The reason why I went to Tanzania was because it is warm and because it was open during dark covid times. Officially, there is no covid in Tanzania (believing is up to you). No big preparations.
I decided to go as a volunteer (I am a sociologist, so I thought that I could actually do something useful for the others.). I found an NGO helping girls to increase school attendance in rural areas of Iringa and arranged a visa beforehand (if you work as a volunteer without a special visa, you might end up having issues with migration office). All the procedures took about one week, the visa was ready in a few days. It costs $50. I bought a ticket (Moscow – Istanbul – Dar-es-Salaam for $760) and came to Dar.
Mainland: transport, safari and “no colona”
“When is your flight back?” a migration officer asked me on the borders.
“It’s December 29th.”
He puts the stamp in my passport and writes the date. Damn. Why didn’t I say February 29th? I could have changed my ticket afterwards. The visa is up to 90 days and its length depends on when your flight back is. And I wished to stay in Tanzania longer. It is amazing.
I went out of the airport. Heavy rain. Actually, it was “a small rain” season, which I didn’t even know at that time (gladly, the rain was indeed small, but you better check before going). The first thing I saw was a taxi driver running to me. The taxi was for $30 at 4 am (my way back was for $8, otherwise the bus is for a few dollars). From this moment, attempts to rip me off were constant. And as an every constant thing in our lives, it was annoying in the beginning, but later I got used to it. When you already know the prices and are skilled in bargaining, it seems to be a fun game.
I sat into the taxi.
“There is no colona in Tanzania,” the driver says.
“Do you mean that Tanzania was not a colony?” I asked. I knew it was.
“No, no, there is no colona,” he repeated.
“Man, sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying,” I thought and smiled at the driver.
After a while I found out that in Swahili people have trouble distinguishing between the letter “l” and “r”. I was Yuriya from now on.
Dar is not the city to spend your time in. It is a mix of colonial architecture, slums and modern capitalist buildings. You can visit a national museum and buy some coins in the national bank there, but that’s it. If you come to Tanzania, search for nature or work for an NGO, but do not spend your time in the cities – there is literally nothing to do there.
From Dar I went to Iringa by bus (costs around $10, it takes 8 hours) where I spent 20 days. During those days, I was living with the local family – this is the best way to get to know the local people and their actual problems. Meanwhile, I went for safari to Ruaha national park (the one with a lot of lions in comparison with Mikumi which you pass on the way from Dar to Iringa anyway). The cost of safari in Ruaha is $200 per day. The price includes $36 entrance fee for 24 hours and $36 fee for sleeping in bandas, the rest went to a driver, a guide and for the food. Two days cost me $300 (bargaining magic). And I was the only visitor the whole trip. That time I used to dream about cheetahs. I told myself that if I see a cheetah, it will bring me luck for the rest of my life. Because cheetahs are very rare. It is also the fastest animal, but it doesn’t know how to fight. Unfortunately, I did not see it.
Safari was the only visit to the nature that I could afford, so I spent the whole 20 days in the city exploring urban life. Meanwhile, I had terrible fever because of acclimatization (I bought antibiotics in the pharmacy without any problem), but never even a slightest problem with my stomach.
On the mainland and on Zanzibar, people are eager to offer the taxi services to you. It is up to you, whether you take it or leave it, but if you are on a low budget, use daladala (the bus; all the rides in a city bus are for 25 cents), bajaji (tuk tuk; the price depends on if you use it as a taxi or as a public transport; when it is a public transport, usually it costs 50 cents) or boda boda (motobike; as well 50 cents when used as public transport; otherwise, might cost around 2 dollars when used as a taxi). Don’t be afraid to stop the guy on a motorbike and tell him “Mambo, boda boda [the place you are going]?”. They will take you there. And it is fun.
