Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Lusaka, Zambia
Running off the Zanzibar ferry as fast as I could, piki-piki to the nearest bus stand, bus leaving immediately for the Tazara station… oh great, traffic. With little time to spare for my 1:50 pm departure time, I made it to the station!…only to find that the train was delayed to 10:00 pm. Lovely. “Arrive at the station at 7 pm,” said the lady at the counter.
Well, now what am I going to do for the rest of the day, carrying my bags, 6 km away from the city centre, in the middle of an industrial area? Back on the bus through traffic, I guess…
Six hours later, I return to the station. 7 pm. 8 pm. 9 pm. 10 pm! 11 pm… No announcements. Not allowed out of the station after they check our tickets, and it’s awfully stuffy. Only food available is cake. Huh, no one’s complaining, everyone’s just sleeping on the floor and the station is packed the the gills. Despite all of this, people still seem in good spirits — many people, some who didn’t speak any English at all, tapped me on the shoulder and wanted to chat. Sarah, a high schooler from Dar, told me that delays were just a part of life. Some of her friends commute three or more hours each way in heavy traffic just to go to school, and they still have to find time to do homework, eat, have a social life of some sort, and sleep!
Train arrives at 11:30 to cheers and applause, and also a crush of people sprinting onto the platform, trying to get a seat in third-class. As for us…first class, reserved beds. We board last, and we’re off at midnight, whoo!
Despite being a sliver of an island (along with even tinier ones under its jurisdiction) completely dwarfed by the mainland, Zanzibar has a special status within Tanzania. After all, it used to be an independent country until it joined up with Tanganyika (the mainland) to form Tanzania. With a fabled trade history of its own and a Swahili culture that isn’t just limited to speaking the language, it feels entirely distinct. Even the people look different — many people of Arab (Zanzibar was a sultanate until its revolution) and Indian descent (Indians were British subjects at the time Zanzibar was a British protectorate) continue live here, and many have intermarried with the indigenous population, meaning people here have wildly varying skin colours and builds. And while mainland Tanzania has a pretty large Muslim population already, something like 99% of Zanzibaris are Ibadi Muslim. Every woman’s wearing a veil and/or niqab, and most men are wearing a hat. So yes, like the culturally similar Mombasa in Kenya, but far more concentrated.
Stone Town is a joy to wander, absorb, and take in. Buildings dating back to who-knows-when are all designed with Swahili architecture, with ornate doors, arches, windows, and awnings. Even refurbishments and new buildings all carry the same design philosphy. The town is a mess of disorganised and cramped alleys blocked off by tall buildings, which provides shade from the unrelenting heat but makes you walk in it for longer anyway since you’re bound to get lost a million times. (I never stopped sweating from the moment I got to the island, day or night.)
Ngorongoro Crater and Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
See that map on the right? I’m not proud of that. With the end of my trip coming on the horizon, I’ve had to start picking and choosing where I want to go rather than just meandering around. Unfortunately, it means that I’m giving Tanzania the short shrift, and so I made my way across the entire north of the country in a mere six days — three of which I spent on long-distance buses, and the remaining three of which I also spent a lot of time in transport.
Tanzania does have a lot to offer, but a lot of it is similar to what I’ve seen and experienced already. There’s Lake Victoria, which I saw briefly in Uganda and decided to skip over this time. There’s the Usambara Mountains, which I saw on my bus ride from Moshi to Dar — pretty, but I’ve been seeing plenty of hillside villages in Rwanda. There’s the Seregenti, which is contiguous with Maasai Mara NP in Kenya. And there’s also Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I had no interest in climbing due to cost (over $1100!) and time, but I did make an extra stop just to see it.
Still…if I had more time, I would definitely have stopped along the way, maybe experience a bit more of local life. I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to locals like I have in my past five countries. I blame it on having to rush so much, but I also wonder: people in Tanzania are super welcoming, but not particularly chatty. I’ve had plenty of friendly people greet or assist me on the street, but none seem to linger or continue to chat, even on those 12-hour long bus rides. Also probably a big reason: many speak only Swahili and little to no English. They do seem to be truly happy to see visitors though, and they’re proud of their country.