Sunday, 24 May 2009

It's in the Baga

I thought I'd write a little bit about my weekend -- it was awesome.

Friday night, I took the plunge into Dar's large expat scene. I went out with a group of people celebrating the birthday of another American girl. We drove out in SUVs to this semi-underground place called Sissy's Mexican. Supposedly it's the only Mexican food available in Dar, and it's not easy to find. The food is served by torchlight in the back garden of a gorgeous mansion in Kawe owned by a South African lady. She and Sissy, who's American, serve inauthentic but delicious Mexican food for ex-pats on a referral basis. It's not quite invititation-only, but people only really find out about it from other expats. In hindsight, it's not too surprising that place is flourishing -- as followers of Stuff White People Like will be aware, white people love 'secret' and 'underground' eateries.

After dinner we went to Irish Bar, which is not an Irish bar, it turns out. It was, however, a fun place with live music and an outdoor patio looking out across the Indian Ocean. I listened to some music, had a few drinks and met a bunch of cool people. The expats who end up in Dar seem like a pretty cool group. A lot of them work in NGOs, for the UN or World Bank, or do some sort of development-related business. A few work as consultants, investors, and teachers. Everyone seemed very laid back, maybe because they chose to live in Dar, which is a pretty chill place. There was something a little bit surreal about how small the expat community is here -- people all seem to know each, go to the same dozen restaurants and half-dozen bars, and hang out together. It's welcoming and fun for me, since I'm just here for the summer, but I wonder if it would become irritating after a long time.

After Irish Bar, I was really looking forward to getting out of the city and seeing a bit more of Tanzania. Saturday morning, Chris and I left for Bagamoyo, a small town fifty miles north of Dar, and once the former capital of German Imperial East Africa. Fifty miles sounds pretty close, but it took us a while to get there. The northern bus stand, Mwenge, is pretty far from where we live, so we took a ride on a Bajaji -- an Indian-made, three wheel auto-rickshaw. I'm pretty sure these are also common in South Asia. They're good here because they tend to be cheaper than car-taxis and can go offroad to skirt traffic and potholes. This is one:

We got stuck in traffic for over an hour, and I got to see the micro-businesses and itinerany salesmen around the city. Very entrepreneurial stuff, but I'll write more on that stuff later. From Mwenge, we took a medium-distance daladala (shared mini-van) up the coast.

Bagamoyo is a bit less cosmoplitan than during its glory days; locals used both mji (village) and jij (city) to describe it. It still has lively dhow-based fishing business, a lot of manual fish processing, Tanzania's leading crocodile farm, a famous sculpture school, and some good beachfront hotels. The off-duty dhows floating in the harbor also make it a very picturesque place to hang out:

The dhows are traditional Tanzanian shore-fishing boats that can carry up to twenty people. The mini-dhows are surprisingly small and rickety, built for a single fisherman. The katamaran-style design makes them faster and more resistant to capsizing (although some of them do anyways). Here's one:

We stayed at a small beach hotel at the north of town. I went swimming and relaxed for the entire day, which was amazing. Some shots of the area around the hotel:

Sunday morning, we walked to an old Catholic compound with a museum, church and nunnery. The museum was unexpectedly good. I was excited to see there was a big display on the life of Dr. David Livingstone (of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame). Livingstone is one of the historical figures I idolize most; he was a sort of bad-ass explorer/humanitarian. He explored vast stretches of East-Central Africa and also helped bring about the end of the Indian-Ocean slave trade. He also had great sideburns. After his death in Zambia, his servants carried his preserved body to Bagamoyo, where it stayed overnight before leaving Africa forever. Historians think he died from malaria-related illnesses, a tragic demise that could have been easily prevented by regular gin & tonic consumption. Let that be a lesson.

The museum also had some great finds from the German colonial regime. Among them: an East African German-language newspaper, published in the interior. Does anyone else find this weird and cool?

Also on display: German-era currency/Monopoly money. Sorry about the Gläre.

After that, we checked out the 'famous' Kaole ruins south of town. They sounded good on paper: 13th-century Arab ruins with lots of inscriptions, tombs, other stuff. Maybe I hit my Islamic-ruins quota last summer, but I found these ones kinda boring. For the ruin-lovers among you, though, here's a snap:

I liked the massive, thousand-year-old tree near the mosque. Check out that trunk!

So that was Bagamoyo -- a great first trip within Tanzania. On the minibus home, we met a guy from Zambia who works as an engineer for the TAZARA line, the slow, Chinese-funded railway linking Tanzania and Zambia. He was telling us a bit about his country, and it sounds like a fascinating place to visit and a possible travel option for later this summer.

No comments:

Post a Comment