AKA: A tale of the best guide on the planet.
On the bus leaving the Pare, I dug out David’s phone number and texted him to find out where to meet. If you remember from our post on Arusha, David is the brother of our wonderful guide there, Sam. I knew the bus would be absolutely mobbed with would-be-guides-on-low-season wanting our business so hoped David could meet us at the station. Success! We arrived to him shouting our names. Turns out he wouldn’t have had to say a word because he and Sam look just alike!
Anyway, he stood in stark contrast to the rest of the touts as he was dressed in a clean, crisp white shirt with this big, BIG welcoming smile we’d enjoy for the next few weeks! He extended his arm over the crowd and yelled, “Aaron!,” reaching through the window to shake hands. David is a gentleman first. I was instantly at ease with him and the bus hadn’t even stopped rolling yet. He boarded the bus and grabbed our luggage with a taxi driver in tow. It was wonderful!! I have to confess, we loved David within seconds of meeting him. He found us a nice hotel with much-needed wifi and, we admit it, some aircon and a real (non-bucket variety) shower. Though we didn’t know it yet, this was the first day of three gloriously unplanned, adventure-filled weeks together!
Tanga is a wonderful little seaside town. After settling into our new hotel, David took us out for a snack at a little shack with a view of the Indian Ocean. We loved that spot! He helped us order and got us a good price. Best of all, he asked us a lot of questions and started to get a feel for what we would like, then he sprung it on us, “Okay, tomorrow when we are on the bicycle tour….” WhatTheWa!!! I put the brakes on that instantly. We were exhausted from our week with Masha and needed a rest. I was uneasy about the bike tour anyway, not having biked in years, but David convinced us that it would be the best way to see the area. We agreed to go in two days.
I imagined a nice ride on a paved road with big bike lanes…why not? I didn’t know better. Part of the ride was that nice, but the rest of the tour? You would not believe what we did! First, we spent quite a while locating bikes to rent. David had them reserved, but apparently the guy was on a different street – no he’s on that corner – ah, he just moved down there…folks gave us a bit of a run-around, but we eventually persevered! They turned out to be 3-speed bikes with funny handle bars, and in my case a back wheel that wasn’t set straight and on Aaron’s only one working brake and that one was REALLY a deafening metal-on-metal kind of squeaky. One of the great things we saw in Tanga is that nobody cares what type or color of bike you ride! These weren’t “girl bikes” even though they had no cross-bar, and the pink one was just fine for a boy. Folks just don’t have those gender issues like we have in the US.
Second, it rained all-day-long! It barely let up… until we were got back home, of course. We biked through rush hour in the fourth biggest city in the country, around round-abouts, on the left side of the road with the traffic (cars drive on the left like in England), where the cars and motorcycles compete with their horns. Kids, goats and cows crowd the streets. Then out of town, through muddy, rocky, puddle-filled trails, over barely passable bridges, took a tour into the Amboni caves, through tall grasses and jungle. All the time people staring at the two white folks. It was only about 8-10 miles total over the course of the day, but I haven’t ridden a bike since the Marshall Islands in 2002. When I was sliding through the mud or barely missing hitting on-coming traffic, I thought of how triumphant I would feel at the end. Plus, I did not want to let Aaron and David down. Aaron says he wishes he had a picture of me riding through the round-about surrounded by traffic. He called it “Face Your Fears”. I just wish we had any picture of it! Gotta say we saw a ton and had a great time. The best part was meeting David and Sam’s mom and having a traditional lunch of fish, rice and spinach at his family’s home. A young cousin climbed the backyard mango tree and they sent us home with fresh picked OMG Mangos!! David would go on to bring us fresh picked mangos every few days — you’ve had nothing like them! For those who know Aaron well, this’ll tell you something: we’d have one at the end of dinner each night and Aaron didn’t even have further dessert afterwards!!! Amazing!
