Riding the bus in Tanzania was one of my favorite experiences. If that sounds strange, trust me, I know. It’s not as though buses are unique to Tanzania. And, living in a large urban area in the US, I am no stranger to public transportation.
I really cannot pinpoint why this experience was so much fun. Maybe it’s because at home buses confuse me. Conceptually, I know you go to the bus stop and look at the schedule for your particular line or route. But, I can never get my head around the cross-town versus up-town versus out-of-town and inevitably end up on the wrong bus. Laugh it up, I do. Perhaps my Tanzanian bus rides were so memorable because I got to conquer this strange bus phobia that I have developed since living in Manhattan.
Our guide showed up to take us to BBQ, declaring we would take the bus because “you must experience it.” So, three tourists walked down the street with our Kili guide, Israel. And we waited. To pass the time peppered Israel with questions:
How do you know when the bus will come?
How much does it cost?
How long do you wait?
What if the bus is crowded?
Why don’t you take a taxi?
This is another reason why Israel should be sainted. These are the silliest questions. If he had just met us, they probably would border on stupid. Or even offensive. But when you’ve spent six days camping (and in my case also having massive altitude sickness), you get to know people really well. He answered every single question, sometimes laughing at us, but answered them never-the-less.
Back to the bus. In Tanzania, buses are not the large motor coach style you see in the US or Europe. They are smaller, almost van like vehicles. If you are picturing a 70’s style Volkswagen bus you are on the right track. I’m sure there is a route but it’s not posted on a sign anywhere. Israel just brought us to the street and declared, “we wait here for the bus.”
Each bus has the equivalent of a ticket-taker who sticks their head out the window, scouting for passengers. Remember, there are not “official” stops. This person has eagle eyes for people waving down the next ride. Once passengers are spotted, they jump out, open the door and collect your fare. Sometimes, if there are lots of passengers, the ticket-taker will hustle everyone on the bus and collect the money inside. You can get a sense for this entire exchange with this video.
The first bus zipped right by, it was so packed they couldn’t fit any more standing passengers. But the second bus had our number. Albeit, a number for standing room only. And yet, packed in like sardines, the Yooner and I giggled like we were in kindergarten as we zipped through Moshi toward our BBQ date.
If you are uber-adventurous a bus ride through Tanzania is probably up your alley. For the rest of us, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. A lot of first impressions are (e.g., staring, chakachua) are prominent on the bus. One could easily wind up in parts unknown with no way home. The exception of course is if you have an amazing guide who is willing to share this experience. It’s not a magic bus in the literal sense or in reference to the song. But, its always magical experience to do something out of your normal routine.