Thursday, November 14, 2019

2019 06 Tanzania Day One, Two, Three and Four


On Friday, November 14, 2019, Denice retired from teaching for forty years. Most of her career she taught four-year-olds and considering she also married one, she deserves a nice retirement adventure.

Denice’s niece Rebecca Ney is a flight attendant and an adventure traveler and she had planned a trip to Tanzania to see the wild dogs, one of the few specie she has not photographed. Becky decided to take her mother Christine, Denice’s oldest sister, to go along. After planning that, Denice’s middle sister Marijeanne and her husband Don Gorectke join the trip as well.

When Don asked me if I thought Denice would like to go I said, “No.” Denice is a traveler but, despite having traveled to Papua New Guinea with her aunt and brother, she has a lot of places on her short list of “no” countries (and even a few states).

Considering that I am typing this on my veranda overlooking the Sand River in the Selous Reserve in Tanzania, you already know Denice surprised us all by “yes.”

Becky had selected Yellow Zebra Safaris as our tour company and we signed up to reserve our spot. (As an aside, it came to our knowledge that one mile from our lodge in the Selous there is a VIP camp which is occupied by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots while we are here. Perhaps that tells you how much we spent on this trip—read on to see if it was worth it).

Saturday, June 15, 2019

On this day Denice’s cousin Kathy agreed to transport Denice, Marijeanne, Don and I to the Coach USA bus station at 3:1`5 p.m. (CST). We caught the Coach USA O’Hare bus at 4:10 p.m. and arrived in plenty of time to check in for our international flight.

At 8:45 p.m. (CST) we flew Emirates Airlines to Dubai, a 12 hours, 25 minute flight that would find us landing in Dubai tomorrow.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

At 8:10 p.m. (Dubai time—9:10 a.m. CST) we arrived in Dubai (one half hour late). We went through entry in Dubai, leaving our main luggage at the airport and taking our carry on. Becky and Christine were already there from their Los Angeles flight which was supposed to be later than ours. Because we have to overnight in Dubai, Emirates Airline put us up in the Copthorne Hotel and shuttled us there.

On the way to the hotel from the airport, I had a chance to practice one of my favorite photography tricks which I call Out the Window.

Here is what our hotel room looked like.

After checking in and unpacking, we were ready for a Dubai night on the town.

We took a taxi van to the city center which is where the world’s tallest building is located.

Don, Marijeanne, Becky, Chris (photo by Denice)

Denice and I (Photo by Marijeanne)

After walking around the mall area (featuring restaurants like Texas Roadhouse, Red Lobster and Olive Garden), we went for drinks and appetizers at Neos, a trendy bar with a view of the building.  I did manage to get off a few shots before the management told me I could not use “professional equipment” in their premise. I was kind of honored.

We returned to our hotel in another taxi van back to our hotel and was in bed by midnight (Dubai time—maybe something like 48 straight hours of traveling without a good night’s rest).

Monday, June 17, 2019

Denice and I got up at 5:15 a.m. (Dubai time) meaning we only got about 5 hours of sleep. We met Chris, Don, Marijeanne for breakfast (provided by Emirates) in the cafeteria of the hotel. This was a real “elbows up” international experience because in this location at this time, no one waits for anyone. Everyone jumps the buffet line, takes the food right out from under you and poor Chris could not even hold seats at a table for all of us without loosing them to some aggressive men.

Here is what I have to say: if that is going to bother you, if you want all of the world to be exactly like it is back home, than don’t travel. I will have to be reminded of this myself later in the trip.

View from our room

After breakfast we were back to our room to pack. We were in the lobby by 7:30 for the shuttle back to the Dubai airport. Once through check in, we all ate at a Starbucks -ike coffee shop and waited there because there were no seats outside our gate and we got there too early to check in.

