The trip is well under way. My splendid time in Dar es Salaam with the Prosper family has come and gone and I now have found my way to Zanzibar island off the Tanzanian coast.
Dar es Salaam (“Dar” for short) was even better than I anticipated. Although the city itself wasn’t honestly anything to fall in love with, it was the company that made the experience one to remember. My stay was with a Tanzania family, of whom are the family of a Tanzanian coworker. I quickly found that they were such great hosts right from the start. Even though I arrived at 3 a.m., they insisted on picking me up from the airport. Amani, the bother of my coworker, made me feel welcomed straight away and got us home so we could both get some rest before the day, because, after all, I have been traveling for the last 21 hours and he was up way earlier than is alarm clock would be set on a Saturday morning as I can pretty safely assume. After a struggled night sleep trying to cope with the jet lag, I awoke and found a hearty breakfast was in the making. Eggs from hens in the coop out back, mangoes from a tree also just steps away, and some of the freshest pineapple I’ve had…and tons of it! I found out quickly that I usually underestimate how much I can eat.
As much as I’d like to just stay and eat all day, I had to the see the city and Amani helped me do just that. After a bajaj (the three-wheeled, compact taxi vehicle, elsewhere as an auto-rickshaw, trike, or tuk-tuk) ride to the bus station and the bus to the city center, we bought a ticket for the Kilimanjaro Ferry ticket to Zanzibar for use the next day. We continued walking to enjoy the path along the harbor glancing by some colonial government buildings such as for the Tanzanian Court of Appeals, their High Court, and the Surveying and Mapping Department, and others. Fortunately walking was very welcomed after than long, seat-ridden flight because we continued to walk and walk that, seeing the National Museum of Tanzania and the fish market at the harbor – even tasting the catch! Amani bought an entire bag full of whole, seasoned, fried, small fishes, and had a couple – eyes, fins and all – and to my surprise, they weren’t half bad!
Now that we’ve satisfied our appetite for the moment, we set out on the ferry across the harbor. The ships that file into the harbor are humongous and stacked tall of shipping containers laid one on the other and another. Due to the size of the vessels and the relatively short passage between shores, a cheap ferry runs continuously back and forth during the day. Since it’s a necessity for many locals, rather than a typical tourist attraction, a one-way ticket is a mere Tsh 200 (US$0.10). I wish everything was that inexpensive! After capturing some view of the beach and the harbor, we set back to the side from where we once came.
The day was winding down, and with the thirst derived from being in the hot sun of the late southern hemisphere spring in Tanzania, I was starting to feel a bit out of it. But we persevered, heading to one last museum on the way home. It was the Village Museum, as it’s called, which was a site that recreated tribal huts of the different ethnic groups in all corners of the country. We got to walk in, look at recreated tools, and feel like tribesmen for an hour or two.
No matter what kind of structure you reside in, you need and eat and we once again have another filling meal of the wonderful cooking and preparation by Amani’s mother. After dinner, full and having no need to eat, we go to a local societal club where we, can you guess it?… ate more food. This time hunks of goat, chicken, grilled banana are on the menu and, of course, beer. Though the night started as a chill few beers and food over a projection of the football (soccer) match, it turned into an active night on the town at a couple of the city’s hot spots. It was a welcomed glimpse into local night life as there were few to no foreigners at these places besides myself, which I much enjoy. The night faded into early morning and by the time our bajaj took us home we ran into Amani’s father who was starting his day while ours was ending. 10 a.m. arrived, and I reluctantly got up – I had a ferry to catch.
When it comes to epic trips to do in one’s lifetime, an African safari is certainly one that comes to my mind. It’s right up there with walking climbing the Great Wall of China or gazing upon the northern lights. Since I have a seemingly automatic and natural allure to these bucket list trips, I’m embarking on this very African extravaganza. Safari isn’t the only thing on my mind that this vast, beautiful, chaotic continent has to offer. Although I have done extensive research and planning into this trip, I can’t wait to see it all unfold over these next three and a half weeks, and share my experiences during and following my journeys.
As a write, I’m sitting at the bar in the international transfers terminal at the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport. At this point I’m still flush with excitement and anticipation of arriving in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, my first stop along the trip. So far it’s been a comfortable journey. It all got going with a great send-off from my Uncle Bob and Aunt Kim over some drinks at a brewery near the Chicago O’Hare airport. They’re the best hosts around and really know how to help kick the trip off right. Soon enough after, I whisked myself away through the airport security and the journey had officially begun.
