To Durban and back…the long way back

Leg 6- Lilongwe – Dar es Salaam

So being the kind of traveler I am, and my life can I test to this I don’t always book in advance. So, on this leg Lilongwe to Dar, I knew the bus company Taqwa the better of the 2 I had been led to believe left Lilongwe every other night but I had no idea where to get the bus from. The cost was approximately Ksh 3,500/= per person. When our bus arrived at the InterCape booking office in Lilongwe from South Africa I asked the driver if he could point us in the direction of the bus to Dar. Right at that moment on the highway leading out of Lilongwe was a Taqwa bus and our very kind South African bus driver bundled us into a taxi with the instructions to the taxi driver to get us onto the Dar Bus which was going to stop half a kilometer ahead to fuel.

Haya sisi hao with the cab guy following the bus.’ True to it we caught up with the bus at the next petrol station and the cab guy helped us put our luggage in the bus as I was haggling with the conductor on the fare. Once done we climbed aboard the bus and settled in our seats seat 33 & 34 respectively which were 2 seats from the back seat. So a few more passengers got in and in 30 min we were on our way. The Taqwa bus, was a Nissan Diesel bus sold by CMC Nairobi and Body fabricated by Master Fabricators. It was created on a double axle truck body which wasn’t the most comfortable for long distance bus journeys, but the seats reclined, and they were quite comfy. No charging ports on this bus so our phones were off and since it was dark already, we settled to sleep.

We woke up early morning around 6am, bus was parked at the Songea border waiting for the border point to open. It was a bit cold and foggy so wore our jackets and set out to see what awaited us. There was a line of trucks but ours was the only bus at the crossing this early in the morning and I was looking forward to seeing what the process of going through immigration would be. At 7am the Songwe border post opened and we filed in and gave in our passports. Since we are from Kenya, we had to fill in an exit form that we gave in with our passports. They took all the passports and then told us to wait and proceeded to sign and stamp the whole lot though it took almost another 30minutes before they came back outside and started calling out names & handing back the passports. Once we got our passports, we needed to walk across the bridge on the Songwe river to the Tanzanian side to get stamped in.

On the Tanzanian side the process was a bit different, we needed to line up and file in one by one, which made me miss the Namanga border point where its one building and the border posts are right next to each other. Anyway, we lined up and since it was early morning, it was quite a long line. They checked our temperature, got us to register our names on a big red book then line up to get an entry declaration form which we filled. We then proceeded to the counter to get our passports stamped and we were back into Tanzania. I thought this was the halfway point, I mean around 6 hours from Lilongwe, Dar can’t be that far, right?

Wrong…Lilongwe to the Songwe Border post was 620km a 6 to 7 hour bus ride which was at night so we were pretty much asleep. Songwe- Dar Es Salaam, 895km, almost the same distance as Nairobi to Dar es Salaam so it was possible going to take another 15 hours.

Back on the bus and we started our journey through Southern Tanzania, which was green and very beautiful. Tea plantations and countless farms with matoke all along the road. We had someone to change money and get our phones all set up on the airtel network so we could communicate. At Mbeya the money and phone guy got off and the breakfast guy got on. With a few buckets of chicken, roast potatoes and some matoke he came through the bus taking orders and dishing out the food in paper bags. As the bus needed only to make the scheduled stops so no breakfast stop just breakfast on the move.

The bus crew put for us a few movies and music videos that kept us entertained as the scenery outside kept on changing from the tea highlands and matoke plantations to the savannah land and game reserves along the way. The roads were good and we were stopped a few times for overspending especially in the town areas where the maximum speed was 50kph. We stopped twice once to fuel and a bathroom break around Morogoro. We finally got to Dar Es Salaam at 11pm at night after a journey of close to 1500kms.

What were my key lessons on this leg of the trip?

  • A lot of business travel happens between Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe more so because Malawi is a landlocked country. The bus had a lot of traders going to by goods in Dar for their businesses in Lilongwe.
  • Travelling in Southern Africa is easy, and everyone is willing to help. They will answer questions and make sure you have what you need.
  • I loved the friendly nature of all the people we met and even though sometimes we didn’t speak the same language we found a way to communicate
  • The road network is quite good and you can actually drive through all these countries with a normal car.

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