Land of sisal plantations

If you have never travelled by land from Rwanda to the heart of the biggest country in East Africa, then get to know from Kelvin Odoobo’s experience.

If you have never travelled by land from Rwanda to the heart of the biggest country in East Africa, then get to know from Kelvin Odoobo’s experience.

We reached Namanga, a small border town at the Kenya – Tanzania border at about two a.m. in the morning, completely rattled by the happenings a few hours before on the Nairobi – Mombassa highway.

We ambled out of the bus with our passports and yellow fever certificates, in hand and headed for the Kenyan Immigration office, the officers were waiting and soon enough we had our documents showing the Tanzanian entry stamp, in a space of ten minutes.

We were all surprised that nobody bothered to bring up the issue of yellow fever certificates which we had all gone through pains to obtain, after being warned of the strictness with which the Tanzanians regarded the certificate.

As passengers stood around the bus, trying to feel the holes through which the bullets had gone through, others, already happy to having got away safely chose to discuss other issues.

Apparently, travel beyond ten o’clock is not allowed through Tanzania. This implied that even though we were good to go, our travel documents cleared, we had to hang around the border post doing this or that until earliest half past five in the morning.

Unlike the Uganda – Rwanda border which closes religiously at 6 pm (because the Rwanda side closes down) and checks every piece of luggage for polythene, contraband, or smuggled goods, the Tanzanians and Kenyans, simply pick out samples or do not do it at all.

Of course, it means that a few things get smuggled across, but more importantly, a lot of valuable time is saved. At the Kenya – Uganda border the restrictions on movement are as long as it is convenient for the officials.

After the bus we were travelling in broke down in Uganda, the border authorities were duly informed such that at midnight, when we arrived six hours late, they returned to their offices to process our papers.

They are a few things the Rwanda immigration can selectively pick a leaf from their east African neighbours. Some Congolese chaps who had an easy way with the guitar took on the moment of boredom, waiting for morning, to play music.

Old classic rumba tunes by Franco, Tabuley and the rest of them soon got many passengers encircling them. All one had to do was mention out the name of the song or even hum along and before one would finish, the fellow’s fingers would be stringing the guitar, flawlessly, without even looking at their instrument in the exact same way that the rumba maestros used to sing and play.

The fellow kept us entertained until the small hours of the morning while the bus conductor was busy ferrying jerricans of water into the bus because a bullet had pieced the radiator, to keep refilling it until a better solution could be found.

We soon set off for Arusha and the eager ones plastered onto their windows, staring at the new landscape. The homesteads had an interesting plan. The mud huts looked very pale as if the mud used to build them came from anthills.

The heavy early morning thick cloud cover denied us the view of the supposedly magnificent mountains surrounding Arusha and before long we drove into the cool morning freshness of Arusha, changed buses and were soon headed  to Moshi grew the tallest banana plants I had ever seen.

If you think that Rwanda’s road system is the best in East Africa, you would have to think twice after visiting Tanzania. Considering the whole stretch from Kigali to Kampala, Nairobi, Arusha and finally to Dar, the worst stretch is the Kisumu-Kericho-Nakuru section.

Tanzanian roads hardly have potholes, considering that they are much longer than any other in the region, at least considering the main highways.

The Tanzania hinterland is quite sparsely populated, especially along the Moshi – Dar route, occasionally bumping into a few towns on the way, and lots of sisal plantations sometimes spreading to as far as the eye can see.

At one stop, scores of Arusha buses stop for an eat-and-drink place. Local foods together with snacks available at an average of Tshs 2,500, drinks of all types for travellers to enjoy before taking on the long boring road again.

The allure of the Indian Ocean beach arrives much earlier than expected. Perhaps at some point, the road runs close to the coast without going really near.

The swamps suddenly turn into palm trees and big dodo trees (reminds me of an old taarab song that useto talk about a dodo mango lying in the beach sand).

At some points, fruits are shoved into our faces at ridiculously cheap prices, a polythene net full of fruits, about 20 orange-coloured oranges or three fully ripe pineapples for only Tshs 1,000. You might even get to eat a coconut.

The FM stations are full of the sanitised coastal Swahili, and lots of taarab and lots of bongo, and sometimes a dose of zilizopendwa tracks (the ones that were loved) in between. The journey from to is very tiring, whole twelve hour thing, so much so that it dulls the excitement of discovery.

The last stretch, as you join the road that leads one from Dar- es- salam to Morogoro and to Zambia, looks agonisingly close to the commercial city but a good two hours away. It heralds the entire nice things associated with the ocean, lots and lots of coconut palms and easy life.


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