A Bus Ride Between Tanzania and Kenya…

Bus travel between Tanzania and Kenya isn’t difficult per se, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it as easy as you might think…

The adventure really started when we were trying to find the bus station to book tickets for our departure. In the interests of saving cab money (read, “not be scammed”)’ we decided to walk to the bus station. We trekked half of Dar Es Salaam, I’m sure, before we found it squirreled away down a back alley (where our 2007 copy of the Lonely Planet thought it was)…with a fleet of buses that looked like they had been imported from Afghanistan after barely surviving a recent bombing and a once-over by automobile-part hungry street urchins… Obviously not roadworthy anymore, since the engines were MIA…
So, after some more hiking and several stops for directions (no, we weren’t going to cave in and take a cab. Who are we to admit defeat?!) we finally found a booth between a hardware shop and something else equally non-descript, labelled “Tahmeed”. That was it –we’d found it! We bought our tickets, and walked back to our hotel, which turned out to be an 8 minute walk away…

On the morning of our trip, we got up nice and early and walked through the rain (we’re not going to take a cab for an 8 minute walk!) for our 6:45am departure. We settled into our seats, ready to fall back asleep. Which we did for a while, until our bus stopped for a quick refreshment break. Obviously, there’s no need for vending machines in Tanzania, and anyway, they are completely impractical, since they can’t reach bus windows or even board buses, getting on at one stop, and jumping off 5 minutes later after having canvassed all the passengers, so of course locals make and sell most of the refreshments.

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After our snack break, and a pee break on the side of the road for the little girl whose parents let her finish an entire can of orange Fanta, we continued. Eventually we came to the town where we were to stop for lunch. As the bus came to a stop in front of a road-side restaurant and a couple of other Tahmeed buses, we were informed that we’d be switching buses. So, in the pouring rain, we gathered our bags, moved them into the baggage hold of the other bus, and dashed into the restaurant to grab something warm to eat (greasy chicken and undercooked fries, the local specialty, called “kuku and chips”, which happened to cost the exact amount of money we had left — 400 Tanzanian shillings). Within 10 minutes’ time, we were aboard the new bus, and on our way. The reason for the bus switch, we discovered, was some engine trouble in the bus we’d just boarded, which was to be returned to the Tahmeed main office, in Mombasa, Kenya, where we were headed. Oh joy.

The heavy rain continued, and with a bus load of people, the windows soon began to steam up. And Earl and I discovered why every bus has a young guy that always sits up beside the driver…

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Soon enough, we got to the border, where we had to get off the bus, walk through the Tanzanian customs to get the exit stamp, then walk across to the Kenyan side, to get the entrance stamp. Thankfully, the rain had somewhat abated.

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We spent some time waiting for the bus after we’d passed through customs, since the engine problems had apparently manifested themselves, so we had time for a few photos. Finally, we hopped back on the bus and chugged off. The road leading from the Kenyan border to Mombasa was a steady uphill climb, and did not seem to agree with the bus’ engine. After some disturbing noises and rough chugging from the bus, it finally stalled in the middle of the road. The bus driver, and all the male passengers disembarked to see if they could do anything about it. After about a half an hour, the driver finally crawled, dripping wet and covered in mud and grease, back into his seat, and we were on our way. Although the scary noises continued, thankfully, there were no more stalls for the rest of the journey.

The combination of Kenyan roads and villages is unique. It seems Kenyan villages are constructed, as much as possible, as close to a major road as possible. That means that not only is the road used for major transport, buses, trucks and automobiles, but also for local transport by foot and cart, and even as a pathway for herding cattle and sheep. Children run and play near the road, and parking strips near shops are barely off the road. The government had tried to keep traffic at a safe speed by liberally covering the road with speed bumps. Even so, it is scary to see a car passing a passenger bus, which has swerved into the other lane to avoid a slow-moving pick-up truck with 10 people in the back, just as a transport truck is bearing down on them all from the other side. It’s even scarier if you’re in the bus as this is all happening…

Anyway, we were lucky, because we made it to the Mombasa ferry without further incident.

The Mombasa ferry system is a bit unique. Until our bus arrived there and we suddenly had to disembark, Earl and I didn’t even realize there was one. Anyway, for whatever reason, we had to get off our bus, weave through some kind of market with throngs of other people, and board a ferry for a 10 minute crossing. Thank goodness for the guy with the teal shirt on our bus, who we were just barely able to follow through the crowd! After our short ferry ride, we again walked through a market with throngs of people and were allowed to reboard our bus for the remaining 20 minute trip to the bus station in Mombasa.

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“Bus station” is a bit of a unique word to use to describe the street lined with huts and store-front structures, each owned by different private companies, all conveying people to different locations (and many of the same locations) by bus. Below you can see the Tahmeed office. Obviously a little smaller than we had envisioned for a “main” office… Perhaps the real one was around the corner… You never can tell in Kenya, as it seems. There’s always a bit of chaos, but we’ve gotten used to that in Africa by now. Anyway, we got off at our stop, happy to have arrived, and ready to head off on our next adventure, Mombasa itself!

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4 comments to A Bus Ride Between Tanzania and Kenya…

  • kitty

    and all these people fit on that ferry? Wow, I wonder whether that would fly in Canada

  • Bimal

    Wow, very well written. How many hours it took to reach Mombasa from Dar.

    • iPadNomads

      Hi Bimal, I don’t remember the exact time but it was a full day. I believe we left Dar around 6 or 7 in the morning. I’m thinking it was at least 10-12 hours to get there. Buses with the locals is a great experience while traveling. Thanks for your comment!

  • Tassaduq Hussain

    Interesting commentary. You have aptly portrayed the pathetic conditions of journey.I have read many lines twice to make full comprehension. I and my wife, both above 60, intend to undertake this journey on Tahmeed Coach in November 2016. I wish and pray the situation has improved during last 4 years.

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