Briefly about Dar
Dar es salaam is an expansive city on the Indian Ocean coast. The city has a peninsula (for the geographically challenged, its a piece of land that juts into the ocean) and a few large islands which are protected marine parks. The Tanzanian government and the people appear to be appreciative about Nature and protect it well. There is also the famous resort of Zanzibar which is tow hours away. In comparison, Mombasa appears restricted by the islands and the Likoni channel which have restricted northward development of the city. Dar es salaam is on the mainland, and even appears to have a larger harbor. You are likely to spot more ships near Dar es salaam, probably due to the harbor and distance from the pirate stricken shores of Somalia.
Dar es salaam, once the capital of Tanzania is quite distant from many areas in Eastern Africa. Dodoma is now the country's capital, but Dar remains the financial and social capital.
Nairobi to Dar by Road
|Dar Express Bus offers a daily service between Nairobi and Dar|
You may think the costs are a bit steep, but they are early indication of the long journey to Dar. The second indication will be the early departure times. One should be prepared for the 13 - 16 hour road drive.
Another point for travelers to note is the departure times, I was seated next to a passenger who had missed the previous days bus by a few minutes. The departure times are strict and am not sure about refund policies, so watch your sleep. The three bus companies mentioned all pick and drop off passengers at or off River Road.
The journey from Nairobi to Namanga is a bit rough starting off Nairobi, past the Airport as one branches onto the Athi River. The tarmac on this patch has completely worn out to expose the rugged ground that is used to manufacture cement, and may be a bit dusty. A road link from the Eastern Bypass is currently under construction, and so is the Mombasa highway stretch passing by Athi River. However, it is not clear whether the road from the high way to Athi River is part of the plan.
Athi River - Namanga stretch has been recently tarmacked , though still under construction. At the moment, only a few kilometers towards Namanga are still under construction. Kenya and Tanzania agreed to repair the Arusha - Nairobi Highway as part of opening up of the East African Community.
The scenery gets drier and hotter as you descend into Kajiado. The road has a notable right-angled Z turn just as one approaches Kajiado. The area after Kajiado is sparsely inhabited with scrub land and forest. You may spot a few relatives of the antelope, though I doubt if you will spot a lion.
Nairobi is quite close to the border with the journey taking about 3 hours. It also marks the first stop made by Dar Express bus. At the border, all have to alight for exit and entry stamping of their passports. East African residents do not require an entry Visa into Tanzania, though you will require a Yellow Fever Vaccination.
The Tanzanians are kind enough to inform you that the Yellow Fever vaccination is not just an arbitrary requirement meant to frustrate International travel, but rather a precaution for your own good, given that Tanzanian is just off the endemic Yellow Fever belt. In case you missed one, you can get a Yellow Fever vaccination at the boarder for Kshs. 1,200 at the Tanzanian Immigration Offices. You require a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate if you have previously had the jab. In Nairobi, Yellow Fever Vaccinations are available at the City Council of Nairobi Annex Clinic at Kshs. 1,800 or from Crescent Medical Clinic next to Jamia Mosque and opposite Jamia Mall for Kshs. 1,200. You can also obtain one from Matter Hospital or Nairobi Hospital, though the cost is above Ksh 3,000.
The Border, Con men and customs
At the border, be warned to avoid dealing informally with anyone outside official buildings. This includes changing of currencies or asking for help. You can trade currencies in the Immigration offices on both sides of the border , or at a few banks located in the town and some Forex Bureaus. Beware of the chaps that trade currencies inside the bus, or along the road. Most of them will rob you blind and have been reported to switch wads of plain paper in between notes. This is especially so given that Tanzanian currency is very bulky since 1 Kenya shilling is now trading at 17.2 Tanzanian shillings (1 Tanzanian shilling = 0.058 Kenyan shilling). A Ksh. 1,000 note will fetch you 1 note of Tsh. 10,000 , another of Tsh 5,000 , 2 notes of Tsh 1,000 and a Tsh 200 coin - 4 notes and a coin for 1 note.
The currency is a proper definition of paper money - unlike Kenyan currency which has a more texture like feel, the old currency is more like paper, though its being phased out in favour of newer smaller notes that I did not interact with much.
Also beware of people purporting to give you directions at the border, especially if you are carrying a backpack. Especially on the no-mans-land, you will find people who will direct you to the "bus company's office " to "confirm your ticket" or to "customs" or "immigration" . Some will even pretend to be customs officers , but in plains clothes. Following their directions will lead you to a back alley where you will be robbed clean.
Customs are on both sides of the border, though they only inspect luggage in the bus luggage hold. Luggage in the passenger compartment and that carried by the passengers is not inspected. The East African Community integrated customs must be the reason of the lax custom checks.
One outstanding observation on the border was that the Tanzanian side was manned, rather womaned by some stunning lady on my crossing into the country. They however are not all smiles as they ask you to place your fingers on the finger print scanner. The ladies were however missing on my way back.
Criminals should be aware that the Tanzanian side, on top of taking face photos like their Kenyan immigration counterparts will also add in finger print scans, for all 10 fingers.
Once you are done with customs, you will all board the bus which which will the proceed to your weigh bridge. In Tanzania they take safety and their roads seriously. All provinces have weigh bridges where trucks are checked for loading while public service vehicles are also checked to ensure that they have not exceeded weight limits.
A Tanzanian customs officer will then board the bus and proceed to inspect all for passes before allowing it to proceed. The Kenyan side do not bother with such niceties when you are returning, probably because one can easily walk across the border anyway!
It gets even drier after Namanga as you get into the Tanzanian side. You will spot rocky barren ground, and large water ways. The topography however soon starts changing back to a more greener one, though still dry. Tanzania is more scenic than Kenya and has several deep V shaped gullies on the road to Arusha. The area resembles a canyon in its young stages of formation.
The police in the united republic are dressed the way our navy is, in white, though the ladies wear wide navy blue skirts. They are also good at staking out and taking bribes, Nyerere will turn in his grave when he reads this.
The road from Namanga to Arusha, similar to the Kenyan side, sis also under construction. It is slighltly lagging behind Kenya's progress, though most of it has been tarmacked. Vegetation will give in to more greenery as you approach Arusha.
(images: Scenery between Namanga and Arusha)
Visit back for part 2