Life with a local family in Iringa
In Iringa I was living with the family of the NGO director with whom I was working both in the NGO and in the local school. I indeed loved it. Chickens and an always hungry little kitten were always running around. We used to wake up around 6 a.m. and I usually went to sleep around 10 p.m. People on the mainland get up very early, with the sun and the cocks. I used to have a breakfast and a dinner with the family and we used to talk a lot about the difference between life in Tanzania and Europe. Particularly, they were surprised why in my 30 years I still do not have children and when I plan to have them (hm… maybe, never?). They were also very curious about why western people have psychological disorders if the societies are so rich (why, indeed?). They taught me how to eat fruits (like tangadasi), showed the local clubs with the local drinks (ulanzi from bamboo and komoni from millet) and we were eating small fish ugali together…
But what is the most important, you see the life of common people – they go to work and work a lot (from 7.30 a. m. until 6.00 p.m.), even on Saturday. They love good food and good fruits and they smile all the time. And after some time, you will be smiling as well. Moreover, you become a tender and relaxed person very soon. Without this experience, I will not be able to understand the local life and it would appear to me to be a theatrical scene with Maasai dancing in strange clothes in front of a fire.
Zanzibar, religion, witchcraft and male prostitution
The boat from Dar to Zanzibar costs around $40.
Zanzibar is very different from the mainland. It has a different history (and it also has more history). If you are interested in social movements, read about the Afro-Shirazi revolution in 1964 and visit the “People’s Palace” (which was a sultan’s palace). It was one of the rare places where I could buy a book (about the revolution, published in 1974). You can also discuss it with youngsters whose grandparents remember historical events of that time. Not all locals support unification with Tanganyika and some see it as a betrayal of their independence by the first president, which mainlanders consider to be almost sacred.
Tanzanian people are in general more conservative, so if you are a woman you better have your legs and shoulders covered. Local women are very stylish and you can go to the tailor who will make dresses or skirts for you from the local materials (kitenge or kanga) for small money. Kitenge is a thick material, while kanga usually has some phrases on it (my skirt says “good words bring blessing”).
The right bottom one will make a nice addition to your techno clothes.
Otherwise, Zanzibar beaches are amazing and Stone Town has unique architecture. Be prepared to tell many guides proposing you to show the city that you are not interested in their services.
I was not ashamed to finish my month in Africa drinking mojito from the very morning and flirting with men on amazing beaches in the north of an island (Nungwi).
Food and digestion problems
If you are confident enough in your cooking abilities, get some small fish for the traditional small fish ugali at the local market.
Street food both on the mainland and on Zanzibar costs around 80 cents per meal and those meals are amazing! For the breakfast search for the lady who makes rice bites just on the street in a special oven. During lunch, search for a lady with a plastic bucket on her head walking around the streets. She might have some nice chicken with potatoes and the other lady has ananas. Also, have a look at the ladies making urojo (potato soup) on the streets. Sit and eat on the street, people will come and talk to you. In the evening search for the barbecue (mishkaki, the best I had was in Dar, the place called “Mamboz”). The average price for a lunch is 80 cents (2000 shillings) if you eat streat food. If you prefer to have a meal in the restaurant for white people it is around 30 000 shillings. I strongly advise you not to eat in the expensive restaurants because usually a cook does not know how to cook a meal s/he is proposing. Street food might seem dirty to you, but better get used to it! I personally did not have any problems with my stomach, i think my digestion even got better because of all the fruits I was eating. Thus, I was eating everything, was it dirty or not. However, this is not true for everyone – the American girl that was volunteering in Iringa before me was vomiting almost every day. In short, have your pills (or cinnamon drops) with you and do not stint yourself in food.
Some myths that must be unveiled:
Myth no. 1: Africa or Tanzania in particular is a cheap place to go
And it is not. It is actually very expensive for mzungu (which is you, white man or woman! Remember this word because people will be telling it to you all the time, especially in the less touristic places. It is not a swear word, rather it expresses surprise). All that you could hear or read about this country (national parks, safari, Kilimanzaro and other places to hike and even 10 minutes walk on the rocks) is for money and this money is not small. E.g. climbing Kilimanjaro costs around 1500 dollars (compare with Damavand of the same height in Iran for 50 dollars or with one-week climbing of Elbrus where you indeed need a professional guide for around 300 dollars). Entrance to national parks might be 20 dollars + extra fee for the guide (apparently, you cannot go alone, but there is no actual reason for it) + tips for the guide (who is always a volunteer) + 30 dollars for sleeping in the park with a tent. Safari is approximately 200 dollars per day (and I strongly advise you to go at least for two days because you can see different animals at different daytimes and many come for waterning early in the morning). In short, if you like hiking (especially, alone) and you are on a low budget, Tanzania is not the right country to go.
