A Dead-End Called Dar es Salaam
Travelling to Dar is pretty straightforward but getting away is challenging unless you want to spend a lot of money on flights or ride the potholed roads on crappy buses.
Our first option was to take the Tazara train from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. For that we bought a Zambian visa from the Zambian Consulate and paid 75.000 TSH (40€) each for a single-entry, three-month visa. The Consulate had no lights nor air-con on when we applied for the stamp but the next day when we returned to pick our passports, there was electricity. Did our visas pay their due bill?
The Tazara train station is five kilometres away from the city centre. We went there early in the morning to buy the tickets right after getting the visas. There was already a queue at 7 am. The ticket sales counter opened officially at 7:30 am and in reality at 8:00 am when the salesperson finally arrived.
Unfortunately there were no tickets available as the train was broken—or fully booked as they explained the situation. The next available train would have been 1,5 weeks later. We couldn’t wait because of our short Tanzanian transit visas. Moreover, we had already walked around Dar es Salaam so many times that there was nothing more to see.
We rejected the train and shopped around for cheap flights to neighbouring countries. We visited altogether some twenty airline companies and travel agents. The flights to Lusaka, Zambia, were outrageously expensive, almost US 500$ (376€) per person. With that money both of us could have flown to Mumbai.
There is obviously not enough competition in flight business in Tanzania to keep prices decent. We decided to visit the bus station and ask their offers, too. That was a hassle. Right after stepping out from Dalladalla, a local minibus, a bunch of hawkers and touts started jumping on us. While we walked past all bus companies, we had a tail of thirty eager bus ticket sellers behind us. Everybody was shouting at the same time: “Where do you want to go?”, “Which company?” We couldn’t even hear our own thoughts not to mention that the sellers tried to become too intimate. They were touching us and insisted on shaking hands.
All the offers we got were naturally mzungu prices. We had earlier learned from two Indian guys in the Zambian Embassy that the normal bus fare to Lusaka is 22.500 TSH (12€) per person. For us, however, the price was 85.000 TSH (45€) per person. Maybe they had better buses?
We decided to have a look at the vehicles. In photos, and from a distance, they looked acceptable, but a closer inspection revealed that it was only the outer paint jobs that were well done. The interior was rather absent. Motors, tyres and suspension had seen their better days in the previous millennium. The artificial leather seats without any kind of air-con promised a very sweaty ride of over 20 hours in an overcrowded couch. It was not an option for us.
We started searching for cheap flights to Johannesburg thinking that we can more easily move upwards from South Africa where roads and buses are in better condition. This proved to be a good strategy. We found a 144€ flight with Zambesi Airlines with a stop in Lusaka. The price was twice cheaper all the way to Johannesburg than to the first stop in Lusaka. No logic at all as is often the case with airline tickets.
Zambesi Airlines served us well. It would have been even possible to exit in Lusaka but the weather was so rainy and chilly that we decided to go all the way—not to mention the second delicious warm meal waiting on the plane.
Dar es Salaam proved us that the old wisdom about remote and undeveloped places is still valid: “You pay or you stay”.Key words: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, travelling, flight, cheap flights, Lusaka, Zambia, Johannesburg, South Africa, Zambezi Airlines, bus, Tazara railway, train.