Part II, The Jeep Safari
By, John L. Fuhring
It was Sunday morning, the riding safari was over and we were having our last breakfast together at the Uto Farm. Later, Mr. S. (Jan's dad) drove John and I down to Arusha in one of their Land Rovers. John was on his way to see the Indian doctor so his arm could be examined and the plaster cast replaced. We drove the 35 or so miles to Arusha and things looked pretty dry along side the road. The farm fields were just dry dirt and they looked like they hadn't grown a crop in years. I was trying to imagine what it would look like if the fields were green and full of growing crops and budding branches. As we got closer to Arusha, gradually the density of dwellings became greater so that it was difficult for me to tell just where the town actually began.
We drove to a pleasant residential district of Arusha and to the clinic of John's doctor. It was apparent that this was not a public clinic, but one that had restricted its practice to the more well to do in the area. The compound was surrounded by a high metal fence and gate. A watchman was on duty as was a no nonsense guard dog. Maybe the doctors in England are real perfectionists or maybe the Tanzanian doctor wasn't very good at setting broken bones or maybe the week of safari riding was too much for the healing process, but I've since learned that John has had to have very extensive remedial treatment.
While John and Mr. S. went in the clinic, I stayed out and looked around the neighborhood. By American standards, the streets and lanes in the neighborhood were in really terrible condition, but most of the houses were pleasant looking. There were lots of trees and bushes growing all over the area and I'm sure that once the rains came, they would make the place look beautiful.
After dropping John at the clinic, Mr. S. took me around Arusha to check into a hotel and arrange for a camping safari. Mr. S. took me at my word that I wanted a basic economy safari package. We went up to the very prestigious International Trade Center complex and talked with the staff of a safari company the family knew to be reliable.
Before I go on, I'd like to mention something about the International Trade Center. The ITC complex is the finest place in Arusha and one of the finest places in that part of Africa. It is a very prestigious address and it was still showing some of the decorations in honor of President Clinton's visit of a few weeks earlier. As a matter of fact, part of this complex is where the War Crimes Trials for Rwanda are being held and UN guards are all over that section. Back home we'd say the place really needed a "face lift," but for Arusha, it is the cat's meow and besides, it had the only working elevator in that part of Africa (oh please, oh please don't let the electricity go off!).
Anyway, Mr. S negotiated (in Swahili) for me (have no idea what they were talking about) and we agreed to a five day'er for around $450. I rather expected to pay more for a more deluxe trip, but I'll easily trade luxury for money, so I was well pleased with the deal (there's an expression for guys like me - "Tight as the skin on a monkey's ass"). After we settled on the details of the proposed jeep safari, I asked who else would be traveling along on this trip. Sounds funny, but I didn't want to get in with a bunch of Germans or other non English speaking tourists. The Safari people told me that I'd be in with a group of young Australians and that really pleased me.
Naturally, I hadn't arranged any of this stuff beforehand like a normal person would have. I am too lazy and too much of a procrastinator to plan things in advance. I almost never make reservations until the very last minute - if at all. I hate making commitments (why do you think I never got married?). I avoid making commitments because I want to be free to change my mind in case I don't like something or I come down with something. Remember, I didn't even make reservations at the hotel for my first night in Africa. Anyway, when I made up my mind to go to Africa (at the very last minute), I didn't know if I'd be burned out by the time the horseback safari was over. I didn't want to commit myself to a follow-on safari until I saw how things were going. Well, the horse safari went very well indeed, I wasn't burned out and besides, I had come ten thousand miles to Africa and I felt that I owed it to myself to see more of the place. Like, how often do you get within a hundred miles of the Olduvai Gorge, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater?
In defense of myself, I will tell you right now that being a procrastinator doubtless saved my life once when I was in the Service during the Vietnam War. You will never convince me that procrastination is all bad and besides, it causes you to land into more interesting situations and adventures than you otherwise would if everything went like clockwork. Yes, I admit that a procrastinator usually ends up looking foolish, but as I've said before, "Fools Have More Fun." So there!
Back to the story. After arranging for the safari, Mr. S. took me to the Naaz Hotel. The Naaz is a somewhat medium class of hotel by Arusha's standards - but that isn't saying much. Mr. S. had a long talk with the hotel people in Swahili and arranged for me to stay. The price of the hotel room was cheap enough, but the room was very primitive. The bedroom section was very narrow with the bathroom wall on the left and a little window on the right. There was a chip of a mirror on the left wall of the bedroom and the view from the window was of the hotel's entrance alley. The bathroom was up a short flight of stairs that started near the door. The plumbing worked and the shower room was ventilated by means of a latticework of brick. The sink was unbelievably tiny with not enough room to wash out a pair of socks and no mirror. There was a single florescent light on the ceiling of the bedroom and a similar light in the shower room. In all, it was OK, but primitive. The towels were dirty looking and had an odor to them - I used my own towel. The single bed was simple, but comfortable and the mosquito net was patched, but in good shape.
Another charming feature of the place was that in the late afternoon the front (dare I use the term "lobby"?) would be closed up and entrance from the street to the hotel's rooms was through a little door that opened to an alley. This alley looked really bad and back home you would never, but never go down something like that at night, but I wasn't back home and it was safe enough. Then too, this was not a public alley, but part of the hotel's enclosure. The large plastic drums and the wood fired water heater that constituted the hotel's water system were also located down this alley.
By the way, I might mention that all buildings in town had one or more large black plastic drums usually located at some high point on their roofs. If you look closely to the right of the Naaz Hotel picture, you can see one. Just guessing I'd say these drums held about 1000 liters (250 gallons) and everybody in town had them. I assume that the municipal water service wasn't all that reliable and everybody took it upon themselves to make sure they had their own water supply.
