Saturday, July 3, 2010

Things to Do in Dar es Salaam

In honour of our last day here in Dar (for now), I thought I'd post some of my favourite ways to kill time while waiting around for permits (see previous post). You'll notice most of these are food places and shopping places commonly frequented by Mzungu (white people) like us, but seeing those are the two main things we seem to do in Dar when not in offices, I'm afraid this is what I have to report.

I love love love walking around the city center. Dar is a seriously interesting city. It is also huge with around 4.5 million people living in it. This means it isn't necessarily the most walkable city but the city center is. We stay at the Starlight Hotel which is on Bibi Titi Mohammed Street across from the Mnazi Mmoja ("One Coconut Tree" park) and close to Mosque Street. A number of other budget hotels (including one of our favourite haunts for internet and food, the Jambo Inn) are nearby. From the Starlight we can walk straight along Bibi Titi Mohammed Street either south towards Uhuru St. or north-northeast towards the Movenpick Royal Palm hotel. We can also head out the "back" of the hotel southeast along Libya and Mosque Streets towards Samora Avenue.

Uhuru Street is home to the khanga and kitenge fabric market. This is absolutely not to be missed. Here is where you buy all the beautiful khanga and kitenge that are characteristic and specific to East Africa. Khanga (or kanga) come in two joined panels which have a border containing large motifs with a swahili proverb printed along the bottom. Kitenge are huge bolts of patterned cloth. Both are brightly coloured which means the shops of Uhuru Street are literally a riot of colour.

The Movenpick Royal Palm is a beautiful modern hotel which we visit, mostly, because it has great, if not very expensive internet/office services, clean bathrooms, and a nice cafe. It has a small gift shop but the prices are very high and non-negotiable. The real treat at the Palm is the adjacent Nyumba ya Sanaa or House of Art and Culture. It contains numerous pieces of art created by the collective of artists who work there. Pieces are a little more expensive and less negotiable there but a discerning eye may be able to acquire a piece by a known or named artist. They also have traditional songs and dance in the evenings but I've actually never made it out to a performance. It also has another small outdoor cafe.

From the Palm you can walk southeast along Ohio Street towards another of our food haunts - the "food court" which contains Steers (a South African burger and chicken franchise), Orient Express (an Indian and Chinese food place with surprisingly good, if rather mild, curries), Wheatfields (which has decent coffee, fresh juices, and snacks), and Debonairs (a pizza place). It also has A Novel Idea - a fantastic bookstore which stocks books by Tanzanian and African authors along with the usual North American and European fare. The City Garden restaurant and the Imaleseko supermarket are also nearby on Garden Avenue. The central post office is just off Garden Avenue on Azikiwe Street. Postcards and standard letters cost 700 shillings (TSH) to mail (about 70 cents).

From the "food court" you should walk northeast along Samora Avenue towards the Makumbusho ya Taifa or the National Museum of Tanzania. Even though it is currently under extensive renovations which means the exhibits are still under construction, you should visit the National Museum as it does have some interesting things to see and is home to one of the most important finds in palaeoanthropology - Zinjanthropus boisei (see 2009 "Zinj" posts). They need your support and the small entry cost helps ensure that the products of our research have an appropriate home.

You have two options from the National Museum. You can walk southwest along Sokoine Avenue back towards Ohio Street then turn onto the Kuvukoni Front. Here you will experience the sights and sounds of the harbour as you make your way towards another very expensive hotel, and thus Mzungu haunt, the Kilimanjaro. You have to check out this hotel just because it looks so cool. The shops and restaurants are as expensive as you'd expect those in a 5 star hotel to be. Definitely take the elevator to the top floor and the Level 8 Bar. You'll have to pay 5 times the amount for a beer but the view of the harbour is absolutely worth it. Go just before dusk for a pre-dinner drink and watch the sunset over Dar. A beautiful sight!

You can also go back (southwest) along Samora Avenue which contains a number of shops. Some of the shops contain tourist items but many contain very random collections of items needed for day to day life. Most are organized by theme (books, stationary, electronics) but others really seem to have whatever goods they were able to get their hands on. I think this is awesome and love peeking into shops to see what sorts of neat things they have. It's rare for the items to have prices on them so part of the fun is finding out what they cost and negotiating something different. You really can find anything you might need, however bizarre it may be, and if you can't find something in one shop generally asking for it will cause someone to go running from shop to shop until they find it for you. This also is a frequent occurrence at the market; you can almost always find someone willing to help you (speaking a little swahili, especially greetings and simple conversational stuff will go along way with this).

On Samora Avenue is the City Center Supermarket located within the Harbourview Suites Tower. There is a decent "Italian" restaurant (i.e. pizza and pasta). The supermarket is a convenient place to buy Mzungu products. From here you just cross the street and head northwest up Mosque Street back towards our hotel. No surprise that Mosque Street is named because of the large number of beautiful mosques located along it. In front of all the shops there are also tons of little stalls which sell everything from fresh fruits to kofia (swahili Muslem caps) to prayer rugs with compasses pointing towards Mecca. Mosque Street terminates at Libya Street. Right in front of you should be the Jambo Inn which has delicious and cheap food plus a reasonable but hot and slow internet cafe.

So you've walked your feet off in the +30c sun and want a break. You can jump in a taxi and head off to a number of other places. For about 10,000 TSH (15,000 TSH return), you can go to the Kijiji cha Makumbusho (the Village Museum) or the Slipway. The Village Museum contains a number of examples of house types from all over Tanzania. There are traditional performances and local artisans throughout the village. It's well worth the small price of admission.

The Slipway is another Mzungu haunt. It's a modern but outdoor shopping and dining center located off of Oyster Bay. You can sit right on the water and enjoy some excellent fresh kalimari and ice cold Kilimanjaro beer, or test out your bargaining skills at the very friendly Souk (outdoor market). I always recommend it as a first shopping experience as the sales people are not pushy at all and will patiently listen to your stumbling attempts to bargain in kiswahili. It is also home to Mapozi Designs - my favourite store in all of Tanzania. It contains modern fashions made from traditional Tanzanian khangas. You can stock up on lovely and comfortable skirts, tops, and dresses perfect for Dar weather (and spring and summer back home). Another branch of A Novel Idea is also located here with a far larger selection of books and music.

Finally, you can also take a taxi (20,000 TSH) to the woodcarvers market at Mwenge. There are a number of stands where you can buy a bewildering amount of "traditional" Tanzanian gifts including carvings, jewelry, paintings, bags, t-shirts etc. It's pretty intense but tons of fun.

Dar has so much more to offer but this is just a sampling of my favourite, if not very touristy, things. I'll post some more about my home away from home, Iringa, shortly.

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