Saturday, January 11, 2014

Round, round, get around... I get around

I have been in Tanzania for almost 5 ½ months.  In this time, I have had the pleasure to do a little traveling around the country in various forms.  Whether it has been within a city or from one place to another, I have picked up a few tips.  For any of you planning on visiting me, or even just visiting Tanzania, here are some things that will make travelling a little less confusing.


Travel by airplane:

Other than when I first arrived, I have only been on one plane since I have been in Tanzania.  For the most part, the experience was similar to those I took in the US, with the exception to it being on the smallest airplane I’ve ever flown in.   Here are some tips.

·         When first flying into the country, be prepared to spend some quality time at the airport to get your visa. If you already have one, this won’t be a problem.  I had a short 45-minute wait, but have heard of people spending up to 2 hours.

·         If you are buying your visa in the country, be prepared with only new US dollars.  They wouldn’t accept anything older than 2009.

·         When flying on small airplanes from Dodoma (the capital,) be prepared for the most relaxed security I’ve ever seen in an airport.  Sure, our bags were screened, and the same requirements were ensured (only small amounts of liquids in carry-ons, nothing that can be seen as a weapon, etc.) but we sat for most of the pre-flight wait in a room by ourselves and had full access to our bags before they were screened from both sides of the security area.


Travel by taxi:

While the CAMS has a couple of cars that are available for staff use, it is not always possible to use them.  With only two vehicles, chances of them being free are good, but not ensured.  In the cases when they aren’t available, or when you are in a different city, traveling by taxi is often the best option, unless you are walking.  Here are some tips to help navigate the Tanzanian Taxi World. 


·         Be smart about your taxis.  There are numerous stories about taxi rides that turn into something you would watch on CSI.  Taxis can also be seen as targets for theft.  The US Embassy is continually coming out with warnings for US Citizens about crimes against taxi customers.  I have never had one of these experiences, but they remain nonetheless.

·         Don’t get into a taxi with people you don’t know, other than the driver of course.  Keep personal possessions that you don’t want taken on the inside of the taxi, away from doors and open windows.  Thieves have been known to reach into open windows to take anything from phones you are using to jewelry you are wearing.

·         If it is dark, take a taxi.  This rule is only broken if you have your own car or are riding in a friend’s car.

·         No matter what they say, taxi drivers don’t always know where they are taking you.  Make sure you know where you are going in case they get lost.  At least, you should have an address.

·         Negotiate the price before you get in, and feel free to barter it down.  If you think the price is too high and the driver doesn’t want to negotiate, find another driver to talk to.  It will almost always lead to the driver backing down and taking your price, as long as it’s not outrageous. 

After all, 5,000 shillings may not be the 7,000 they are asking for, but its 5,000 more than they would be getting if you don’t get in.

·         If you like the driver, get his number.  It’s always good to have a few numbers on hand for when you need one.


The Bus

I have had the pleasure (?) of riding the bus on a couple of occasions while in Tanzania.  The bus is a normal method of transportation in Tanzania.  It’s one of the things that locals do all the time and is a really inexpensive way to get around the country.  Every bus trip I’ve taken has been different.  There are a few pieces of advice that will help no matter what your trip is like.


·         Bring a Swahili speaker with you when you buy your ticket, and buy it a couple of days early.  Like I said, this is the way locals travel, so ticket offices are often staffed by locals with limited English.  Tourists aren’t often seen on busses.

·         Don’t be late for the bus.  Many things in Tanzania run on their own time frame, but the busses aren’t one of those things.  When they say they leave at 9:15, the bus pulls away at 9:15.  They don’t worry about filling all the seats once all the tickets have been filled.  They’ll just pick up more people on the way.

·         Be prepared for all sorts of luggage to make it on the bus.  I have ridden next to flat screen televisions, live chickens, bags of rice, and empty plastic buckets. 

