In a series of short entries I’m going to describe my visit to East Africa. Although it wasn’t my first visit to Africa (I visited Morocco in 2013) this part of Africa stimulates all my senses. The Arabs, the Portuguese, the British left their mark on this part of the continent. This is where Speke, Livingstone and Stanley made their discoveries, Karen Blixen planted coffee (as you can see in Out of Africa). And besides at least a few people from my generation would love to follow in the footsteps of Tomek Wilmowski, the main character of a series of adventure books I read when I was much younger 🙂
The journey was long, first a flight from London to Gothenburg, followed by overnight at the airport and morning flight to Nairobi with a stopover in Istanbul.
I’ve never been to Turkey, but the view of Istanbul from the plane forced me to reflect on the history of this city and I promised myself to visit Constantinople soon. We landed in Nairobi around 2 am, visa was a formality, we were only asked for money and we received a stamp in the passport. We had a few hours until the next flight to Arusha in Tanzania so we decided to wait out the time in the only cafe open at this time. And what better to have at this time than the local beer, Tusker?
Flight to Arusha took us 45 minutes, the flight attendants had to rush to give us the breakfast. I managed to see Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru and we landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport. My first time south of the equator! Although the queuing system for a visa is not very clear once again we managed to get a stamp. In both countries you can obtain a visa at arrival and in both cases it costs $ 50 US. We had a single-entry visa but I knew that as a result of an agreement between the two countries, I will be able to enter from Kenya to Tanzania on the same visa, which I got when I landed in Nairobi. If you go to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, it is worth checking out the unified East African visa.
We read about the shuttle bus between the airport and Arusha, but not being able to find any details online we thought that we’ll find out more at the airport… LOL no tourist information is to be found at the airport. So we took a taxi, 50 US, so I would recommend to get it with someone else to split the fare. We were to find out many times that Africa is not cheap. No backpackers and tourists move in cars between the airport, hotel and national parks.
The journey takes about an hour, with mandatory stops by police, that on regular basis extort bribes from drivers in Tanzania and Kenya. Even if the car is fine and everything is working, they’ll say, that for example there is not enough air in the tire…
We arrived at the hotel, where we waited for Lazaro, a Masai from Simanjiro, who is studying in Arusha, and whom my Matilda met during one of her previous visits. The hotel is surrounded by a beautiful garden, but is in need of refurbishment, the last one happened probably 20 years ago. Later we learned that the hotel will be sold but I was not surprised because you can not manage the hotel using methods from the 80’s. The hotel can not be found or booked online. Most hotels in Arusha has packages for tourists – book a hotel together with the safari, because despite of how exotic the place seems to be, one’s got nothing to do in Arusha and it’s not very safe for tourists after dark. I think the manager did not do a very good job.
After paying for safari at the tour office we went for a late lunch, I tried Mtori, creamy soup made of green bananas and Matilda had beef skewers served with ugali, made of corn flour which resembles polenta. It’s a little tasteless but perfectly fills you up – typical food of poor people. My soup was delicious.
After the meal we went to the Polish cemetery in Tengeru, but this will be described in a separate post because I want to add a little historical background.
The evening passed on conversation with Lazaro, who despite being a proud Masai, wants to break with the traditional way of life. And although he said he was against polygamy, I got the impression that his reasons might be of a financial nature 😉 I was very curious about habits among the Masai and I was able to ask about the institution of marriage.
Generally speaking it’s allowed for a boy and a girl to date. There is premarital sex and reportedly it seldom happens that the bride is a virgin. There is a custom of going to the savannah, a group of young men and girls. They burn fires and the men dance whole night and when they have enough they choose a girl and go into bushes 🙂 When a young Masai decides to get married, he goes to ask the girl’s father for her hand. He brings with him a blanket and… soda 🙂 During the second visit, the price is fixed. Yes, they still buy wives in the Masai tribe. In the area where Lazaro comes from the elders set a price for 5-6 cows, before that it happened that the young man had to pay even 15 cows. This does not mean that the young couple is starving after the wedding. The bride brings a dowry of a number of cows and/or goats. Father gives a cow to his daughter, when she is very small. As a result of the addition of the animals or natural growth, dowry may consist of several cows.
We talked until the late evening but as we knew that at 7:30 in the morning van is coming to pick us up and take us on a safari we decided that after such a long journey we finally have to go to bed (my first night under the mosquito net 🙂 )
Today’s entry is an introduction to East Africa. In subsequent posts I’ll describe a visit to Tengeru, our safari, our stay with the Masai in Simanjiro district and our adventures in Kenya. And in Kenya everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, including a rare opportunity to check how the Kenyan health service works 🙂