By Land, Air, and Sea (Part One)

If getting there is half the fun, getting there in Africa is twice the fun. Whether by land, air, or sea, we have had our share of travel adventures lately, just getting from place to place.

We find ourselves on mainland Tanzania, the only mzungas in an otherwise all-Tanzanian town of about 12,000. Like in our other African adventures so far, little kids either run screaming to us or away from us pretty much everywhere we go. One baby on the dalla-dalla took one look at Michael and burst into tears. We think it was because of his sunglasses…

“What’s a dalla-dalla?” you might be wondering. As far as I can tell, it’s Tanzania’s answer to Thailand’s songthaew, the trucks with benches across the back that function as busses in and around the towns. One major difference is that there are far fewer of them here, and as if to compensate, they pack them with twice as many people. Of our many rides in these beasts of automobiles, one particular journey stands out. It was to and from the beach “resort” (and I use that word loosely) of Veroni, in Pemba, which is an island off Africa’s east coast, just north of Zanzibar. It was around a $70 cab ride, or about a dollar each to take the two-hour trip. You can probably guess which option we would go for. With the help of one of the locals, we flagged down a dalla-dalla and loaded our gear. Michael gave him a little tip, but for some reason he hopped on with us. Ok, we figured, maybe he’s going north, too.

Sorry, I still haven’t explained what a dalla-dalla is. It’s a pick-up like I said earlier, with the benches up and down the bed, but with a covered top used for storage, and stuffed with as many humans and animals as possible. In one of the extended-bed ones, we counted upwards of 40 people on one ride! There were several in the cab, about six hanging off the back and on top, and a tangle of 30 pairs of Tanzanian arms and legs (plus two sets of American ones). There may or may not have been chickens on this ride… There probably were at one point or another. On the top you’ll find anything else imaginable: stalks of sugar cane, bundles of sticks, bicycles, baskets, bags of potatoes, flour, rice, and so on.

There was a big detour across a dirt road on the way, where I was pretty sure we were going to tip over on several occasions. Happily, we didn’t. But a little further down the road, we did end up with a flat tire, which didn’t come as a surprise. What did come as a surprise was how they go about changing a tire, as rather than using a jack, a bunch of guys just tip the truck over and they fit the new tire on that way. Hey, works for us.

Upon arriving at Conde, where we were to catch a taxi to Veroni, Michael paid 5,000 Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) and waited for the 1,000 TSH in change, which never came. He asked the driver, who denied any wrongdoing. Actually, we were being overcharged at 2,000 TSH each but were letting it slide. The extra 1,000 TSH was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

There was a bit of a confrontation, and pretty soon everyone was staring at the mzunga who is using a loud voice and lots of hand gestures. Michael got his money, thankfully, and we also got a taxi. Once we were safely loaded in the taxi, the man who helped us at first motioned to open the window. He said to us, “Give me 2,000.” Michael and I kind of blinked at each other, not sure if we’d heard him correctly. We asked him to repeat himself, and he did. We’d heard right – he wanted money from us. Michael said “2,000?! For what? I already gave you money for your help earlier!” Apparently this man was planning to follow us around all day and “help” us, only to demand payment for services we handled just fine on our own, thankyouverymuch. The man left after we’d convinced him that we’d never agreed to that, and he hadn’t actually done anything that merited payment. The other guy in the cab got a huge kick out of this interaction, and so did the people at our guesthouse. Actually, they’d heard about the incident in Conde before we’d told them about it! I guess word travels fast on the island.

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One Response to By Land, Air, and Sea (Part One)

  1. pat says:

    Love the description of changing the flat tire, but in awe of Michael for standing so firm!

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