After finishing our language classes, we had some time to ourselves. Meghan and I decided to travel to Moshi, a small town near Kilimanjaro and subsequently near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Planning trips through Tanzania is not surprisingly pretty difficult. Flying was out of the question, because I’m broke. So we knew we could get a bus from Dar es Salaam to Moshi. The problem is, phone numbers for any of the bus companies couldn’t be found online. You have to buy your ticket in person or have someone go get it for you. We didn’t want to spend the extra money to compensate the taxi driver who would’ve went to get our tickets, so we decided we’d take the ferry early in the morning, take a taxi to the bus station, and see if we could catch one of the credible bus companies in time. I spent most of the ferry ride squealing in joy every time we went over a big wave. Everyone else was obviously hardened veterans of ferry riding and kept staring at me. I like to think I made their time a little more fun.
Well. Once we actually got to Dar, we decided to attempt taking a Daladala to the bus station. A ride via daladala would cost only 400 shillings whereas via taxi we would be expecting around 20,000. We asked for directions, found the Daladala station and were on our way. A. Very. Long. Way. The whole ordeal took almost an hour so by the time we got to the bus station it was almost noon and there was only one bus left heading to Moshi.
Any research you do on traveling in Tanzania you will be warned about touts. These are the people who prey on tourists and hang out in front of bus stations, hotels, etc. trying to convince tourists to buy fake tickets, buy tickets from suspect bus companies, you name it. We made a joke about these people being called ‘toots’ and subsequently spent half the day yelling, ‘YOU’RE JUST A TOOT’ to each other.
Although we are seasoned veterans of people mistaking us for tourists or idiots, I was not expecting the scene that was waiting for us. The konda (conductor) of the daladala we were in forgot about us, or chose to forget about us, and I wasn’t really sure exactly where the bus station was, I just knew which road it was on and that it was somewhere in the Ubungo district. Of course signs or any indication of organization was out of the question. Thankfully, a random lady standing next to us on the daladala alerted us once we got to our stop in Ubungo. I’m assuming the two white women struggling with overstuffed backpacks and full arms cued her in on where we were trying to get.
The toots were waiting at the side of the road like vultures. As soon as we hopped off the daladala they attacked. The three toots followed us as we crossed the highway to get to the bus station. The entire time was spent scolding them in Swahili, trying to get them to leave while simultaneously trying to act like I knew where I was going and what I was doing whilst having no idea what the hell was going on. The bus station was essentially just a giant field with some concrete partition that was put up years ago and has since started to fall down. There was one entrance in sight, heading straight into the field. We treaded on, toots in tow. Walking past that partition was like walking into another world. It looked like a tiny little village, people had sent up tents and were selling food, candy, electronics, and whatever else, there were buses parked all around and people coming, going, and idling sitting in groups. We crossed through the lot and I was trying to decipher if people buy seats at the doors of the buses or if there was some sort of office. Luckily, there seems to be some unspoken rule between touts, once a tourist has been ‘claimed’ by one the others keep their distance. I noticed this too between drivers when trying to negotiate prices for a ride back to the city later that week. It’s pretty cool if you ask me and speaks a lot about the culture. The next half an hour was a balance of trying to get information out of our toots, but not seeming too incapable. Turns out there was only once bus left leaving for Moshi that day, it was leaving now, and it was one of the companies you might not want to trust with your life. We had to make a decision. Either we buy tickets with one of the reputable companies for a bus leaving tomorrow, catch a ride back to the city, and pay for a hotel, or we take a risk and leave now. We decided to leave.
We boarded and were on our way. The ride was between 8 and 10 hours, it depended on how many stops we would make along the way to drop people off. We made two pit stops. The first a bush stop in a place seemingly existing only for passing buses. I took a leak and started walking around surveying the options in search of something I might deem edible. We hadn’t eaten much (meaning I’ve even one chapati between 6am and 1pm) that day so getting some food was a must. I almost bought eggs from one lady only at the last minute to find out they weren’t boiled. After making a lap, Neema and I met up near the bus. I started negotiating the price of some boiled eggs. Only to be interrupted by the fact that our bus was starting to DRIVE AWAY.
Now, the whole time we were there, I kept hearing the buses honking horns. There were two buses so it was hard to tell which the horn was coming from, but I made a mental note to pay attention because I was sure those were warning honks for departure. We had been stopped for maybe 10 minutes when my purchase was interrupted. I had read somewhere we would stop for half an hour so I was definitely upheaved by the sudden departure. I handed over my money, noticed the bus was leaving, and started running. I kept calling to Neema who was buying someone else, but she couldn’t hear me. (She never hears me. Whenever we accidentally part ways and she keeps walking while I’m trying to get her attention, usually all of the people around her hear me before she does and stop her for me) Luckily, other people were running for the bus as well and it stopped, so I turned around and ran back to meet the guy running to give me my eggs and ran back to the bus.
After that, everything ran pretty smoothly. Except for the fact that the sun went down and the bus kept stopping to let people off, but no one was announcing where we were. The guy who shared a row with us was really nice and he told us he was getting off in Moshi, too, except he got up and left without saying anything to us. So, cue me being annoying and asking everyone where we were and if they would tell us when we got to Moshi. Typical Swahili fashion, most people were nice and a man let us know once we arrived.
Only a few things to note from our return trip. The ride returning from Moshi was pretty uneventful, except that we were using one of the fancy companies so the ride was a lot more comfortable. Our tickets boasted complimentary water and cookies so we were prettty stoked. We returned safely to a private station instead of the harrowing mess of a bust station I described above. I eventually negotiated a taxi for the best price I could and we stayed overnight in Dar and awaited our ferry early the next morning. When we were boarding our ferry one lady selling bags tried to tell me that plastic bags weren’t allowed in Zanzibar. I still laugh at the interaction and wonder how many wazungu she’s fooled with that line. Half way through our ferry ride it started pouring. We took refuge under some storage fixture of the hull, but to not much avail.