I’m in love with Africa. I have been from the first day I stepped foot on this massive continent made up of some 54 countries of which I’ve so far only visited a few of those countries.
But Africa can be a tough continent and can be even tougher when you are a white-skinned, single Mum.
Somebody asked me recently if I only write bout the good side of our travel life? Where you see all the beautiful places we visit, and when you discover parts of the world you never knew existed through our website, living vicariously through our photos and articles.
Challenges and Troubles
As I am sure any person would realise, travel is not always smooth sailing, and things can go wrong, and do go wrong for travellers all over the world. And that includes us. We get our challenges too.
But just because I’ve had these challenges, it doesn’t mean that if you came here that you would too. Each life is individual, but this is some of what we personally experienced, and I’ve added some tips on how we resolve some of those challenges too.
For us for this past week or two, things have been getting increasingly stressful and difficult for us here in Tanzania, and we have learned quite a few lessons through these experiences I want to share with you.
So this is how it all started …..
AND – Here’s A Bit Of Why We Felt Like This ….
It started in Zanzibar.
Problem – Wrong Visa And Flight Information
It came close to the time we felt we wanted to leave the island, and so I went to find a Stone Town travel agent (down the alleyways) to inquire about flights to two different destinations.
The travel agent (with all best intentions) unknowingly gave me the wrong information. Firstly about our visa – stating my Tanzanian Visa was, in fact, an East African Visa valid for 3 countries, when it is not; it’s a single country visa. And secondly, she omitted to tell me that the place we were seeking a flight to was in fact NOT a direct flight, but via another city with a long, long layover.
The reason I chose a travel agent to ask is because local flight companies do not show up on major search engines (as the flights are not worth enough for them to list).
Bucket List Destinations
Whilst on Zanzibar Island, I started seeking safaris to two main destinations in Tanzania – Arusha and Kilimanjaro. Both of these destinations have been on my ‘Travel Bucket List’ for some time now.
Explorason and I always make our plans together and this forms part of his education. He draws up all the route options and how we would travel there.
On this occasion, we ended up with four different plans and 17 different route options. Each route he numbered.
He has planned like this for years, and I am surprised to look back in our book and see how many of our plans actually occurred, and how we also could break down the journey to prepare for each destination.
So as we looked at this we decided to start with the safari option first.
Problem Trying To Hire A 4WD
We had an option of hiring a self-drive 4WD to explore the north of Tanzania. After our great experience in Zanzibar, and also when we hired our own 2 years ago in Uganda for our own safari, this seemed like a great idea.
I emailed every 4WD company I could find in Dar Es Salaam. I waited. I had one reply that the hire company would get back to me, but they never did. I then used Skype and called every one of these Vehicle Hire companies, and only one man answered. He told me to call back in an hour because he was busy!
It was a dead end.
Finally, I was referred to another company by the hotel manager and I called them, but their prices were crazy for anything outside of the Da Es Salaam city area with a price per km.
We then contemplated hiring a 4WD in Arusha, but when I called the fees per day were very high, and there was an added fee to take the vehicle inside the national parks.
I must say that at this point Uganda was looking more and more appealing to return to as their 4WD hire as realistic in price.
Thus the 4WD vehicle hire idea was put on the back burner for now.
Problem Getting Reply Emails From Safari Companies
I also wrote to numerous safari companies whilst on Zanzibar Island. Trust me there are hundreds. Many are merely safari agents that add a fee to manage the safari booking.
Others replied that it was the wet season and they did not have safaris at this time, but they did reply. Even a property that we had stayed with on Zanzibar that had safari lodges in the north Tanzanian areas when I enquired with them gave me the ‘run around’. No conclusive answers were forthcoming at this time.
Even a property that we had stayed with on Zanzibar that had safari lodges in the north Tanzanian areas when I enquired with them gave me the ‘run around’. No conclusive answers were forthcoming at this time. Continual emails were met with ‘wait’ as she checked with her manager.
Finally, we decided to take the ferry to the mainland and booked our tickets and organised to stay in Dar Es Salaam.
When boarding the ferry they tried to take our computer bags from us and put with general luggage, however, Explorason refused and we went via another entrance and managed to take them on board.
