Discover Tanzania: Travelling to Dar (by bus!)

Have you ever travelled from Kenya to Tanzania by road? Alone? If you haven’t, then here is what to expect.

The first stop is at Namanga border. Beautiful place. Green hills sit comfortably in the background. Their peaks are surprisingly high, kissing the ashy clouds above in a soft sensual way.

Here you’ll be required to show your passport and yellow fever certificate. If you do not have the latter, worry not – you can get one at the Kenya immigration office. Once you get through the long queues.

But beware of the Namanga conmen. They are the true enemy of the people. Infamous for giving fake money in exchange for your legit dollars and Kenya shillings. Contrary to what Wizkid said, do NOT show them your money. I repeat. Don’t do it, please don’t do it.

Before you get on with your journey, you also have to go through the Tanzanian immigration office. Another half hour. By the end of the long process, you’ll feel like a full fledged immigrant.

Always have your passport close by. You will be asked to show it a couple of times during your journey. No one wants illegal immigrants in their country, whether it’s Trump or Magufuli.

Tanzania is a vast land, decorated with hills, ranges, plains and trees. No wonder it’s the largest country in East Africa. It is good to see man hasn’t conquered the whole earth yet.

On a sunny day, white cottony clouds scatter across the blue sky. They cast their shadows on the hill ranges, highlighting the tips and dips while hiding the creases and wrinkles. They create unique patterns only nature could come up with.

The beauty of it all is that the landscape keeps on changing. At one point you will spot naturally manicured valleys and hills, dotted with young animals grazing on the short green grass. Their Maasai owners are not too far away.

You will also encounter a lot of dry riverbeds, just in case you still need further evidence of climate change. I was lucky to spot one river still flowing strong. It was flanked by low trees at the banks, as if to protect it from the same fate its friends had met.

In response to the dire situation, water gutters are built along the road. Their job is to direct water to the parched beds, and fill up the seasonal rivers when it rains and pours.

At another point the landscape looks like some part of Nairobi-Nakuru highway, with the exception of smartly dressed police officers. The sisal plantations by the road reminded me of Nairobi-Mombasa highway, usually an indication that we are almost at the destination.
This left me in doubt. Were we really in Tanzania? I told myself I wouldn’t believe it until I reach Dar es Salaam. Until I see the ocean.

Inside the bus, we were fed a full buffet of Tanzanian music. From Diamond to Ali Kiba (does not imply level of importance) and collabos of them with famous South Africans and Nigerians. Even Tyga somehow made it to the African playlist.

I don’t get Vanessa Mdee. I mean, sure she’s pretty. Beautiful even. She has a great fashion sense too. Is that all it takes to become a famous singer nowadays? What happened to talent and music content? 

I had a grand relevation that day. Mannequin Challenge was not started by Americans in 2016, according to popular belief. But by one Tanzanian artist. Ali Kiba. Have you watched the 2015 music video for Chekecha Cheketua? Do it, now.

Moshi is a quiet little town in the Kilimanjaro region. Clean and organized. Houses and buildings are arranged in neat lines on both sides of the road, with lots of space to spare. They are clearly built with designed purpose.

Nakumatt Moshi is like the small grandchild of a Nairobi supermarket mall. I chuckled to myself when I saw a restaurant sign ‘KiliJava’.

There are a couple of police posts on the highway. These traffic police did not stop us to look for a faulty brake light or a missing first aid box. Instead, one of them went inside the bus checking everyone had fastened their safety belt. 

He then proceeded to give a speech in Swahili reminding us how we need to protect ourselves, and how important our lives are. He even went one step ahead and gave us a number to call to report any traffic problems we would encounter in the daladalas. We seriously need these guys in Kenya.

In Tanzania everything seems so expensive. Boards outside cafes shout prices of food and liquor in tens of thousands. Many roadside shops have the sign Tigo Pesa – clearly borrowed from Mpesa. Do we set standards or what? 

Almost everything you see is in Swahili. Lots of shops are labelled Wakala – I found out later it means money transfer. ‘Duka la vifaa vya ujenzi’ is used to refer to hardware stores.

