The purpose of the trip was both a holiday and a
chance to reconnect with a girl I had met four years
ago. She arrived in Nairobi two days before we set
There are many ways to go to Dar es Salaam from
Nairobi. If you choose to travel by road, it would
begin with a walk down River Road. This is Nairobi’s
departure lounge. Most bus companies that operate
long distance routes within Kenya and across its
borders start from here.
I booked a bus on the same day I was travelling. A
ticket costs between Ksh2,300 and Ksh2,600.
Most of the ticketing clerks who work for the bus
companies that travel to the Coast of Kenya and to
Tanzania, speak very fast and fluent Kiswahili. It is
the closest Kenyan Kiswahili accent to the one
spoken in Tanzania. Listen for the day and time of
departure of your booking and take note. You will not
only have to decipher the accent, but also picture a
clock in your head so that when the clerk says saa
nne kasorobo you figure out that he is saying
9.45am. Reporting time is 30 minutes before
I had chosen to travel by Tahmeed Coach. I boarded
the bus and was happy to find the seats were large
and luxurious, and the windows had curtains in case
you wanted to keep the world out. In addition, there
is a wireless data service on the bus, which can be
accessed as long as the area you are passing through
is covered by your mobile phone service network
provider. The bus has three huge television sets
strategically placed along the corridor.
Soon the bus left Nairobi. First of all, you have to
contend with the most frustrating thing about any
trip out of the city centre. For upwards of 30 minutes,
you have moved just 100 metres as the bus finds its
way through the labyrinth of back streets, working its
way towards Mombasa Road — the main highway
leading out of Nairobi to the east. Then you sit
stewing for a while longer, as the bus goes through
half the city to hit the highway proper. Then the
hours roll by and everything becomes a blur.
Some people can look out of a window even during a
night journey. They can be endlessly entranced by
every flicker of light they pass by, but for me, a long
journey is all about sleeping. The rocking of the bus,
the drone of the engine and the monotony of the trip
puts me to sleep much faster than any pill would.
On the Tahmeed Coach on the way to Dar, you have
to keep your wits about you. This is because, when
you get to Mombasa at 5am in the morning you have
to change buses. If you sleep through this important
step you will wake up to find yourself in Malindi,
further up north the Kenya Coast, in the opposite
direction from Dar es Salaam.
The slow ones also risk getting left behind, as almost
happened to us. We were dropped off a little distance
from the Mombasa Tahmeed offices. The kind driver
of a three-wheeler taxi — called tuk tuk in Kenya and
bajaji in Tanzania — offered to give us a ride to the
office since he was heading there.
By 5.30am, Mombasa was bustling into life. It was
the third week of the holy Muslim month of
Ramadhan, so that could explain why on this early
Saturday morning there were gangs of children
already walking around fresh-faced and high spirited.
Once settled in our seats on the bus to Dar es
Salaam, the baggage handler sat next to us. He
smoked one cigarette after another as he assisted
every passenger to put their luggage in the hold.
We set off at 6am. In order to get to the border
crossing of Lunga Lunga on Kenya’s South Coast,
from Mombasa, you have to take the ferry at the
Likoni channel to the mainland. All passengers
disembark from vehicles to get onto the ferry. Only
the drivers are allowed to stay in the vehicles, for
The bus conductor reminded the passengers of this
requirement. I had no idea what was going on since I
was not paying attention, until when he stopped by
my seat and enunciated every word and I sensed the
thinly veiled insult. Then he told me that it was all
right for me to stay on since children were allowed to
stay on the bus, but he asked that we draw the
The morning sun was just filtering through the
clouds and early morning mist and we all looked like
ghostly silhouettes, with the curtains drawn. The bus
was quiet except for these two teenagers, who
seemed very pleased with their ability to smile and
take a picture at the same time. Of course pictures
need light and so they opened their curtains. Their
giggles were the only human sound on the bus.
It takes about two hours from Mombasa to the Lunga
Lunga border crossing. The road is tarmacked all the
Borders in Africa are very similar. You arrive at the
crossing, get out of the vehicle, queue to be served
by the immigration clerks, have a pen ready to fill out
the required details, put the form in between your
passport, put all your fingers on the electronic
fingerprinting device and look into the camera. Then
your passport gets an “exit” stamp.
You cross over to the other country’s immigration
office and repeat the process. Once you are cleared
with an entry stamp on your passport, you board
your vehicle and proceed with your journey —
depending on how fast it has been cleared by
Customs, police and immigration officials from both
So just like that, we were in Tanzania. Hours later we
were in Dar es Salaam, or at least the outskirts. The
journey from Mombasa took us almost nine hours.
There is usually a half-hour lunch stop in Tanga, but
we did not stop because of Ramadhan.
It’s frustrating to be on the outskirts of a city and
have no idea whether the traffic jam is normal or just
one of those days when it does not move hours on
We had booked our hotel in advance, but first we
needed food. After getting off the bus at around 5pm,
we thought we could just walk around and find an
eatery, but that does not happen during Ramadhan
as we were soon to learn.
However, there are people in Dar es Salaam who will
go out of their way to help you. They will not only
direct you, but also carry your bags, envelop you in
camaraderie, play on your Kenyan lack of confidence
in Kiswahili by complimenting it, and only ask for a
little money for their trouble.
Our good Samaritan was called Juma; he turned out
to be a waiter at the restaurant he took us to, and
this is where I had my first meal of chips-mayai. I had
wanted to try this since I visited Uganda a couple of
months ago and had a “rolex,” which is a meal of
eggs, tomatoes, onions and cabbages rolled inside a
chapati. Whenever I mentioned this to someone who
had been to Tanzania, they told me that it had
nothing on the chips-mayai served there.
It just so happened that after we had had our meal
and were ready to go to our hotel, Juma announced
that his shift was over. I handed him the notebook
with our hotel name and address. He took us on a
tour of the city, one filled with a lot of stops to ask for
directions. In the end, we were lost and so tired that
we stopped at a place near the ferry crossing to
Zanzibar and hunkered down for the night.
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