Internet And Power Outages
Thankfully we had nice accommodation when we arrived at Dar Es Salaam, but we soon realised Tanzania has power and internet problems when the internet and power went off and on several times an hour!
The place we were staying thankfully had a generator, so this helped combat this issue – for now. But later in the city, this became a major issue.
Dar Es Salaam is apparently the sixth fastest growing city in the world, yet the power and internet have major problems.
Plus, often when the power goes out, the water also goes out too.
Problem – Need To Book Another Hotel
We had hoped to go straight on a safari after our first hotel, but with no replies, we had to go elsewhere.
With promises of replies forthcoming from several safari companies (that they would have the information finalised by the end of the week), we moved into the city centre of Dar Es Salaam.
Hotels Booked Out For Long Weekend – Problem – Nowhere To Go
It seemed all of the upmarket hotels were booked out because it was a long weekend (including the one we had been in when we arrived), so we found what looked to be an OK one online right by the local market in central Dar Es Salaam.
Problem – Hotel Doesn’t Reply – We Arrive With No Booking
But when I tried to make the booking, I called the hotel and sent emails but no reply, so we had to get a taxi into town and ‘wing it’ that we had accommodation. This was stressful. We wrote down a couple of options as we had no idea what we would encounter.
As it turns out, the first photo on the internet when I Google the name is not even the same property! Also, we find out on arrival that their power and internet was down, so that is why we could not book.
Turns out that they were having internet and power issues.
This place is Florida Executive Inn and I must say it is nice and clean, and to me, that was Number One priority. The manager was incredibly nice and named Mr Innocent – he really makes this place, and the staff were also friendly. We had a laugh with the staff when we gave them Vegemite to try too!
However, it is not a higher-end or luxury hotel. But with fresh linen, room service, breakfast included of both African and Western (with lovely fresh juice and chapati too!), all-day restaurant, executive business centre (where I could get printing), and centrally located, this was going to be home whilst we sorted out our safari and it met all our needs and felt safe, although a noisy location.
We both liked Mr Innocent – he has a smile and warmth about him. It also meant that we were booked into a room on the top floor, and was ideal for our photography, and to view local life as it really is for those that dwell in the hub of Dar Es Salaam. Mr. Innocent is amazing!
Problems With Noise
Now when you are in the middle of a major city, you expect noise. But the amount of noise here is new to us, particularly in a back street. We’ve stayed in African city hotels in Kampala and Nairobi, so we thought we knew what to expect – we were wrong!
This is an area of the inner city with dirt roads, no street lighting, and we are virtually the only pale-skinned folk around.
Industries are all around in these city streets, and at night there is no noise curfew, so often welding and grinding could be heard at midnight reminding me of the sound of a continual dentist drill, and also with large trucks coming and going especially late at night.
Then there is the call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. And some sort of disco type vans with loudspeakers also drive around. I think one was a Christian one too. I guess religions have freedom here to share.
This is inner-city Dar Es Salaam.
Problem As Locals Stare When People Yell At Us “Muzungu – Mzungu”
Each time we ventured outside the safety of the hotel, locals yelled “Mzungu” or “Muzungu” at us. “Mzungu! Mzungu! Ay, mzungu! ‘Zungu! MA-ZUNG-U!”
To us, it feels really rude to be yelled at and pointed at. This is something however you just have to get used to if you go to East Africa, and that is people pointing you out as a Mzungu. However, this term really made Explorason feel uncomfortable, stared at, and a bit of a freak, because as people yell it out others turn and stare.
We made a joke in the end and would count the number of times it was said. He wanted to wear a long sleeve shirt and a cap so as not to stand out, but the fact is, we do stand out, and they figure we are rich because we are pale-skinned.
In conversation you can tell they are talking about you – they do not hide the fact they are conversing ‘about you’ – the “Mzungu” standing right in front of them!
Problem Being Asked “Give Me ‘My’ Money”
Not only does “Mzungu” get yelled at you, but also many kids will come up and hold out their hand and say “Give me MY money”.
Teenagers may walk along side you and tell you then have moved to the city and can you help them with money, and old people occasionally hold out their hand or thrust it right at you if they are beggars too.