My little room was sure nothing to write home about and the view of the alley was uninspiring, but the front did open out into a rather pretty enclosed patio with tables and chairs. A very nice place to sit, read and listen to my shortwave radio. Looking north over the top of the roof was Mt. Maru and it was a very nice sight. I was kind of hoping there would be other guests who would also take advantage of the patio and I might have somebody to talk to. Later that evening an Italian family did move in and asked me where they could get a meal. I regretted to tell them that by now everything in Arusha was completely closed and it would be very unlikely they could get anything to eat. The I-ties were very disappointed and not interested in hanging around the patio to talk to an American. Matter of fact, I was surprised (and disappointed) at how, shall I say un-eager, people were to talk to me in the restaurants and out on the streets. To me it was a real treat to see a face that might have been European or American, but nobody seemed much glad to see me. Maybe it was the way I was dressed - they probably mistook me for either a Boer or a bore or some kind of bum.
So, there I was all set up with a hotel room and a safari all arranged. I bid Mr. S. goodbye and thanked him very much for all his kind help. As he drove away I realized all of a sudden that I was all alone in a alien land on a Sunday afternoon with nobody to talk and nothing to do. There wasn't a soul in the entire hemisphere that I could call for help. I was sooooo bored. There was nothing else to do, so I thought I'd try exploring Arusha on my own.
I had copped a map of Arusha from the internet and I thought I would know all about the place from studying the map. The reality of the place and the images I had earlier formed in my mind's eye were entirely different. It was not nearly as nice looking as I had imagined it to be although I knew it was a third world town. For instance, near my end of town there is a major traffic circle (there are no traffic lights anywhere in Arusha) and one of the town's major landmarks is "The Clock Tower" located in the middle of this traffic circle. Oh Wow!! a Clock Tower, like Big Ben or something - Bong- Bing - Bong - - - Bong - Bong. What a gross overstatement to call that little stump of rocks a "tower" and as far as the clock faces are concerned, they are about the size of a large wrist watch dial - they are tiny. There were no Bong - Bong - Bongs coming from the "Tower" not even a quiet little ticking. Afterwards, I'd always refer to the "Clock Tower" as the "Wrist Watch Stump" and everybody knew exactly what I was talking about.
Map in hand, I walked around Arusha, but was immediately descended upon by street hawkers. I was really turned off by the dogged persistence of the hawkers, but this was Sunday and I had no idea what was in store for me when street hawking began BIG TIME on Monday. I wandered the streets a bit, but the town is definitely third world which means very rundown looking. Well, rundown isn't exactly correct because everything starts out looking pretty bad even when new. Because it was Sunday, everything was closed and (relatively speaking) there weren't that many people out. Hard to describe my feelings looking at the sights of this little city. The main streets look like those places your momma told you to never go down. The side "streets" (really alleys) look even worse. I felt very, very alien, lonely and really didn't want to wander too far from the hotel.
To be fair, I'm sure that things looked (to my coddled American eyes) much worse than they actually were. The streets and alleys really were safe and nobody said anything hostile to me at all. The worst part of walking down the streets was the horde of vendors who surround you like a cloud and just would not take "no thank you" for an answer even if you said it in Swahili. I took some pictures around town. Like so many photographs, the pictures look nicer to me now than when I was looking at the real thing. On the other hand, some of the locals saw me taking pictures so they came over to tell me what I was photographing. They were proud of their little town and I'm sure I'd have found it prettier if it wouldn't have been so dry and perhaps if I'd have been in a better mood. I don't know, maybe the pictures are a more accurate impression of the place than the subjective feelings I had at the time - after all, "pictures don't lie" (do they?).
What a crazy juxtaposition of technologies and cultures are to be found out on the streets of Arusha. First, the pavement is in pretty good shape with no pot holes and I've been to places in the US where the sidewalks are in much worse shape. Your hotel lobby may not have a telephone and your room certainly didn't, but out on the street guys might be talking on cell phones. Women walking by might be dressed in colorful native costumes or more western looking clothes, you can see guys in Masai robes caring spears and other guys in short sleeve shirts and other guys in business suits. During the week the streets are filled with traffic - true, most of the vehicles are Land Rovers and trucks and passenger vans, but there are lots of sedans too. Right across the street from the old New Safari Hotel is the big Telecommunications Center building. At the Telecommunications Center you pay out some small change, walk into a little booth and immediately place a call through a satellite to any place on earth. There must be over a hundred "cyber cafes" where you can get on the internet, send and download E-mail and all for about a $0.35 for each 15 minutes. Every business in town has a web site and nearly everybody that works as a guide or a cook or anything else has an E-mail address. All a guy has to do is drop by a "cafe" and for about a dime, check his mail to see if a safari company wants him the next day.While I'm at it, I'd also like to be fair regarding my comments about the street vendors. I'd like to say this. Those people were out to make an honest, let me repeat, an honest living. They never, never begged or ever asked me for a handout. Let me tell you something, the street vendors in Africa are good people who are only trying to give you a good deal on something so they can support themselves. These poor people are trying so hard that it almost breaks your heart to say no to them (and I'm a pretty mean guy too). I'll tell you what I find really disgusting: walking downtown in places like San Francisco right here in the U.S. of A. and having hordes of worthless "street people" bums (and I mean BUMS!!) demand your "spare change" and offer you nothing in return. When Africans want your money, 99.9 times out of 100 they will give you back something much more valuable than what you gave them.