The obligatory dodgy toilet experience

Trip Start Dec 28, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Anybody who backpacks through third world countries will eventually have a memorable encounter with a dodgy toilet. During 28-hour smuggling bus trip from Lao to Vietnam, we spent the entire time during our first rest stop swapping those stories. The best ones can make you laugh in hindsight -- the worst ones make you cringe and want to give your porcelain a big hug when you get home (but not in that way ... well maybe in that way). With an overnight ferry and a long bus ride to Arusha ahead of me, I was anticipating the worst.

The overnight ferry was an absolute mess. As foreigners, we were automatically booked into the 'VIP' section. The electrictyless nights in Zanzibar had taken such a toll that we were actually looking forward to the overnight ferry, in which we'd have a mattress and air conditioning. But it was not nearly as ideal as we could hope. My mattress was right next to the door, so all throughout the night I was woken up as people stepped on it and the more asshole-ish ones just stepped on me. The section was vastly overbooked, so I was lucky just to have a mattress, but it also meant there were lots of those people stepping on me and the mattress. There was also one woman with a crying baby, who not only did nothing to pacify the kid as it wailed through the early mornings, she was actually laughing. It was only after someone screamed something at her that she finally got off her ass and shut the kid up. And then there were the toilets. I've tried to suppress the memories, but I'm still confused by the design. Why there would be two steps going away from the bowl still escapes me.

Back in Dar es Salaam at the dreary of 6 am we had the good fortune of having George meet us at the port to take us to the bus station so we could avoid the hassle of the touts. After a failed attempt at breakfast because it was too early to order pretty much anything we went to the bus station, where we nearly didn't get a bus ticket. We were supposed to be on a 'luxury' bus as part of our safari package, but were placed on something I guess considered not luxury. It did have a toilet though, which was completely unexpected, but definitely appreciated. The ride was supposed to be about eight hours long. It was closer to 11. It didn't need to take nearly that long, but bus rides in Tanzania are special things. First off, the roads are littered with speed bumps. Not only does it slow things down considerably, but it makes the ride quite an adventure. I was feeling as bad as I had over the previous two days when the ride started and I was feeling every bump and jostle on the road. Thankfully I was feeling slightly better during the stage of speed bumps that were so violent we literally went flying up and out of our seats. Every hour or so we'd pull through a town, and this was a sight to see. The town would, for all intents be in the middle of nowhere, except for being located on the highway between Dar es Salaam and Arusha. They were dusty with tin roofs. But waiting at every town are hordes of people with random things to sell. Snacks, fruit, water, tchotchkes, anything you could hope for that could be lifted easily and purchased quickly through a bus window. Whether this is all part of the master plan of the bus companies, or the drivers are truly held up by the swarms knocking on the side of the bus, every town turned into a 10-20 minute ordeal as people bought stuff or shooed the unwanted touts away.

The ride went through stunning green countryside and tiny thatch-hut villages too small and simple to come loaded with touts. The highlight, though, was easily driving past Kilimanjaro and getting a nice long glimpse of the snows on the peak that might not survive another two decades. We arrived in Arusha around 8. We expected to arrive at a large bus depot, but instead were dropped at a petrol station. We were meet by Charles, who would turn out to be our safari driver and taken to the hotel that had been arranged for us by the tour company. We were greeted at the hotel by Mohamed, who ran the company on the Arusha side. He was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of George W. Bush and the caption, 'International terrorist.' I certainly don't like the man, and you can imagine the political views of Rachel and Joy, who'd just spent two years volunteering for the Peace Corps, so we weren't offended. Nonetheless, the fashion statement was a bold choice for a businessman about to greet three American clients. We had a quick dinner at the restaurant in the hotel where we John and Jolanda, the Dutch couple who would be on the safari with us. This was roughly their 10th time to Africa, but first time in Tanzania, and were on a madcap run from safari to a Kilimanjaro climb to Zanzibar and then back home. Our room that night was the first one I stayed in that had power throughout the night and a fan. Of course we were now in a city cool enough that we didn't need the fan. Irony at its finest.
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