Postcard from Dar es Salaam
When I decided to try out solo travelling in Dar as a preamble to my upcoming maiden solo trip in two weeks’ time, I had no idea that I would have such a scintillating experience, both in the figurative and literal sense. I had the weekend to myself after winding up with work in the city centre of Dar on Friday. It was quite an exhausting trip, one that saw my colleague and I move from one outdated office block to another in the sweltering heat at least five times a day for two days. Naturally, I was excited to be done with work and move over to the beach side for some much-needed and well-deserved peace and quiet.
The ride to the hotel was quite long thanks to foleni, a word that kept coming up in almost all conversations with cab drivers. Dar es Salaam traffic will catch you by surprise (unlike Kampala’s which is guaranteed whether it snows or rains hailstones). When my cab finally pulled over at the hotel’s gate, I was thrilled at how it stood out like a sore thumb from its neighbours. A neat convex shaped three storey beach front property that stretched for about 500m from end to end with the words Ramada Resort sparkling in red at the top. The lobby was tastefully designed and the vast sea seemed to spill from its foyer. I was treated to the same view from my room whose open balcony overlooked the sea. A clear glass frame extended from top to bottom and end to end allowing me to summon the energy of the sea right from my bed. A striking yellow and black canvas painting sat above the headboard. On it, two boats thronged with fishermen set off on a fishing trip at sunset, in the beautiful orange glow of the fading sun.
Being quite impetuous, I had extended my trip for two days without any clue about the city’s attractions. However, I was not really worried because at worst, my schedule would be something like this: Sleep, read, swim, lie on the pool deck staring at the sea, sip on whisky, eat, shower. Repeat. As such, I had been careful to book a hotel whose facilities would arrest me. Ramada Resort did not disappoint. It was the perfect loner’s haven.
On our last meeting, a client had suggested that I visit this island which was not too far from my hotel. He was young and hip and full of life. He seemed like the rashly daring type based on his choice of undergrad degree, a major in Economics and minor in Spanish! So, I took his word and immediately I got to the hotel, I inquired from the front office desk about the possibility of a trip to the Island. A phone call was made and a slot was reserved for the following day at 10.30am.
After indulging in boerewors, rosemary potatoes (because, Kikuyu), egg with cheese, chicken quiche and a mango smoothie (I am 2kgs heavier already!), I set off from the hotel at 11.00am. A small basic speedboat with a flat blue canvas roof was waiting at the shore. The helmsman, a short stocky man in blue shorts and a matching blue Arsenal shirt looked like someone I did not want to spend more than 10 minutes with in that small space. His face was stern and his dark sun glasses didn’t make it any better. He must have been fed up by the fact that I kept him waiting for almost half an hour. We exchanged greetings and sailed in complete silence for fifteen minutes, something I highly welcomed. I was in no mood for mindless chatter.
As we approached the island, I knew I was up for a grand time. The water, a gorgeous turquoise shade was warm and inviting. Pristine white sand sparkled on the shore extending all the way to the island where plenty of trees provided wonderful shade. At Mbudya, you will pay for everything. The boat will cost you $20 for a roundtrip from the hotel. It helps if you are more than one person because the cost is per trip and not per person. You will pay the Government of Tanzania $12 to set foot on its precious island. You will pay the local community about $8 to rent a thatched banda and a hammock. You will pay $15 for a plate of two humongous lobsters, $10 for sea fish with fries and $7.5 for roast chicken with fries. The good news is that you can carry your own food and drinks at no extra cost. However, I wanted to immerse myself in everything local, including its delicacies, so I was ready to spend on the food. As for the drinks, I did not want any surprises so I carried my whisky and a few bottles of water from the hotel.
It is advisable to order your meal an hour before you are ready to eat as the place gets busy. I placed my order, left my baggage on the rustic couch and strolled towards the sea. After an hour of swimming and watching a group of Nigerian and Somali tourists play beach volleyball, I went back to my banda and enjoyed the most delightful seafood I have had in a while. The fries were fresh and crispy and the lobster quite flavorful. I then stretched out on the hammock with Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun in my left hand and a single malt whisky in my right, zoning into a place of tranquillity away from the boisterous chatter behind me. At 4.00pm, five hours later, I woke up from a light sleep when Saidi, the guy managing my banda alerted me that my boat was back for me.
It’s midnight in Nairobi as I write this but my soul is swinging in this hammock back in the Island of Mbudya. It’s cold and dark outside but inside I’m sunny and happy because I can still smell the fish, sand, laughter and bliss.