Travelling by public transport from Nairobi in Kenya to Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian coast becomes a journey to remember for NIQ MHLONGO
It’s an obsession that began with a love for African literature, history, geography and its politics developed in high school and university. Africa’s tallest mountain, its deepest and largest fresh water lake, and, of course, the great animal migration… everything seems to be in Tanzania. When my friends Zukiswa Wanner and James Murua suggest travelling through this country, my immediate answer is an unequivocal yes.
Our transport from Nairobi’s city centre to Arusha in Tanzania leaves at 8am and has cost us 1 500 Kenyan shillings each – about R120. It’s only 272 km between the two cities but, thanks to traffic, we’re warned it can take as long as four hours. Ananias, our driver, loads our bags on the roof of the comfortable 25-seater Toyota mini-bus that still has a few empty seats. It turns out we still have to pick up a few more international visitors from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and our new guests come from Sweden, the USA, France and Canada.
Heading out of Nairobi via Mombasa Road, we pass towns and villages hidden among the tall trees, grey lands and hills – Mlolongo and Kitengela are among the roadside place names. It’s rained a bit since I arrived in Kenya a week ago. Green grass and many strange flowers have grown, goats and cattle are scattered in all directions, and here and there faint patches of green cling to the topmost branches of tall trees. We are in the Maasai heartland. They have created footpaths and mapped out the land’s length and breadth. I can spot them everywhere on the side of the road, in the villages and the bush looking after their livestock of mainly cattle, sheep, and goats.
At the border town of Namanga is the unusual sight of the immigration offices of two countries operating inside the same huge office. Here the counters of the Kenyan and Tanzanian immigration officials face each other and it takes less than 15 minutes to get stamped into Tanzania.
The landscape looks drier and more mountainous in this northeastern part of Tanzania. And we’ve no idea how close we are to Mount Kilimanjaro until a fellow passenger points at the looming tall white clouds on our left and shouts… “Kilimanjaro!”
Despite looking more like a ghostly cloud in the sky than Africa’s highest slab of rock, I cannot explain the sudden pounding of fulfilment in my heart; although I’ve been to Tanzania before, it’s the first time I’ve seen this legendary mountain. Mobile phones and cameras click to capture the mysterious mountain.
By the time we reach Arusha, the sun has passed its topmost peak in the sky. This is Tanzania’s third largest city and one blessed to have three of Africa’s seven natural wonders located within a hundred kilometre radius: the Serengeti migration; the Ngorongoro crater; and Kilimanjaro are within reach. Our hotel, the Golden Rose, costs us 28 000 TZS per room (R182) and is strategically located next to the Kilimanjaro Bus Terminus where we’ll catch our 8:30am transport for the 650 km to Dar es Salaam in the morning. Dinner is obtained across the street –nyama choma, which is Swahili for roast meat.
Our bus leaves precisely on time and even though our first stop, Moshi, is only 115 km away, it takes us about three hours to get there. By law no car is allowed to travel more than 80 km/h. It’s worth it though; the city is surrounded by a mountain range, with Kilimanjaro only 50 km away.
The landscape to Dar is exciting, but we have to be careful not to drink too much water because the bus doesn’t have toilet facilities. It only stops in a few towns that are far apart.
It takes us 14 hours to reach Dar – a journey soothed by the myriad valleys, ridges and mountains en route – and it’s 10pm by the time we arrive at our host, Ayeta Wangusa’s home in Mbezi suburb. With three days to explore Dar, we decide to avoid places that we already know – the Cape Town Fish Market and The Waterfront Sunset – instead choosing the likes of Mbalamwezi Beach Club, Mel’s Place, and 777 at Mikocheni. The food here is wonderful and 12 000 TZS (R78) bought us enough delicious nyama chomafor three people.
Mbalamwezi, with its beautiful sandy beach, view of the peninsula and hip-hop and African tunes, remains my favourite so far. Sitting there, sipping straight from a bottle of Serengeti beer, I ponder Dar’s seductive powers. It lies in the friendliness of its people. They seem to have that innate confidence that allows them to look at you straight and deeply in the eyes as if to see whether you’re their friend or enemy. Everyone here seems to have a personality that radiates outwards, always reaching towards love and friendship. It’s why I love Dar.