Bargaining in Tanzania

Added: Dec. 12, 2010 | Date of action: Sept. 12, 2010
Author: Martin Linhart
Photos: Martin Linhart | Ladislav Lenc | Pavel Oplt
Tags: 2010 | Afrika | Keňa | Moshi | Tanzanie
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After a luxury breakfast rounded off by fragrant coffee we pay acceptable 350 KSH and drag our luggage to the door of Ibis hotel. Just one night helped to none of us to regenerate fully.

Ben is standing at the door. His minibus is nicely decorated with a number of padlocks. We are the only passengers. We pass by Naro Moru, starting point for one of the most popular access routes to the Mt. Kenya National Park. The road runs along an old railroad built by the British. We doubt it is still used at all but Ben assures us that once a week freight trains pass through. Beautiful rolling countryside around, abounding with rich shades of green and red colours. Especially the red colored soil is fascinating.

Profil masivu Mt. Kenya při pohledu ze silnice poblíž Naro Moru.

In two and a half hours we are in the transport-collapsing centre of Nairobi. We paid 2800 KSH to Ben already back in Nanyuki, so that he could buy fuel. Now, in the high noon heat, with the view of a fine tip he deploys an overwhelming activity so as to ensure connecting transport for us at least up to the border with Tanzania. We wanted to use his services also for the second part of today's journey but he strictly refused. It seems there are a kind of unwritten rules, where each driver operates only a certain region and rarely leaves its borders so that he doesn't deprive his colleagues of their bit of income.

We want to go to Moshi. Arusha is in our eyes too busy and too far from the foot of Kilimanjaro (5985 m). Negotiations are dragging on and time is running. We cannot get the price down. The drivers know too well that we need to go and arrive still today. They take their time, no hurry. Their manage to hold their starting price of KSH 4000 for getting to the border crossing at Namanga till the end.


♦ ♦ ♦

We rush at incredible speed on the main road to Mombasa. Around, it's typical local mayhem - people crossing the highway at any point and any time, matatu stopping suddenly to pick up passengers, rows of truck lining up along the road, improvised car repairs… In the southern part of the city it's much calmer. Chaos, dirt, pain and indignity of Nairobi's poor neighbourhood dwellers is somewhat of an uneasy feeling to us, comfortable Europeans.

The classic comes after we leave the highway. Dirt road with potholes alternated by few kilometres of asphalt and vice versa. Sometimes napping, sometimes holding tight to the car-frame strengthening tubes with eyes wide open by fear. It's less than two hundred kilometers to Namanga border town and it's pretty soon behind us.

Full of determination we stand with our passports ready in hand in the first queue. First we have to “check out” and hand over the completed "exit card" on the Kenyan side. Then we go through 50-metre stripe of no man's land. Then comes the “entry card”, visa application forms and queuing up at the Tanzanian side. All TV screens feature photographs of wanted persons. Computer and printer with a sticker of the EU (“Brussels Training”) and border control officers gazing at us. Our similarity with some of the wanted is excluded. But what if! Paying of $ 50 for visa eventually elicits a grin on their faces and our way to the snows of Kilimanjaro is free.

In the meantime, our driver wasn't idle. He managed to get two guys going to Arusha and ready to take us to Moshi still today, for an appropriate amount, of course. KSH 3000 to Arusha and a double to Moshi. We are not enthusiastic about the price but it's rather late and we have to press ahead.

South of Kenya seemed rather depressive to us. Arid landscape, soulless Masai hanging along the roads and ubiquitous dust. But here in Tanzania, it is still considerably worse. The wind is howling through the bleak landscape beneath the hill of Mt. Longido (2629 m), the trees wrapped in layers of dust and not a single sight of Kilimanjaro (5985 m) or Mt. Meru (4566 m). The Masai squatting along the road offer the saddest sight. Their faces are covered with a layer of dust as everything around. They sit hunched up. Only shadows remain of what once were upright and prideful warriors and shepherds of large herds of cattle. We recognize their typically red toga, saggy ears and indispensable spears but that's all. In no way they resemble the characters from books and movies…tourists may spot “the genuine” Masai somewhere in reserves, perhaps …

What's the worst? Our driver becomes increasingly scary for us. Consistently and more intensely chewing some stuff. Overdose, I would guess. With his glazed eyes and crazy horn-hooting we pass through villages at full speed. He goes zigzagging, doesn't care about anything, sputters, screams and broadcast the hardest-core African pop at full volume.

Before six p.m. we are in Arusha. Car stops at petrol station. At that moment, we have no clue about what's going on.

“Here we are, guys, we need money”, says George and the driver leaves the car without saying anything.

"Wait, what's up? We agreed you take us to Moshi, right?"
"I can't help it, sorry. The driver is not going any further tonight."
"What a news! What do you think we'll be doing here at the petrol station? We had a deal."
"I'm sorry, we don't continue today. I can try to negotiate alternative transport for you."

For a while we try to stick to the original deal. In vain. It's getting dark. There's no point in haggling on and getting stuck in here.

"OK, man. I hope you understand that this move of yours pretty shattered our mutual trust, so surely you know that we'll pay only when onboard the bus to Moshi."

The driver angrily gets back into the car and we go to the bus station. George negotiates seats for us and we pay an excellent price, including seats for our backpacks. Only KSH 1000. We give the money to George and he pays for us in the Tanzanian currency. There was no time to exchange currency, so we have only Kenyan shillings. The situation calms down, we are all happy and finally say goodbye to George in a friendly way. Once again, he apologizes and wishes good luck.


♦ ♦ ♦

Rasta man with typical braids, biting and piercing eyes is asking a slightly weird question:

"Do you have tickets?"

We stare at each other and answer no almost in one voice but that five minutes ago a guy named George paid for us directly to him. He looks amused by this answer!

"Gentlemen, if you don't have tickets, that means you hadn't paid."
"But we did."
"Gentlemen, you are mistaken. You occupy seven seats, so I ask you for 17 500 TSH."
"Wait, this is really a misunderstanding. We did pay the tickets."
"Look, if you don't have tickets, so you have to pay, otherwise you aren't going anywhere."

We're fucked! Just staring at each other. One fellow passenger, who was on the bus all the time, nodding at me, is signalling at me not to give up, because he saw us paying. He turns to the Rasta man, but that one is saying something to him in Swahili quite harshly. Nothing works. Pavel sees me getting red hot and calms me down:

"Come on, man, we fucked this up like stupid jerks, so we have to pay!

It's dark and if we want to get out of here, we have no choice but to pay again.

"Can I pay in Kenya shillings?"
"Of course. It's 1000 KSH"

Along with the ticket we learn a lesson too. In Tanzania, great vigilance is a must!


♦ ♦ ♦

In a fully packed coach we arrive in Moshi at 8 p. m. Immediately, we have some local guys on our necks. Although we keep saying that we don't need anyone to accompany us to our hotel and have no money for tips, they keep walking with us and one of them makes it up to the hotel Buffalo – in vain, no money.

The last of today's tests is trying to negotiate the hotel accommodation without money! We are lucky this time. At the reception we promise to exchange money and pay in the morning. Pavel goes to bed right away and Lada and I go begging for food on credit. All day long we had barely anything to eat. In the hotel restaurant again we promise and swear to foot the bill tomorrow morning. We order a steak and "Kilimanjaro" beer...

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