A Bus Ride: Tanzania, Africa

[Jonty] I love bus rides. Buses give away a little bit of insight into the city or town they are serving. In new cities I like riding the bus instead of taking the underground. You get to see the city, experience the life, the buildings, the weather!

I came off the plane from Nairobi into Kilimanjaro International Airport. I was tired from not sleeping well on the first leg – an eight hour flight from London to Nairobi. My mind was still getting over the views of Mount Kilimanjaro from the plane – the mammoth volcano standing strong and silent above the clouds, like the giant’s house in Jack and the Beanstalk. I was travelling to Tanzania to climb her, but I couldn’t begin to imagine trekking that high into the sky.

Following passport control, we came out of the airport and were surprisingly immediately greeted by signs in English for Greek restaurants. We were guided towards an old bus. It looked like something out of the 80s – a dusty brown bus with tatty seat covers and a musty smell. There were 15 of us: strangers, forced into friendship by the desire to reach the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain. The airport had seemed fairly modern and the car park was tarmac’d. Along with the tourist-aimed advertisements, everything seemed fairly familiar.

I sat at the back of the bus with a new friend, a chap I had spoken to while we were waiting at Nairobi Airport. He had the adventurer look down to a T, complete with an Indiana Jones style hat. The bus rattled each time the driver accelerated; a deep, gruff rattle. Very quickly, buildings disappeared and we started down a smooth, straight road that drew a thick black line between the dusty terrain. Looking out both sides of the bus we could see flat plains, a few distinctly African-looking trees decorating the horizons. People walked seemingly without destination or start point. Some had shoes or flip-flops, others had no footwear at all. Ladies walked with huge, meter-long crates of bananas on their heads – I realised only later that their destination was miles away. I have to admit, it seemed strange – a bus load of people who had either paid a large sum of money for the experience, or who had raised a huge amount for charities and those in need, driving past people living in mud huts with no running water or electricity. I guess “need” can be a relative term. For some reason I was expecting to find Tanzania surprisingly western. I know it seems odd to expect a surprise. The surprise, however, wasn’t the one I expected. I was experiencing first-hand what I had only seen on the TV. It was surprisingly under-developed.

For a short moment, the crowds got busier. I could see a trio of Maasai, walking in their traditional bright red robes. One of them held a head-height walking stick – I hoped it was a spear. My face pressed against the window of the bus as my mind absorbed the first-hand experience of the world known Maasai, famous for their courage and skill. Then the people seemed to disappear again for another few kilometres.

There were a few other vehicles on the road, some motorbikes, the odd tuk-tuk and a lot of trucks. Speed limits didn’t seem to exist – if you wanted to get somewhere sooner, you drove faster. Standing alone in the open plains were Petrol stations. They looked newer and had big tankers sat in the forecourts, I think having delivered their fuel, rather than filling up.

Every now and again our bus would slow down as we drove through a mini-village. Local butchers displayed huge cuts of beef hanging in doorways while ladies sat on the ground selling fruit and vegetables, presented on cloths and blankets. Little shops that looked like newsagents sold bottled drinks and sim cards and advertising was dominated by Pepsi, and Crown paint.

What seemed like all of a sudden, we were in a more residential area in the outskirts of the town of Moshi. Trees and shrubs lined the roads in a much greener area. Every now and again was a flourish of bright and vibrant purple – the Jacaranda tree. It must have been a more affluent area, as detached houses and their cars hid behind large, closed iron gates. It was humid and warm, maybe 28 celsius, but the huge meter-deep storm drains suggested heavy rainfall was not uncommon.

A dirt track was the final part of our bus ride. It was a dark browny-red clay sort of colour, but dusty and covered in pot holes. Amazingly, this was the driveway to our lodge, almost a disguise for the well kept lawns and grounds of our accommodation for the next 24 hours.


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