Nungwi to Stone Town by dalla-dalla: A short adventure

So there I was, stuck in Nungwi, Zanzibar without any money. To be honest: Nungwi is a shithole. Perhaps if I had come two decades ago -before the bulk of the Western world had decided to change this tropical Eden into something that reminded me of the worst parts of Ibiza- it would have been beautiful: white sand beaches, turquoise ocean, dhows sailing past, but now. Horrible! It is utterly ruined! First came the Italian package deals, every day four, five, even six airplanes filled with them. Quickly followed by the Germans, Americans, Scandinavians and eventually the scourge of every beautiful holiday destination:… the English… (tu tu tu tuuuu) The beach is crammed full with luxury resorts, swimming pools, cottage houses and cocktail bars, each stretch of beach exactely the same as the last. They all sell the same food, the shops sell the same crappy Masai paintings and jewelery. Talking about Masai: they roam the beach by the dozens. How did they get here from the Serengeti you ask? I have no idea. They seem just a tiny bit out of place walking the Zanzibar beaches wearing sunglasses and selling African ganga.

How did I end up here? Honestly, I don’t know. Somebody told me they had great grilled fish, which they did! Had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 2 days in a row. And then I was broke, because they ask exuberant prices, and I am very bad at bargaining. My heart is too soft for it. I had exactely 2000 Tanzanian Shillings left, which miraculously is the price for a dala-dala ride to Stone Town, the only place on the Island with a functioning ATM. Traveling with only a debitcard, it’s a challange.

I chose my dala-dala (transport so good, they named it twice!) carefully, because I didn’t want to get stuck in a sweaty van without any windows for an hour and a half. I spotted a pick-up truck dalla that looked OK. An angry looking guy in a traditional kanzu, the long muslim dress men often wear in Tanzania, stood in front of it waiting for passengers. I had learned from my previous dalla rides how to do it. Sit at the exit, pay when you get there and most importantly, hold your hand against the ceiling whenever the ride gets bumpy, because otherwise you will arrive unconcious and bleeding.

The dala starts its journey and it is nice and empty. Not for long I know, but for now I am enjoying the wind, the smell of spices and ocean. The driver is speeding. The angry looking kanzu man starts speaking to me. “I am owner this dala-dala!” He nods sternly and presses his hand against his chest. I don’t now how to repsond. “It’s a very nice dala.” I lie. It smells and is very uncomfortable, even after 5 minutes of driving my ass feels like wood. I know soon the numbness will start, looking forward to it. “No dala! dala dala! dala dala!” He shouts at me and hits the side of the pick up with a tin can.  The driver sees this as a sign to stop, and breaks abruptly. I am unprepared. I fall and slide all the way to the front. The owner is laughing maniacially. He shouts in Swahili to the driver who shouts back while stepping on the gas until the dala has reached his usual terrifying speed.

After a while the dala is packed full. I count 33 people. The owner is sitting comfortably in the front. I don’t blame him. In front of me sits an older women and an adorbale little girl on her lap, veiled upto the point where her cute little face is the only thing visible in the wavey pink fabric of her kikoi. She stares at me, but whenever I look back she looks away. I try to make her smile, but she is too shy.

At a certain point a taxi is behind us, carrying some Western tourists. I see them in their comfortable seats. They see me crammed in the back of local transport. I try to look as National Geographicy as possible, staring off into the distance spice fields. I know they payed 40000 schillings for their taxi ride, and I will only pay 2000. Pepijn 1, stupid tourists 0.

More people in the dala dala. Really? Where are they going to go I wonder. Hanging on the back and sides apparently. My view of the surroundings is replaced by armpits and kneecaps. three layers of people are piled on the back. I recount. 40? 43? Even more? Still the driver is putting the petal to the floor. One man is leisurly talking on his phone while hanging on with one arm. What balls.

A police checkpoint. All the hangers-on drop from the dala, and the driver slows down. The police look immaculate in their white suits and shiny shoes. They all carry sticks too short for walking. The owner is pulled out of the front seat and thrown against a police van. A police man start shouting to him while he puts his hands on his shoulders and presses down. All of a sudden he looks like a small helpless man. Everyone in the dala starts whispering and making dissaproving noises. A man next to me informs me: “Zanzibar police very bad, Always money, money, money…” I see. It takes 15 minutes before the owner buldges. I spot some 1000 schilling notes change hands.

Our journey continues! I try to take my iPhone out for some pictures, but I physically can’t get it out of my pocket because we are so packed together. Images of sardines are going through my mind. Talking about animals: A man has brought two full grown goats into the dala, and one baby goat. Adorable! It’s practically o my lap and makes bizarre human sounding noises. I remember seeing something on youtube about this.

Another police checkpoint. Now they are more agressive, threatening to hit my friend the dala owner with their colonial looking wooden beating sticks. I am starting to hate them too. Their behaviour, their attire, the way of moving: slowly, dominant. A police man with a shotgun joins in on the belitteling of the dala owner. I respect how long he takes before he pays up. This isn’t the police, this is maffia. I mean, sure, I understand that dala dala transport is dangerous, private, and unsupervised and that the government is cracking down on it. But where is the alternative? I haven’t seen any form of public transport. Bastards! During our trip, we pass 3 more police checkpoints…

We are nearing Zanzibar Town. People start getting on and off the dala more frequently. I notice that you can ride it for free if you hang on to it for a short while, so many people do so. One guy carrying three live chicken in his hand tries to jump off while the dala is moving. He trips and rolls into the bushes. I can hear him swearing and the chicken screaming over the revving of the engine.

Some women start shouting in the front. A man is apparently indecent to one of them. He is kicked and punched by everyone in the dala as he is pushed out. Once out, some women on the side of the road immediately know what’s going on and start swearing at him. I am loving this.

Finally we arrive in the Marketplace of Zanzibar Town. My back is sending emergency signals. My eyes are burning from all the fumes and dust. My butt has literally died and I have multiple lumps on my head. Imagine taking this way of transport every day. Imagine being the owner or the driver… I am but a soft Dutch boy, these are hardened people from Africa!

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4 Responses to “Nungwi to Stone Town by dalla-dalla: A short adventure”


  1. 1 bill miller bbq 03/09/2015 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks for the marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you could
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  2. 2 Simon 21/07/2016 at 3:59 pm

    I actually found this entry quite useful. Apart from your reference to ‘stupid tourists’ because they chose to take a taxi. This arrogance really shows a nasty side to yourself Pepijn. People are welcome to travel how they want. If they can afford to take a taxi why not? Stop considering yourself such a martyr just because you took the cheaper form of transport….

    • 3 pepijnvandenwallbake 21/07/2016 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you for your comment Simon, you are right, people should be able to take any form of transportation any way they like without me passing judgement on them. I also admit I sound a bit arrogant, but I did that on purpose! I wanted to sound a bit snooty: A young hipster from Amsterdam deeming himself a rugged traveler just because he took an uncomfortable taxi ride with some locals. It’s meant to sound a bit ironic! I wanted to tap into that weird sense of pride that I get if I manage to save some money or do the ‘local thing’ when I’m traveling to asia or africa. Thank you again for your comment, I invite you to read my other entries as well


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