Dar es salaam is more of a transit city. It has always been, even in precolonial times, and even in its hay days at the national city of Tanzania. It was however stripped of its status as the national city, as the glory went to Dodoma. Even so, it is more developed than Dodoma and its hustles with vitality and energy. Most foreigners use it as a passage city to Mt Kilimanjaro and other locations in Tanzania such as the national parks and inland towns.
While it was to me a transit city as well, as I had a 7 day layover on my way to Lilongwe, I spent the Holy Week in the city I managed to tick some items of my Tanzania bucket list while I was there. Below, I have made as much a comprehensive and meaty post as possible for you. If, however, what I have shared needs further clarification, you can always drop a comment down below and I will get right back at you.
VISIT COCO BEACH – there are many beaches to visit, but since almost one beach is a replica of all other beaches (I love the sound of this first line, do you?) and I was staying at the Oyster Bay peninsula, it was easy to visit Coco beach. All it required was an evening walk, good conversation and we watched the sun set while walking along the beach. There were young families, and senior citizens in the small restaurants lined along the beach having freshly made light meals. From the distance, there were ships heading for the port, and it made for a postcard view. On our way back, we bought cassava crisps that are made right there on the beach. If you ever visit and they ask if you want salt or chilli for your cassava crisps, say chili. They make for a finger licking snack.
GO TO KARIOKOO MARKET–it is a tradition of mine to visit the market of places I visit. I find it is a sharper representation of the livelihood of the city as opposed to fancy places. I made several trips to the market alone using the dala dala (matatu equivalent), and in each trip I discovered something new.
One of my absolute pleasures was getting fresh spices that were unground, getting to see the various vegetables and merchandise being sold, watching the locals enjoy mshikaki and roasted plantain ( I did not partake since a few years back I once had a serious bout of typhoid and the desire to try out new delicacies in an un-sanitized area is greatly outweighed by the dread of being woefully sick.)
You probably won’t believe this, but I spent more than an hour watching how the bus rapid transport system works. There had been debates on the same among my previous classmates and engineering peers, especially on urban planning in Nairobi and the streamlining of the public transport system of Nairobi but seeing how it works – the stations, the different buses, the ticketing and waiting systems, and all that, was mesmerizing.
VISIT THE AZANIA LUTHERAN CHURCH – Martin Luther is the reason there are Protestants, a faction in the Christian religion, who are against the very church that birthed them, but that’s a story for another day. What was interesting for me visiting a Lutheran church was seeing the architecture and hearing the songs and seeing that they are not so far off from some of the traditions of the Catholic Church. I have a friend who says that the original idea that Luther had was to reform the church and not to divide it among itself. I suppose he can roll in his grave and say “oops” because what he did is irreversible and there are as many churches as one can imagine, and a a tad more.
VISIT ST PETERS CATHOLIC CHURCH – being a Roman catholic, this was a must for me. Unfortunately, the doors were locked in preparation for the Holy Saturday mass, and so I did not get a chance to get inside and see the architecture. There is however a grotto and one can pray if they so wish as there are no restrictions.
GO TO THE NATIONAL MUSEUM – MAKUMBUSHO YA TAIFA YA TANZANIA – this was one of my favourite places to see. I spent almost 4 hours in there carefully combing through whatever was on display.
There is an amazing evolution exhibition done as a partnership between a university in Spain and the government of Tanzania. Some of the cool things in that particular exhibition are learning about the Laetoli footsteps, seeing some skulls and mandibles that I had not seen before like that of the Taung child.
Other sections of the museums cover the political development of Tanzania and the life path of slavery, from its conception to its abolishment, and some aspects of the First World War and the struggle of independence that Tanzania endured in order to be a free country.
Though displayed outside and under the mercy of the elements, the vehicles Mwalimu Julius Nyerere used to establish TANU roots in the quest for independence, among them several Rolls Royce that he was gifted by the British colonial state (A paradox indeed) were a sight to see.
Another shocking, mind boggling, conversation changing and eye opener thing I discovered was involvement of the Chinese in Tanzania in the 1960s and 1970s. This makes so much sense since china was/is a communist state under Mao Zedong and Nyerere was a socialist who pushed socialism ujamaa in Tanzania.
SEE THE ASKARI MONUMENT – the most interesting thing about tis monument is that it is at the centre of the Posta area, and is actually quite central if you want to see the national museum, St Peters, the port and Azania Lutheran church. But there isn’t much else to do with it other than see it. No kidding. Just be Zen, see it, and walk away.
GO TO BAGAMOYO TOWN – Bagamoyo own is a 2 hour drive off Dar es salaam, and the quiet town holds a deep solemn history. It was by far my favourite place to visit. Among the things you can do while there are
- visit the cemetery where the slaves and those of the ransomed slave village were buried,
- visit the slave museum and delve deeper into the horrors and fine details of slavery in the East African mainland,
- go the first church that was erected in Tanzania that’s 150 years old,
- visit the landmark where the first cross was erected (it is just a few metres from the Beach)
- swim along the beach or watch the fishermen bring in their catch and the auction that follows at the fish market.
If you so wish you can also walk in the small town centers to just understand the livelihood of the people who live there.
- The dala dalas get full with seated passengers and then there are standing passengers who come in and even when it is clear the dala dala is full, more passengers will come in. It is, simply put, the established and accepted way of public transport using dala dalas. The most impressive thing about the dala dalas is that they charge a standard rate of 400TZSH (20 KES) no matter the destination. That was like music to my pockets. 20 bawwwwb!
- I used the BRT system on my way back from the main bus station to Dar Es Salaam as I was coming from Malawi, and it was an overall good experience.
- The strangest thing happened while I was in the art section of the Makumbusho museum. There came, as I was looking at the paintings, a middle aged white man and a young black man, and as I was alone, they started conversing with me in Italian. I used the little Italian I know, and the young introduced the white man using an Italian name, all the while I was continually puzzled at the wrong eyed young man and the enthusiastic smile of the white man. When they realised I wasn’t in their groove, the white man started saying that the young black man was only joking, and he became quite sober. He introduced himself as an English man, said he’s been a frequent recipient of the comment that he is the like the look alike of Daniel Craig (give me a moment to hold my breath as I bend over with laughter) and the young man was from Dar, and they asked me if I was up for a trip to Zanzibar the next day, and I realised they were looking for a fun fling, which I wasn’t, and I stood there looking at them make fools of themselves until they realised they were not making any head way (pun intended) and scrammed off, like they had come. Quite surreal if you ask me.