Traveling is, as I mentioned before, all about love. Loving that unique assault of the new and different, raining down upon every sense.
Most of the time.
When traveling is not about loving, its generally about learning. Learning about yourself, the world around you, harsh realities and coping mechanisms, cruel cultural truths that the travel books may not cover in their glossy, glorified descriptions.
The divine union being learning to love these moments of learning that you may not love learning at first.
Tanzania began for me with some important learning.
The previous few weeks of overland travel through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia were wonderful, organized, and full of nature and limited human interactions. It was a perfect way to see some parts of Africa that were not particularly accessible by public buses. However, by the end I found that I hadn’t really challenged myself as I had hoped and found myself wishing for a bit more experience. Sometimes you get what you ask for.
One day in January I was supposed to, if all things went accordingly, reunite with the Wonderful One Woman Wanderers. They were on Zanzibar and, with no phone for planning, I had just the name of the hostel where they were staying and a list of the ferry departures with the hopes of making one after my flight. Landing at 12:30, I figured I had plenty of time to make the last ferry to Zanzibar at 4:00 pm.
I was warned that the passport entry in Dar es Salaam was slow. And it was. Oh was it slow. I waited patiently for nearly two hours while Humphrey sat unattended until I finally scanned my fingerprints and received my passport and visa in return.
With less than 2 hours before the ferry, I hurried anxiously through the waiting touts and unofficial taxi drivers to the airport taxi stand. I briefly and halfheartedly tried to argue down the price to the ferry port, but negotiation has never been my strength, particularly as I stand laden with bags, sweating and anxious.
A driver escorted me through a parking lot full of matching white and blue striped official airport taxis to a large, white, windowless van.
Remember that SNL sketch about a guy that lived in a van down by the river?
Yea, something like that.
An argument ensued in broken English in which he insisted that despite having brought me to the only non-blue and white taxi in the lot, it was, in fact, the same car as the others. As he repeated “same, same” and pointed, something deep down stirred. It would probably be just fine. Almost definitely. But, why risk it? Of all the risks I will take on this trip, that seemed like an unnecessary one.
The argument ended abruptly when I quite forcefully pointed out “that and that, not the same.” This brought laughs and nods from the other cab drivers who had gathered to spectate the throw down. It also drew the attention of the manager who quickly called me a new driver with a real taxi.
Lesson 1, sometimes you can just say no.
After directing the driver to the ferry dock he kindly reminded me that the last one leaves at 4:00 but he would drive very fast. This surprised me a bit since it was just after 2:00, so I figured maybe this ferry was the one thing in Africa that didn’t run on Africa time.
So, off we went. I grinned stupidly as we weaved through rush hour traffic.
Rush hour in Tanzania. This was more like it!
Mini-buses, tuk-tuks, and cow drawn carts. Bicycles loaded with people and groceries and animals and car tires. Touts leaning into the slowly moving taxi window, trying to sell me everything from nuts to scarves to phone chargers. Weaving and zipping and overwhelming excitement.
10 minutes in, my cabbie made a quick call and then alerted me that I was not to worry as he had called a friend at the ferry to tell them I was coming. “Everything will be ok,” he insisted. About 20 minutes later, he made another call. This time he reassured me that his friend knew we were almost there and that they were holding the ferry. Great, I think, still slightly confused. My driver then checked his watch about 10 times in one minute and it slowly dawned on me…
“What time is it?” I inquired, fully aware that my watch read 2:36. He confirmed this, simply saying “36.” I thanked him and asked 36 of what hour? He confirmed that it was, in fact, 3:36.
Panic set in. Panic panic panic. Ten whole minutes of panic. Panic that would have filled hours of wondering and worrying and planning and replanning in my head. This panic, which would have consumed my entire morning and flight unnecessarily, was cut mercifully brief due to my egregious travel error. There is certainly something to be said for not knowing everything.
This trip was ups and downs, moments of clarity and moments of confusion, moments of careful planning and moments of dumb luck. And in this situation, dumb luck put me in a taxi, unaware of the local time with a whole ferry waiting for me.
Lesson 2, sometimes ignorance really can be bliss.
We came screeching into the ferry port at 3:45 and the cab was circled by touts. My driver instructed me to stay put and rounded the cab to my side, dragging me and my bags out of the door as if we are fleeing paparazzi. He promptly pulled me to the office where they were waiting to ticket me.
Before entering, I asked my driver how much. Shamefully, I expected he would overcharge for his ferry leg work, but instead he waved it off and pushed me inside. In the end, I had to hunt him down to thank him and shove money into his hand, which he did not even check for accuracy.
He didn’t need to help me catch the ferry. He didn’t need to make those calls. He could have driven me to the port, knowing I would miss it, only to get a larger cab fare when I needed him to take me to some overnight accommodation. At first I was skeptical but he did, in fact, take me to the official ferry ticketing office, so no side deal here.
My immediate assumption of the worst is not unique to me, I don’t think. Having met many women who travel independently, there is something engrained in many of us to take an extra breath before offering trust. Same as many women in cities around the US cross the street to avoid a group of men as they walk home at alone at night, there is an innate survival instinct that suggests we pause, just a tick, to check things out. Our shackles are, unfortunately, up much of the time.
Having experienced this at home, I was more aware of it abroad, as I knew I offered a moving target for scams and more harmful forms of abuse. But, this help from the cab driver, insignificant as it may seem, reminded me for just a moment that not all books should be judged by their cover.
Lesson 3, there is some good out there.
So, I got my ticket and took off at top speed, bags crashing about, sweat pouring, hair streaming and hauled towards the quickly closing departure gate. I made it onto the ferry and collapsed on the floor by a railing where I stayed for the next 2 hours, catching my breath and muttering a few silent prayers to the travel (and taxi) gods.
I easily found the hostel where I was directed, by note, to my friends waiting with a drink. And boy did I need one.
I was dumb and I was lucky.
Every moment of this trip, even when I was feeling discomfort or fear or homesickness, I tried to stay mindful of just how exceedingly lucky I was to even have the opportunity to be where I was, where ever that might have been. I hope to continue to be lucky in my travels moving forward and I most certainly will be dumb again and again. But take it from me, this is one mistake you only make once. If you can learn any lessons from my traveling woes, blessedly few as they may have been, please please please remember.
Lesson 4, always know the time zone.
After this important lesson learning and some exploration on Zanzibar it was time for the requisite Safari.
And sleeping in tents.
But more to come on life in the Lion King later down the line. Did you really think all I had to say about Tanzania was to check the local time? No sir. Tanzania will be a journey of many blogs spread out for maximum enjoyment.
But for now I regret to say we must move on to Kenya. Why regret? Find out same time next week…