Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Self drive in Zanzibar

We always rented a car whenever we could on our trips for the freedom. This time was no different. However, driving in Zanzibar was unlike anywhere we've driven before. Main roads are paved but lack street signs and lights. Forget about GPS. We've to go by buildings and landmarks to find our way around the island. It's chaotic in some places as traffic lights are non-existent. Try maneuvering the huge speed bumps while watching out for pedestrians, motorbikes, stray dogs, goats and cattles sharing the same road. Worst of all, the aggressive dala dalas, stopping and going whenever they please without any regards to the safety of other road users.
On our last night, it was after sunset when we're trying to get back to the hotel on the east coast from Stone Town. It was dark and so dangerous to drive at night- no street lights, cyclists on their bikes without head lights, pedestrians walking in droves on the road side, dala dalas weaving in and out of traffic and cattles still roaming the streets at night. Stores that were closed during the day are now open for business. Everyone was out and about on the streets that night. I was straining my eyes and head, watching out for traffic while my husband drove. Had to be the most stressful driving, ever. But, we wouldn't do it any other way. Without a car, we couldn't have changed hotel when we needed to. With a car, we could leave and go whenever we felt like it. Hiring a driver would mean a set schedule which is not for us.
 Before coming to Zanzibar, I had read articles online about road blocks and how local cops wanted "gifts from abroad".  Well, we were stopped 6 times in the first 2 days. The cops checked our temporary permit and waved us thru except for one. He took our Zanzibar issued temporary foreigner driving permit and compared it with our US issued driver's license and told us the class "c" license (for passenger vehicles) in the US is not compatible with the class "b"  temporary permit. He flat out said he wanted a "gift" for it is his holiday (Eid ul Fitr). My husband gave him 1000 Tanzania shilling, about US$0.60. He accepted and had the nerves to ask us for gifts for his five other companions sitting nearby. My husband declined. Sixty cents is not much but, that sense of entitlement is not welcoming for visitors to the island.   
 
The temporary foreigner driving permit for Zanzibar. We paid US$20 to the car rental company and it was ready when we picked up the car. We rented from Kibabu Cars- renters beware. It's the first time that we had to deal with 3 cars in 3 days. Paid for a Toyota Rav4 with air-conditioner and auto transmission. On arrival at the airport, we were delivered a Rav 4 with manual transmission and a window that didn't work. Kibabu blamed his "secretary" for not informing him that our booking was for an auto tansmission. We took the car as he said it'll be 3 hours before he could deliver us one with auto transmission. On the second day, the brakes stopped working. My husband floored it a couple of times and the car was still moving. We couldn't continue on the road without working brakes. A phone call to Kibabu and he had someone else deliver another car to our hotel 2 hours later.

 

This was the replacement- a 1990's Suzuki Escudo, cheaper in rental price than the Rav4 even though we were not reimbursed for the price difference.  The exterior looked fine but the interior left a lot to be desired. The only thing new was the radio player which had an English station playing Mandarin songs and gave Mandarin lessons as well. The next day while on the way to Stone Town, its gears malfunctioned. The gears worked but we didn't know how to use it per Kibabu when we called him again. Maybe so, but we were never told how the gears were supposed to work.
The 3rd car was still an Escudo without a working air-conditioner, delivered by yet another chap. Made me think the cars did not belong to the car rental company but to individuals who were willing to lend the cars to the company in exchange for a small fee. Just my observation, I could be wrong.
All three cars were delivered to us on empty tanks each time. We had to fuel up before we can drive anywhere.  The first two times, we returned both cars with 1/4 tank of gas in them. With the third car, we only fueled the amount that we figured we needed for the last day. What a way to make money for them and for us to waste our vacation time. We ended up not visiting as much of the island as we'd liked. It took three times the effort to get things done almost right around here. Patience tested!
 

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