Trucks, traffic and speeding tickets
From Lake Malawi it takes us four days in the land rovers to reach the continent’s east coast and the city of Dar es Salem. It is a distance of about 1150 kilometres, which includes repeating 100 kilometres into one town to find vehicle parts. It’s a long way on some of the busiest roads in Africa, where we constantly compete for space with the many trucks and buses. The weather becomes very warm, and as we near Dar es Salaam we are continually sticky and hot.
From Malawi we cross into our sixth country, Tanzania. Organisation on the Malawi side is chaotic; we meet Margreth and Werner again, trying to understand the complications of passport control, and we are grateful for our guides who lead us slowly but smoothly through the bureaucratic process. The Tanzanian side is more straightforward and we are away into the damp hill country of southern Tanzania and the town of Tukuyu, high enough to be out of malaria territory. With more rain threatening and the ground soggy, I am pleased we are not camping and have a hotel booked for the night.
The Landmark Hotel is an establishment with a few glitches; my shower is fine, but by the time Martin takes his, the hot water has disappeared; there is no toilet seat and the door of the room is hard to shut. Later Eddie reports that in his room there is hot water going into the toilet. He orders dinner on our arrival to make sure it is ready at 7.00pm. In the meantime Martin and I wander into the town; only the main roads are sealed and the rest are very muddy with the recent rain. In the narrow lanes of the semi-permanent market, everything is dirty and everyone is a trader. The labyrinth of lanes goes back into a tangle of roughly built shops and constricted passages, and we retreat to the road, afraid of getting lost.
Dinner is good and very cheap – the equivalent of $5NZ each. Over the meal we discuss the various Europeans we have met in Malawi and their adaptation to the African way of life. It seems that the men can adjust reasonably to living in Africa, but it is the women who struggle; after some years, they return home, unable to cope with the lack of congenial company and the loneliness.
Day two provides us a lovely drive at about 2500 metres above sea level – clear mountain air, clouds on the peak tops, pretty hydrangeas, rugged judder bars, and lots of people along the road sides. When we turn east onto the main road to Dar es Salaam, the volume of trucks increases dramatically; many carry wide loads and huge pieces of machinery, which we presume are for the mining industry.
The police check points continue. But there is a difference in Tanzania. Many of the police are armed with ‘hair dryers', speed guns, and they are skilled at pointing the gadget at your vehicle and recording your speed. Eddie blames the Danish government for donating a container load of speed guns to Tanzania. At one check point, the man in uniform asks if we are able to help with schillings or dollars. What does he mean? Does he want to change money into another currency? Is he asking nicely for a bribe? Martin points to Eddie ahead of us on the road and says he is our guide and has all our money. Well, it’s a partial truth, and he lets us go with a smile.
Jan’s vehicle begins to cough and splutter, and we all stop on the road side. Jan believes the problem is dirty fuel, for he has recently filled his tank from one of the emergency containers carried on the top of the vehicle; it probably had sediment in the bottom. We wait while he cleans the filter and that seem to improve matters. Meanwhile the trucks dominate the road, unceasingly one after the other.
Our camping accommodation is at the very pleasant Old Farm House, worth mentioning for some of its unusual features – stables converted to bedrooms, hot water showers heated from a fire, thatched roofs, impeccably clean long drop loos, and the mud walled café. The road continues through the Kitanga Gorge, with sharp bends and steep descents as we drop down the escarpment. The combination of lines of slow moving trucks and overtaking speeding buses increases our danger on the road. Both driver and navigator find it nerve wracking as we toss up whether to pass on a blind corner or continue the slow crawl behind a labouring lorry. Eddie and Jan in the lead land rover provide help over the radio,
“All clear – nothing coming. Safe to pass.” Or, “Bus coming; don’t pass; we’ll keep you posted,” and we sit behind the truck a bit longer.
Then it happens. Given the number of check points and ‘hair dryers’, it is bound to take place sooner or later. We get a ticket for speeding. Martin is going 63 kilometres per hour in a 50 village area. Though he drives with care, it is hard to know where villages begin and end, for the houses are often strung out along the road, and the speed zones are not well marked. I try to warn him, but this time, I am not quick enough. The male uniform and his female accomplice are very pleasant as they indicate we pull over and stop, and as they begin to write out the ticket, a large A4 sheet, before Martin can protest, there is nothing to do but to pay up the 30,000 schillings and accept the A4 document as a souvenir of Tanzania. By the way, that amounts to about $18US. One tactic, if you are quick enough before the ticket writing begins, is to claim you don’t have sufficient schillings. Then the uniform may accept what money you have, or even your US dollars, but he doesn’t issue you a receipt. Your unreceipted payment may then disappear into a grateful pocket.
Over lunch at a truck stop, we recount our experience to the rest of the group, our irritation and discomfiture vanishing in the telling and laughter. Eddie has bought us fried buns, goat titbits and samosas; the latter are very nice, but the goat is on the tough side. We pass through Baobab Valley, with its splendid large specimens. At the camp site, the plumbing is poorly maintained, with brown water flowing from the taps and broken showers. However the bar area is very pleasant, a cool escape from the draining heat, and we enjoy a drink and read for an hour at the end of the day.
Our final day to Dar es Salaam is 398 kilometres. We continue through the mountains, early morning low cloud hanging picturesquely over the steep peaks. We drive through Mikumi National Park without stopping, seeing impala, baboons, zebra, giraffe and an elephant from the road. Beyond the bush are numerous plots of bright yellow sunflowers, almost ready for harvesting. Then it is Judy and Graham’s turn to be rewarded with a traffic ticket. Their misdemeanour is crossing over a no-passing line in the centre of the road. I think all three vehicles do the same, but as they are the last in the line of land rovers, they get caught.
A hundred kilometres from Dar, the traffic volume increases and soon we slow down to a crawl. We continue our protracted travel into the city, where road works add to the traffic problems. They are constructing new bus lanes and loading stations in the centre of the long main street.
We go through the ‘United Nations’ area with its international schools, embassies and a university. Nearby is the President’s palace, surrounded by walled security, and close to the harbour, the fish market. Our camping ground is across the harbour and the fastest way is on the 10 minute vehicle ferry. The cars ease on to the ferry followed by the swarm of walking passengers and we make our way across the water.
Once the tents are up, we try to cool ourselves from the heat with a swim in the salt water pool overlooking the sea, but the relief does not last long. We are so hot and sticky and everything feels damp. We repack into smaller bags for the trip on the morrow to Zanzibar and enjoy dinner of delicious calamari rings in the camp restaurant. I am intrigued with the novel choice of guards at the camp site. They are young Masai warriors, tall and slender, in full dress with red and blue blankets, spears in hand and sandals made out of rubber tyres. They add an interesting flavour to the camp site and increase our anticipation of Masai territory in days to come. But first there is the excitement of visiting exotic Zanzibar.