Don’t be surprised if you start using Swahili words you’ve never used in normal conversation; even before you arrive at your destination. It’s the Tanzania culture slowly seeping into your body.

For example my taxi driver told me how East Africans (read Uganda and Kenya) don’t know how to speak Kiswahili. I replied “Ndio, Watanzania ni gwiji wa Kiswahili.” Yup, I’m shaking my head too.

The new currency is quite confusing. When the hawkers at Mbwewe tell you a big mango costs 1000 shillings, please don’t run away calling them thieves. Relax, breathe in. Then do the math.Since 1KES equals 21TZS, here is how I calculate. Divide the amount asked for by 2, then remove a zero. That leaves with you 50 Kenya shillings. Not so bad now, is it?

It’s still going to take some time getting used to giving strangers huge amounts of money like it’s no big deal. Like you’re not being robbed in broad daylight.
I never thought 100 shillings could be so useless in my life.

Would I advise anyone to travel to Tanzania by bus? Well it is not as scary as a Mombasa ride. The one way road is smooth and clear. The views pleasant to the eyes. No careless truck drivers racing towards their deaths. In fact, they politely allow you to overtake them in true Swahili culture.

You get to see how vast Tanzania is. It might inspire you to develop in a remote location. The road trip introduces you to the culture of the country. You slowly become acquainted to Tanzania, before it hits you in the face in the form of Dar.

You will also meet civilised traffic police in white pristine uniform, whose words are laced with Swahili accent. You see how they simple Tanzanians live, lacking extravagance. You might call it poverty, but they look too happy to be poor.

Sure. Your ass hurt from all the hours of sitting down. Luckily there a few stops on the way for leg stretching. Don’t forget about bladder relieving activities too.

If you want to have a comfortable ride go for VIP or first class seats. Though more expensive than normal seats, they are wider and have more leg space. Just don’t pick no.7 – it’s a trap!

I remember there was a young Italian couple (they spoke a lot of it) seated behind me. It was funny to see them in flip flops – or what we call slippers -during the whole 17 hour journey. To Africans, slippers are meant for the bathroom. 

I wondered if they were going for holiday. Maybe a couple’s getaway to Zanzibar for Christmas. And the cheapest (and longest) way for them to travel was by road.

One lesson I learnt is to always carry a shawl. Don’t give yourself the excuse that you are traveling to a hot country. You never know how cold the bus will be.
If you need to communicate with the outside world, leave your data roaming on – especially after you cross the border. I accidentally switched it off, and this resulted in losing data connectivity. This meant I could not call or WhatsApp anyone for the rest of the trip.

Dar es Salaam is very similar to Nairobi. The moon is still the same, gibeous shaped. Same old vehicles with different number plates – bright yellow with a T prefix. White is for public service vehicles.

The most impressive thing I saw on my first day was their new bridge – Daraja la Nyerere. It was glowed at night with lights and bright color. If Nyali bridge saw it, it would blush with envy.

The air in Dar is warm and heavy; just what I needed after the cold times in Nairobi. As we drove through a local town, I caught a waft of burning weed through my semi blocked nose. The two cities are certainly not so different. 

If you hear from me again, it means Tanzania has been merciful to me. And has decided to keep me alive for a couple more weeks. Kwaheri! 

2 thoughts on “Discover Tanzania: Travelling to Dar (by bus!)

  1. I was in Tanzania back in 2014, We were left by the bus twice and the second time we were given a ride by a Nigerian couple who one of them happen to be going with the same bus, i went through the same thing you went through at the boarder, guys trying to con you, yellow-fever injection, the humidity and long-queues at the immigration. Ironically, there is confusion with their language even though we still speak Kiswahili and currency as well. We were left by the bus again when we were going back to Nairobi. So it was quite and adventure. It was worth going. I also wanted to go to Zanzibar but we didn’t get the chance.


  2. Wow, it’s like you’re speaking about my life. Except for being left for the bus thrice, hehe.
    I’m glad you made it there and back despite everything. I also wanted to go to Zanzibar but didn’t make it.
    Until the next Bongo visit!


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