It really did feel like another lifetime ago that we were sitting in Patrick’s lounge in Fiji listening to his stories about travelling from Tanzania to Asia and eventually New Zealand in a camper truck with his wife and 2 small children. It is the reason we were rolling into Tanzania right then and I had been thinking about Patrick for the last few weeks. He had made a life in Tanzania and talked fondly about the place. I know he had a lot of fun there and therefore so should we. I held on to that thought as we pulled up behind a truck at the border bridge and started the usual barter for local currency with several money changers that had approached us. This has been the same process since we left Morocco many months ago and we have had zero problems with any of them. In fact, some will even go in your favour to get the business (for what ever reason) We discussed rates and agreed on a figure and handed over the cash. About $50USD worth of Malawian cash. He fumbled through his pockets and then told me he was going to get change, and just walked away. It took about 60 seconds to realise what had just happened as the other people started to fade away as well and all of a sudden, we were alone. Well, a first time for everything and it had to happen in one of the places we were looking forward to visiting!
We moved to the border and waited, and waited. If we were on foot it would have been faster, maybe only an hour, but we had a car. It needed to be inspected, twice. I then had to wait for the customs people to process the temporary import permit for the Hilux, that included a notation in my passport that was supposed to have a special stamp on the way out... (I didn’t get it). I was directed to pay the $50USD import permit in local currency that we didn’t have, so I had to visit the bank. When I returned I was told I had to PAY it to the same bank I had just been to, so back I went again... Finally, we were ready to go. I head back to the car that was parked in the shade while I was running through the border circus parade only to find that we had once again been robbed by money changers! When I first went to the bank, I met a local money changer that had a shop just on the Tanzanian side of the gate. The guys with shops are usually a little more honest, albeit a little harder to get the best rate from, and we use these people from time to time when we don’t like the look of the guys that run up to the car. I had asked him to go and see Christine while I sorted the paperwork for the car, and he had performed an oldie but a goodie on Christine. We had 3 x $100US notes that we had held for quite a while. We were pretty familiar with them as every so often Christine counted the cash in the various accounts and currencies so we knew what we had… Christine handed him one note and he changed it for an OK rate, so she handed him another note and asked for some more. He made some small talk and then asked for the money. But I’ve given it to you! No, you have not… and so on and so on. He wasn’t a small guy and neither were his 7 friends crowding around the car window, so she was intimidated and not in a position to even argue. His defence was that he was a Christian and therefore honest... It was all over when I finished with Customs so we just roared off an amazing $300USD lighter after a shocking border experience so annoyed we forgot to get the insurance for the car… Welcome to Tanzania.
Other than what Patrick had told us about the place, the only other things we had heard were from other overlanders and most of that was about the traffic police. The Tanzania traffic police are the best funded in East Africa and are also considered the most corrupt. It took us 2 days to meet our first police officer and it lived up to the tales we had heard. Due to the corrupt officers taking cash, a new system had been put into place where the fine is paid by a transfer of money through mobile payment or at a bank, no cash is to be given on the road side. So, we along with 5 or 6 other vehicles were all pulled over and within a few minutes, it was just us and one other car that had Botswana plates, so another tourist. Turns out we were all speeding and somehow, we ALL missed seeing the sign with the new speed limit… I said OK, got me… and waited for the ticket. Well what a drama all that turned out to be. The fine wasn’t too much, but they just wanted it in cash… To cut a long (3 hour wait long) story short, we didn’t want to pay cash, mostly because we STILL didn’t have any due to being ripped off at the border…so after ages of trying to allow us to pay by transfer or at the bank later, we went all the way back to the last town and got cash and all the way back to the stop and I just paid them and drove off. It was a real ticket and they did give a real receipt so maybe the cash did find its way into the road sign repair fund after being counted in the treasury as income or maybe it was just lunch money for Officer Janice for the next month.
