Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tanzania: Lake Manyara

We had a wonderful breakfast of fresh fruit, home grown coffee and a full breakfast of just about anything we wanted. We selected our food for our packed lunch and off we went toward the direction of Lake Manyara and then back to Arusha to pay my invoice of $744 and then to Kilimanjaro airport for our 5pm flight to Zanzibar.  
So far the trip including the climb and safari have been impressive so I hope Zanzibar won't disappoint.

Lake Manyara was a bit of a disappointment after the crater and the Serengeti. Maybe we should have seen this first because there was not a whole lot to see after the likes of giraffes, lions, leopards, zebras, cheetahs and even a rare white rhino in the distance in the crater.

Carcass of rhino
Termite mound

Baobab tree (estimated to be several hundred years old)
Market day in village
After stopping at a couple of tourist traps selling tanzanite and the usual overpriced trinkets, we had lunch and headed off to meet Hilda at the Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha. It was time to ask for the explanation for the USD $744 invoice I received a few days ago. I'm curious as to the explanation.
We met Hilda and when I asked her to explain the invoice, she said that there was a USD$100 charge to pick us up from the Marangu Gate last Thursday) and the rest was for the hotel stay at the Parkview Inn for two days. When I said that after our party had spent in excess of USD $18,000 with Shades of Green Safaris, it was scandalous to charge $100 for transportation from the gate to Moshi when a mini bus cost is less than $2. Granted we were not picked up in a minibus but that was more than I would pay in the most expensive city and Moshi was no London or New York. She quickly agreed to cancel the cost but that still left a bill of $644. When I asked for the exact costs, she said that the room was $50 per person per night plus $30 per person for meals x 2 nights. According to my quick math in my head that added up to $480 - nowhere near the $644 she had after deducting the transportation costs.
Hilda finally conceded that there was an error in her calculations which I noted quite sarcastically was oversimplifying the obvious. She insisted on being paid but I did not have this amount of money on me so I said I would need to get to a bank. She told Edson to take me to Barclay's bank where the line was so long, that I was surely going to miss my plane if I waited. Edson called Hilda to tell her about the line and I offered to pay the money when I returned to Canada but she had a panicked sound in her voice and insisted that I withdraw the money and pay her. After some discussion with a very unhelpful bank clerk, I went to the bank machine outside and withdrew 800,000 Tanzanian Shillings. I took the money back to the hotel and told her that I felt that I was being bullied and coerced into paying the hotel invoice that I was only told about but had not actually seen. She got on the phone to call the hotel but by that time, it was already 3:40pm and we still had a 45-60 minute drive to get to the airport. I was not going to stand there arguing with her.
I paid and left - not very happy that this is what our trip had come to - spending more than $18,000 for the climb, safari and Zanzibar and being screwed over for $200-300.  I was determined not to let this experience ruin the rest of my trip. Edson was good about getting us to the airport on time - even when we had to make an unscheduled stop for a police shakedown at a police check point. The officer waved a minibus past the check point and stopped us because he knew ours was a tourist vehicle. He must have changed his mind when he saw us looking at him and Donna with her camera conveniently positioned in his direction. He asked for Edson's driver's licence and as soon as Edson gave it to him, he handed it back and took off running in the other direction - perhaps trying to avoid us taking his picture.
When we asked Edson if this happens often, he said that unfortunately it does. He is expected to hand over 3,000-5,000 shillings (USD $2 to $3). I could tell he was really embarrassed about this incident because it put his country in a bad light and with him witnessing the incident with Hilda, he must have been even more embarrassed. None of this had anything to do with him. He was exceptional for the whole safari - from start to finish. We arrived late at the airport and hurriedly gave him his tip and said goodbye to him. This was after some porters grabbed our bags to take inside for payment and I told them that they could do it but I had no money for tips. They promptly left my bags for me to take care of.
As it turns out, we had sufficient time to get checked in and clear security. We even left about 30 minutes ahead of schedule (surprising really) on our way to Zanzibar. I'm going to put the last 3 hours aside and enjoy the rest of my well deserved trip.

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