The border crossing from Mozambique into Tanzania was exhausting - not the crossing of the border itself, but the transportation there and away. Following a night of fitful sleep in an overpriced, rat infested pensao in Mocimboa da Praia, we boarded an empty pick-up at 3am. By the time we finally left there were 25 people crammed into the bed of the tiny truck and the sun was starting to beat down on us, the morning air clouded with flying termites and dust. Not long into the ride, I was forced into an awkward and very uncomfortable spot by another passenger - the only asshole of the bunch - who continued to talk shit (in Portuguese) throughout the whole trip. I eventually gave up fighting for the 6 inches of sitting space and settled on top of the giant pile of luggage over the tailgate. The bumpy road was tossing me around, sometimes I came down hard on the bags. Occasionally I would hear a loud crack as one of the suitcases, a giant plastic one at the bottom of the pile, crumbled underneath the weight.
Eventually the owner of that suitcase, an older “traditionally built” (read: very large) mozimbicana, took notice and started hurling abuse at me in Portuguese. I tried to move away from the luggage but the damage had already been done and my fellow passengers wouldn’t (and couldn’t) give an inch of space. She realized that the suitcase was broken and demanded that I pay for it. I refused, claiming that it was the fault of the driver for overstuffing his truck and packing the luggage poorly. I offered to trade seats with her, even though that would have been impossible - she was twice my size. The argument dragged on and soon came to involve the entire truck. Everyone was shouting at each other in English, Swahili, Portuguese, Makua, Makonde, Arabic and I don’t know what else. Opinion on the matter was divided. I was resolved not to pay for the suitcase and there were at least a dozen other passengers standing up for me.
After about 5 hours under scorching sun, of muddy rutted roads and heated argument, we arrived at the Mozambican border post. The border itself is a river, so each country operates a post on either side, with about 3km of “no man’s land” on each shore. Getting stamped out of Mozambique was a breeze, but crossing the river was a little less pleasant.
After exiting Mozambique, we piled back into the truck and disembarked again the shore. A mass of frenzied, screaming people surged forward, all trying either to shove their way onto the truck we were unloading or to be the first onto one of the small boats waiting to ferry us across to Tanzania. The three of us (Vicky, Daniela and I) made it onto a boat along with about 20 others and set off for the other side. The river is quite large - our boat traveled about 1km in total. Money was collected as we putted across. There was a lot of confusion over currency; I overpaid hugely because I had no Tanzanian shillings yet. At one point the engine died. We all sat in silence for a few minutes, the boat taking on water, as the driver tried to fix it. He finally got it started again, but then refused to land the boat due to an argument over someone’s fare. He threw down the anchor defiantly and shouted for about 10 minutes until some kind of agreement was reached. Then, on the shore, the same insane frenzy scene was repeated. We rode to the border post in another truck and obtained our Tanzanian visas. $100 now for US citizens! Ouch.
A pair of officers at the customs shack called me over while I was waiting on my visa. They wanted to “inspect” my backpack. They gave it a half-assed once over and were about to send me off when they saw a little bundle of Mozambican meticais (cash) that I was carrying - I planned to change it shortly.
“You can’t take that to Tanzania,” one of them said, “It’s illegal. You should give that to us.” “No,” I told him. “Why not?” “Because that sounds like extortion!” I smiled. “Extortion?” They chuckled and waved me on.
The Tanzanian border officials were very friendly and the rest of the crossing was easy. We sat on a bus for a few more hours and spent the night in a small town (I’ve forgotten the name) before catching a fast coach to Dar es Salaam in the morning.
I decided to head straight for Zanzibar on the ferry and sort out accommodation for the festival coming up in a week. I spent the week exploring Stone Town and relaxing.
Stone Town, Zanzibar’s largest city (town?) is a fascinating place with a vibrant history. Many of its abundant colonial-style buildings are left-overs from its former role as one the most important slave markets of East Africa. Nowadays Zanzibar has embraced tourism as one of its major trades and the old Portuguese, Arab and Indian shops and homes are being actively restored and preserved. I got lost in the narrow streets and alleyways nearly every time I set out from my hotel.
Zanzibar boasts its own unique culture which draws upon African, West Indian and Arab influences. Even the Swahili spoken on the island is peppered with words and phrases from several other languages, including Arabic and Gujarati. Particularly impressive are the beautiful ornate carved wood door frames, usually featuring elaborate Arabic inscriptions. The island is predominantly Muslim, but is also home to a small Hindi population.
Becky, Dave, Daniela, Darlene, Serena and Oezlem all showed up over the next dew days. Before the festival started, Becky, Dave and I went along with their friend Debbie on a tour of the spice plantations and out on a boat trip to swim with the dolphins off the east coast of the island. I almost touched one!
The music festival (Sauti za Busara) was great, made 100 times better by the reunion with my friends from previous travels. The musical highlights included a band from Mali (Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba), a Fela Kuti cover band (Bantu Afrobeat Academy) from Nigeria, and a sort of afro-fusion band (Yunasi) from Kenya. After the 4 night festival, we spent a couple nights at Matembwe beach on the east coast and then returned to Dar.
So much more to write, but I’m out of time for now. Coming soon: northern Tanzania, the long journey across bandit-country in northern Kenya, and my first week in Ethiopia.