Dar locals complain about their heat and humidity as much as do DC area folks, although in the time I’ve slept in Dar so far—parts of May, June, August, and September—each day has dawned pleasantly temperate. Mid-day in the sun smacks me about a bit for sure, but all in all, Dar weather has welcomed me well (karibu sana!). Still, when Sarah and I decided to travel to the southern highlands in Iringa town for her work and a week of Kiswahili classes, the need to wear a light jacket in the evenings sounded great!
Iringa town lies about 500 kilometers from Dar over a macadam road, realistically a 9-hour trip by “luxury” bus. “Luxury” in this case means a reasonably comfortable bus only 4 seats across with mostly working AC, and only several stops along the way. Plus non-stop music videos, interrupted only by 2 episodes of a Tanzanian television series and Colombiana, a forgettable movie set in contemporary Chicago where a little girl all grown up now takes revenge on her parents’ druglord killer from 20 years earlier (this genre is popular here, as everywhere else I’ve traveled). Long-distance bus travel gets a bad rap in Tanzania—over 100 bus passengers have died in accidents already this year—as drivers compete for faster travel times and road and vehicle conditions get a little shaky. It can be more risky than flying, for sure, but the “luxury” buses appear a bit safer, and the carbon nasties from air travel will kill more of us in the long run.
Just as pressing, bus travel from Dar entails navigating the Ubungo bus station, a chaotic scene riddled with touts and an environment largely opaque to non-Kiswahili speakers.
I’ve used the station four times now, on each occasion drawing a mob of helpers trying to pick up commissions. Arriving at Ubungo by bajaji—a motorcycle-based three wheel transport—twice in the last two weeks, people jumped into and onto the vehicle as it entered the bus area, trying to get my and the driver’s business. No, no, no (Hapana!) doesn’t deter the attention, it just draws a bigger crowd. Chalk it up to the entrepreneurial spirit of touts, as well as financial desperation driven by a labor market that can’t come close to keeping up with job demands in a place like Dar.
Once on the road, the trip to Iringa went smoothly. It took at least an hour to travel the first 20 miles (and even longer to travel the last 20 on the way back) since Dar and the commuting zone sprawls far west (and south and north). But then the road opened up, particularly past Morogoro, Tanzania’s 2nd city, and into the sisal, tomato, onion, and
other ag producing areas. The road traversed the Mikumi National Park for 45 minutes—with zebras, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests (we saw all), lions, and packs of wild dogs watching the traffic go by—and eventually zig zagged up the Kitonga escarpment, where our bus weaved in and out of the heavily-loaded (and scarcely moving) trucks coming to/from Zambia. Eventually, we make it to Iringa town, at over 1,500 meter elevation.
Kiswahili lessons torture to follow . . . .