We spent a total of two weeks in Tanga doing these sorts of adventures with David. One day we went to an “environmental fair” which is not entirely like what you might be thinking. At this fair, the oil, mining and roads departments were all well represented, but the roads tent looked almost exactly like a public outreach tent in Seattle, complete with road models, conceptual planning videos and flow charts…always with the flow charts. I also got to meet the roads people who are busy designing Bus Rapid Transit for Dar es Salaam. One thing lead to another and David arranged a meeting for us and the head of the local DOT. It was awesome! That’s one of David’s many amazing traits: he’d latch on to something he knew we were interested in and then find a way to explore it more. How many guides say, ‘Hey, you like engineering projects so I set up a meeting with the head of the local DOT. We would have gone yesterday but he was meeting with our Vice President….did you see the motorcade?” (that’s almost verbatim)
We also spent an afternoon at the Open Air Market – which is like nothing I’d been to before. It was a huge field full of vendors under tarps. Much of it was new or used western clothing that is brought in by the bundle and then rated A, B or C, which determines its quality and price. Sometimes it’s sorted and sometimes it’s just left in a pile. Everyone descends on the pile and picks what they want. David asked us how it is that he’s able to purchase clothes that seem to be brand new. An excellent question that I left for Aaron to explain. We saw plenty of recognizable shirts that made me do a double-take, like maybe I should know the person wearing the shirt. It became a game for us as we walked around the city – like doing the license plate game on the highway! We saw the UW Dawgs, Safeco Field 1997, Mariners, most MLB team and many college shirts, I even saw a jacket from lovely Coon Rapids, MN. There were oodles of 5k running t-shirts including some with dates going back to the 80’s and 90’s….yes, they are all alive and well here in Tanzania. Are you missing your 2003 Jingle Bell Run jersey? Saw a boy wearing it. Yep, everything was there! The open air market has other sections in addition to used clothes: new traditional dresses, cooking utensils, food and gorgeous fabrics.
OH THE FABRICS!!
I tried to be strong. We all have limited will power, it’s a proven scientific fact. Really, it is. Since the day we arrived in Tanzania, weeks earlier, I had become completely obsessed with the beautiful local designs. There’s nothing else like them. Over and over again I stopped myself from buying. What will we do with them? It’s one more thing to store. They cost money. Shipping costs money. What if they don’t make it through the mail? I had stopped myself a dozen times by the time we went to the open air market. On this day, though, I looked out under the sunshine at all those beautiful fabrics and it was just too, too much! Still, I managed to say “no” one more time and we left the market while a voice in my head screamed I would never have this chance again. After a lunch of rice, beans and fish with a mandazi (donut) for dessert, we all talked, like we had been doing for weeks now. David, Aaron and I were all very comfortable with each other and with each meal the conversation got more and more personal, less and less superficial. Finally I got serious and leaned in, “David, I don’t want to offend you and I need an honest answer.” David leaned towards me and gave me his undivided attention. “Say, hypothetically of course, I were to ship a package from here. Will it make it to the US? Will it be stolen or picked through before it gets shipped? Tell me the truth.” David leaned back with a very pensive look (David has an incredibly expressive face and you know the answer before he speaks), paused and then, mostly with the expression on his face, gave a slight nod and said “No problem.” Putting all my confidence in those two words, I asked to go back to the market. My will power was depleted. Today we would shop.
Aaron and I proceeded to pick out our seven favorite fabrics. We could easily have picked another 30, but we had to show some restraint. With David’s help we purchased them for a mere $4 each. Back in our hotel room we could not stop staring at them! We started a list of things we can possibly do with them: new beadspread! skirts! shirts! bunting! bed headboard! tablecloth! curtains!… We are considering painting the interior of our house to match the fabrics. We are in love!
The next day brought a whole new adventure when we went to ship them, starting with the hunt for a box, tape and marker — nothing is easy in Africa, not like in the US. Once at the shipping office, it took over an hour to prep and then a woman from customs had to be called in to inspect the package. She looked through every single fabric and confirmed that we were shipping exactly what we declared. Then they gave us the price. It was another $75 to ship it! We were shocked, but David was there and able to help us understand the shipping tables confirming it was correct. Knowing for sure that it was the actual price made it better, even if $75 still seemed like a lot. A mere week later the box arrived at Aaron’s mom’s house and now she can’t take her eyes off of them either! She even invited people to come over and look at them with her, they are just that awesome. Plus, our list of ideas continues to grow. Those fabrics were worth all the cost and effort just for the fun of imagining what we can do with them!
A few more pictures of our Tangan adventures to finish off this post. So much more to come!!!