Travel Stories

Arusha

         There are just some destinations where I know almost instantly I don’t want to stay.  Lashio, the last town on the rail line out of Mandalay before the Chinese border, was one.  Dar es Salaam was one.  And Arusha is another.  And part of what makes travel without specific date plans, reservations, or tickets so appealing to me is that if I don’t want to stay somewhere there is nothing that holds me back from moving immediately on. 
         I suppose my reaction to Arusha was foretold by the playwright who had me landing at the Arusha International Airport in such a heavy downpour the pilot literally could not see the runway, where travellers are greeted with a big sign reading, “Welcome to the Geneva of Africa,” and, where, after waiting on the plane half an hour fogging up the windows until the rain let up, I then had to take off my sandals and roll up my pants before walking barefooted through Lake Arusha – a creation of the day - between the place on the tarmac where the pilot parked and turned off his trusty old craft – he told me while waiting he had landed that plane over 6,000 times - and the “Welcome Lounge.”   Besides, Arusha itself is a mess.  The streets are flooded and some impassable.  There is major construction abandoned at various stages of completion everywhere.  And notwithstanding the presence of the august and genuinely important U.N. High Commission on Crimes Against Humanity in Ruanda, there just isn’t that much to see or find in Arusha in terms of architecture, restaurants, or shops.  Indeed, the focal point of Arusha for tourists is that it is the nearest jumping off point for safaris to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro, although the costs of such safaris seem so prohibitive to me - running around 500$/per day (with a 200$ entry fee to the Ngorogoro crater alone) – that I’m not sure I’ll get to those places, near as I am to them and much as I am interested in seeing them, especially the crater, Olduvai, and the wildebeest migration.
         The highpoint of my less than twenty four hour stay in Arusha was finding a shoe repairman with a sewing machine set up in the street who, with obvious pride in his skill and craftsmanship, sewed new Velcro straps onto my twenty year old Tatami sandals, which takes him nearly half an hour – not counting the time he needs to ride off on his bicycle to find and buy the Velcro - so that my sandals will remain closed on my feet, all for three dollars, including having an assistant polish the sandals.  And as I sit there with him and a half dozen kibitzers in the street he buys a half dozen bananas from a young vendor passing by and offers me one, which touches me.  Besides, I’m a still a cheap date.  Yet notwithstanding the repairman’s acts of kindness and grace, I’m at the bus station and on my way out of Arusha toward Moshi and Kilimanjaro first thing in the morning.