Friday, February 26, 2010

Bunda, Tanzania

Friends: At every guest house I've stayed at in Tanzania I've had to fill out the same standard issue registration book requesting nationality, place of birth, where I've just come from, where I'm going next, occupation, tribe and a few others. Rather than leaving the tribe space blank, I identify myself as Apache, having shared an apartment the past ten years with someone who is part Apache.

It's not something that Debbie mentions very often or gives much evidence of, other than perhaps her affinity for gardening and sitting out in our recessed mini-courtyard reading and keeping a vigil on the neighborhood. I may exhibit more Apache tendencies than she does with my wanderings and longings to sleep out under the stars. So far no one has asked me about my tribe.

Among other things that is entered in the registration book is what one has paid for their room. That saved me one thousand shillings last night. I noticed everyone else had paid four thousand shillings while I had been charged five. When I pointed this out to the woman proprietor, she smiled sheepishly and gave me one thousand shillings back, about 75 cents, enough to pay for dinner.

The over-charging and gouging (the white tax) has been chronic the last couple of days since my ferry to Mwansa, leaving the isolated northwest of Tanzania, and venturing into a region frequented by Westerners. A street vendor quoted me the usual price of one thousand shillings for a two egg omelet then tried to get away with only giving me three thousand shillings change when I gave him a five thousand note, claiming it was one thousand shillings per egg. I laughed and said, "No, no." He had that extra one thousand ready to give me in case I protested, and he gave it to me with a smile. When he returned to his stand from the table I was sitting at, I could hear him laughingly tell his cronies that I knew better and hadn't fallen for his trick.

Another street vendor quoted me a price of one thousand shillings for a flour fritter that usually cost one hundred shillings. When I objected and said one hundred, she accepted it without protest. After dinner last night it took quite a bit of haggling to get 8500 shillings in change rather than the 7500 that the waitress tried to pass me. It helped that a nice English-speaking young man had joined me and assisted. He said she was just stupid and didn't have a computer for a mind, but I don't think she was stupid at all. Its getting quite tiresome having to be on guard for such things and continually having people trying to squeeze some extra shillings out of me.

Even the man I had dinner with, who was a small entrepreneur and had directed me to the lone guest house in the tiny village I was caught at when dark descended, had slight ulterior motives in befriending me. He came by the next morning to say goodbye and joined me for breakfast. I had just finished "I Dream of Africa," an excellent book by Kuki Gallman about moving to Kenya from Italy and living in a vast wilderness area with much wild life. She loses her teen-aged son to a snake bite and her husband to an automobile accident, but presses on. I was happy to pass the book on to this young man. He stuck it in the inside pocket of his sports coat. As we left the restaurant and headed to the main highway, someone called out to him. He very quickly and subtly opened up his jacket and pulled the book up just a smidgen to show his friend that yes, he had gotten something out of me.

As I was repairing my third flat tire of the trip along the road several hours later a schoolboy stopped and before saying anything politely asked, "Can you give me one thousand shillings?" Never have I felt so targeted. People treat me as if I am a human ATM machine freely dispensing to all and sundry. It makes me eager to escape this country and get back to the ultra-politeness of Uganda. Hardly anyone even chased me on their bike there. But first I must endure Kenya. At least the short section along Lake Victoria doesn't attract many Westerners.

This present stretch of Tanzania is along the Serengeti, which charges Westerners fifty dollars per day to enter. I got a good twenty-mile taste of the Serengeti without the fee. As I skirted its western border I could see herds of thousands of the wildebeests it is famous for along with hundreds of zebras and a few gazelles. At a one-lane wide bridge that traffic had to slow for, a handful of baboons were hanging out hoping for handouts.

Having had such a good taste of the abundant wild life gave me resolve to resist the offer of any safari company or tout in Bunda that might try to entice me to take a drive through the park. I cringed at the site of a couple of land-rovers filled with white-faces, knowing that I would have a headache if I were confined to such a vehicle, bouncing along the dirt roads of the park in search of wild life, especially after all the freedom I've been enjoying on the bike. It made me remember the claustrophobia and near nausea I felt a year ago when I took a bus for several hundred miles in South Africa to get to the Kalahari Desert for my ride through it.

Even though Bunda is at one of the entry points to the park, it is just another rough-and-tumble, slightly overgrown Tanzania village without a white to be seen or any tourist companies. Most tourists make their safari arrangements before arriving in the country, so I haven't been hounded here by tour operators looking for customers.

There are quite a few guest houses though in Bunda, all cheap, catering to locals. I am fortunate to have a shower tonight. Often I just have a five-gallon bucket of water and a small pail to pour the water over me. Last night I didn't even have that. Even though I was within a quarter mile of Lake Victoria, the guest house had no water pressure and no more water than enough to pour down the squat toilet. I refer to them as guest houses, as hotels in these East African countries are restaurants.

This is turning into a much more challenging trip than I imagined it would be, but one I am still happy to be doing.

Friend Robert offers this: "In the event your readers care to follow your journey, here is the link to that Lake Victoria map that I sent to you before you left. I have been following your travels, such as your recent ferry crossing, via this map."

Later. George


Ishkadebble said...

No wanderlust perhaps, but I really really LOVE sleeping under the stars, being in nature rather than Urbania, riding horses, and cooking over a wood fire. My bow-hunting skills are very rusty tho.

scgrits said...

Lyndon and I thought you would have claimed to be Navajo-Hopi like your friend Larry!

Stan said...

Just about every traveller has stories of being cheated and gouged. My worst experience was a bus station in Malaga, Spain. There were prominent signs all over the ticket window saying, "Count your change! No complaints accepted after you leave the window" It was like a warning the guy behind the window is a crook! Sure enough, he shortchanged me, claiming he had given me my change when he had only given me my bus tickets. "I've got the damn tickets in my hand and there's no money anywhere!" "Move along or I'll call security," he threatened me. I turned to a woman behind me in line, hoping she had seen something, but she just rolled her eyes and said, "Always pay the exact amount!" and muscled past me. Needless to say, the episode is still fresh in my mind after 10 years and I can't hear the word Spain without thinking of it.