Being asked “given me MY money” is a daily occurrence, and it is not a good practice to hand out money under any circumstances to the children. (If you feel to give, please do so with soap, pens, toothbrushes etc.) Beggars, however, do not get government support, so they are genuine I believe.
I know they see us as a white skinned walking wallet. We can afford to fly here. Our ticket is worth morn than their yearly wages. I know all the reasons why, but at the end of the day, it gets to be a problem when so many people are asking for our money. As the wise saying goes,
The Challenges Of Shopping – One Price For Us And Another For Them
I adore African fabrics, and I love handmade artefacts, and I have no problem buying items at a fair price either, and personally, this means I am supporting this country financially. However – when I go to the market it can be quite tiring. Not only am I yelled at and steered into shops and stalls by a mass of young boys trying to earn a small commission, but I get a different price from the locals, and often it can be way, way more.
From our past and present experiences, these are known as ‘Mzungu Prices’. If you are white-skinned, expect to pay more because the mindset is you are ‘rich’. I know missionaries and volunteers who are anything but ‘rich’ and give their lives to help here, but they are charged way more simply because of the colour of their skin.
I contemplate not bothering to shop at all, it really was just that stressful. But think about it. If I find it too challenging, and I am a hardened ‘go-getter’ traveller, the average tourist would find it VERY stressful and even scary, so that means this country is missing out on overseas money that can be spent here to boost their economy.
There are five ways to get around being overcharged:
- Act Local – Get a local person to negotiate, ask them what they are paying (if they speak English), or watch what they pay for a product and then pay the same.
- Find A Local – The other way is to find a local you can trust and buy off that person every day if they give you a fair price. This is harder to do than you think.
- Carry Stock – Never go shopping to the market with empty bags. For Example, I wanted some ‘waxed’ African cultural cotton printed fabrics, so after 2 days of market wandering, I finally found the fabric at a price I wanted. I then carried that same fabric for days so each time I bought another piece they would not try to tell me that what I had bought was different, not the same, or less quality. Occasionally people would also try to tell me their designs were original. Anything to extract more money from me. Yes, it is tiring.
- Don’t Shop or Pay The High Price – I don’t like this option!
- Walk Away – YES – often the best technique is to be prepared to walk away. If they own the shop, then they will chase you for a realistic price.
Places may charge you more just because you are white-skinned. In Uganda, I will never forget the sign that said a price for ‘locals’ and a price 20 times more for ‘the rest of the world’. This is common. It is not just for residents either, it is because they figure you are a ‘rich tourist’.
In Australia, UK, Europe, and America, it doesn’t matter what colour you are, we all pay the same price. In a way it is ‘reverse racism’ – or as my son says “it is plain racism”. Still, it doesn’t feel fair to be on the receiving end, and it can be really tiring.
Positive – Making New Friends
Overall I love the markets, and I even love the street sellers too, and I soon had my favourite locals I’d go to daily.
One older man kept trying to get me to buy his wooden Coffee Set he’d made and each time I walked past him he’d try to get me to buy it (he spoke no English by the way.) In the end, I bought it for 10,000Tsh or $5 USD. What a bargain! I was going to give it away and bought it just to be kind, but Explorason loved it.
The nice sellers would want their photos taken, and I became friends with several locals in the area. Each day I headed out we would smile and say “hello”.
This is the side of Africa I love.
A Bit Of Side Information About Local Sellers
If locals sell on the street, I am told they do not pay tax, so anything from secondhand clothes that are dyed denim to hide the stains, to children ‘clicking tiles together’as their call that they sell cigarettes or peanuts, the streets are packed with people trying to earn a few shillings.
More noise – This ‘jangling’ of coins or ‘clicking’ of tiles can be heard in the streets until the early hours of the morning as these boys walk the streets, often barefoot.
The Problem Of Being Told To “Wait”
Expect to hear the word “wait” frequently in East Africa. You will be told to “wait” – a LOT!
When an elevator button doesn’t work, they say “wait”. When you tell a taxi driver he is going the wrong way he tells you “wait”, and he doesn’t listen to you, but rings someone who also gives him the wrong directions. (A talking GPS or phone App usually fixes this).
“Wait” is a word that now gets my back up and it means I need to take action, and ‘not wait at all’. I now know when I hear the word “wait”, it can mean “I don’t know”, and not to wait. If you are confident then give instruction on what YOU want as a result.
