Tanzania Stories and Tips

The Ferry to Zanzibar

Ferries and Dhows Photo, Zanzibar, Tanzania

My grand plan for visiting Tanzania began with a night on Zanzibar, so after arriving in the Dar es Salaam airport and DEETing up, my friend Kate and I grabbed a taxi to the ferry terminal to begin an interesting trip made even more amusing by sleep deprivation.

At the airport’s taxi stand, we were able to get our driver at a printed rate of 20,000 Tanzanian shillings. When we arrived at the ferry terminal after some heavy traffic on dusty roads, about 10 men began trailing our car and offering to sell us ferry tickets. Our driver, who spoke English very well, told us not to buy from them, and not to show them our passports, but to instead buy our tickets at the Seabus "fast ferry" counter. Then he parked and took Kate, armed with both of our passports, to this out-of-sight "counter" to buy the tickets, telling me to wait in the cab. I normally would’ve protested this as a bad idea, but I was too tired. Plus, I figured that since I didn’t necessarily have a better plan, I would have to trust this driver.

I sweated it out in the car for about 15 minutes while a couple of men circled me, eyeing the trunk where our bags were held. It was a pretty sketchy situation, but again, this driver seemed like a stand-up guy. Sure enough, he and Kate returned with the tickets (and the passports). Only then did he inspect the tickets and announce that though Kate had paid US$45 per ticket (for four tickets), the vendor had recorded a payment of only US$30 per ticket and pocketed the additional US$15 per ticket. He went to recover the money and returned with US$20 for us (apparently having pocketed the other US$40 himself). I suppose he earned it.

Kate and I settled into a shady waiting area, but we had two hours until the next ferry. Unfortunately, no one else appeared this early, so we had the army of touts all to ourselves. Despite our protests, a few "official porters" carried our bags and talked Kate out of another US$5. This ferry ride was proving quite expensive. Eventually more passengers showed up, and we made friends with other travelers willing to dole out advice on visiting Tanzania and climbing Kilimanjaro.

The boat was very hot and cramped, and we made the mistake of trapping ourselves in window seats, but there were cheap, cold drinks for sale. It was a long 2.5-hour ride, but at least we were able to laugh at the fact that the little girl behind us was so fascinated with Kate’s blond hair that she kept copping feels. I don’t think all boats are as stuffy as this one, though; later, our ferry back to the mainland was air-conditioned and much more modern, with flat-screen TVs, although it was just as miserable for its extreme choppiness.

Eventually, having learned some small lessons in corruption, we arrived at Zanzibar’s port to grab a taxi to the lovely Beyt al Chai.

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