29 – A MEGA Bus Journey

29 – A MEGA Bus Journey

We spent our last night in Rwanda back at Peace & Grace Motel (see article N°22). The manager kindly arranged for us to have our two egg sandwiches to take away as we were not going to be there for breakfast.

In the small hours of Tuesday morning, we boarded a bus for Dar es Salaam, not knowing how long the journey would take. The bus company said minimum twenty-six hours. We decided not to look at the clock, as if that would help time go quicker?!

There was a group of four Germans on the same bus as us. They were working in Rwanda and had joined up with each other for a week’s holiday in Zanzibar. It was not the first time we had bumped into Germans working overseas. Apparently, their government encourages international service by generously funding volunteer programs (usually for six months or a year). A few of the Germans we met were fluent in Swahili or Kinyarwanda.

Three hours into our journey, we arrived at the Rusumo border. Our Tanzanian visas had not yet expired, though, as they were single entry visas, we were not sure if we would be allowed back into Tanzania with them. Knowing full well that tourist visas take a lot longer than the stamping of the locals’ documents, we hurried to the front of the queue. The Germans ended up quite far back in the queue as they had gone back for their bags. They told us that their friend had taken the same bus a few weeks ago and the bus (and her bag) had left without her.

Thankfully our existing Tanzanian visas were accepted. Yay – we would not need to fork out another one hundred US dollars for new visas! After a few stamps and bag checks, we were done. The lady who searched Heather’s bag had found the bin-liner around her walking boots. She pretended she had not seen it and told Heather to keep it hidden to avoid paying a fine (plastic bags are banned in Rwanda and Tanzania).

We were back at the bus. The Germans, however, were still in the queue. We made sure the driver did not leave without them. About three hours later, the bus departed with everyone on it. Phew.

We stopped only two other times. Once – intentionally – for lunch at a petrol station with restaurant (for about half an hour). Once – unintentionally – when the bus broke down (for about two hours). It had to happen, didn’t it? As we did not know how long it would take for the bus to be fixed, the two of us went looking for a cold beer. We did not get very far, when one of the Germans came running to tell us the bus was leaving.

On the bus at the “garage”, waiting for it to be repaired

The Landscape in Tanzania was a lot drier than in Rwanda. There were no more hills to be seen. Instead, there was the odd field, farm or cattle enclosure made from thorny bushes.

Occasionally we would drive through a town and the bus would slow down long enough for us to buy Chips Mayai, maize or mangoes through the windows.

Stocking up on mangoes

Thankfully we both managed to get some sleep on the bus, despite being underneath the speaker which blasted deafening music the whole time. Heather wrapped her scarf around her ears and Arnaud put in his headphones to reduce the noise.

At night it got quite chilly. Though the next day, as we approached Dar es Salaam, it got stinking hot.

Our bus man getting a speeding ticket from the Police lady!

We finally arrived at Dar es Salaam bus station on Wednesday afternoon, thirty-six hours after leaving Kiagli. Yep, thirty-six hours! That is a new record for us! Though not one we will be looking to beat.

We swapped sitting in traffic in a bus for sitting in traffic in a taxi, as we headed to Tazara Railway Station. We were only wanting to get a train in six days’ time, after our trip to Zanzibar, but we had heard the tickets sell out quickly, so off to the Railway Station we went. The traffic was so bad, it would probably have been quicker to walk to the station, but the heat was unbearable, so taxi it was. Dust kept blowing into the car from the construction sites all around us, making us feel even more dirty than we already did. We were looking forward to a shower and a bed!

We had heard right, the Tazara express tickets do sell out quickly: the only tickets left were for seats in third-class. Third-class carriages are full of seats (men and women mixed). Second-Class carriages have six beds (men and women are separate). First-class carriages have four beds (men and women are separate). We had read online that if heterosexual couples want to stay together and have sleeper-beds, they can book a whole first-class carriage for themselves. As we had only managed to buy third-class tickets, the ticket man advised us to come back the day of taking the train to see if any first-class carriages will be available (i.e. if someone cancels).

Our next mission was getting ferry tickets to cross over from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar. Again, the traffic to the port was terrible. As we exited the taxi, we were swarmed by eager salesmen wanting to take us to their own ticket office. Ferry tickets for locals cost next to nothing. Tourists on the other hand, must pay 35 US dollars for theirs (or more, for VIP tickets)!

We had about an hour or so to wait until our ferry was due to leave. After having gone through security, and dropped off our bags on the trolleys, we were ushered to the VIP waiting lounge (despite insisting that we did not have VIP tickets). For the first time since stepping foot in Africa, we were surrounded by tourists. From young instagrammable couples, to lads on tour, to travelling Mum groups, to excited families. The lounge could easily have been mistaken for an airport lounge in the UK. We sussed out hotels on our phones and then people watched until it was time to board.

The ferry itself was comfortable, comfortable enough for a nap! (Despite the aircon being set at -12°C!). We were too tired to go dolphin spotting on the deck this time.

Two and a half hours of speedy ferry later, we docked at Stonetown, Zanzibar. Most of the passengers were happy to let their bags be whisked away by porters who, whilst accompanying them to the nearest taxi, listed all the available tours in the region that they could go on together. We grabbed our bags and then meandered through the narrow streets, dodging the loud tourists in their skimpy shorts as we headed for the cheapest hotel we had seen online. Upon arrival we negotiated the price for a bed for the night (it did not take much negotiating when we told them we had come from Kigali on the bus). We clambered up the stairs, dumped our bags, switched on the fans and fell into bed. What a journey!

3 Replies to “29 – A MEGA Bus Journey”

  1. I hope your bus is the one only just in the picture, on the right of the photo – not the blue one in the picture!
    36 hours on a bus shows great stamina – well done 🙂
    I do fancy some of those mangoes 🙂 xxx

  2. Bet any bed 🛌 would of felt comfortable after that bus journey. Was there a warm shower? Much love to you both. ♥️Lxx

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