Tuesday, 2 November 2010

An (Slighty drunkern) Idiot's Guide to Afrikan Travel

It’s so hard to find a good Gin & Tonic in East Afrika. When we realised that over the space of one weekend, we would be spending two nights and a culnmative 18 hours on a couple of ferries, it was unanimously decided that, not only that we would be getting drunk on the voyages (to aid with sleep, nothing more) but also that we would be doing it with the most colonial drink possible. This realisation triggered a frantic city-wide search of Stone Town, Zanzibar, for a lime, some sort of tonic water, and (Most importantly) some Konyagi gin, which, we were informed is Tanzania’s national drink and easy to come-by, but apparently the majority Muslim Zanzibar missed that memo and we spent a good hour trekking through the city’s back alleys asking everyone and anyone if they could fix us up with some of Afrika’s finest gin.
 I am writing this latest blog from the questionable comfort of the SS Majewla’s ‘Foreign Class’  deck, whilst sipping the aforementioned Konyagi mixed (subtley, as the rest of the deck is predominatly children or men in army uniform), with Sprite, and getting ready to settle down for a 9 hour voyage up Tanzania’s east coast to Zanzibar’s smaller sister island of Pemba. The floating health and safety nightmare which is the SS Majewla is oddly indicative of Zaznzibar’s transport system as a whole, something which looks god-awful, but works in an oddly intriguing and hypnotic way, much like Peter Crouch or Stephen Hawking’s voicebox. The roads out here are surprising good, unlike the maniacs who use them, taxi drivers it seems only use two instruments in the car; first and foremost, the horn, which is used in the same way that the Driving theory Hazard perception test works, honking every time a potential hazard (be it a rogue chicken or another car) comes within earshot. The other is the accelerator, used liberally and excessively, usually to scare cyclists (of which there are far, far too many), but also to evade make-shift police roadblocks, where bored policemen demand payment for use of the public road. Just the other day, whilst in a taxi from the northern beaches back to Stone Town, our mentalist taxi driver proceeded to jump roadblock after roadblock, apparently not aware that his taxi was blessed with three pedals not just one, and only stopping to hop out and buy a bunch of bananas, which he proceeded to wolf down whilst cruising through thee rural traffic. We only found out at the end of the trip that his license had expired over a year ago (by the sounds of him probably due to alchoal, or his banana obsession), and that that would probably explain his keenness to tear through the police roadblocks. Saying that though, few taxi drivers seem willing to use the brake unless they are cruising the streets late in curbcrawler fashion late at night, looking for unsuspecting muzungos (white people) to coerce into paying them thousands of shillings for a two minute trip down the road.
So if the taxi drivers are like Schmachur in a family saloon, the Zanzibarian buses (called Dalla-Dallas) are like Mega-bus on crack. Essentially a small mini-van, with a seat for the driver and then a long two parallel benches in the back onto which people cram into for as little as 40p a trip, the most I have seen on one Dalla-Dalla was thirty-three people (not including two babies) condensed into a space which, on our prudish, dull roads, would have fitted six people. The conductors, far from the aging, balding folks on Northern Rail who refuse to accept your railcard once your on the train, hand off the back of the vehicle offering seemingly imaginary seats to perspective customers. A terrifying experience, but without doubt a worthwhile one, as it is much, much cheaper than taxis, and whilst it isn’t the safest of rides, nothing which takes to the roads of Zanzibar can be considered safe.
It has been a combination of mental taxi drivers and excessively social dalla-dallas which has left us on this charming boat. It more resembles a pre-war fishing trawler than a P&O Ferry, and the amount of people sleeping on deck has given it a bit of a refugee ship feel. Our ferry on the way to Zanzibar from the mainland played Rowan Atkinson films on a loop, which was nice in a odd sort of way, but as yet the only thing to flicker onto this TV has been some bloke reading from the Koran. I’m not sure who he is, but it certainly isn’t Mr Bean. Still, with the majority of the Konyagi left, fingers crossed that Mr Bean makes some sort of appearance by the end of the voyage.

No blog about Tanzanian transport would be complete however, without an honorable mention to the country’s jaw dropping rail system. The entire country (40million people, about the size of France) has two rail lines, one from the capital Dar es Salaam heading west and then south, and the other heading north along the coast to Tanga, before following the border to Mwanza on the opposite side of the country. We briefly toyed with the prospect of catching the train from Tanga to our temporary home in Moshi, about half way to Mwanza. However, our arrival at Tanga ‘Train Station’ put paid to that particular idea. The tracks where, remarkably, the greenest and grassiest place in the city, the trains which supposedly use them were built by German colonists prior to the First World War (yes team, thats 1914, almost one hundred years ago), and as much as the prospect of Victorian-era locomotion excited us, having just stepped off a ferry which was probably an pre-second world war creation, there was not a sniff of a timetable, nor scent of a conductor anywhere to be found. In Manchester, I’m upto my eyeballs in conductors and timetables, but then again in Manchester I need to pay 20p for a piss and the tracks don’t resemble the things the Teacups go round on at some local fair. Needless to say, we were gutted.

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