The first night we spent in Tanzania was a short one. We barely fell asleep at 4 AM to be woken up at 6 AM by our alarms. We were pretty tired but we had a bus to catch. Destination? Arusha, the city where you want to be if you want to visit the national parks North of Tanzania. We barely woke up and as we got out of our room (the one that Alfred gave us, as I already told you) we met our hosts who were already up-and-running. The days starts early here. We meet the rest of the family and we are invited to have breakfast.

Fried bananas, rice and a cup of cocoa (instead of coffee) and we are ready to hit the road. We are ready but… nobody from the house seem to be in a hurry. I am looking at my watch, it’s already 6:30 (I knew that the bus is at 7 AM) and still, nobody seems to get  “activated”. I am trying to find out if the bus station is far from the house, if we still have time…. Apparently we do. And we stay some more at home to avoid the morning traffic (apparently between 6 and 7). Gooood, no worries, we have a guide and we have friends who know how things work around here, so we are in good hands. As long as we get to the bus station on time, no worries, we can wait.

It’s 7:30 when we finally leave the house, it is already clear to me that we missed the 7 AM bus (little did I know how thinks work back then…). It was good that we were on the move.

What was not so good was that we didn’t avoid any traffic. The streets were full. Cars. Bicycles. People. Animals. Stalls. …Everything.

Not even the rain that started at a certain time couldn’t clear the streets. People would find a shelter but the “business” would go forward.

All this crowd and hustle makes me think of Central America markets. All of a sudden I am feeling more relaxed and I am smiling. I don’t know exactly why, I have no certain reason. But after the strange landing and the first – literally gloomy- contact with Tanzania, the places are starting to get a color, to get alive. It was morning, a new day and we were ready for the road. Our hosts are also smiling while they are rambling about life in Tanzania and Dar in particular.

After 2 detours around the city we manage to get to the bus station a little before 10 AM. As soon as we arrive at the bus station, although we had two people with us who were obviously locals we are assaulted by  all sorts of service providers.

-Do you want me to carry your luggage? Let me carry them for you. 

-Do you want a taxi?  You should take a taxi?

-Come on, get into this bus, it’s going to Iringa! (Iringa is a city in the opposite direction from Arusha)

The fact that I kept saying “Arusha, Arusha” and “No, no, thank you” seemed to have absolutely no effect on these people who kept insisting on you to get other buses to totally different directions. They simply came to you, trying to take your luggage and put it in their buses that they were trying to fill up. If you were not careful or just emotional, you would end up on a bus heading South although you wanted to get up North.

We manage to stay firm. I tell Andreea to stay in front of me and we make our way through the crowd, following Alfred and Mopoo.

As we were reaching the right bus I would learn my first lesson on traveling in Tanzania (first of many): “We are departing when we are full”. The departing hour listed in the timetable (that is if there is a timetable), is only informaive and can be translated by: “we are leaving if we are full. Otherwise, we are waiting a little bit longer”. But things have a way to solve as we are jumping in the 10:30 Osaka Classic bus with destination Arusha. On one side of the bus the Pope’s name  it’s written in big red letters and in English: “Pope Francis”.  I don’t know what time that bus was supposed to leave but we took the last 3 available seats (Andreea, Mopoo and I) and then the bus hit the road. The Pope was on our side so things cannot be better.

 

And there we were, on our way to Arusha. Our seats were in the back and we were trying to  sneak through all the luggage, babies, people and bags. Still, this was a long distance bus so not quite a basic one. There was a concept of bus ticket for those who were leaving from Dar (even with a seat number). It’s true they picked up people along the way who had to sit wherever they could but that was a bonus. They even had AC, well, at least the bus used to have one but wasn’t functioning for quite some time but the fact that it was there one proved that our bus was a high class one. They put our luggage in special luggage compartments although there were a lot scattered all over the place. Value added bonus, a TV that started showing a Tanzanian soap opera, right after the bus left Dar es Salaam, with 2-3 actors that wouldn’t stop yelling (and the speakers were at maximum volume).  All these proved that our bus wasn’t a common one. Rooaaaad triiiip!!! I am saying to myself as I prepare my came. Unfortunately, we say goodbye to a gloomy and grey Dar Es Salaam, with rain drops.

Fortunately, the weather outside didn’t reflect on our passengers. Our road companions were jolly. Some were watching us curiously and carefully (we were the only 2 white people in the bus). Probably they weren’t used to having tourists in their bus. They were all smiling and polite.

Our bus ride was supposed to take around 8 hours. But after the fifth stop in every village “bus station”, it became clear to us that our bus trip would take longer than that. And there I had it, the second lesson on traveling in Africa: time (the exact one, on the clock) is only a rough guide. An 8 hours trip actually means a day trip. Therefore, if at the time during the bus ride, the bus gets a free space, the driver would stop to fill it in. I don’t mind at all these stops. The “bus stations” are full of life and color. Every time the bus stops, a crazy race begins, the “salesmen” in the bus station come to the bus to sell you no matter what, things you didn’t even know you want.

All sorts of sweets, drinks and food to huge bags of onion, fruits and even tires. All the transactions are done on the window, during the few minutes the bus is stopped. Competition is high and the marketing methods must be aggressive. Knocks in the bus windows, yelling (louder than the competition), showing the trays with the merchandise, some more yelling. And people are buying everything! Everything! From the bread wrapped up in plastic to the big bags of onion that are transferred through the bus window and elegantly thrown under the chairs. we are fascinated by this show and barely resist buying a branch of bananas. At least they weren’t wrapped in plastic.

Talking about plastic, we can spot the traces of developed “civilization”  even here in Tanzania, same as in Central and South America.

But lets hope that that was a recycling point. Anyway, let’s be optimistic. I lean my head on the bus window and try to fall asleep watching the landscape passing us by beyond the window with no weatherstrip.

I cannot fall asleep. I don’t have enough room for my legs and I am uncomfortable and I can still hear the Tanzanian soap opera (already at the 2nd season  I guess) actors yelling in the speakers. Andreea is asking the driver how far we are from Arusha. And we learn the third lesson about time and travels in Tanzania: when you are told “we are almost there” it means it can take a few minutes or a few hours. Actually, we were told it will take one more more, we got there in 2 (9 hours already passed from the moment we left Dar to when we asked the driver). t was already dark outside and the buildings in Arusha seemed to get ready for bedtime. The second largest city in Tanzania and our second “arrival” in the dark. I don’t like this habit as we are breaking one of our most important rule as travelers: “don’t travel at night”. But this time we are not alone and we are not traveling on a motorcycle. We were traveling by bus with a local.  And although it has been a long ride, it connected us with the place. We learned things we couldn’t have learned if we were traveling differently. I felt like I wanted to see more and I could’t wait to get to the national parks. But for now I was happy to get off the crowded bus after 11 hours bus ride from Dar to Arusha. Farewell, Osaka Classic. Honestly, I don’t think I’m gonna miss you!

 

Part of the photographs have been taken with a Fuji Finepix X10 camera, thanks to our friends from F64.ro.

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