Admittedly I was a little bit nervous about our trip to Africa. Not just the long flight but what to expect when we arrived. My biggest concern being safety. After all, this is a third world country and absolutely out of not just our comfort zone, but also our knowledge base.
But at the same time, I couldn't hide my excitement about this trip. Going outside our comfort zone is a good thing. This is the adventure to top all adventures thus far for us. And this trip has been organized to a T. I arranged everything through both of the lodges we would be staying at and felt confident that we were in good hands.
The flight was long but uneventful. I was a little nervous flying over parts of Africa that I know have had some unrest, especially given what happened with the Malaysia Air flight that was shot down over the Ukraine – it also happened to have departed from Amsterdam, like us. In fact, it was the first time that Aidan was fearful of flying because he knew what happened to that flight as there were students from his school that were onboard and killed.
However, we had nothing to worry about and bonus, the kids were excellent. Josh posted on Facebook right before we took off that it was the kids longest flight. Not true. It was the longest flight he has taken with them. But then, this was only his second long haul flight with them in the 5 years that we have lived abroad. So I knew what to expect and as always, they were super amazing. I get grumpy after that long on a plane – I don’t blame them if they do and honestly, they didn’t get grumpy at all. I’m one proud mama!!
This was our first time flying to the southern hemisphere which I thought was pretty cool in and of itself. But yet being so close to the equator, we still weren’t prepared for the onslaught of head and humidity when we got off the plane in Dar es Salaam, the capital. It’s true, the airport in the country’s capital was not only one of the smallest I’ve ever been in, but lacked air conditioning and at 10:30PM, it was about 86 degrees – I kid you not. We are not in Kansas any more. Let me repeat that WE.ARE.NOT.IN.KANSAS.ANYMORE!!
And that was a bit of a slap in the face. We knew it would be different. We knew it would be less modern that what we’d had in the US and Europe, but we were not prepared for how different it was. We made our way down to customs and visas. We filled out the forms on the plane and were one of the first in line at a row of wooden booths. For a place with no air conditioning, they had high tech fingerprint scanners. Interesting what you pick and choose when you have to!
We made it through the fingerprinting process and the clerk asked for $200. That’s right US Dollars. We are in Tanzania and they are asking for USD. We had euros and hadn’t come across the money exchange yet. So the guy tells Josh it’s around the corner. We look around the corner and there is nothing, literally a wall. In front of us is the customs booths which of course, you wouldn’t pass by without having your passport and ours were with the visa guy. So we ask again, where is the money exchange?? He tells Josh to go right thru the customs booth – yes, you read that correctly – and the money exchange is on the other side and just come back when he’s got the money. By now it’s after 11 and the kids are punchy… literally.
Josh comes back with Tanzanian money and the clerk says to him… “no, USD”. Seriously, we are in Tanzania and you won’t take your own currency for the visas? Back to the money exchange Josh goes. Eventually he made it back and within minutes we had our visas.
I wish I’d taken pictures inside this airport so you could see how outdated everything was but I was just way too tired. We walked thru the customs booth without stopping to see the customs guy (we were told since we had visas that we didn’t need to stop there but just walk right by – once again, they said nothing) and on the other side was one of two baggage claim belts for the ENTIRE airport. Again, reminding you that this is the country capital.
We made our way out and we had arranged for a driver in advance through our first lodge. We found him right away and he whisked us off in his very old van (that had power windows in the back unlike my VW Golf but no power locks!) to the Best Western Coliseum (DOUBLE CHECK SPELLING).
As we drove, it was late at night so you couldn’t really see the poverty levels. We didn’t go into the heart of the city but were on the outskirts as we had an early morning flight to our first lodge. But in the area we were in, it was full of strip mall type of places, lots of furniture stores and high walls everywhere. It was all very very run down. While there was traffic in both directions, it felt very unorganized in a way yet everyone seemed to just go with the flow. At one point I saw a minivan with it’s side door missing and many people crammed inside. It is exactly as you see on tv, including the ramshackle city buses that make the big yellow school bus look downright luxurious.
After about 15 minutes we made it to our hotel. This hotel was recommended to me because of it’s proximity to the domestic airport which is about 1km from the international one we flew into. That’s right, they don’t even fly into the same airport and there was only 2 baggage belts. Not a lot of international flights come here apparently!
Regardless, we arrived at our hotel and a guard, armed with a baton, manually opened the gate to let us in. I think in our “first world” this hotel would warrant a 2, maybe a 3 star rating. It was relatively clean but definitely very dated. We were supposed to have adjoining rooms but the door did not open between the two and actually there was a bed in the way on one side of the door. So Josh and I divided and conquered as we were not going to leave the kids alone in this place.
The rooms were 5000 degrees – but thankfully there was an AC. You just had to put it on. And it was loud. Like there were nuts and bolts rattling around inside it. But it was cold. Aidan was out like a light but my mind was racing about the next day and what to expect. The first day, after all, was exactly what we expected and yet, not what we expected at all.
During the night I thought I heard an alarm but couldn’t be sure – I thought it was just another noise from the AC. But when I got out of bed at 6AM, I opened the door only to hear that yes, there was an alarm going off. And I had been hearing it for hours. My hope was that there was nothing emergent or that the staff would have gone to the doors to evacuate if there was. Just in case, I called down to the front desk and told them that there was an alarm going off and was everything ok? Their response? “There is an alarm going off? You want a wake up call?” No… there is an alarm in the hallway! “An alarm? Where??”. Yup, they had NO IDEA there was an alarm going off in their hotel. Awesome. We were leaving in 90 minutes anyways and survived the night so I assumed we would make it the next 90 minutes if they hadn’t been aware of it all night anyways.
Since this hotel was a recommendation of the first lodge we were staying at, all I could hope was that this was not a sign of things to come. We know to expect run down, rustic and very little infrastructure – but knowing and experiencing are two very different things. We are in a third world country for the next 8 days – what have we gotten ourselves into? We’re off to the domestic airport shortly to begin our adventure. Wish us luck!!!