Dar es Salaam: The First City I Ever Knew

Cars and taxis honking; the hot sun burning my skin; the smell of warm, humid air; narrow streets with walking street merchants trying to sell anything from key rings and car tools to glass mugs and plastic toys. Nope this isn’t New York City. It’s actually Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—my place of birth. Here in this city, there are no speed limit signs; pedestrians walk any which way and makeshift stores line the sidewalks.

I was seven years old when I left Dar, so coming back home after 16 years was definitely a trip down memory lane. I had no expectations in my mind about what it would be like. As the capital city of Tanzania, it’s a busy city center, which once used to be a major trading port. But for me, this was home.

Dar es Salaam has its own city feel with the usual hustle and bustle of a city. As a New Yorker, I felt right at home. But this city adds its own flavor. Shops line the streets; one sells hardware while its next door neighboring shop sells dresses and jewelry. Most of these shops are holes in the wall. And some don’t even bother having a small shop when they can hang the clothes they’re selling on fences.

But what’s unique about this city is its struggle to modernize. Tall 10 story office buildings stand in between old and rusty ones, while several other streets are lined with construction sites for new residential and office buildings. A huge shopping center, called Mlimani City mall, has been built cozily and it houses department stores like Game and Mr. Price, and to my surprise, an American movie theater! (Side note: I went to watch Hangover 2 one Saturday night and it felt like I was back in New York sitting in an AMC theater). This clash between old and new and feeling more “American” doesn’t seem to bother the locals at all.

Arusha: The wild side

Tanzania doesn’t fail to offer an adventure and give you that injection of an adrenaline rush. North of Dar es Salaam, with about a 10 hour drive, is where you’ll find this adventure in Arusha. Tanzania is known for the Serengeti and its national game parks and so I seeing it for myself was truly amazing.

Adventure #1: Ngorongoro Crater

Indeed the name of this adventure is self-explanatory. This crater is Mother Nature at its utmost beauty. The crater was naturally made millions of years ago when an enormous volcano erupted and eventually collapsed to create this vast land. It is home to approximately 25,000 animals, including rhinoceros’, wildebeests, zebras and Thompson gazelles.

As we roamed through the bottom of the crater in our banana yellow range rover, we stopped every so often when we spotted any one of these animals. Our driver had 30 years of experience and knew which spots were the best to see these animals closely. Yes, I’ve seen these animals in the zoo as a child, but there’s just something majestic about seeing them in the wild; in their own home. We were even lucky to spot rare animals like a leopard.

Adventure #2: Serengeti National Park

Our second and final day in Arusha was probably the most adventurous. We saw an array of animals: giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippos, and of course, the king of the jungle himself taking an afternoon nap under a small tree. We parked our range rover just five feet away from where the lion and his pack rested for the afternoon.

And if that wasn’t a treat, we naturally ran into thousands and thousands of wildebeests as they made their yearly migration. Our driver said there’s no real beginning or end to their journey as it is an endless migration because they are in constant search for food and water. It felt as if I was watching the National Geographic channel live in front of my very own eyes.

Zanzibar: History and Paradise are neighbors

As a Tanzanian native, I have always heard stories about the island of Zanzibar: how historic it is and how its beaches are paradise on earth. And after spending two days there, both of those statements remain true.

Centuries ago, Zanzibar used to be a lively trading area for traders and merchants. Indian, Chinese and Persian traders were among the many merchants who came to trade spices, ivory and even slaves.  The remnants of this can still be seen as you walk the narrow streets and alleys of Zanzibar town, where stores are boxed next to each other from one end of the street to the other.  And the buildings definitely show their age.

But as historic as the island is, Zanzibar has a contrasting side with its gorgeous light blue waters off its coasts. Our stay at La Gemma Beach resort made me feel like I was in Hawaii or a tropical island in the Caribbean. From lying in the sand and watching the water waves crash on the shore to parasailing over the Indian Ocean and enjoying an aerial view of the island was truly the perfect ending to an adventurous two weeks.

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