We checked in, boarded and took off at 10:05 a.m. for an Emirates flight to Dar Es Salaam 5 hours, 25 minutes duration. We landed at 2:30 p.m. in Dar es Salaam. A representative of a company called Extra Mile met us and got us in the correct entry line where we got in line and had our passports checked, got in another line to have photo taken (except for Marijeanne) fingerprinted printed or not depending on the whim of the counter person. Becky then collected our passports and $100 from each of us and went to get our visas for Tanzania. Meanwhile the Extra Mile guy took our baggage claim checks and disappeared to go get our luggage.

We waited awhile before we got our passports back, with a page for our visas, and we could all relax.

For a minute. Then we moved into the baggage claim area and for awhile we could not find either our baggage or the Extra Mile man. That was pretty much all on us as he was in the back room finding our stuff while we were out front pretty much deciding he had taken off with our luggage.

I have to say it again: if that is going to bother you, if you want all of the world to be exactly like it is back home, than don’t travel. Oh yeah—and maybe trust the process.

We next were introduced to a representative of Alexander’s Hotel and transferred to the hotel, where we will stay for two nights. We all rode in a van to the hotel through Dar es Salaam—my impressions were I was not impressed. (At the hotel we were ensconced behind a closed gate, given a warning about not walking on the streets with stuff in our hands and told not to walk at night at all). There might be a nice touristy part of Dar but we would not see it on this trip.

Here is what I can tell you about Dar from the Internet: “Located on Tanzania’s mainland coast, Dar es Salaam should be the country’s capital. This sprawling city was once a sleepy Zaramo fishing village, and is now East Africa’s second-busiest port, and Tanzania’s commercial and cultural hub. While many travelers use Dar es Salaam for an overnight stay in one of the city’s comfortable hotels after a long journey, those who stick around enjoy the city’s eclectic cultural mix and laidback vibe!”

Once inside the hotel it was quite nice. Here is what I can tell you about these digs: “Alexander’s Hotel is situated on the Masaki peninsula in Dar es Salaam. It was set up in 2008 by the Alexander family, who run the hotel to this day. The hotel is a very contemporary building, featuring whitewashed walls, immaculate archways, and chic wooden balustrades. Inside, all communal spaces are very well appointed. They include a lounge with sumptuous seating, coffee tables, and a grand piano. There is also Alexander’s Restaurant, positioned on the hotel’s rooftop terrace and adjoining the well-stocked bar. There are 17 guest rooms within the hotel, all with modern furnishings and plenty of amenities to ensure a comfortable stay!”

After we unpacked we went for drinks on the upper terrace of Alexander’s where we were served by the charming waiter Abraham. We are the only customers and the hotel’s 17 rooms appear to be empty except for us. We debate things including what to do tomorrow and where to eat tonight. Ultimately we ate an elegant dinner on the terrace served by Abraham. Very late in our dinner another couple showed up so we might not be the only tenants.

This night we went to bed very early for me as I am finally jet lagged.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Today we are up at 6:00 a.m. as the family has decided Zanzibar. We have breakfast in the lower library of the Alexander which consists of a buffet with eggs prepared in the kitchen.

Downtown Dar es Salaam

We take an arranged taxi to the ferry (and this same gentleman will show up at 4:00 p.m. when we return from the island).

We had done a little research the night before about this ferry to Zanzibar but as this story will show—not enough. This is off season we think so the tourist booth is closed and we are told to get in the resident line for tickets with everyone else.

First off, we thought the round trip on the ferry cost $35 as the steerage option but that proved to be a one way fair so the actual lowest fair for us was $70. As we approached the ticket counter in the terminal it became evident that we might enjoy the trip by upgrading to either a VIP option ($120 RT) or a Business Class option ($80 RT).

Perhaps this is a good point to explain that in both the UAE and Tanzania we could use US dollars or credit cards. However, in Tanzania because of counterfeiting, the bills must be from 2009 or later. Our goal was to use a credit card to get to Zanzibar rather than cash but the tickets were on a cash only basis. This proved to be a major problem for most of us as we did not think to bring all of our cash on this trip. There was enough cash in our hands to get Becky the Royal while the rest of us went Business.