Although the flight was standard with no surprises, I got the same thrill that I have every time I fly, particularly abroad. To me, there’s an incredible sensation about the moment when an airplane’s jets engage, propelling the vessel into motion, accelerating and accelerating to the point where suddenly feel a sudden lift in combination with the quick disappearance of the rumbling of the tire on the runway pavement, followed by the inclination of the plane’s nose towards the sky. There’s just something about disconnecting from where you were and knowing the next time you touch the ground is going to be somewhere totally different. This feeling is the strongest the moment I leave US soil because there’s something about being in a foreign land, and when the tether is severed for weeks at a time, it’s strangely liberating.
Well my beer is finished here in Istanbul and I have the next leg of my transit to catch. Here we go!
US outlets produce 110V of current, while India’s provides 230V. Many plugs for our equipment can handles this range of currents but verify to be certain. Laptops and phones are most likely to adaptable for this. It will specify a voltage range right on the cord’s adapter. If it works with 230V, then only a power adapter is necessary, which is just a little piece that turns your US/North American prongs to the Indian ones, leaving the voltage unchanged. If not, a power converter is necessary, which is bigger and down-converts the 230V to the 110V your equipment can handle. A power converter is always a safe bet as it never hurts to use one, plus buying one lets you use it around the world since they typically come equipped with multiple prong sets built-in. Using the wrong voltage on your devices can ruin them. Indian prongs are typically (but not always) the European two circular prong.
Carry a copy of your passport on you and leave your passport at the hotel, unless you actually need it for something specific. Note: Passports are many times required to change money at currency exchanges. Carrying a state I.D. (i.e. driver’s license) is good, especially when proof of age may be required.
Consider buying a money belt. I use one when I need to carry my passport and larger sums of cash. If you get pick-pocketed, or something slips out of your pockets, then at least these items will be safe. I also bring a spare credit card to leave in my hotel room as a backup in case my wallet disappears.
Most ATM’s accept US debit cards. Most card companies will charge a 2-3% foreign transaction fee (as many credit cards do as well), plus the ATM charges a fee itself. Always remember to discretely type in your PIN.
Always try to keep some smaller rupee notes with you. Auto rickshaws and places where you make small purchases may get frustrated if you present a large denomination at best or simply unable to change it at worst.
Only drink bottled water. Keep a large 1.5 liter bottle or two in your hotel room.
One US$1 is approximately 65 Indian Rupees at the current time (December 2017)
Most places (besides malls) require haggling for prices. For foreigners the price may be inflated significantly. If something feels clearly overpriced, offer half the price or less. Don’t feel like you’ll be insulting by offering something low (unless you actually are low-balling) since they were trying to rip you off anyways. Some lines that vendors say to you that should be taken lightly: “For you, I’ll give you a good price”, “Since you’re my first customer, I’ll give you a good price”, “Oh American! For you my friend, I’ll give this to you for cheap”, “Today’s a [insert random reason] sale!”, etc., etc.
Never feel pressured into anything. Taxi drivers, vendors, and beggars are notorious for using senses of urgency, guilt, pressure, and other tactics to try to get your business and/or money. Never feel like you have to give them anything or use their services.
Try to get auto-rickshaws metered as much as possible. The meters are at regulated rate which the locals also pay. Otherwise agreed upon prices may be inflated by the driver for foreigners.
In Indian airports, you are expected to walk with your boarding pass through the metal detector at the security check as it is typically stamped at that time. Don’t send it on the conveyor with your bags and metallic items. Carry-on bags and handbags sometimes need to be tagged by the airline at the check-in counter as well.
For inter-city journeys, consider taking the train. It’s a great way to experience the country for reasonably distanced trips.
From personal experience, I’ve been in a taxi that came up with several excuses to not taking me to my hostel. They’ll say that the address doesn’t exist, or that it’s wedding season and the streets are closed, or they’ll “ask for directions”, or they’ll take you to the Dept. of Tourism to figure things out. “The Dept. of Tourism” isn’t a government agency but rather a private travel company trying to sell overpriced tickets that the driver receives a commission on. In this situation you tell them you don’t want anything and that you really just want to go to the hostel. You likely wouldn’t be in harm’s way but is really annoying and frustrating. If they totally refuse to take you, then ask to be taken to the nearest rail station to find a new taxi or an auto rickshaw. When they see you’re serious about just going home, they’ll probably eventually get you there like in my case.
