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Boat Trip: Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar

From the busy shores of Dar es Salaam, the Zanzibar archipelago is a luring dream in the eyes of insatiable travellers. After sojourning in the heart of Dar es Salaam for a night, I filled my light brownish backpack with a couple of clothes, a travel journal made of recycled paper, a black pen and a compelling book, hanged my Nikon D7000 around my neck, slipped my GoPro into my pocket and headed to the ferry terminal of Dar es Salaam.

It came as a surprise to me that the immigration procedures weren’t lengthy at the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam in spite of umpteen travellers. As I glanced around to study the surrounding, I saw people of different nationalities; some absorbed in long-lasting conversations, some sleeping on their chairs and others staring emptily around. Beside passengers, I saw few vendors walking around the terminal with baskets filled with assorted snacks and drinks. If you ever travel through this terminal in the future and in the hurry of departure, if you fail to eat your breakfast or lunch, you can rest assured. The assorted snacks and drinks can easily be found outside and inside the terminal, and the prices are reasonable.

In the wait for the boat, I switched on my laptop and exuberantly browsed through some pictures which I took a day before. Meanwhile, dad was filling the entry declaration form for custom processes in Zanzibar.

After an hour’s wait, the cheerful staffs at the terminal began instructing all the passengers to line up for the boarding. I stepped into the line too and gradually walked to the boat. I was struck by the the beauty, size and comfort of the boat. I smiled as I recalled the time spent in choosing the mode of travel from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar. At the first glimpse of the boat, I felt a tinge of happiness for having made the right choice: a boat trip instead of an air trip.

 

As we settled in, the boat began sailing off the coast of Dar es Salaam. Two minutes elapsed and I could not move my eyes off the shore; distancing itself from me. I plunged into my thoughts and felt grateful for all that Dar es Salaam taught me.

Two hours. This was the time it took us to reach the Zanzibar archipelago but in these two hours, I learned many things. The boat was spacious and comfortable inside. There weren’t too many activities inside the boat. Some passengers seemed so exhausted that they seized these two hours to sleep and some were tirelessly gushing about the splendour of Zanzibar. I found some passengers on the deck of the boat too; lost in their thoughts and admiring the deep blue ocean.

I  walked to the deck too and after some time, dad joined. I looked around me. There were no boundaries. I saw the horizons where the sky seemed to be kissing the ocean. Everything was so peaceful. Everyone was so absorbed. I saw few small boats sailing in the lap of the ocean. I felt freedom. I felt I was still a child at 28 and I smiled. I felt discovery in my eyes. I felt adventure in my heart.

Gradually, Zanzibar came into view and that moment, I knew everything would be different. I knew some stories were waiting for me at the shore. I knew and I was right.

In the course of my travels, I have been to numerous places; each of them proving me how wrong I was about them. A couple of years ago, I knew nothing about Zanzibar but this trip made it part of me. An important part.

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Glimpses of Dar es Salaam

As a child, I used to walk along the beach and looked at the bare horizon; wondering whether it was the boundary of my world or the beginning of another. I never found the answer until I began travelling in 2011. I thought it would be an exploration of boundaries and an expedition of territories, but it was more. Travelling turned out to be an institution that shapes us in a way or another.

I could feel the burnout after months of intense office works and after competing in the highly challenging law exams. Apart from works and studies, I had few more subtle reasons why I felt the urge to halt everything and to turn more inward. Like every year, I filled my loyal backpack and set out in quest of stories that few would have to share.

But this time, there was something exceptional and meaningful about the voyage: my father was my travel-buddy. Our chosen destinations were the majestic Tanzania and Kenya. It was a dream coming true. Two years have elapsed since I have last travelled to Africa.

We spent few weeks preparing for this trip: from watching a series of revealing documentaries on the colours and contrasts of these countries to getting immersed in devising the most convenient travel plan. Additionally, I made a checklist of the things I should obligatorily carry with me while travelling. I would highly recommend you to prepare a detailed checklist if you are travelling too. Your checklist should be reflective of your destination.

