I give the last of my cash to the Customs Official in Dar Es Salaam for my visa (no credit cards accepted.) Tanzania is a cash-based society but I’m planning to go to the ATM anyway, so no problem. Until l learn that all the ATMs in the airport are broken. I’m the only one surprised. My pre-arranged taxi to the hotel says I can just pay his brother tomorrow morning when he shuttles me to the bus station. (Thank you! Asante!)
We arrive at the hotel after only about five minutes of bumping down 4-wheel drive roads. It reminds me of Guinea, West Africa except that here the cars are more Jeep-like and don’t get swallowed by the puddles (this is the tail end of monsoon season.)
No room reservation under my name? She looks through many papers. Maybe it’s under the name of the woman who made the arrangements, the lady who works for elephant conservation who I’m going to work with for a few weeks. I give her name. Nope. “Are you booked full?” I ask. “No we have plenty of space,” she replies. And they accept credit cards. I’m in!
Except the credit card machine doesn’t work. We try a few times and finally she says, “You look tired. Let’s try again later.” She shows me to room #7 (White privilege? American privilege? Just a really empathetic clerk?) and I happily throw myself into the cold trickle of a shower because I had been sweating steadily for the past 8 hours.
In the Hotel Info book, I discover a way to pay online. Perfect! But it keeps popping up error messages. Maybe my cards are on fraud alert? I try to use the room phone to call the toll-free international number on the back of the card. I can’t get a line outside the hotel. I have wifi so I attempt Skype for the second time in my life. They want $4.99. My husband has a brilliant idea and we get on FaceTime Audio with our iPhones, he calls the bank from his computer and holds the phone up to the speaker. After all that, the card is not the problem.
I decide to work it out in the morning. Need sleep! I set the alarm for 5am so I can leave for the bus at 5:30. But at 3am I wake up from anxiety about this lack-of-cash-in-cash-based-society problem. I try the hotel’s online pay system again and I get further along but I’m still not sure it’s complete. When I check out, the clerk is either too tired or too underpaid to bother checking the status of my bill. I’ll look into it when I get back home in a month.
The driver arrives at 5:30 on the dot and isn’t surprised when I tell him about the broken ATMs. “We have enough time to go to city center. Just a short detour. We’ll have better luck there.” Our second try is the bank with the green logo and I press a few buttons and out comes enough money to get me through the next two days. When technology works, life is so simple! (Remember trying to cash traveler’s checks when you’d forget about bank holidays in whichever country you were in? I’m glad that era is over.)
The bus station is an amazing parking lot (think Warped Tour because it’s dirt and mud) of buses parked within two feet of each other, just enough space for bodies to walk in between. I fill out my name on the clipboard and get assigned a great seat (aisle and close to the front.) At precisely 7am the bus rumbles on and the driver does a 26-point turn to extricate us from the lot.
Once on the highway I fall asleep for a while, then wake up in green fields and forests with mountains in the near distance. I alternate looking at the landscape and the TV in the front of the bus. The volume is too low to hear but the Swahili TV show about a family ghost is subtitled in English, as is the Chinese show about an army fighting wolves. Now they’re playing the Fast And the Furious 7 (I know because I saw them select it.) It’s still too quiet to hear and the subtitles are now in Japanese, but I’m not sure there’s much plot to miss. I see UFC fighter Ronda Rowsey “fight” the dark-haired girl from one of those CSI shows (you know, the pretty one.)
We stop at the half-way point so people can buy snacks and pee. I’m dehydrating myself so that I won’t have to ask the driver to pull over while I pee by the side of the road (as I unfortunately did once in Ecuador.)
Now I’m at my hostel, located upstairs from a craft shop. Colors are bright, the temperature is mountainous and tomorrow, after a leisure morning of yoga and breakfast, I catch a bus to the bush.