The Tan Swiss lodge would be very good to us. We stayed so long, we started to feel like part of the family, chatting up a storm with the owner who assured us that being pulled over and fined for imaginary offenses was just ‘par for the course’ here in Tanzania. He’d been fined three times on his way from Dar homewards the previous day. You have the choice … feign being in a hurry and offer the cop 10 000 shillings (no receipt, of course), or wait out his stalling tactics (to make you impatient enough to fork out the bribe) and insist on a fine with receipt. Yet, as the locals say to us foreigners in hush-hush tones, it’s just centralized corruption, since no-one actually knows where all those ‘official’ 30 000 shillings fines go. It’s always interesting to chat to the locals, or even foreigners like this Swiss gentleman who’ve decided to stay and run a business in Tanzania.
Apparently the Tanzanians are very hard people, treating each other poorly. Those who rise above circumstance and make something of themselves won’t give another a hand, they’d rather oppress them further than help out in any way. There seems to be little consideration for each other and this is often hard to see. The business owners are harassed by government officials and taxed to within an inch of their lives but nothing is ploughed back into the country.
We’d later find out from the manager of our lodge in Arusha that there is no such thing as government assistance for the elderly, the poor, the children … There is no such thing as pension and good healthcare is almost non-existent. In the words of that woman, ‘if you don’t work, you die’. The clinics are scattered here and there but all they have to give out is paracetamol. Hence, you get paracetamol for a headache, diarrhoea, pneumonia, heart failure, cancer … If you don’t have some money to go to a private doctor, well … you die. She’d just sent her entire salary, a pittance by the way, to her mother so that she could see a private doctor to get a proper diagnoses and something other than paracetamol for her ailment that had the entire family worried.
And that’s not the worst of it … we’d later hear from our Kili guide that on top of the extortionate entry fees for the national parks (Kili being one), the government charges 18% VAT and levies another tourist tax as well as a fee for every porter used! This isn’t even to mention the fact that once all is said and done, and the porters and guides paid, the government takes 30% of the profit made as well! No wonder it’s so expensive to climb but the local tour businesses seem just to be getting by. Many businessmen have already closed their businesses because, ‘what’s the point’… But others hang on because that’s all they know how to do, and ‘if you don’t work, you die’. Now the new president is focussing on the south since he’s from the south and apparently shifting animals around willy-nilly from one park to another without due regard for habitat, species, ecology … The minister of environmental affairs and tourism is a medical doctor for crying out loud! The locals are upset but they’re very careful to speak only to foreigners and then only to open up when they get to know you better. This is because they can’t speak freely about such things in public. If you criticise the government, you die. It seems unreal to hear such things. Everywhere we go, we’re told that South Africa is the most free country in Africa. We’re allowed to do and say almost anything, raise issues, criticise, demonstrate, fight for our rights … We’re the most uplifted, a little Europe, we heard South Africa referred to as.
Not all Tanzanians are bad though … our guide wants desperately to help the folks back home in the village he grew up in. He says that he’s trying to employ people from the village in his business, trying to educate the villagers to build brick houses rather than mud huts, trying to help them farm and take their produce to appropriate markets where they’ll get the right price for their goods, trying to, in his own words, and I quote ‘civilise’ them. Education is a key factor here but so many children don’t seem to go to school.
Tanzania still breaks my heart and leaves me feeling discouraged in the face of it … and so it would also be that our cycle leg would die a quiet death in the drenching torrents of the early rainy season in Tanzania. There was no dramatic final day. No saddling up for the last time. No last kilometre. No celebration. No bikes in the air, photos and yayyy! We just got off the bikes one day and never got back on. The rains had been threatening since Zambia and they’d finally caught up with us. And here it rains folks … not just a spit and a spot, a firehose from the heavens. The water runs rivers down the roads, the houses stand surrounded as though originally built in a pool, everything is red with mud splashing everywhere (halfway up the houses’ walls) and your feet stay wet as you’re forced to wade through anything from ankle-deep water and up just to move around. Visibility is zero when it rains and it rains without warning so we’d just have to pack up the bikes and head for Arusha in the vehicle instead. And that is what we did, well tried to do …
Our first attempt at reaching Arusha ended in a 14 hour journey to nowhere. We’d be forced to turn back to the Tan Swiss lodge at Mikumi in the south a mere 250km away from the northern city of Arusha. The rains had caused all the rivers to come down in flood and one particularly destructive torrent had washed over the road, leaving dismayed motorists stranded either side of the brown, boiling mass of angry flood water curling over where the road was supposed to be. Asking the cops for an alternate route turned out a bust as well, since they only knew of a gravel detour where the bridge had already washed away. They conveniently forgot, or didn’t even know of the brand new road that the president had recently opened over the capital city of Dodoma. Apparently this road is part of a Cape to Cairo highway project but only some staff at the Tan Swiss lodge knew of its existence.
After that 14 hour round-trip back to Tan Swiss, we’d take on the new road via Dodoma only to find out later that it is, in fact, 250km further that way than the so-called coastal road. No wonder we had to start speeding when the GPS registered an arrival time of 10:30pm (you don’t want to drive in the dark in Africa). Suzann put foot and mom and I had to keep our eyes peeled for cops. Thank goodness not many people know of the road so it was very quiet and thus had minimal cops otherwise we may’ve ended up in a Tanzanian jail … not ideal. Neither was it ideal to arrive in the outskirts of Arusha after dark and have to look out for our lodge’s signboard since the GPS wouldn’t pick it up. But we said a little prayer and crept on in the dark avoiding pedestrians that just appeared out of the shadows and promptly crossed the road, not even to mention the chaos of tuc-tucs, motorbikes and cyclists that insist on passing you on the left and making a two lane highway into a five-lane gridlocked mess. Through all this though, Suzann spotted the signboard first and we could turn off the tar of the Arusha-Moshi road and bump through a huge puddle of muddy water before taking on the rutted lane towards the banana market, next door to which was the lodge. I’d never been so glad to get to a lodge as I was that night.
Only the following day could we really appreciate where we were and start to get things ready to take on Kili. Our guide would be kind enough to organise an earlier ascent and even come to fetch us at the lodge and drive us to the local hikers outfitter to rent some waterproof pants and crampons for the ice on the top. Apparently the previous group had summited just a week ago in awful conditions of rain, snow and sleet so he wasn’t going to take any chances with us, better get the right equipment for just in case. But we’d get a lovely weather window with a bit of rain only one afternoon … thank you God.