Here are a few things that my checklist included:

  • Travel documents including reservations, tickets and passport
  • Credit cards
  • Contact information of hotels and the tour operator
  • Emergency contacts
  • Creams including sunscreens, organic aloe vera serum and pain-relief cream
  • A basic first-aid kit comprising of bandages, antiseptic ointments, paracetamol and other essential items
  • Medicines including eye drops, ear drops, insect repellant, fever relievers and anti-malaria
  • Book (Mayada: Daughter of Iraq, a book by Jean Sasson)
  • Travel journal and pen
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Shampoo and conditioner; especially to maintain my curly hair 
  • Photography accessories including lenses (70 – 300 mm, 50 mm and 18 – 105 mm), cleaning kit, memory cards, battery grip, spare battery and charger
  • Macbook Pro and headphones 
  • GoPro Hero3
  • Selfie stick
  • Travel watch

As far as possible, I tried to adhere to the checklist but after all I’m human and I tend to forget things too. Can you guess what have I forgotten from the checklist? One of the most important items: the anti-malaria medicine. Consequently, I am strictly using the insect repellant and the mosquito nets to protect myself. Cross fingers.

The most awaited day finally arrived when we had to pursue our adventures on the African territories. We departed from Mauritius at 08:40 a.m. to land in Dar es Salaam at around 11:20 a.m. Our eyes remained glued on the spectacular topography of Dar es Salaam as we looked down through the window of the plane few minutes prior to landing.

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Upon arrival in Dar es Salaam, I walked inside the airport with conscious pride and gratitude. My eyes could not cease to scan the surrounding. I proceeded to the international arrivals concourse and surprisingly, VISA requirement was not imposed on me. The official, at the arrival counter, stamped my passport with a blue entry stamp and said “Jambo” (salutation in Swahili) while wearing a wide smile on her face. No mention of VISA requirement was made. I stood stunned as I remember having been informed by the Consulate of Tanzania of the VISA requirement for Mauritians to enter the country. But I masked my surprise, smiled back at the official and exited the Julius Nyerere International Airport. Everything was new to me. I was walking in a place where no one knew my name and I loved that feeling. Unplugging from the common world and connecting to a quieter inner world was the best gift I could offer myself at this point in time of life.

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I stayed at the Transit Motels, a small but comfy hotel located 400 m from the Julius Nyerere International Airport. If you aren’t carrying heavy luggages, you can easily walk to the hotel. This place is good for an overnight stay. The rooms were simple and clean. Mosquito nets were provided. Free WI-FI was available too. The hotel staffs were friendly and readily responded to my queries. Coffee and tea are freely available at any time. There’s something I would not recommend you though. If you are intending to explore the city, I’ll advise you not to go with the hotel’s drivers. They’ll overcharge you. The best thing to do is catch a bus outside. It’s not only cheap but it’s the most authentic way of living life as a local in Dar es Salaam.

 

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After settling in the hotel, we preferred to have lunch outside as it served as an excuse to explore the city too in the little time we had in Dar es Salaam. The temperature outside was warm but not inconvenient for a walk.

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Our driver recommended us several shopping malls but being quite exhausted after hours of flight, I chose the closest one which was the Quality Centre Mall, one of the popular and highly frequented shopping malls in Dar es Salaam. The mall is situated at Nyerere Road. From entertainment to healthcare services, it is a one-stop shop where you shall find a wide chain of products and services.

We had lunch at an affordable restaurant found on the first storey of the mall. I forgot the name of the restaurant though. We paid 6000 Tanzanian Shillings per person for an open buffet.

I could not leave without meeting people and understanding their stories, as this remains the focus of all my travels. I walked in the compound of the mall and indulged in deep conversations with strangers. They all had to something to share: from their struggles to their dreams. From my experience, people in Dar es Salaam are approachable and good.

In the evening, we took a walk in the surrounding of the Transit Motels and again, our focus was people. We met a lot of strangers and some even invited us to visit their homes. This touched my heart. I was on the brink of accepting one invitation but time was not in my favour; I had to politely decline. If ever you are landing in Dar es Salaam and you have enough time to visit around, then you should not bother about going too far. There are a number of villages around the area. Just walk around, meet people and create stories.

As the night drew to an end, we walked to the Flamingo Restaurant which is found in the Julius Nyerere International Airport and it is open to the public. Though the food was expensive, it was a tasty treat to the stomach.

 

Behind the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam, there’s a lot of stories awaiting to be lived. If you are heading to this beautiful part of Planet Earth, I hope this blog post will give you some ideas about where to stay, where to go for lunch and dinner and how to make your stay meaningful.