Traffic drives on the left side of the road, be aware of this when looking both ways. Traffic is also crazy and caution must be used at all time when walking across roads.
Be cautious when exiting auto rickshaws or other vehicles. Never put any body part outside of a moving one.
When sightseeing in a new city, considering hiring an auto rickshaw for much of the day. It can save the hassle of dealing with swarms of drivers at every tourist spot in town. One thing to expect is they they’ll many times want to take you to a shop sometime during this. It’s okay to go, but the driver’s usually get commissions from this and therefore prices can be higher. If you decide to buy something, make sure to haggle as chances are that its price is inflated.
Men: If you take the local trains, be sure not to get into a women-only car, even if you are with a woman. Men are strictly not allowed in any capacity. There’s no such thing a men-only train car, so women can go which ever car they please. Not that local trains get crazy busy in place like Mumbai during peak hours so avoid this time if possible should you choose this mode of transportation.
Being in Indian Society
Don’t trust anyone right away that you don’t know, no matter how friendly they are.
Eating from food vendor carts on the street is risky and may lead to food poisoning since the vendors themselves have very poor sanitation and they food may be very old.
If someone random wants to take your picture or wants a picture with you, it’s almost always sincere so allow them to if you don’t mind it, but keep an eye on your pockets and valuables.
If you encounter monkeys, don’t attempt to touch them as they are wild animals. They are also into thievery, so keep an eye on your valuables as they may take them. Also don’t touch any other animals in the streets such as cattle, goats, stray dogs, etc.
Follow Indian customs. For example, take off shoes when and where requested. Also it can be considered polite to accept tea or snacks when offered in someone’s home or place of business so no need to feel like you’re imposing.
In crowd situations, such in queues or entering trains, etc., some bumping and pushing is normal and you must become aggressive yourself. If you remain passive, you’ll be passed over time and time again. Ignore your personal bubble – it will be popped.
Never let anyone take your bags unless it’s a taxi driver or hotel staff, and if so, always stay within reach of it. There’s people even in the airports that may try to take your bags. Usually they just want to take it somewhere for you and expect a tip, but running away with it is always possible as well.
Be open minded. Things will be different. How much of how life works in India isn’t wrong while our way of back home isn’t necessary right either. It’s just different, so embrace it.
This list isn’t all inclusive and is based on my own experiences and what I remember. Others may feel differently on my suggestions and observations. You’ll have your own experience there but the goal of this is for me to prepare you best I can so there are less surprises once your feet hit the ground. Also see how to pack for this trip.
India is an amazing place. This list may sound intimidating, but once you start getting a feel for the lay of the land, things getting easier and easier. Even though there’s much to be aware of when traveling in India, make sure to slow down and soak in the atmosphere, because it is truly fantastic! I love India and once you’re there, hopefully you will too! It is 100 percent the experience of a lifetime.
This list may is not all-inclusive for all travelers and some items on this list may not be necessary for yourself on your travels. However, it is what I typically pack on a trip in my backpack and is a great starting point for your packing as well. Rememeber to pack smart! Whatever you pack you have to lug with you the rest of the way and be sure to leave room for souvenirs!
Here’s what to consider packing:
Outlet splitter or power strip to increase the number of things you can plug into one outlet/socket
3-prong to 2-prong (Ground to no ground) converter, if necessary
3 copies of passport info page. One to keep hidden in backpack. One to keep on person when not carrying actual passport. State ID also good idea. And one for someone back home to hold on to.
Spare passport photos – optional in most cases.
Spare zipper-seal bags
Printout of return flight confirmation (in case requested by immigration official)
Pen and paper (pen at very least). Have on the plane with you for customs forms.
Spare credit/debit card(s). Leave one hidden in bag/at hostel
Paper clip(s) for opening SIM card tray
Back-up U.S. Dollars (keep hidden in bag/at hostel)
Combination lock (mostly for hostel-goers for in-room lockers)