All the national parks are managed by the Tanzanian state and it is a matter of business for this country. This is also one of the reasons why there is “no colona”. If it is fair or not might be for a longer discussion, but these prices are based on a (quite annoying) assumption that all white people are rich. The only one way to hike and not to pay for it was just walking from one village to another (which might be also amazing, because Tanzanian nature is beautiful indeed). I did not try this, but I think if you are with a friend and are logistically prepared (e.g. have enough water) it might work out. You will see funny monkeys on the way even if you are not in the national park:)
The last thing to know about is money – you can change it in any bank and you can also withdraw money from the ATM. Keep in mind, that in the ATM they will charge you extra (from $5 to $8) for each withdrawal, but the currency rate changes with the amount you withdraw (the more you withdraw, the better). Keep in mind, that maximum amount you can withdraw is 400 000 shillings (around $170). That is the amount I hold in my hand in the picture.
Small tips for bargaining practice that work:
After some time in the country, you will learn how to bargain very well (thanks God, people bargain in Russia a lot!) My tactic was the following: start 3 steps away from the end price. If the thing is 35 000 and you wish to pay 8000, you tell 5000, then 7000, then 8000. You must know your price before you bargain and do not hesitate to demonstrate that you will leave if you do not reach an agreement. If the vendors feel your hesitation, they will outgame you. Bargaining is a fun game, but this is a power game.
Myth no. 2: Tananiza is full of untouched tribes that live the life of our common ancestors
Yes, you can see the tribes (like Maasai), but in general this country is rather poor and people live the way they live out of absence of other choices. Sometimes it feels like they sell the culture (e.g you can go and “cook with a local” or “do this and that as a local” or see “the real Massai, not those making a theatre””) which might be risky culture in the long run. It might turn out that they will be doing these local things only for money which ruins any culture. Before doing something like this, ask yourself a question: If a stranger comes and pays you to cook local food with him/her (which you never cook otherwise) and dance some local dance (which you do not dance also), will it be just a way to earn money for you? or a robust cultural experience? and does it have something to do with the culture you live in?
The local clubs are the best places to explore local culture. All the people want to take a photo with you because of some reason.
Myth no. 3: A lot of diseases everywhere and vaccinations are needed
Yeah, it was true 400 years ago when Europeans were unsuccessfully trying to conquer Africa and they could not because of diseases. Indeed, up to 90% of european invaders were dying because of yellow fever, malaria and trypanosomosis, but today the situation is different. I believe that you do not need any vaccination at all (and many people whom I met did not have it). I personally did two from hepatitis B and from typhoid (I also have one from tetanus from before). The logic behind it was that only these two diseases might be transmitted through water or food. Others, transmitted through blood, were not under my consideration.
Malaria is a little bit complicated. I decided to take pills. If you go to Africa, check what mosquitos exactly live in the county you go to. In Tanzania, there are special ones that are resistant to chloroquine (Plasmodium falciparum) – the classic , so you can use only one of the followings: atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone), or mefloquine (Lariam) or doxycycline. The first one was very expensive (80 euros/pack) and the last one cannot be used in the direct sun. I decided on mefloquine (8 euros/pack). These pills have terrible possible side effects, but I just had a bad mood because of it for a few hours the day I took it. Otherwise, malaria is also a matter of the past for Africa due all the precocious measures they took during last years.
beautiful curtains above the beds in bandas that make them look like the one of a princess are in reality banal mosquito nets
Myth no. 4: Tanzania is a dangerous place/you might get robbed/meet annoying people
No, it is not dangerous. Actually, I felt myself safier there than for example in Moscow. And people in Tanzania are amazing!!! They are welcoming, warm and happy. They smile and wave to you, they greet you (rafiki! or when they say “mambo”, you answer “poa”). They are very relaxed (“pole, pole” means “slowly, slowly”) and happy from the bottom of their heart. I must admit that I loved them more than my dear Russian fellows or European comrades. Tanzanian people love to talk, they are noisy and fun and they call each other “brother” and “sister”. When they greet each other, they hold each other’s hands for several minutes. For me, Tanzanian people were one the best part of the whole journey. We have exchanged phone numbers and now when we write to each other during the Czech winter, I feel the warmth of the African sun and good mood spreading all over. I will come back very soon.