The Road to Dar

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Making a long journey and needing to be alert.

Submitted: November 16, 2016

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Submitted: November 16, 2016



It is roughly six hundred and twenty four kilometres from Arusha to Dar es Salaam and the journey can take anything from ten to twelve hours. I have made the journey several times, mostly sharing the driving with other people but on a few occasions I drove all the way there and back. The road is much improved these days, but the first few times we made the journey, there were long stretches of potholed tarmac where it was difficult to know if finding a route around the holes was better than driving through them. The worst time it took us fourteen hours.

Our very worst journey was actually after the road had been improved somewhat when we took young Vai to collect her passport. Which is more than a two page story! Anyway, we were constrained by time and Mags had picked up some stomach bug so she vomited all the way! Vai was prone to carsickness, and she too was sick all the way! We took water with us to keep them hydrated but in those days I drank Coca Cola because it is safe, the sugar gave me energy and the caffeine kept me alert. There are villages where I stopped for a bite, Vai tried but Mags couldn’t face anything! We knew what was in store so we carried lots of plastic bags so I didn’t have to stop too often. The journey was a twelve hour one, but after a long and stressful day, driving through Dar and striking the Dar es Salaam evening bustle, a hectic bustle, with many of the traffic light not functioning and patrolmen busily waving their arms and nobody taking the slightest notice was a challenge!

The buses can be a bit of a terror on the road, there are the big forty-seaters that ply the route Arusha to Dar es Salaam, the thirty-seaters (Coasters) that travel at high speed between Moshi and Arusha – one of those hit me! And there are the Daladalas that run between township and stop whenever there is someone on the road. The bigger buses all have ‘In God We Trust’ emblazoned on the back and the drivers seem to have the belief that ‘they will make it if God wills it’! Coming towards you, they will overtake a vehicle at high speed flashing their headlights as if to say, ‘This is my head, my arse is coming!’ and you just have to get out of the way! Sometime that is difficult because there are just the two lanes and the road may be perched up a foot or more above the rest of the land, so if you go over edge, you are likely to roll! As soon as you see a bus ahead, you plan evasive action. If a bus comes from behind, you allow him to overtake. The conductor guy sits in the open doorway and sakes his fist and yells out, probably abuse but sometimes they are just having fun.

During most trips to Dar we saw what remained of bus crashes, some of them with loss of life. One time coming back from Tanga we came upon the aftermath of a forty-seater hit by a train! Most on board were killed, the injured had been taken to hospitals or clinics in private vehicles. There are no ambulances. By the time we reached there, the injured had been taken away but some of the dead still lay beside the road. We had to wait for the bus and train to be removed, which was a slow task with no heavy machinery available. However curiosity had me looking over the wreckage and I was made an interesting offer! A local guy wanted to go into business with me, I would buy the wrecked bus, and he would make jikos out of them. A jiko is a cooking fire and he would make metal ones that could be fuelled by charcoal. He would then sell them and share the profits with me. I respectfully declined.

The lorries, I call them trucks, at least trucks had better manners, they used to indicate when it was safe (according to them) to pass. But they tended to be loaded top-heavy so would not move over for fear of tipping, so overtaking had a measure of risk. They often had a man stationed in the back as a deterrent to would be robbers but they had another, more dangerous job. When the lorry stalled or broke down, the-guy-in-the-back had with him a large rock or block of wood to chock the wheel, apparently handbrakes couldn’t be relied upon! If he missed his flip, look out! Along the journey it was not unusual to see broken down or crashed trucks.

Most of the journey is reasonably flattish country, undulating here and there. Crossing the Wami River is about the steepest part. The river is wide and the bridge high above it is narrow with the steep approaches. In the earlier days, you looked ahead to see if there were trucks anywhere near the bridge  or the approaches because muffed gear changes and poor brakes could cause drivers to lose control! A caution approach is required.

There are no public toilets to go to over the twelve hour travel time, so you just have to find a tree! The buses nowadays have toilets but back in the day it would make a toilet stop, but squatting behind the bus was the norm. There was always the risk it would take off leaving people with their pants down! Even the remotest parts you are never alone, always when you stop, sooner or later a head would pop up, curious at a different sound. Most often the head would belong to a boy herding goats or cattle, but people are everywhere.

Most people I have spoken to find the trip from Arusha to Dar quite boring, but not I. I happen to be interested in the vegetation, geology and the anthropology I’m always enthralled with the diversity. Arusha is approximately 1400 metre above sea level so you are dropping down to sea level at Dar. There are outstanding baobab trees with the white pith of its fruit tasting like sherbet, there are kapok trees, who remember kapok mattresses? There are mango stands, orange stands and of course banana plantations. There are still sisal plantations, nylon rope is a strong competitor there days, but sisal rope has some advantages. There is a niche market also for sisal carpet. Savannah covers the interior areas, old Wally Mapplebeck my geography teacher described savanna as dry grassland with trees you can ride a horse among – he was right on.  Different species of Acacia flower at different times and have different colours. There is constant change.

But there are bare areas in the savannah, the trees felled to make charcoal! Shamefully the wood resource is being removed seven times faster than it is growing and it takes two bags of wood to make one bag of charcoal. Painfully for me, it is a necessary industry because the larger towns and villages rely on charcoal as their main source of cooking fuel. There is no firewood available in towns. And it provides employment and income for many young men and their families.

The road passes through the Usambara Mountains where a road leads up the mountain to Lushoto where I often went to purchase tree seed, the road also leads on to the President’s ‘Palace’, where nobody is allowed to take photographs. There is a grated tunnel on a hilltop where we were told the Germans hid from aircraft during WWII but it looks to me that it is a small bauxite mine that they were trying to keep secret. Up there are the Soni Falls. Further along the main road is the Pangani River with its worn boulders from where the dark water travels a long way to reach the sea.

People adapt to their particular environment and the dry, treeless Same area is vastly different to say, Chilinzi the junction where left takes you to Dar es Salaam and right takes to Dodoma and the Uluguru Mountains where most of the vegetables for Dar are grown. The houses are square with roof covering depending on the materials available, which may be grass, rushes, coconut leaves or banana leaves and increasingly corrugated iron. On the outskirt of Dar we noticed red crosses painted on the houses beside the road. These houses were made of permanent materials but were to be demolished to make way for road widening. The householders were deemed squatters so received no compensation and were provided no alternative place to live.

There was always something of interest during those long and arduous journeys, and I’m glad I made them!



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