EIGHTEENTH MOVEMENT: TANZANIA
I decided that it would be absurd and unrealistic to walk from my hotel in Muscat to the International Airport (18 kilometers); so I gained a couple of hours of sleep and ended up waking up shortly after 01:00; I then checked of my hotel (which was a pain and annoying; actually, this is by far the most expensive place I stayed at on my trip and easily one of the worst; sure the room and bed were nice, but the staff was completely unhelpful and disinterested; I’ll take a well-run hostel with friendly staff for ten times less the price anyday – hostels with great management and staff are usually a very rewarding experience – like my experience on Koh Samui in Thailand) and started walking toward the airport; eventually I stopped at a parked taxi and asked what the price would be to the airport and the driver came back with a very realistic offer (five rials – half the price the hotel offered me yesterday when I inquired); I then asked if he could make it four and he agreed (amazing! probably the best taxi driver in all of Muscat). The taxi driver then drove me to the airport, I paid him, and then checked in. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went inside the “Irish Pub” in the terminal and had a couple of very expensive pints of Murphy’s Stout beer. Next, I walked to the departure gate, checked in, and was soon bussed to the aircraft with the other passengers. We loaded up inside and the plane took off at about 05:00, Dubai bound. We were served a nice breakfast of pastries, orange juice, and fruit during our short flight and we reached Dubai in an hour; we then exited the aircraft, were bussed to the terminal, and then I waited around for four hours before having to board my flight to Dar es Salaam; while waiting around, I exchanged my Sri Lankan rupees and Omani rials for U.S. dollars (I was ripped off; such is life) and ate lunch at Burger King (a Tex-Mex burger with Cheese fries, a sprite, and a waffle dessert with vanilla ice cream). When it came time to board the plane, I entered the waiting area at the departure gate, and the passengers and I were bussed to our plane. When the plane finally took off, at about 10:15, I slept for a short while, then had another lunch (pasta, bread and butter, hummus and Mahshi Wara (grape leaves stuffed with rice and minced vegetables), and orange slices) while watching the film ‘Jersey Boys’, which was another well-crafted film by Clint Eastwood (the film’s climax detailed the making of Frankie Vallie’s hit ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ – arguably the greatest song about infatuation, love at first sight, or whatever else you want to call it; it is one of my all-time favorite love songs); I also drank as many mini-bottles of wine as I could during our five hour flight (I wanted to get my moneys worth, so I had a total of 1.12 liters; switching between Sauvignon Blanc, Rioja, and Corbières. After finishing ‘Jersey Boys’, I started to watch ‘The Descendants’, but was unable to finish it before the headphones were collected.
We landed at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam shortly after 15:00, and I made my way immediately to the Immigration area, which was unlike anything I had ever encountered before; I didn’t have enough cash for the Visa (100 USD for Americans, while 50 USD for everyone else – talk about prejudiced), so I walked right through Immigration, passing the security guards, past Customs, and right outside the airport, where the ATM is located; I had asked if I needed an escort, but was given none; this would’ve been unacceptable in every other country I have visited, I mean, to just let people walk right through your airport and enter your country without an appropriate Visa; I then returned to Immigration with enough cash in hand, but was told that Tanzanian currency was not accepted and I needed U.S. dollars (WTF?); so I walked right through Immigration and Customs again to exchange their currency for my own; I then returned with U.S. dollars and received my Visa; the whole process was terribly managed and disorganized, but I will say that the staff were pretty courteous and I was well-treated even after demanding that I speak with the manager’s manager (a request that was granted). Anyway, after getting my 100 USD, one-year, multiple entry Visa (which is something I didn’t want nor need, but is the cheapest Visa Americans can get), I collected my baggage and walked right over to the domestic terminal; I hadn’t bought any tickets from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar in advance, and I figured I would take my chances; upon reaching the domestic terminal (about one kilometer away from the international terminal), I inquired about airline tickets to Zanzibar at two different companies; each was fully booked, but I was told they would see what they could do; then two men with ID cards hung around their neck took me to another office, I paid roughly 85 USD cash for a “ticket” (the price was similar to what I saw online, so I didn’t feel cheated in the cost, but the “ticket” I later saw quoted 46 USD) and I was then given a boarding pass with my information written in; I tried to enter the terminal with this boarding pass, but was told I needed a printed ticket and the pass was unacceptable; so I waited outside to receive my ticket; an Omani man I met was going through the same bullshit that I was and was ready to call his embassy (I was just ready to demand my money back); eventually I was told I was on the standby list and was waiting if a seat was available; then, eventually, I was given a ticket with another man’s name on it (for this flight I was to be Mr. Amani B., a resident of Tanzania) and I entered through the terminal with this other man’s ticket (no one bothered to check my passport to see if my name matched the one on the ticket); I then waited at the gate until the passengers and I were taken outside to our Cessna 208B Caravan aircraft; I loaded my bags on to the plane (my luggage was never weighed – a big no-no on these small aircraft, where weight is an important factor to consider, and I had some heavy luggage with me; perhaps they didn’t bother since all but two passengers were thin and most didn’t have much luggage; oh well, I was ready to take the risks and prepared to crash if needed; what the hell, you only live once) and then found an empty seat. We then took off (after 18:00) and it only took twenty minutes to reach Abeid Amani Karume International Airport in Zanzibar. This whole process (flying from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar) was even more disorganized than the Immigration and Customs procedures I encountered at the international terminal; the whole time I felt like I was surely being cheated and that this was a scam; it was only after the plane took off that these suspicious feelings subsided; if the process I went through was semi-legitimate (it certainly wasn’t fully legitimate since I flew as Mr. Amani B.), they might want to consider revamping it to ease the process and demonstrate to tourists that this is a normal operating procedure (the security at the airport were certainly used to it since the nonsense I was being subjected to and the false name on my boarding pass didn’t raise any objections). After landing in Zanzibar, I collected my bags, filled in a sheet with my information that was never checked nor verified, and then found a taxi outside (the first taxi was overpriced, but by the power of walking away, I got one that was nearly half the initial offered price); the taxi driver than set out to the east coast of Zanzibar, to the town of Paje (51 kilometers away), where the hostel I made a reservation with was located. Shortly after setting out, the taxi was rear-ended by another automobile; the damage was minimal, both drivers exchanged telephone numbers, and the man who rear-ended us agreed to pay for the damage (no need to get police involved with the private affairs of gentlemen). We then continued on our way (through flat sandy lands with many palms and some pine trees – Zanzibar reminds me of Southern Florida) and it was over an hour before we reached the hostel/lodge I booked with in Paje (it was now after 19:30 and dark outside); I then checked in, had some much needed water (after all that wine and little else, I was very thirsty) and a beer, and then retired for the night (that is, after receiving some useful information on traveling around Zanzibar). Also, funny enough, the local staff at the hostel and several others I met in the next few days in Zanzibar told me that here they refer to the United States as “Obamaland”. Haha.