TOUTzania

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
1
233
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Trip End Oct 08, 2008


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Monday, August 4, 2008

Arusha is either the place to go or the place to avoid in Tanzania.  Fellow travellers, guide books, and other hearsay told us we were in for a case of serious touting.  Crossing the border we had a little taste of this trickery.  The no-man's-land was crowded with people telling us all kinds of things about needing to change Kenyan shillings to Tanzanian shillings.  The trick is this: the black market traders will theoretically give you a much better rate than the legal traders at the exchange office, but then they will go ahead and exclude a couple zeros and you get absolutely no money.  Travis read the travellogue of one guy who changed twenty dollars and got 2000 shillings rather than 20000 - so for $20 he got $2.  It's a tricky exchange rate - go with the people who use a calculator. 

We escaped the border without mishap, but we couldn't (or maybe didn't want to) escape Arusha.  Initially the reason we were going was to see about a mini journey into Ngorongoro Crater (that mother of all safari lands), but before we even arrived in Tanzania we decided to scrap that as too time and money consuming to be worth the effort.  Travis used Arusha as an excuse to break up the long drive to Dar, and I seconded that notion.  But we could just as easily have gone to Moshi, which is not so much known for being overrun with touts, and taken our break there.  I think we perversely wanted to harass ourselves. 

The moment we got off the bus we were bundled into a car and told that it was a free service, ostensibly offered by the bus company.  It was safari touts, but they took us to the bus station (after Kenya we didn't want to have hotel stalkers - one guy wrote about being stalked all the way to the shower).  We then got out of the car and walked away with nothing more than a business card and paid not a cent for the drive into town.  Not that it was very far.  Travis, seeking to avoid being followed by the car, walked straight into the melee that was the bus station.  Like every other bus station, there were people shouting the names of places that buses go.  Travis was immediately surrounded by predators.  They left me alone for some reason. 

"Where do you go?"  "My bus is leaving..."  "Can I help you?" 

We have no problem with people trying to make a living.  I personally can even make excuses for the "stupid tax," even though the excuses also excuse basic honesty.  Travis is seriously not a fan.  Generally he ignores these people and I address them before moving on, and usually they only bother us for a few steps, but the touts in Arusha are not so easily deterred.  Ergo, we were exceptionally rude, in a laughing sort of way.  When people ask where we're going, we say, "Nowhere."  When they ask if we need help, we say, "No thank you."  After they assure us that their help is free, we say, "I'm sure it is, but I don't particularly want it.  Thank you."  But every now and again there are those people who are just beyond obvious in their attempts to get some money off us no matter how they can. 

This point is illustrated by the man tagging along Travis's left side.  He assured Travis that his bus was leaving, as if this was exactly what we desired, but when Travis asked where the bus was going the man didn't have any answer at all.  At the same time a bus tout told me that his bus was going to someplace and I told him that that was very good for him.  We walked on.  Nine months ago we wouldn't have been able to handle the pressure constantly surrounding us, but when you realize that those people can't make you do anything, no matter how much they get in your face, you've really got all the time in the world.  And since they'll say anything to you to extract some money, you eventually don't feel bad saying whatever you want to them because they're money grubbers praying on the naive.  And if they're one thing I don't have time for it's predacious lying liars.  But that's just me. 

We walked to the street where cheap hotels are plentiful, and just as we were about to enter our hotel of choice my most favorite thing in the world happened.  A lazy tout attached himself to us, told us that we were where we were going (obviously) and then, with the excuse that his uncle owned it, followed us in.  These lazy...men...attach themselves at the last minute, your hotel rate gets upped, and they get the leftover money.  Our experience in the hotel went like this:

(Outside the hotel)
Erin - You're not allowed to come in here.
Tout - My uncle owns this place.  I live here.
Erin - If I believed that I'd be beyond stupid.

(Entering the courtyard)
Erin - Where is the reception?
Hotel dude - Here
Erin - Do you have a double room?  (We see the double room)  How much is it?
Hotel dude - 15000 shillings (twice what we were given to understand)...it comes with breakfast.
Erin - Do you have anything cheaper?
Hotel dude - Yes (we wander around for a moment) No, that's the last room.
(Erin looks at all the empty rooms with their doors wide open.)
Erin - Does that guy live here?
Hotel dude - No
Erin - (turns to the tout) I told you you were a tout.
Hotel dude - Ah, but he's okay here...

(Erin and Travis depart hotel and debate next steps)
Hotel dude - Maybe there are some rooms across the street.  It's the same hotel. 
Erin - Okay
Hotel dude - How much are you willing to pay?
Erin - No more than 10000 shillings.
(Hotel dude shows Erin a room, once again right next to several empty rooms.  The room has two beds.)
Erin - How much is this room?
Hotel dude - 12000 shillings
Erin - That's not 10000.
Hotel dude - But the room has two beds!
Erin - I don't want two beds.  I want one bed. 

We made our way to another hotel, and I entered boldly, sans tout, to ensure that we didn't have any issues.  Outside, Travis held off the lazy tout who followed us (like we really were stupid enough to believe he wasn't trying to get our money).  At this point the tout told Travis that this hotel belonged to his brother.  Travis laughed and asked the guy if he thought Travis would possibly believe him.  Tout came into the hotel, where I was satisfactorily conducting my business, and I said (with gusto), "That man is not with me," and stomped off to look at the toilets while the staff manhandled the tout out of the hotel. 

A few minutes later, Hotel dude, who suggested this hotel to us (but, honestly, as it was the next hotel, I really don't think we would have had any trouble finding it), appeared and tried to sell me a safari.  I told him I wasn't interested in safaris, and he thanked me for my honesty.  It was only later that I figured he probably came to collect a bit of commission based on the fact that he sent us to yet another place we were already going. 

Walking down the street in Arusha is also fun.  Travis always gets hangers that chat him up and want to do this or that.  We had several, including a set of rastafarians with giant hats, whom I could not envision in the safari business.  And if you ever stop to consult a map be sure no one can see you, or you will surely have someone bother you about where you're going the entire time you're standing around.  And don't ask these people for help, because they will also become hangers.  Map skills are rather important when you're travelling, and I really like to figure things out for myself, so I get irritated when I'm bothered while examining my map, but Travis is much more patient about it. 

All things considered, however, Arusha isn't that bad, nor are we terribly annoyed.  The tout culture is part of the experience of this town, and if you're in the right mind-set it can be immensely entertaining.  Just don't let the hotel touts get your money when you didn't want them in the first place. 

Erin
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