A chance meeting, a change of plans, and turning Tanzanian

When I sent my mom off to the airport, it officially became time to relax. A new crew had descended on Hunch to hang with, and I figured I deserved some downtime before I continued on. The plan was to head out in a few days to Kenya to try and find a spot to do some teaching for awhile, but, as they say, the best laid plans…

Things started off pretty chill. I hung out and used the internet to catch up on writing and my late night political comedy show vices. On my first day, I only ventured out to get a burger at my favorite burger shipping container in Dar and some spicy Portuguese chicken down the road. The next day, just to the supermarket for cheaper eats. Many beers and much Jenga was played on the roof deck with fellow hostel-goers. Eventually, some of the folks in the hostel convinced me to tag along to Bongoyo Island, a small uninhabited idyllic island just off the coast of Dar with a small bar and restaurant. There we spent the day lazing on the beach, swimming, hanging out with hermit crabs, and hiking through beautiful coral jungle and isolated inlet beaches.

There were a few more days of relaxing, tweaking my bike, and indulging in the moderate joys of culinary diversity in Dar (Italian-style pizza, discount sushi, and tasty tapas). One day, I once again decided to snag a burger at the local shipping container with a couple of fellow hostel folks, including Reggie the South African biker and artist. We took our bikes over, and spotted a big BMW 1150GS ridden by an equally large Tanzanian man, also waiting in line to get a burger. Reggie tried to start up a chat with him but he was brushed off when the guy responded that he didn’t speak English. We got our burgers and sat down.

A few minutes later, the large biker came over and started up a chat with us, telling us he didn’t realize Reggie was a foreigner (he’s black), and when locals engage him in English he presumes they think he’s foreign, and hence an easy mark. When he saw our group and heard us conversing in English, he understood. He exchanged info with Reggie and we made plans to go for a ride the next day.

The Tanzanian man’s name was Mrusha Jones, and when he came over to the hostel the next day to chat, he asked me what I was up to. I explained my trip and my plans to head to Kenya to teach computer science, and his eyes lit up and he got really excited. He explained that while he works at a bank, he also is a co-founder of a technology incubation space along the small stretch of Bagamoyo road that serves as the locus of technology for Tanzania. He then went to work trying to convince me to stay in Tanzania and do my teaching there, using his space. He’d help me find an apartment and students, the space has fast free internet, and we seemed to have similar visions of how it would go down. I said I’d think about it.

Reggie, Mrusha, and I then headed up to Bagamoyo, a cute little “beach town” (the beach is definitely nothing to write home about) about 60km north of Dar. Battling the usual traffic, and lane splitting like wild men, it still takes nearly an hour and a half to cover that ground. Once there, we took a little tour of the incredibly rank fish market, walked a bit of what passes for a beach there, then headed to a backpackers hotel built into the beautiful ruins of a once incredible house. A large courtyard with a pool wrapped by crumbling masonry and adorned with large palm trees sat in the middle of the place, and we sat, chilled, drank beer, and bullshitted. As the day wore on, we eventually turned around and headed back to Dar. I made plans to check out Mrusha’s space the following Monday

En route, we passed this truck says “Trump U.S.A.” and “Father pray for us” in Swahili
Ruins along the beach
The Bagamoyo fish market. Trust me, it smells worse than it looks.

Monday came around and I met up with Mrusha for lunch at his space, which has an attached restaurant that helps support it. We ate a good meal and talked about our plans. By the end, I was convinced I’d found a good place to set up shop and work for awhile. We talked logistics. To make the most effective use of my time, I’d go on a visa run to Kenya over New Year’s (and attend a festival there called Kilifi New Years) and he’d find me an apartment for when I got back. I’d get started on the coursework upon my return.

Now that I had a plan, I had a couple weeks to kill. I decided to head to the backpacker’s spot in Bagamoyo (called Firefly) for a bit for a change of scenery (and to get out of the nightmare of Dar’s weather and traffic combination), and I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of friends from Hunch who I’d gone to Bongoyo Island with staying there. Days were spent walking the beach, scoping out the ruins, eating, swimming in the pool, and even getting a couple massages. The owner of Firefly is a super nice woman from Zim, and we became friends. She even introduced me to a local teenager who wanted to learn some programming and I sat with him a couple of times and we built some basic graphical applications using web technologies which got him super excited. I stayed for Christmas, where there was a feast of a meal, champagne, and good times.

