Saturday, January 13, 2007

Africa: Dar es Salaam - no me gusta

The only downside in going to Zanzibar is the inevitable stopover in Dar es Salaam. The biggest city in Tanzania, on the east coast. I really knew nothing about it except that Lonely planet calls it "the music capital of Tanzania" and "watch your belongings!"

The first time, after the two day train ride, we had to take a taxi from the train station. In Africa, you can't say "I'd like a reputable, clean taxi with air conditioning, some guy who won't rob or rape us". You just have to go with what's there. And we never had any problems, actually. We just got in the unmarked 1987 toyota corolla with (always) an empty tank and ripped out casette player - and went on our way. Surprisingly and unlike a few times in Europe, the price was the price and no shady business ensued. He took us to the Harbor Suites hotel - which was actually much more expensive than quoted in LP. At $150 a night, we each got our own WING of the hotel suite, with two bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room (to watch non-stop coverage of the Sadaam hanging on CNN - it always seemed to be on) and a kitchen. So on this trip, I've spent as little as $4 a night and as high at $150. Oh well, after the train we were filthy and tired of being so hard core. The hotel people fell over themselves helping us out and giving us advice.

Unfortunately, in Dar there isn't really a "cool neighborhood", one with cafes, bars and shops that WE would shop at. If you needed a dusty foam mattress or car parts or 30 papayas, you could find it in Dar. Used bookstore or coffee shop - oh, hell no. But still, we weren't going to stay in the hotel room just because Dar was lame. We walked down the deserted street - the MAIN street of Dar, mind you, 4 blocks to an indian restaurant. It was super shady. Dark figures literally lurked in the shadows. But we never got more than a half hearted "..jambo". We never were harassed in Dar, actually. After dinner we walked 2 blocks back to one of the 4 bars in town. That's right, 4 listed in the book. the "Florida pub" was listed as a "friendly british pub near the waterfront!". Well, it was sort of a knockoff pub. And no women drinking together, really - just guys. We sat down at the bar anyway and had our usual Kili and Tusker. The bartender put on "Madonna's greatest hits" - we think for our benefit. And we drank in peace to no stares, no heckling.

My theory is that the people in Dar are pretty religious and were probably just respectful of us. I've been heckled WAY more on Clark Street on a weekend night that I ever was in Africa. Stonetown, same thing. People tried really hard to sell us things but we never got so much as a sexual comment. We probably were pushing our luck there for a week and going out EVERY night, but luck was on our side.

The next time through Dar we decided to try another hotel, the Peacock. This hotel "caters to the downtown business crowd" and was decorated in what I describe as 1979 wood panel and mirror/travelling salesman chic. My hope was that since it was near the backpacker ghetto of Libya street, there might be a cafe or some other people around. Nope. Just a dusty street of depressing bicycle and car repair shops.

After Kathy had to take a taxi to an ATM she met me on the unatmospheric 7th floor bar where we had another beer overlooking the dusty, hot city.

"hey Kathy, I've got a GREAT idea"


"I say we taxi over to the Royal Palm resort and eat at one of the three restaurants there and drink at their bar tonight"

The Royal Palm had to be somewhat nice, afterall it cost $270 per night and had a golf course. Yes, I know what you are thinking. This is SO un-Sara-like of me. Taxi over to a fancy resort for some fun? Oh, we were desperate. We had reached our limit in Dar. And the resort was beautiful. And there were other tourists in the lobby. People who talked to us! People who weren't sweaty! And the beer was cold and there were no flies around! It was like something out of Conde Nast. For dinner we inhaled the fancy buffet. It was so good! And clean! And not in the temperature danger zone! I had pumpkin gratin, some sort of thai chicken, onion rice and four desserts. We both tried 4 desserts. I couldn't stop chewing long enough to talk, we just shoveled it in and made annoying eating sounds. I was like Rachel Ray, rolling my eyes and constantly saying "OH MY GOD THIS IS SOOOO GOOD!" "MMMMMGHGHHHGHH!"

I'm a little embarrased for going to the Royal Palm - but it was so much fun. And well deserved, don't you think?


Kate C said...

I can't wait to plan my next trip to Dar... It sounds amazing. I love learning about car parts and eating fruit in bulk.
The Royal Palm sounds like fun. Did you take pictures of the food??

PS I am in San Diego this week, so please please please call my cell when you get home so I can hear all about it.

sara said...

I've pretty much covered it all on the blog!

I'll call ya anyway. Are you at another work prom?