Thursday, 20 April 2017
The Amazing Race 29, Episode 4
Stone Town, Zanzibar (Tanzania) - Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
If we judged places by events, we would have left with bad impressions of Dar, Zanzibar, and the trip between them.
In Dar es Salaam, it was hard to finding a decent affordable hotel during the visit of U.S. President Bush and his entourage and army of camp-followers. My cellphone was stolen out of my shirt pocket by a pair of sidewalk snatch-thieves impersonating staggering midday drunkards on a downtown street. We wasted time at a consulate applying for visas to Eritrea, which we hoped to visit later on the same trip, and were told that our visas had been approved, only to find out weeks later that our visa applications had been denied. When our ferry (one of the same ones the cast of The Amazing Race 29 took back and forth) from Dar arrived on Zanzibar, corrupt officials checking passengers' papers tried to tell us that we had underpaid for our visas to Tanzania, and needed to pay the difference to them on the spot, in cash (they generously offered to accept either U.S. dollars or Euros), without a receipt. It was one of only two times I can remember being shaken down for a bribe in decades of travel around the world. We called their bluff, declined to pay, and were allowed to go on our way after an hour or so in a sweltering little guard shack at the ferry landing when they found someone wealthier and more vulnerable -- a Chinese trader -- to target. But this didn't get our time on Zanzibar off to a good start. A few days later, we had just settled down for a restful vacation within a vacation at a beach resort on the east coast of Zanzibar when we learned of a death in the family, and had to agonize over whether we could, or should, try to make our way back to the U.S. in time for the funeral.
But none of these mishaps kept us from enjoying our time in Dar es Salaam, Stone Town, and elsewhere on Zanzibar. You should never judge a country (including, of course, the USA) by its border guards, bureaucrats, or criminals.
Dar es Salaam was and still is relatively untouristed: Most foreign tourists in Dar are only passing through en route to or from wildlife preserves in the interior of mainland Tanzania, or Stone Town and the beaches of the island of Zanzibar. In 2008, Dar es Salaam gave me the impression of a being more relaxed and accessible than other big African cities I've visited, or than I would have expected from its population. Strolling through the center, it felt more like a small town than a mega-city.
That may have changed: What I noticed first in the establishing shots of Dar es Salaam in the latest episodes of The Amazing Race 29 was a skyline of highrise buildings and construction cranes that didn't exist a decade ago.
It was an important reminder that the pace of change is typically far greater in the "developing" parts of world than in already "developed" regions. The corollary, of course, is that it is more important to have up-to-date information in planning a trip to Africa (or anywhere else in the "developing" world) than a trip to Europe, and more likely to be misleading to rely on other travelers' memories (or our own!) of what a city like Dar was like a decade ago than what a European or U.S. city was like twice that long ago.
It was also a reminder that Africa is increasingly citified, even though the overwhelming majority of foreign tourists go to Africa to see its non-human animals, not to meet its people, and stay away from big cities as much as they can.
In population, Dar is one of the fastest-growing cities, perhaps the fastest-growing city, on the world's fastest-growing and fastest-urbanizing continent. Growth like this doesn't mean just more of the same, but qualitative change in the urban environment and, often, in the demographics and culture of its people. You might not agree with the political spin of this article (see also the thread of comments), but it gives a picture of some of the patterns of change. The "old city" of Stone Town, long since fully "built up", appears to have changed much less in the decade since I was there.
Have you been in Dar es Salaam recently? What was it like? How did it compare with your expectations, or with what you had read or heard from people who had been there in the past?Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 20 April 2017, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)