Afterwards I headed back to Dar for a night to snag my camping gear and headed up towards Kenya for New Years. Traffic was terrible through Bagamoyo but no far after my path veered off the main east/west road and onto a less-traveled one heading up to Tanga and the border. I spent an uneventful night in Tanga at a cheap little hotel in town then headed off to the quiet Horo Horo border an hour and change north.

Leaving Tanzania was a breeze. Entering Kenya, however, proved slightly more difficult… Kenya is one of two countries in Africa that sometimes demands a Carnet de Passages en Douane, a super-old school vehicle passport that most of the world has long since retired. I’d read conflicting reports of folks passing through without issue, but today the folks at Horo Horo weren’t excited about letting me through… Or maybe they were, as they made it abundantly clear that all they needed was a bribe to grease the wheels and I could be on my way no problem. I tried my best to argue, but as in many border situations, I had none of the power in the situation, so eventually I had no choice but to cough up $10, which they scoffed at but eventually accepted. Then I had to buy a month worth of insurance for the bike because they insisted that was the smallest time frame they allowed, and I was finally on my way.

Things in Kenya began pretty quietly with a quiet road through small villages and verdant fields and forests. Eventually the tiny road to the border met a more major one and I was once again assaulted by veering minibuses (now called matatus), barreling trucks, and zooming Chinese motorcycles flying every which way. Compared to Tanzania, things industry seemed to be a bit more booming, and even in smaller towns the structures looked a little more modern and fancy.

I ended my day veering off the highway and into hardcore vacation traffic in the destination town of Diani Beach, which was buzzing. I pulled into a spot called Stilts that was recommended to be by the owner of Firefly in Bagamoyo and checked into a little hut on stilts. After running down the road for some mediocre pizza, I headed back and hung out catching up on my writing and chatting with a ripped Indian soldier on vacation from guarding a UN base in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He talked nonchalantly about the insanity he’d seen there in the past 2 years. Eventually there was a nightly Bush Baby (small, adorable, big-eyed nocturnal monkeys also known as Galagos) feeding where a troop of the things descended on the lounge area at stilts and we were given bananas to hand them skittishly from the railings.

This was the best I was able to do photographing the adorable buggers in the dark.

The next afternoon was the opening of the festival, technically only 100km away, but the road is busy, goes directly through Mombasa, and includes a ferry with an enormous clusterfuck of traffic to board. Staring blankly at my bike, eventually catching my eye and giving a thumbs up was a very popular pastime on the ferry. Traffic was heavy and brutal from Mombasa on. The lumpy, dusty 2-lane road was constantly choked with heavy trucks, matatus, and zooming motorbikes. I struggled to weave my way through traffic at something vaguely resembling a decent clip. I passed “The Watergate Hotel” as I neared Kilifi, then proceeded to wildly overshoot the festival grounds, which had moved from their previous home at the Distant Relatives Backpackers (where the festival originated), and had to backtrack to a poorly labeled dirt track into the forest where I eventually reached a gate.

On the ferry to Mombasa.

The staff were kind enough to let me park permanently in what was intended as the loading zone, near the campground, and I was able to check in and snag a wristband. Camping was packed in tightly in a shady forest, and I ended up next to a friendly crew of potsmoking locals from Nairobi. Alone at a big festival, friends proved remarkably easy to make, with my neighbors working hard to keep beer in my hands whenever we’d run into each other in the festival grounds.

Kilifi New Years was fantastic. It was a dramatically more diverse crowd of people than AfrikaBurn, and despite a very different setup (presence of money and vendors, separate campground and festival ground, orientation primarily around musical acts), the art, inclusiveness, and vibe struck me as more burner-friendly than AfrikaBurn had. There was even an enormous organic effigy of a bird that was burned in fabulous fashion on the last night of the event. The art department of the festival had done a fantastic job integrating lights, sculptures, chill spaces, and more into the forest and neighboring river valley. One of the “vendor” spots was even occupied by a hippie-type dude who was constantly cooking up food and serving a tea made with a local herbal stimulant and giving it all away.

