Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cultural tourism. Bah.

I spent last week in a conference in Arusha, Tanzania, which explains my absence.

On Saturday I had a free day, and I decided I ought to get out and explore a bit. After all, Arusha is the heart of Africa's tourism country, and is the launching point for safaris to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Every morning I watched with envy as excited tourists from around the world headed off on what could be the trip of a lifetime.

And I know from experience just how great this place is - I spent two weeks travelling in Tanzania in 2001, and it was an unforgettable trip. If you can only ever go to one place in Africa, make it here.

I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time though, so I thought a walk around the lush hillsides of Mt. Meru would be perfect. The travel agent seemed completely confused by my wish to just walk around, and not actually visit anything (like the snake farm...) So the alternative given to me was a "Cultural tour" of the village on Mt. Meru, with some walking involved.

We set off at 8:30 and drove sloooowly towards Mt. Meru (even the chicken buses passed us). Stopped at a school, a church, heard about the plants. Then, after lurching up steep, pitted roads that were probably the worst I have ever been on (and that is really saying something) we ended up at the Momala Cultural Tourism Center. There, we were asked for another $20 for the privelege of taking a walk on the hillside. We balked at the high price, so instead paid $10 each for the normal tour.

The tour consisted of seeing their cows in the backyard, watching coffee being shelled and roasted, and seeing where they made the cheese. All this for the low price of $50, once you factor in transport. Grrr.

I realized then that I should never again let myself get suckered into these things. I already know a great deal about what village life in Africa is like, and these sanitized visits add nothing to my understanding. I was also a bit annoyed at the woman who ran the place, because she behaved like a caricature of an African woman. When we arrived, she hugged us all as if we were old friends - a handshake is more the norm here - and then when we left she pranced around the yard singing. It looked a bit like a money dance, really.

(That's not me in the picture, by the way. But she's roasting coffee)


Anonymous said...

God Gwyn, you are soooo cheap!

Joy said...

Cheap?!?!? Someone actually thinks seeing a few cows and coffee beans is worth $50?!? They should get in touch with me, I'll only charge them $25 to see a really cute cat and toddler.

That was the one problem with Tanzania, we thought. It just felt like everyone was out to get as much of your money as possible. It was such a contrast to Zimbabwe (at least in 2001), where people seemed more interested in showing off their beautiful country and making sure tourists had a wonderful time.

Aunt Alanna said...

Yours truly is finally catching on. A Blog is an on-going process! Ah ha! 62 and learning...
Yea, you were gyped, and I hate that to. Guides taking you to their set-ups, not what you want to see. Is there a way to get an independent guide? Someone who works with you? The cows must have been beautiful though. If you want to spend another $50.00 to $100.00, I can take you on a little tour around Bozeman....