Forward Unto Dar! (Part 3)
I awoke at 3am to pack up camp, as I had done before in Lusaka. The night was surprisingly cold, but I suppose I was still at altitude and far inland. I had a breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches and tea, which was the same as dinner the night before.
I had decided to make an early morning run after fighting the Tanzanian traffic and police for two days. When I wasn’t being run off the road by mad drivers, I was being harassed for bribes by the police. In the cover of the early morning darkness I figured I could make good distance while everyone else was still in their beds. I was acutely aware that driving all the way to Dar es Salaam in one sitting was ambitious, but the white sand beaches were calling me. And I couldn’t possibly be beaten by the train, no way, how shaming.
After camp was dismantled and packed away I did my routine checks on the car; oil level, tyre pressure, coolant level. Everything was good. I decided that in the cold air and high altitude it would be a good time to burn off all the Zambian 91 octane fuel I had stashed away in the long range tank. Poor quality fuel tends to cause pre-detonation in warm weather and high pressure, so I cold night in the mountains is the best time to use it.
I moved towards the gate of the farm, only to find it locked. I was about to head back towards the reception hut, hoping to find someone awake at 3:30am. But then, out of the black emerged a Maasai guard in a red Shúkà. He had no torch or lantern. “Would you like to go out?” he asked me in fluent English before he opened the gates and wished me a safe journey. That was my first meeting with The Maasai.
I set my iPod to my favourite night time driving album (Black Light, Groove Armada) and settled down for the drive, spotlights blazing. I had the night all to myself. I moved through sleeping roadside towns, alone and unbothered. In the daylight I would have to deal with the traffic, and the police. The pattern of the speed bumps and rumble strips became distinct and familiar. Rumble strip, rumble strip, speed bump, speed bump, rumble strip, rumble strip, open road.
I passed permanent police road blocks, abandoned. All along the road there were the mad truckers, all asleep in their trucks for the night. I began to climb higher into the hills when I found a mountain pass that was the most perfect driving road. It was miles and miles of hairpin turn after hairpin turn, in the jungle. Steep walls boxed me in on each side. I forgot about the significant weight of my luggage, and let the Alfa be an Alfa. For 10 minutes I lost myself in the act of driving, before the jungle cleared and the lights of some unknown town appeared in the valley below me.
I’m not sure how many miles I covered in the darkness, but as the sun rose on a cloudy day I found myself in a valley, thick with Baobab trees. Later I learned that the place was called (wait for it…) Baobab Valley (Oh really?) and it was something tourists went out of their way to see. I was glad I had stumbled across it like that, it was a great surprise.
By now the mad truckers were sitting by small fires along the roadside, preparing for their long day ahead, and to crash into a bus coming in the other way, probably. The valley gave way to a jungle, which gave way to open fields. I can’t tell you what Tanzania looks like. It looks like everywhere and nowhere else all at the same time. What I can tell you is that it’s a beautiful, beautiful country.
Not long after Baobab Valley I took the road through the Mikumi National Park to Morogoro, and it was there that I found a magnificent mountain range. The Uluguru Mountains are a brooding, smokey range near the town of Morogoro. They catch moisture moving inland from the sea, so the whole area is wonderfully lush and green.
After Morogoro the traffic picked up heavily. I was now on the road running into East Africa’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, a port city with a population of 4.5 million people. I sat in the lines of busses and trucks for hours. Occasionally I could get passed one or two, but for the most part I was wedged into the traffic, and had to wait it out.
The traffic didn’t get better. The closer I got to Dar es Salaam the slower everything moved. My cruising gear went from 5th to 3rd and eventually 2nd was a stretch. For 100km outside the city I sat in stop-start traffic. The road is only one lane in each direction, even though Dar is such an important city. The going was painfully slow. I kept checking my Google Maps to see how far I had to go, always disappointed by the lack of progress.
Eventually, after almost 10 hours on the road I pulled into the city itself, where the road widened and the traffic flow improved. I hoped that I would soon be at Mikadi Beach, but it turned out that the horror stories of driving in Dar were true, and soon the road blocked up in dramatic fashion. I sat at a set of broken traffic lights for 15 minutes with my engine off. Then one driver up ahead lead a charge and we were across. This happened at every set of lights until I arrived at Barrack Obama Drive. Barrack Obama Drive (Everything in Dar is named after politicians) ran along the sea, passed the hospital, State House and the fish market, where I got caught in the traffic (joy) and down to the ferry that crosses the harbour.
At the ferry port I sat waiting for what was at least an hour in the terrible heat. A man came to my window selling drinks from an ice bucket, so at least I had something cold to drink. Then another man arrived selling snacks. All very good. Then a man selling magazines appeared at my window. I was about to dismiss him saying I didn’t speak Swahili, then I noticed he was selling copies of The Economist. So then had something to read with my lunch. Lovely.
Eventually I paid 1500 Shillings ($1.50 at the time) and they let me onto the ferry, which leaned rather a lot to one side. And half an hour later I was disembarking on South Beach.
A short drive down the coast road, and a dash down a dirt track in the trees and I pulled into Mikadi Beach. I had been on the road for just over 12 hours. I had been driving for three days to get to the beach. I had built Mikadi up in my mind as some sort of paradise, where I would meet great new friends and lay about reading in the sun, taking in a view of sailing boats and islands. It’s dangerous to develop these sort of expectations, I think, but would you believe it; I wasn’t disappointed.
Mikadi Beach really was all that. I parked my car, pulled off my shoes and walked out into the sea. It was glorious. In that moment I was glad I had decided not to go to Rwanda. After three days on the road I was determined not to do anything. I had finally arrived at the sea and was very happy indeed.