Monday, April 25, 2005

Marcus in Arabia: The Trip to Tanzania!

Ever wonder where those pictures of the lions, cheetahs, and so on come from? Read on, this is installment one in a series as long as it takes to get through it!

Marcus in Arabia: Mzungu in Africa!
Africa! A vast continent famous for its animals and for the history of its exploration. Famous too for the visit paid to it by Marcus Aurelius future wise and benevolent emperor of the blogsphere.

Without digging up my old passport I can not recall when I visited Africa. It was one of two trips I took during that particular summer break. I do not recall how it all started but it was with a colleague of mine from the math and computer department at the UAE University.

We decided to go to Tanzania for a couple of reasons one of them is some other colleagues had recently visited and told us they had a good time. Also, Kenya is the destination in East Africa and as a result it is developing tourist traps and tourist targeted crime. So Tanzania it was.

In any event Tanzania is quite a destination onto itself. We planned on a Mount Kilimanjaro climb, a Serrentgetti tour (aka safari), and a visit to Zanzibar. In order to prepare for the mountain climb I attempted to kick start a workout program but the workout program sputtered like a motorcycle ready for the junkyard. To prepare for the safari I bought two new camera lenses a 70—210 mm f2.8, a 300 mm f2.8, and a 2x teleconverter. Unfortunately, the 300 mm and teleconverter did not arrive until after we returned from Africa (Fortunately perhaps, it was pain enough lugging around what we had and this lens would have added to that pain). The zoom lens did a good job, but it would have been nice in a few situations to have been able to reach out further. I also bought cigars to smoke at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We purchased our plane tickets and packed our bags.

Al-Ain had recently built an international airport so we decided we wanted to fly out of that airport for the novelty of it. So we boarded the plane and headed off to our first stop in Muscat (capital of Oman). Since we had a long layover they packed us up and put us in the local Novotel for the duration of the layover. Went to sleep, woke up, went back to the airport, boarded another plane. This plane went so far we landed in Abu Dhabi! So 12 hours of travel resulted in us covering 80 miles or so.

One of the things I like the best about traveling is the moments right before landing. I like to peer out of the window and see what the destination looks like from above. Any destination looks mysterious and wonderful from above and Dar Es Salaam (Dar Es Salaam, recall OBL bombed our embassies in Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi) was no exception. We got off the plane and quickly found out the wonderful part did not really hold up on closer scrutiny. I do not recall how we ended up in the hotel we spent the night in, but ended up there we did. They had an open air (but covered) bar/restaurant on top of the building and we eventually found our way up there. I sampled the beers (duh!) and found the local brew to not be about as good as Rhinelander beer but there was a regional beer (IIRC Tusker a Kenyan brew was the good beer) that was much better. The food was edible but not great, my companion tried local dishes and we quickly found out they were pretty bland.

The view from the building varied I remember looking out over the wall of the bar to the street and seeing people walk around. Nothing unusual about that. Looking out in another direction I could see a burning garbage dump. The hotel we stayed in was not that bad by Western standards, but it was no five star accommodation.

50 shillings for "mzungu" 25 for all others. What is a mzungu you ask? Simply put a white guy. Almost every where you went they would charge a mzungu more than they would a local. I wonder about blacks from Europe and the States, but I do not recall asking for clarification on that particular point. I really did not get worked up over it as the mzungu rates were still reasonable. The funniest mzungu line was in a bus station. We went to buy tickets for our return to the coast and the ticket agent proudly exclaimed they charge the same price for both blacks and mzungu. I don't think we are in Kansas anymore Toto.

Anyway, enough of that! The second day we had breakfast,checked out of the hotel, and went to the bus station. The bus station was quite a scene not the usual antiseptic building we in America think of; it was open, dusty, crowded, people coming and going, touts, vendors, taxi drivers and so on. It reminded me of the parking lot at an Alpine Valley Grateful Dead show. Our taxi driver was kind enough to convey us to a bus headed from to the safari center of Tanzania: Arusha.

Next Installment: Bus Trip to Arusha and Dark Bars.