One night, I spotted a Burning Man DPW shirt and struck up a conversation with the guy wearing it. It turned out he was an old school burner (14 years) who split his time between the Bay Area and Kenya, and was starting a local Kenyan regional burn called Wild Burn. Known as Roamer, it turned out we had tons of mutual friends from the community, and we were getting along fabulously in no time. By the third night of the festival, I felt like everywhere I went I ran into new friends. My expectations were greatly surpassed.

The bird begins to go up in flames.
The other AfrikaBurn.
A Jambulance-d partygoer sleeps off the festivities.

When things wrapped up after New Years, I was in no rush to leave. Additionally, the Kenyan government had sprung an unwelcome surprise on travelers by banning overnight bus travel the day after New Years, causing absolute chaos for those planning on heading back to their regular lives afterwards. I headed instead to the origins of the festival, the Distant Relatives Backpackers, which was fully booked but always had room for a tent. A bunch of my friends from the festival had had similar ideas, so I was once again surrounded by familiar faces, including Roamer. Some even stayed on a neighboring sailboat built locally by madmen craftsmen and constantly sailing up and down the Kenyan coast, which enabled me to spend an evening relaxing onboard the vessel with some very talented musicians until the sun went down.

After 2 nights, my back was ready for a bed, and it was getting to be time to head home. I once again stopped in Diani Beach, but this time at a different backpackers to rest my head. I got an earlier start the next morning, and since I was entering Tanzania (which ended up being much easier than Kenya had been) instead, was able to make it all the way back to the Firefly in Bagamoyo just before sundown. I spent one additional night at Firefly (since I loved it so much), then set off back to Dar es Salaam, where Mrusha had utterly failed in his promise to find me a place to stay. Instead, my good friend and former travel partner Corey had made his way across Malawi and western Tanzania to Dar, and I met up with him at a cheap hotel there, then dragged him to Taste of Mexico, a restaurant nearby with some of the best Mexican food I’ve managed to find in Africa.

Heavy rains triggered my first bout of hardcore flooding in Dar, a concept I would become intimately familiar with in the intervening months. Corey had beaten the crap out of his bike in western Mozambique, and I was looking for a reliable motorcycle shop to eventually change my timing chain, so we made our way to the local KTM dealership, who did some free work on Corey’s bike and allowed us to test drive an F800GS and KTM 990 Adventure they had for sale.

This gorgeous bike made for a remarkably disappointing test drive.

I managed to find a couple apartments to scope out but nothing I was excited about, and I was surprised by how expensive places were, some running up to $500 for just a decent bedroom. Unwilling to start working until I had a real place to stay, instead I hung out with Corey. We headed a bit out of town to a pretty decent water park on a week day (when we basically had the run of the place) where we proceeded to mess around like a couple of high schoolers. This went well until one trip down the highest slides in the park with our inner tubes stuck together, Corey’s knee went slamming into my rib cage as we hit the pool below, knocking the wind out of me and giving me a deep sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d broken another rib (taking my tally for the trip up to 5). Sigh.

It was still a great day at the water park…

Eventually, I met up with Mrusha at the office and he got me hooked up with an enormous and extremely active Facebook group called Team Tanzania, which has over 47,000 members. I wrote a post asking about apartments with a bit about who I was and what I was doing in Tanzania and clicked post. The only response I got was from a local journalist curious about possibly writing a story. Later that eve, I spotted an apartment within my price range advertised by a French and Congolese couple and shot them a message. The next day I was scoping out their apartment and found a perfect fit. I moved in a day after that, started work on Monday, and three days later had a morning interview near the beach with an independent journalist outfit that was selling an interview with me — complete with drone footage — to the Chinese state run English language 24 hour satellite news channel CGTN about my Tanzanian teaching project (despite not actually having done anything yet). My life in Tanzania had officially begun.

The new apartment
Gettin’ Interviewed

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