I love road trips. Hitting the road and trading the monotony of my daily routine for the excitement of the tarmac is priceless. Road trips are fun when experienced with great company. Good things are meant to be shared and road trips are no exceptions. Driving through attractive geographical features and diverse settlements is more exciting when done with family or friends.
I have done many memorable road trips all over East Africa. Hopefully, I will keep creating new memories through not only exploration of my destinations but also the roads that lead me there.
I have never planned a leisure road trip without at least one travel companion but I once sat behind the wheel and left Dar es Salaam for Nairobi all by myself as a result of unforeseen circumstances. As if it wasn’t strange enough to travel alone, I left the Tanzanian capital late in the afternoon. The idea of commencing such a long journey late without a co-driver or passenger was probably not a good one but circumstances forced me to do it.
My final destination was 900 kilometers away but the journey would be divided into three sections spanning over a period of three days. My plan was to spend the first night in a small town known as Korogwe, located in Tanga region and catch up with an old friend who was living there. As I always say, there is a story behind every town and I was hoping to learn one or two things about Korogwe before resuming my long cross-border trip.
Traffic along Morogoro Road was as slow as usual but when I drove past Mnazi Mmoja, I could cruise at 100 plus kilometers per hour. My friend in Korogwe kept checking on me every after 30 minutes or so.
"Excuse me, are you going to Moshi by any chance?" A stranger approached me and asked that question when I stopped briefly in Chalinze to buy drinking water. I don’t trust strangers and no one should. My natural reaction would be a sound NO but I wanted to know his motives before responding.
He had shabby uncombed hair and I could be forgiven to presume he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. His eyes were red and it was clear to me his reflexes had been tempered with by substance abuse. Beside him, stood four white girls carrying traveling bags and holding bottles of mineral water. They looked desperate. As I was having a conversation in Swahili with the stranger I didn’t trust, they stood there looking at us and hoping something positive would come out of my encounter with someone I looked at suspiciously.
He didn’t beat around the bush. He went straight to the point and made his intentions clear. He was trying to find a solution to the problem faced by the four American girls and earn little cash out of it.
The four girls, as I learned later, were Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Malawi. They were in transit to Moshi to participate in the Kilimanjaro International Marathon scheduled to take place the following day. They had traveled from Malawi aboard a Dar es Salaam-bound bus. Confusion arose when they were dropped in Chalinze only to be informed that the next bus to Moshi would leave in the morning. The same morning their event in Moshi would take place. They were anxious and in need of a solution. Desperate needs lead to desperate measures. When a hard-to-trust intoxicated stranger offered to solve their predicament, they followed his lead.
The stranger no one is advised to trust led them to me, a wary lone traveler and attempted to strike a deal. At the end of the day, the move he made benefited all parties involved. The girls got a ride to Moshi, I got company and fuel contributions, the broker earned shillings from the girls which I suspect was spent on illicit brew.
Before I left Chalinze, I had to make a difficult phone call delivering bad news to my Korogwe-based friend. Unfortunately, my plans had changed and I wasn’t going to spend the night in his hometown. It was getting a little late but I had to fulfill the promise I had made to my passengers - driving them to Moshi.
We had dinner and a few drinks in Korogwe with my buddy before proceeding to northern Tanzania. We entered Moshi at 11 p.m. and checked into the YMCA Hostel. The four Peace Corps volunteers went back to their country later that year but we have stayed in touch ever since. They miss Africa and can’t wait to come back and explore more. As we travel, we constantly meet new people and make new friends, some of whom remain our friends forever.
Moshi is a small town located on the lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. A lot might have changed but until then, I had never seen a town in Tanzania that was cleaner than Moshi. I started day two of my trip driving around the municipality and had coffee with another old friend who does business there.
I noticed a strong presence of cooperatives and trade unions. I also saw a few higher learning institutions. Tourism is evidently active there. I don’t like big congested cities and traffic jams. Moshi is exactly the opposite of that. It is easy to run errands in this town.
I had lunch with my new American friends who were proud of not finishing last in the marathon. An hour later, I was on the highway again. This time, toward Arusha. Arusha is located on the eastern edge of the eastern branch of the Great Lift Valley. The city is surrounded by popular tourist attractions including Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and Tarangire national parks as well as Mount Kilimanjaro and Olduvai Gorge.
Arusha is a tourist and international diplomatic hub. It is home to a huge population of mixed backgrounds including those of Arab and Indian origins. I have many friends in Arusha and half of them are not Tanzanians. The city hosts many international organisations with a diverse workforce.
Whenever I get reunited with friends I haven’t seen in a long time, all they want to do is sit down, drink and talk. I have nothing against that but sitting down day and night prevents me from discoveries things out there.
The boma that used to be a German administration outpost in 1900s hosts the National Natural History Museum. There is another museum near Uhuru Monument which is a source of information concerning proceedings of the Arusha Declaration of 1967. There are many other sites I would love to visit like the Masai market and the snake park but my friends preferred a beer and nyama choma reunion. I am not complaining though. As a matter of fact, I appreciate their hospitality and generosity.
On day 3, I drove to Namanga border post and proceeded to Nairobi. This is a Masai zone. I saw many indigenous Masai people in their traditional colorful attires grazing cows and goats. Has anyone else noticed that northern Tanzania is getting drier and drier?
Namanga town is congested and busy. There are many small shops, kiosks, forex bureaus and restaurants. You can hardly distinguish a Kenyan from a Tanzanian at this border town. There is also a considerable number of naturalized Somalis. Trucks, buses and private cars move in and out of Kenya all the time.
Although northern Tanzania has Kilimanjaro International Airport, many tourists from the west land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi and cross the border by road to visit attractions in Tanzania. Amboseli National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro are located near the border.
Real Estate in the Kitengela plains is booming. New estates are sprouting up all over the place, creating a fast growing suburb in the south of Nairobi. Housing development has attracted many other businesses and a modern shopping center. Kitengela borders Nairobi National park and Athi River.
There is an ostrich park in the area which is a popular tourist attraction. It is here where Jockeys are trained for ostrich racing. Races are held at the farm and occasionally at the Ngong Racecourse.
A road trip from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi is a journey of discovery. However, one trip can only give you a glimpse of what is in store. There is much more than what one can see in three days. There is much more than what one can possibly see in one trip.
The author is an adventurer on a mission to discover what Rwanda and the greater East African territory has to offer. Follow his awe-inspiring journey on Facebook and Twitter @ExposureRwanda