Sometimes you don’t have the time to wait ’til the sun goes down!
Rarely does “wait” ever mean an instant or positive solution we have found, but then, maybe that is just us. I do think they are genuinely trying to find a solution, and you might need to wait until they do – but that all depends on how long you want to wait!
This can cause a real problem if you have a deadline when you just have to come back tomorrow. Africans are patient – and “Poli-Poli” or slowly – slowly” and “Africa Time” is VERY real!
Problem – We Need Direction And Accommodation
With our safari options looming, we then apply for a housesit for Easter in Dar Es Salaam and are thankfully accepted. So we have one date in place and gaps to fill. Yay!
Three days before our first safari is due, I am feeling uneasy. Each day we are paying for another night at the hotel. I send out emails with date and time deadlines, explaining I MUST have a commitment by the end of tomorrow.
Tomorrow passes and not one reply! I am beside myself with what to do! Frustration creeps in. We have no direction – we feel so frustrated.
Problem As ‘Questions Answer Our Questions’
With many emails, I am receiving my ‘direct questions’ met with replies of only ‘other questions’, or’ answers not relating to my questions’. Either this, or I received no reply.
I know I need it in writing, so phone calls are useless as they are promises that often are not carried through either.
Never have I felt so frustrated and lost and confused as what to do. We sit down time after time together trying to find solutions and to make alternative plans. Days kept passing us by.
Problem – Wrong Safari Information And Another Lack Of Reply
Just over two days before our first safari is due, Explorason discovers the drive to the national park is not what we had been told, but 15 hours to get there! 15 hours!!!!!
Now 15 hours in a car with my small bladder is already a nightmare, and 15 hours for a kid is just too long. Then 2 full days safari driving, and 15 hours back. This is way too long for us. Nope – we can’t do it! Explorason has no desire to sit this long in a vehicle.
So I email the safari. He tells me we ‘will have an answer at 8, as the other safari members arrive in the morning’. The entire next day comes and goes and I had presumed he meant 8:00 a.m. The night before the safari is due he finally replies. It is way too far for us, so we have to cancel. I write to the lodge and cancel the accommodation as well.
This means we have just wasted many nights paying for a hotel waiting for nothing and we are back to square one. At this stage, no other safaris have confirmed.
Give Up on Safaris
We make a decision that as it is also the rainy season, we are going to give up on a safari in Tanzania altogether.
So we make our next lot of plans.
Problem – More Outages
In between all this, there are long periods of power and internet outages and one night we sit in the dark, until we look out and see other buildings with lights on, and discover no-one has explained we could reset the room electricity.
If the electricity goes out, try resetting the room card as a tip – it works!
Problem With Visa Issues
We decide we might change to another nearby African country. We will announce the destination later….
I had looked online forum and had been told we could purchase the Visa at the airport. But now we discover there are no direct flights to the next city in this neighbouring country and our only option is to go back to Zanzibar but ferries are booked out for Easter and the upcoming holidays.
We ask around and there are not even minivans that can drive us to the border. We try to organise to hire a driver and vehicle, but this doesn’t work either. We are stuck going by bus, and I promised myself after the last horrid bus experience in Kenya I would never ‘bus it’ in Africa again.
We discover the Visa must be applied for on-line, and the information that we can get the Visa on arrival ‘most likely’ is not correct. To complicate things, of course, we have internet issues, don’t know the name of the border place, and all in all, I have to complete the on-line multi-page application four times until I finally submit it with my payment online. We are also told that if we go to the border and try to get a visa, they will require 2 pages of my passport to be empty, and I’m on my last empty page. Online it has to be!
But as soon as I finally submit the online application which takes me a total of 3 hours, there is no email confirmation at all! I can’t believe it. No receipt that I’ve paid. Nothing. Fortunately, I take a screen shot with the tracking number.
I had read in forums that the Visa is approved within hours, but this is later in the day on Friday, so we wait until Monday and no Visa information or Visa is forthcoming.
No email confirmation is to this day ever received.
Problems As The Internet Goes Out And Things Don’t Work
The final straw comes when the internet in the hotel gets water in something on the roof and it is not functioning for over 24 hours.
