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Tourism memories: The day I drove from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi

Tourism memories: The day I drove from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi

For three years, I have been sharing my travel experiences within Rwanda. Before I launched my tour of the land of 1,000 hills in 2017, I was a regular traveler all over East Africa. Tourism is currently suspended in a bid to curb the spread of COVID- 19 and unfortunately, it will take a while before it resumes.

I am staying at home today, so that I can travel tomorrow. While staying home, I am cherishing all those memories I created during my past expeditions. In today’s segment of Tourism memories, I am reminiscing about the day I drove from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi.

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 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 if it wasn’t strange enough to travel alone, I left the Tanzanian capital late in the afternoon.

My final destination was more than 800 kilometers away but the journey was 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 pushed 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. My natural reaction would be a quick 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 make some money 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 the Chalinze junction, 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. Desperate times 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 some illicit brew.

Before I left Chalinze, I had to make a difficult phone call delivering bad news to my Korogwe-based friend. 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 in Korogwe with my buddy before proceeding to northern Tanzania. We finally made it to Moshi at 11 p.m. and spent the night at 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 of the continent. 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 the second day of my trip driving around the municipality and had coffee with another old friend who does business 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. Being in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro and in close proximity to a number of other iconic attractions, Moshi is strategically located.

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, towards 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, not to mention Mount Kilimanjaro and Olduvai Gorge.

Arusha is a tourist and diplomatic hub. It is home to a huge population of mixed backgrounds, including those of Arab and Indian origins. When this trip took place, I had many friends in Arusha and half of them were not Tanzanians. The city hosts many international organizations.

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 discovering things out there.

The boma that used to be a German administration outpost in the 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. I appreciate their hospitality and generosity.

On the third day, 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.

Namanga town is congested and busy. There are many small shops, kiosks, forex bureaus and restaurants. I could hardly distinguish a Kenyan from a Tanzanian among members of the local community. I also noticed the presence of a considerable number of naturalized Somalis. There were many trucks, buses and private cars moving in and out of Kenya.

Although northern Tanzania has Kilimanjaro International Airport, many tourists from abroad used to 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 boundary line separating the two countries.

As I approached Nairobi, I was impressed by the booming real estate sector in the Kitengela plains. New estates were sprouting up all over the place, creating a fast growing suburb in the south of the capital. Housing development had attracted many other businesses and a modern shopping center. Kitengela borders Nairobi National park and Athi River.

I saw a signpost of an ostrich park but I didn’t have time to check it out. I was informed that the park was a popular tourist attraction. It also served as a training facility for jockeys in preparation for ostrich racing. Races used to be held at the farm and occasionally at the Ngong Racecourse. Again, a lot must have changed now.

A road trip from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi is a journey of great discoveries. However, one trip can only scratch the surface. 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.

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