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no more cowbell

While neighboring Kenya has its fair share of red tape, Tanzania takes the cake for senseless bureaucratic inefficiency. On Kilimanjaro, for example, we had to sign in with our permit number at every camp on the mountain – even the one at Mweka where we had not stayed – and list not just who we were and where we were from, but also how much we had paid for the tour. On safari, it took at least half an hour at each park gate to pay our entrance fees even when there were no other visitors in sight. At Ngorongoro, we actually watched our guide run back and forth three times from the permit issuing office to the permit inspection office that was right next door, and after everything was deemed in order he still had to brandish the permit twice more to enable us to descend into the crater.

Zara was the epitome of Tanzanian officialdom. For instance, we could not go anywhere without first receiving a “briefing” from our booking agent, tour organizer, guide, or driver. This may make sense for a mountain climbing expedition, but not so much for safari. Before we left for the Serengeti, our driver actually told us that we were going to sit in a vehicle and see animals. He did not have much to add to that piece of priceless information but the safari trip could not begin without this briefing. When we tipped our guides, one of them immediately appeared with a form that required half a dozen signatures – one next to each amount we designated for the various guides, cook, and porters, and another one at the bottom for the tip total. Even something as simple as purchasing a $1 bottle of water from the Zara shop involved signing a receipt in triplicate.

When we set off for the white sands of Zanzibar, we were thankful to leave the officiousness of the Zara Empire behind.

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