Not only that, but the hotel only takes cash, and my hotel account is now in the hundreds of dollars, and this is low to middle budget! No credit card is accepted! But I can’t transfer money to the Travel Money Card because I have no internet.
Being proactive, we walk to the newish local Shopping Centre ‘Mkuke House’ to buy a SIM card for the portable modem we carry.
But the staff can’t get the portable modem to work, so they tell me to go to another shopping centre after I pay. No way. I’m frustrated by now. I ask them to stamp – cut it smaller for use in the iPhone. She files it down with a nail file and after a couple of times, it fits. Yay!
Of course, even though this is a major company (‘Halotel’ is known to have the best internet data service of Tanzania – I’d tried ‘Zantel’ and it is hopeless, even on Zanzibar Island). And to my surprise, it is a ‘cash only’ store.
But …. not a surprise, the SIM doesn’t work. Why? Because there is no internet service in the shopping centre. By now this is getting really challenging, so I ask the lady serving me to come outside the shopping centre with me. She fiddles with some settings on the iPhone and finally gets the SIM card to work.
Tip – There is an awesome supermarket in here with good prices, but the place is like a ghost town as 85% of the stores have closed down.
Problems With Money And Banks
I scrape up some cash to pay the Halotel lady for the SIM.
I transfer money using the internet to access my bank account and go and extract it from the ATM to pay the hotel.
Note: The SIM card stopped working 2 days later and we had to walk back for her to reset the settings on the iPhone – when I asked her, she explained it was because it was ‘the rainy season.
Tip – choose a bank without fees – like this KCB Bank was for us. Some banks charge huge extraction fees for cash! And if you find a good ATM, take a photo so you remember which one!
My friend has a dream
The saddest thing is Explorason is starting not to like Africa and this is a real concern for me, but quite justified. I’m in tears. Africa is our dream, but I have to agree it is getting very challenging, and nothing much is going right.
I email a friend to pray for us, and she has a dream and writes back to me about us as she believes it is might be for us. That night I wake at 1:00 a.m. and I feel I get an interpretation of my friend’s dream, and it was all about ‘dead ends’ and ‘going another way’.
I share all this with Explorason, and we know it is time to ditch our ideas of Tanzania and leave as we are just experiencing ‘dead ends’. We believe we are meant to go in a different direction.
I now wanting to leave Tanzania. I want to book a bus and go. Maybe we will pay the difference and fly out? We don’t care. We just want to leave. This is like living ‘Groundhog Day.’ Every day there is a new set of challenges, and Explorason and I have sat down and tried to work our way through each one of them.
We have also tried to keep our attitude thankful and positive, and in the hard times we have gone out and deliberately sought out the poor in the city to assist with our random acts of kindness.
Fake Visa site scare, and Problems With No Visa Emailed
Late Monday I go online to find out about the Visa I’m still waiting for, and discover one internet site for Visas is a fraud. I feel sick. Am I waiting for a Visa that is not ever coming and not authentic?
There is no email. I hunt around and get online to the Countries Website, and discover I am on the right site, and thankfully it is not a fraud.
I also find my Visa has been granted earlier that day and is just sitting there. But to this day, I’ve never received an email to say it is approved! Later it turns out to be a problem that we don’t have the on-line invoice too.
It is great that the hotel has a business centre, (we are quite friendly with all the amazing staff by now) and I can print out the Visa x 2 in colour. However, it states on the Visa that it is already a date I should have left the country, and it is only valid at one road entry point – we are stuck going by bus, and we will have to explain about the date at the border and hope for the best.
Note: Children under 16 years did not require a visa for where we were headed.
We are still stuck In Dar Es Salaam
Read our next blog as to what happens after this – and how we finally get to leave Dar Es Salaam.
We’ve been here trying to ‘get out nearly two long weeks. Day after day of challenges.
Our problems are not over then. More problems keep coming! Ones we do not expect.
The reason I am sharing is also not in any way to put anything about Tanzania in any negative light, but to explain a little of what we went through, in the hope other travellers can be prepared, and get through it a little better than we did.
It also makes me very aware that our timetables and expectations are more demanding than those that live here – this doesn’t make anyone right or wrong – just different!
At the end of the day we are guests in their country, and we are here to learn and respect, but it is a big lesson in patience.