Africa journey in a baja for two. The Put Foot Rally in a tuk-tuk is an idea hatching.
On two occasions, we ventured off to the city by ferry to explore, and we crossed the impressive Kigamboni Bridge on several trips. Nyerere Bridge, known as Kigamboni Bridge, is a 680-meter-long bridge connecting the Temeke District’s ward of Kurasini from the east to the west across the Kurasini estuary.
On one of our city forays, we decided to go for a curry at the No. 1 Indian restaurant, The Spice Route Restaurant, in the Peninsula Hotel. It was a busy Friday, and a reception was being held in the restaurant. We were seated in the bar adjacent to the lobby and reception area, which was perfectly fine. I ordered the waitress’s recommendation, a prawn curry. She must’ve read my mind.
Butch, wait for it, ordered a Pizza. I still can’t believe it. We mollified his disappointed tastebuds with a good coffee and gâteau at our favourite coffee shop Epi d’Or.
At sunset, our beach came alive with throngs of revellers coming together to enjoy the warm waters and pretty pink twilights.
Soccer is a national sport, and soon a game would start up, players joining friends to make up a team, much like touch rugby on the beach at home. Numbers were not significant. It was just about kicking, heading, dribbling and scoring goals. The beach would be whipped into a froth with hundreds of feet kicking and shoving.
One very disciplined youngster would come down to the beach each sunrise and again at sunset to exercise, doing a hundred sit-ups and minutes of planking before starting on press-ups, chin-ups and pull-ups. Then he would shadowbox, sparring and deflecting his imaginary opponent. He’d jab, cross and counter-punch with a looping, hook, and do the uppercut for hours. Well, after dark, he’d swim before running home.
Vendors selling different snacks, fresh fruit, ice creams, and sodas would sweet talk walkers and anyone who would lend them an ear.
Mothers in hijabs would mind children ducking and diving in the shallows before forming groups to natter in the cooling night air, and later they’d unpack picnic baskets laying out snacks for hungry slippery, goosebumpy children.
When the street lights lit up the beach, people would gather their belongings, shake out blankets, the final whistle would sound on the football game, and everyone would wander off to the market where all the stalls had turned into kitchens with bright red and blue plastic tables and chairs set out for the incoming hungry crowds.
On the beach, lovers would linger a little longer, our signal to turn in for the night.
We had accomplished everything on our To Do list. It was time to unpack our backpacks from the Thuli, book our ferry tickets to Zanzibar, online, and pack for a two-week break away to the island.
The Honey Badger would be in the safe hands of our friends at Isuzu. With bulging backpacks, a clean fridge and fresh laundry, we closed our doors and took the high road into Dar es Salaam in the early morning rush hour traffic. Josling with big rigs, small motorbikes and hundreds of tuk-tuks ferring impatient commuters, we snailed a zig-zag along Nelson Mandela Boulevard. When the Badger was safely parked and hitched up to her lifeline electrical cable, we were chauffeured to the port.
The Ferry terminal epitomised a Turkish Bazaar. A crush of people speaking a hundred languages while offering their services to rattled foreigners clutching handbags and rucksacks. Locals breezed through the throngs, having done this a thousand times.
Butch and I have learned that it’s best to go with the flow and handed our earthly possessions over to the first chap, who said, “I am your son and will see you safely onto the ferry. Just follow me.” Like sheep to the slaughter, we complied.
The touts became his problem, and he had to deal with his compatriots who accosted us, elbowing them in other directions. Through the crowds, we jostled behind the small man as he ferreted, pushed, ducked and dived through the crush.
He knew everyone and shoved his way to the front of every queue we had to report to. Within a few minutes, he has our passports stamped and our bums on a seat, ready to board the ferry. His fee was worth every shilling. I could’ve kissed our son goodbye before we made our way up the gangplank, but he had adopted new parents by then.
With a sigh of relief, we slumped into our first-class seats, settled and when the enjines started up we enjoyed the skyline becoming tiny dots as we sailed away from Dar on a calm sea. Butch pulled out his iPad while I admired the dhows, canoes, ships, trawlers and container ships waiting to enter the harbour.
Dar es Salaam is a multi faceted city, steeped in history, yet a modern tech savvy cosmopolitan city and can't be discribed in one or two sentences or pictures. I hope I've been able to tickle your curiosity about this vibrant, bustling, cultured, historic and picturesque African city which lives up to its beautiful name in every way.