It was much later when I thought back on what had happened that day and realised the sequence of events. Of the row of vehicles pulled over, the first to move on were the 2 trucks. This is because the police know that the truck drivers know, it’s a cost of doing business and the price is set, maybe 5000s. ($2.25USD) and the sooner they can get on the way the better. Then it was the 2 locals. For the official 30,000s ($13.50USD) fine, a 10,000s bribe is the normal price for no paperwork and go. So, us and the Botswana registered car didn’t know this and if we had, would have been happy to only pay a third of the price for breaking the law, and turn a 3 hour stop into a 3-minute stop. We did of course remember this tactic and when we were eventually stopped and asked for the insurance we never ended up getting, we just slipped him 10,000s and everything was suddenly OK.
We headed to Bagamoyo and an Airbnb we had picked out. It was a house with a fully walled compound just out of the main town, beach and market. I guess it was one of the nicest places in the area and the owner also hosted young European students that are completing studies with a 3 or 6-month internship at a local clinic, so we had some fun times with the other guests. Luxy had the run of the place but tended to stay close and usually napped in our room. It was a really nice place but a bit rough and had no air conditioning. We also had to find a shipping agent and decided we needed to be closer to the port and the business district and see some of the people face to face so we moved on to the capital of Dar es Salaam and our new ‘home’ at The Riverview Hotel.
We ended up staying at the Riverview Hotel for 5 long weeks and although we had some good times and met some really nice folk, like Rosie who was the manager and Mr Karlie who was a guest and an important local politician, it was also some of the worst times we had on the entire trip so far. Dar se Salaam is the capital of Tanzania and a large modern city. The Riverview was on the edge of the city, 30-minute drive to the port area and where the shipping agents all had offices. To stay any closer would have been double the price or more for the hotel. The entire shipping process was quite a nightmare to be honest. We were in a position to lose everything… The car cannot be replaced if it’s stolen or damaged any time between us leaving it with the agents and it arriving at the shippers’ depot. Once there, it will get the full ocean insurance. The process from start to finish, including the USA side was such a drama it is getting a blog of its own. I would have rather been faced with the stress of driving through Nigeria again than the stress of that shipping process.
Its also where we lost poor wee Luxy. She died in the Hotel the day we left the car at the port. It was sudden. 2 Days earlier she was fine and chasing her toys around the room as normal. She had a very quiet day the next day, but she was still eating. The very next morning, we took her straight to the vet who gave her something to try to lower the fever, but that night she died. Turns out she had an infection from the dental work we had done. It caused septicaemia and when it all happened there was nothing we could do. The meds the vet gave her would not have helped. It was absolutely heart wrenching. No words can describe how we felt to have had our little travel companion with us one day, and in fact all documented and ready to travel to the USA, and the next to be watching her fight for her life and die right there in front of us. Needless to say, it was very, very, tough, and still is.
We had booked several things to do once we had delivered the car but right on the spot we decided to leave to the USA and changed our flights and were gone in 3 days. So, it ended up that Tanzania, through no fault of anyone or anything in Tanzania or Tanzania itself, was absolutely terrible. We didn’t see any sights or attractions.
Luxy will always be remembered whenever we think of Africa and the most amazing, confronting, scary and rewarding things we have ever undertaken in our lives. It wasn’t just driving through Africa, it was the way we had approached and undertaken it, very unconventionally. We didn’t plan or research more than a few days ahead, it was our very first overland trip, we took only 10 days to get the car ready and we took along a stray kitten we found on our first full day on the continent. We shouldn’t have made it. But we did and one of the reasons was being able to turn around and pat our cat as she slept contentedly between the seats. Many times, we would have lengthy and frustrating police stops and drive off feeling angry only to feel it melt away after a soothing cuddle. I can remember trying to dodge potholes in Nigeria when we had 3 masked men on a motorbike right next to us and glancing back seeing her still sleeping and I actually joked with Christine that at least Luxy was relaxed. And the hours and hours of fun exploring the many campsites and countries we visited with her. She made a difference. She cemented herself forever in our memories as our real African wildcat.
So that was Africa. We hope you enjoyed it.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!