Africa, Destinations

What $60 gets you

December 24, 2008 • By

Hi everyone:

Before I report on today’s trip, let me answer a few questions about the safari many of you asked me.  I was indeed in the wilderness but I stayed at two beautiful “camps” which consisted of screened in huts with mosquito netted beds.  They did have running water, toilets, showers  and a couple of lights but more or less they had a ton of amazing fresh food and even more bugs.  It was not camping by any means but it was roughing it for me.  Being greeted by impalas(type of antelope) and baboons and monkeys is not typically what I wake up to every morning. 

It was also the most clean part of the world I will probably ever experience seeing.  It made for the most colorful sunrises and sunsets and it was refreshing to be in a place not touched by pollution.  The last few weeks have been the fancy part of my trip and I would like to refer to them as vacation.  I am now on a budget which is where my story begins.

I decided to head to Tanzania straight away to make sure I got all my favorites in first.  Now my budget excludes flights and I have a splurge fund set aside if I want to do something crazy like climb Mt. Kili or take another safari.  But I am trying to keep it under $100 a day and the goal is to come in around $60 a day. 

I last left you in Jo-burg at my beautiful fancy $47 a day airport hotel.  I hopped a plane to Dar es Salaam and here is where we will begin.  My flight was at 2:55 pm.  After 6 yahoos decided not to get on the plane, we had to wait an hour for security to take their bags off the plane.  I was frantically emailing hotels in Dar es Salaam to get a room for the night and I finally got a response right before take off that the Palm Beach Hotel could accommodate me at $60 USD.  My lonely planet said it was clean and nice so I went for it. 

Upon arrival in Tanzania(Tan-Zain-ee-a to the locals), I had to purchase a VISA.  All you folks from the States keep in mind what we do on to others they do back to us.  The visa cost $100 ($50 for everyone else) and they wanted cash not older than 2006.  Well what do you think I had on me….of course $50 new dollars and $200 old dollars.  In a line with about 10 other frantic Americans, we headed to the ATM which did not give out any money and the nice man at the currency exchange refused to exchange our traveler’s cheques.  What did I do?  Improvised.  I had been talking to some 23 year old South African boy about the visa process for Americans so I went back to him and offered to give him Rand (SA currency) for his US dollars.  It worked and I was on my way.  Crisis averted.  Next I had the opportunity to be singled out by the customs man for being weak.  Does he really know me?  I was just trying to smile and be friendly since it was now 8 pm pitch black in Dar es Salaam and I was sweating my ass off.  He wanted a bribe because he said I was weak.  What the hell does that mean?  As I stared at this other American girl in bewilderment, the man finally left me alone  took my $100 and my passport and then disappeared.  I was fairly convinced I would be sleeping on the floor but after another 45 minutes he produced my passport with the needed visa.

I finally get in a cab.  Let me reiterate.  It’s pitch black.  I am in a strange city and one the books  specifically say not to go out at night.  Therefore, I’m convinced I will now die in this cab.  Jill liked to make fun of the fact that I always had an exit plan whether any would actually save me it didn’t matter I always had that plan.  As the cab started moving and I demanded he lock the doors, I realized I was probably safer in the cab than jumping out of it moving onto the streets of Dar es Salaam.  Alas, we arrive at the Palm Beach Hotel which is anything but visions of grandeur.  Mr. Cabbie takes my bags out of the car and is now demanding 25USD when we had agreed upon 15USD.  I give up quietly and just say take it.

Once in the hotel, I am greeted by a completely rude woman who literally just takes my name and shoves a key at me.  I enter my room.  I’m beat and in need of a good shower (again).  Imagine this….cell block six with a TV.  One twin bed with likely used sheets, a pillow which smelled of musk and smoke and I don’t know which I preferred, an overall smell of septic throughout the room.  I had given Jill my sleeping bag so I had no choice to suck it up and pray the bed did not have fleas or bugs.  I tried to go to bed but the “warden” walked the halls with heels every hour and I was in the cheap room so I heard various trucks and noises every minute.  I was so convinced there were cockroaches and other “mites” that I kept turning my flashlight on and shining it under the bed. 

I made it through the night and figured I needed to get the heck out of Dar es Salaam.  After being ripped off by the ferry guy and an entire scheme of “ticket” brokers I met a very sweet girl from Holland and we chatted the two hours before the ferry and the 2 1/2 hours on the ferry.  I finally made it to ZANZIBAR. 

Zanzibar is beautiful.  It’s an island off the coast of Tanzania and it’s slam duck in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  My first impressions are that there is a very large Islamic population on the island.  It sort of reminds me of Casablanca in a way.  Open fruit and meat markets, the zesty smell of stale fish and of course the rundown Medina with reminders of history’s greatness.  In its heyday, it was famous for spices now it’s summer tourist spot for Africa’s elite. 

I am here for 3 nights celebrating Christmas.  Not to worry this hotel is $100 a day and while there is still an abundance of flies it has AC and a pool.  I bargained with the GM this morning so I got a room down from $235 to $100.  I was like buddy listen I will book 3 nights and you are clearly not going to fill it on Christmas but $235 does not work for me.  I’m off to the pool.  I need some relaxation before I stuff myself with their fancy Christmas dinner.  I’m hoping to meet some fellow travelers but it seems there are many honeymooners on my proposed itinerary.  I mean seriously are they trying to kill me.

Now you are wondering just what 60USD gets you.  Here is my thought.  It doesn’t get you much…maybe a bed, a shower a sheet and definitely not purified water.  What that does not kill you makes you stronger.  I guess I’m not that strong if after 2 nights I was bargaining with a GM at a fancy hotel.   

STAY WARM I hear it’s chilly in the US.