We had discussed the night before if we should take or not take our passports and decided only to carry the copies of our passports (and Rebecca did not even have that). Zanzibar is a part of the Tanzanian government but appears to be slightly independent as the cashier asked us for our passports.

This led to some friendly but slightly desperate debate as whether or not Tanzania would issue us a permit to got to Zanzibar. After much negotiations, most of us surrendering our copies of our passports and Rebecca waving her California driver’s license we get her a Royal ticket and for some reason, despite the rest of us paying for Business, he gave us all Royal seats as well.

We boarded the ferry to ride across the India Ocean to Zanzibar, about a one hour ride. Let me tell you, the Royal treatment was nice. We had great seats, a great view, a private bathroom and beverage service all on a deck one flight up from steerage, Some of us also spent some time on the observation deck. It was a beautiful day and a very calm ride over to the island of Zanzibar.

Perhaps our first clue on the island as to what was to come next was the banner welcoming us from The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar. (Watching The Road to Zanzibar with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby did not prepare me for the comedy of errors about to happen).

When we walked up to entry, the male customs officer will not let us in because we do not have the Tanzanian visa in our passports which they use to verify arrivals and that we have not traveled from a country that might be a part of a recent Yellow Fever outbreak. The negotiations are all friendly but we are not getting anywhere.

We get taken to an office with two female customs officers and more negotiations continue—we tell them the three women are sisters, we are just here for the day, we had no idea, etc. etc. The more the womanfolk play the family card the friendlier the discussion seems to be getting. Finally one of the women turns us over to a third officer who takes us to a third location.

This guy fills out forms for us to get in but tells us he is going to punish us. After all the work he does and the forgiveness, he asks what we think the “punishment” should be. All of the other five in our party depart in a hurry out the door but I said I would pay the punishment and bribed him $10 US. We shook hands and I thank him for letting us into his country. (He probably went and washed that hand right away in case we actually did have Yellow Fever).

After leaving the entry port, we have to run the gauntlet of buskers and then all the guides and taxi drivers that is typical in any country at the point of entry. Becky is determined to get us away from all of that and takes off walking down the seawall. We walk six blocks down the sea side and by sheer serendipity discover a tourist center where we meet a legitimate and very friendly member of the Zanzibar government who suggest a number of options.

We decide for $5 bucks each we would hire a government guide who takes us on a walking tour of the harbor area of Zanzibar including the stone city area which was what I was hoping to see.

The walk included discussions of architecture, religion, customs and…the market.

Where are we?

These girls wanted their pictures taken...and they wanted to see the results 

In Zanzibar, Christian and Muslim live side by peace

As a fund raiser, these school girls were making hand-made books.

Becky, Marijeanne, Don, Chris and Denice

We ate lunch on our own in the Africa House Hotel which offered African, European and Chinese options. I picked the African delight—Minestrone soup.

We walked back to the dock early to catch the ferry. We have to go to the special customs desk where dumb Americans without a passport are let on the ferry. This part goes just as well as it should because of the work of the bribed official from earlier in the day but… we get in the wrong line to board and have to be escorted to the VIP area by an official.

OK, now we can get on the ferry.

Nope. The ticket takers tell us our tickets for the return are dated for September. So this means after barely getting into the country for a five hour walkabout we will not be able to leave for 3 months.

After much negotiations, they get us on this ferry anyway because it is not full and they probably do not want to ever see us again in Zanzibar.

Once the ferry leaves the port I ride on the prow observation deck. While it had been calm coming over, the Indian Ocean is quite breezy and the sea is rough. I get soaking wet. Eventually, about ¾ of the way back, I got sent back to my seat because of the rough seas. I am not sure why I enjoyed this so much but it was a blast.

As bad as this day has been for planning, our taxi driver finds us and we are escorted back to Alexander’s. We eat a dinner on the terrace and go to bed as tomorrow is another early departure.

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