·         Don’t assume that the number of seats on a bus equals the number of passengers.  There are frequently 3-4 people riding on the stairs inside the bus or sitting on the engine.  Although I haven’t been on a bus this full, at times there are so many people on a bus that during a stop at a weigh station, people are asked to crouch down so they can’t be seen in the windows.

·         Buy a seat in the front of the bus if you can.  I know it was cool in High School to ride in the back of the bus, away from the driver, but on an 8-hour crowded bus on (mostly paved) Tanzanian roads, this turns downright uncomfortable rather quickly.  Unless you like flying off your seat over bumps and landing on a complete stranger’s lap, sit in the front.

·         If the bus stops at a random location on the side of the road and all the men suddenly stand up and walk off the bus along with women with young children, don’t look out the windows.  This is a rest stop, even though you most likely can’t see any buildings.

·         Window seats are nice.  Even busses that are advertised as having air conditioning probably don’t.  It’s nice to have control of the air flow.



Daladalas are small busses, about the size of a VW Bus (in fact I’ve seen one that was a VW Bus) that have been re-arranged on the inside to fit 16 passenger seats and the driver.  I have gotten really comfortable with this method of transportation over the last couple of weeks.  While in Arusha, I have been on at least one daladala a day, with the exception of the two days we’ve spent at home.  As a result, I’ve picked up a few things.


·         Daladalas will stop for you, even if all the seats are full.

·         If you see one and want it to stop, put your hand out in front of you and wave it up and down.  If one comes by and you don’t want to get on it, just shake your head “no.”

·         There are 2 people that work on each one: the driver and a conductor.  The driver drives.  The conductor rides with his head (and sometimes half his body) out the window and shouts to people on the side of the road, seeing if they would like a ride to wherever the destination of that particular daladala is.  He also is the one that collects payment.

·         There is always enough room.  I have seen 5 people crammed in the 2 front seats next to the driver (three of them were children and one of those was less than a year old.)  This crowded-ness is helped by the fact that children ride for free, as long as they aren’t taking up their own seat. 

·         As with the busses, anything goes as far as baggage.  I have seen large bundles of sugar cane, bags of rice or flour, plastic buckets full of fruit and vegetables, large boxes, and even a couple of goats.  (We refused the goat daladala based on the idea that we wanted to have our shoelaces when we got off.)  If the item is too big for the inside, the open up the back and put it in the small space between the back row of seats and the back window.  (This is where the goats rode.)

·         The daladala isn’t full unless there are so many people you can’t close the door.

·         If you don’t want to get on one with no seats left, wait a little while.  Chances are you won’t wait 5 minutes before you see another one.

·         Conductors will fight over customers at a stand.  They don’t leave until they are full, or almost full.  The longer they wait the fewer trips they can make.  They want to fill up first.  Daladala stands are loud places.  Don’t be alarmed.



I have never ridden on a pikipiki (a motorcycle.)  I have come to realize that there really are no real traffic laws in Tanzania, at least where pikipikis are concerned.  It is common to see them swerving in and out of traffic, into oncoming lanes, and on sidewalks.  It doesn’t stop Tanzanians from using them.  Often, they are cheaper alternatives to taxis.  Here are some observations I’ve noticed as an innocent bystander.


·         As with many other vehicles I’ve described, any luggage goes.  I have seen televisions, desktop computers, couches, lawn mowers, bicycles, boards, long metal pieces, pipes, and even a goat on the back of a pikipiki.

·         Wear a helmet. 

·         Drivers will ask if you want a ride, even if there are clearly 3 people.  While this would be normal if you were, say, a mother with two small children, it is not so much when you are two adults with a small child.

·         Women in skirts often ride on the back side-saddle style.  They also barely hold on.  It scares me to watch them.  I cringe!


Well, I hope you now have a better understanding of how to travel around Tanzania.  I continue to learn every day. 


I also realized last week that I forgot to thank those of you who have made my December possible.   I am extremely grateful for the Kellers, LaRae Covert, Mary Kauwell, the Hagers, and Press Stephens and the Foundation for the Episcopal Church in Wyoming.

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