Damnation Without Relief

Since rest (much like lunch) is for wimps, we woke at 5am the following morning in order to catch the 6.30 bus to Dar-Es-Salaam. I had set myself a pot limit with the Tuskers the previous night just in case, for which I thanked myself on several occasions during this little sprint across Kenya and Tanzania. This whole trip to Zanzibar was carefully planned by Jewelz, so all I had to do was follow her, fill in obscure forms every few hours and pay random amounts in various currencies, which I'll get to later. This may sound like a walk in the park, but please, read on.

The city center was already crowded. It was election day and everyone wanted to cast their vote in time, which they had plenty, until 6 pm, but I guess no one wanted to take any chances. Unfortunately, despite the zeal to vote and more than enough time to do it, the election would become a sad, violent farce, which I will cover in another post altogether together with its repercussions. Anyway, the streets were filled with antsy and slightly cranky Kenyans, as was the bus station when we arrived. There were two buses. One that was in rather good condition even in western standards and even had a toilet. I assume I do not surprise you when I tell you that it was not our bus. Our bus was probably from the 80's or early 90's, had no toilet, no air conditioning, seats that reclined but refused to re-incline, a corridor that was about 35 cm wide and windows that would open just enough to allow a gust of air to graze the 'fro of the person behind you, but had no effect in your personal state of overheating. But because we had no expectations whatsoever regarding the transport system, we weren't that disappointed. It wasn't too hot (yet) and we even got something of a breakfast (water, a mysterious meat roll, and an egg) ((like you do)).

About four hours later we arrived at the Tanzanian border.

Notice how the skilled photographer missed both mountain tops, cut the beautiful tree in half and inclued a piece-of-shit-Toyota...thanks

We had filled some forms and followed the crowd through a small village into what tried vigorously to be an office and failed miserably. The visa payment was made in dollars, since it's such a relevant and strong currency especially in East Africa.. (WAKEY WAKEY!!!) We got some faint, unclear stamps and continued by foot to Tanzania, where the bus was hopefully waiting. Miraculously it was there, and we boarded it after quickly visiting a local toilet located "behind other building, next to big tree". As soon as we had sat down the driver started the bus and straightened his ankle. During all this time no one had uttered a single advice or notification, nor had there been any signs to tell the odd tourist what on earth to do at the border. We felt like we had dodged a bullet because nothing had been stolen and the bus hadn't left without us. Africa tends to lower one's expectations pretty quickly.

The roads in Tanzania reminded of the part in Ace Ventura II, where Jim Carrey is bouncing around violently in the driver's seat of a safari jeep. And when the camera zooms out the spectator can see that the road is perfectly paved, and that the chubby guy on the passenger seat is sitting completely still. The only difference was that we were bouncing involuntarily because the road was light years from being perfect. Nevertheless, they were still far better than the roads on Kenya's side, because calling them "roads" would be pushing the term quite a bit. So in that way, the trip had taken a turn for the better. In other ways it was deteriorating at a steady pace. We had water, but we didn't dare to drink it, because nobody knew when we'd stop next. The sun was getting hotter and there were no curtains to block its furious rays. The smells were getting more aggressive and the plains were only interesting for the first 6 hours.

Every couple of hours we'd stop (for gas, or a couple of times because the driver wanted to chat for a moment with his homeboys in the tiny villages. Whenever the bus stopped, however, the locals flooded the bus and tried all to sell us soda and peanuts, both a huge no-no. Peanuts make you thirsty, when you're thirsty you drink, when you drink you pee.. Sadly this complicated cause and effect system didn't occur to any of the villagers or the driver and no one bought anything. IF the passengers had been allowed a 5 minute bathroom break every 2 hours or so, the villagers' sales would undoubtedly quadrupled and the trip would have been hugely less agonizing, but the driver wouldn't have any of that..

The second of the total two (2) stops on this 15,5-hour pleasure cruise was on a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Again, there was no indication whatsoever how long we had so we ran for the toilets. After a minute of careful aiming we returned to the bus only to find that its doors were closed. We didn't want to in to the station because the smells had exacerbated significantly and the food they served was nothing short of just plain scary. So there we stood outside like a couple of idiots, back towards the wind that blew clouds of sand on us, repeatedly declining offers to buy "meni fruut for gud prais". Personal note: "not taking no for an answer isn't always positive". After what seemed like an eternity but was actually about 20 minutes the jolly chauffeur reappeared and let us in with our fruit (a person can only say no for 236 consecutive times until his brain implodes).

Only moments (5-6 hours) later we arrived at Dar-Es-Salaam bus terminal, which was still a good 5 km outside the urban area (WHY?). The taxi drivers had cleverly decided that they'd bill five times the regular price, because there was no other way to get to town and everyone was desperate to go to the bathroom, shower, eat, sleep or basically just be as far away as possible from the tin can from hell that was the bus. After some minor haggling we were on our way to the Executive Hotel.

Don't take me wrong, I'm not saying that the Executive Hotel wouldn't have good qualities. All I'm saying is that it has one very bad one: it does not exist. Jewelz had booked AND paid the room at this infamous hotel through a UN travel agent, who said that the hotel didn't have web pages but was otherwise very reliable and nice. She had given Jewelz the name, the phone number and the area where the hotel was allegedly located. None of the 15 taxi drivers knew exactly where it was, so we aimed for the area first and took it from there. Once we asked for directions around the area we were informed that such a hotel does not exist. There is an Exclusive Lodge, which we checked, but they had never heard about us. We called the phone number, where an uninterested lady told us that she was no hotel and stop calling. Well..

We browsed the Lonely Planet East Africa, desperately trying to find any hotel that was at least somehow safe and under 200$/night. We found one, but they didn't take any cards or Kenyan dollars, but would have taken Swiss Francs or Euros, the man said smiling. Another taxi to the only ATM that was open at night and back to a third hotel, where the receptionist from the second hotel had made a reservation for us. I had some trouble understanding his business logic but let it go before my brain started "If it weren't for my horse...".

The only two positive things about the night were that the hotel room had some local music channel that played early nineties pop/rap music videos, which gave us a few chuckles, and the fact that my superior calculus skills confused the taxi driver so badly when exchanging the rates from Kenyan Shillings to Tanzanian Shillings to US dollars to Tanzanian Shillings that we ended up paying about half of the price that he originally asked us.

Viciously grinning I fell asleep with my Leatherman under my pillow, ready to unleash hell on any poor soul who would have the nerve to touch our door. [tags]tanzania, hotel, lodge[/tags]

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