Traffic mayhem on the city streets
The heavy rain continues all night and by the time we take the tents down (left up during our stay on Zanzibar), everything is sodden. We line the land rovers up in the ferry queue about 7.30am for an early start to the day, but the streets are gridlocked and nothing is moving. No one knows what the problem is and after waiting for nearly an hour to board the ferry, Eddie decides we will drive the long way around. It gives me plenty of opportunity to observe city life from my elevated land rover perch. Join me on a journey through Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city of nearly 4 ½ million people. Literally its name means ‘harbour of peace’, but driving through is anything but peaceful.
In the countryside wide areas of low land are flooded after the recent rain and muddy puddles abound. As soon as we reach the outskirts of the city, throngs of people converge around the bus stops and the mini buses overflow with passengers; three wheeler taxis dodge between the buses, and motor cycles, bearing three or four passengers, weave precariously in and out of the trucks. We pass a bicycle truck loaded with sugar cane, hanging wide over both sides and out the back, vulnerable to any small bump or accident.
Football is highly valued in the culture, for we pass two huge circular stadiums dedicated to the adoration of the sport; a team of yellow T-shirted young men jog by, singing as they go. Goats browse in the rubbish piles beside the road and a man sleeps with his feet on the tarmac, oblivious of the traffic mayhem.
It is a world of traders. Beds for sale are laid out on the rough grass next to stacks of timber. Vendors come along side our vehicle at the traffic lights, offering a myriad of merchandise – a red emergency triangle, a fire extinguisher, a mini vacuum cleaner, ear phones, and soda drinks, anything you need as a driving accessory. When a young man offers to wash our windscreen, we yell, ‘no, no’. But he goes ahead and we agree that it does look good, much better for snapping photos. I hand him a 1,000 shilling note, the smallest I have. Cyclists risk life and limb to sneak across the traffic lights between the changes.
I watch in amazement as one woman helps another lift a package on to her head, an item so heavy that the pair struggle to raise it up to head height. The heat inside the land rover increases as the sun comes out, raising the humidity in the damp environment. We pass churches and mosques. Women dressed in bright colours, covered from head to foot against the dust, sweep the road edge. Another worker wields a grass slasher with one hand, expertly mowing the centre verge.
Martin frowns behind the steering wheel, intent on his driving, refusing to give an inch to the other vehicles. He goes through a red light, fearing to lose Eddie in the lead vehicle. In front a man struggles to peddle his bicycle, laden with bulging bags of charcoal, one on top of the other, so heavy that the rider can hardly steer – I count nine bags. Another cyclist carries trays of eggs, ten high on his back carrier, balancing between the buses and trucks. White uniformed police beckon the traffic onwards, seeking to disperse the congestion.
In the chaos, we come to a halt behind a truck, broken down in our lane. As other vehicles nose in from the left, Martin, perspiration increasing, attempts to change lanes to the right and pass the truck. As he crosses the line, a bus driver gives him a loud blast with his horn and rumbles past; no one voluntarily lets another into his space. Other motorists seize the moment of opportunity to gain a few feet. Half a dozen police start pulling all the buses over to the side of the road, but they wave us through. The heavy traffic temporarily easies and we relax a little.
We turn onto another main arterial route and recognise it as the one with the new bus shelters that we travelled on five days earlier. We find ourselves unintentionally in the concrete bus lane and forced to stop behind a bus that has broken down. No, it seems it has run out of fuel. Martin extricates himself from the stationary line and rejoins the slowing crawling traffic, only to find we are at a standstill again behind road works. Everyone fights to change lanes again. A truck load of bananas strewn over the road adds to the chaos. A truck ahead spews out thick black evil smelling smoke. We pass him and breathe again. Then six army Leyland trucks drive towards us on our side of the road, adding to the bedlam.
The dual carriage way ends and the congestion increases on the old road. The trading on and off the road is endless – local tomatoes and potatoes, plastics from China, newspapers, bikes, bananas. I note a building with the grand name of ‘Glory to God Miracle Centre’; it carries a cross, so it must be a church. We swerve around another broken-down vehicle, this time a petrol tanker. We are almost in the country now, surrounded by plots of maize, but travel is no faster at 25 kilometres per hour. At last we reach a ‘Safari Njema’ sign, announcing farewell and bon voyage. We are officially out of Dar es Salaam after nearly three hours of driving. And hallelujah, there’s a weigh bridge into which all the trucks are issued. The road clears and we speed up. Another sign announces ‘Nende Polepole’, ‘slow down’, a timely reminder.
It is a long day. It takes another lengthy day of driving to reach Meserani Snake Park beyond Arusha, where it is a relief to do our washing and dry off our saturated gear after more wet weather. Debs from Africa Expedition Support has driven down from Nairobi to meet us and give our guides our Serengeti documentation. We talk into the night on a range of absorbing African topics – poaching and conservancy, the overland tourist business, politics and the impact of international aid and development. They are all thought provoking subjects with no simple conclusions.
We are in Masai territory, looking forward to learning about these remarkable people.