Covering over 650 kilometers of hills, valleys and endless plains, the journey from Arusha City to Dar es Salaam is not something to be taken for leisure.
Even foreign tourists, who drive through the wilderness of Serengeti, in spine-breaking, rugged trucks amid spine chilling packs of wild animals, think twice before commuting by bus between Arusha and Dar on the better paved road.
The long journey by road forces travellers through five regions in the quest to reach Dar and is the most affordable of traveling to the capital from Arusha on a shoestring budget. The most expensive bus ride between Arusha and Dar costs 30,000/- which is essentially the same amount that one will have to pay for a shuttle bus from Arusha to Kilimanjaro Airport shelling out 200,000/- for an air ticket.
Travellers from Dar to Arusha report at the single bus terminal in Ubungo but travellers departing from Arusha catch up with buses of their choice at different parts of the town. Buses like Dar Express, Sumry and Metro depart from the backstreets of Levolosi area. Kilimanjaro Express buses embark from Kaloleni. Shabiby near Chini ya Mti in Majengo, while Royal Coach was found all the way in Mianzini.
Other carriers operate from tiny, crowded bus stations in the city centre where they are surrounded by dubious ticket dealers, counterfeit goods traders, street boys, magicians, thieves, madmen, demented women and street preachers. Once the buses drive out of Arusha the only challenge remaining is how to dodge the money-hungry, fault finding traffic police who dot the entire stretch of the long road as well as flinching whenever the high speeding coaches overtake a speeding competitor just as a menacing oncoming semi-trailer truck is trying to stay on the narrow road.
More than 60 buses, including those connecting from neighbouring countries, Kenya and Uganda, commute along the Arusha-Dar route, carrying nearly 500 travellers amongst them, on daily basis. The vehicles come in interesting categories including the alleged luxury, semi-luxury' and ordinary (cheap) category. The cheaper buses have a tendency of overloading and at the weigh stations arguments ensue that are cooled off by money exchanging hands between the bridge operators and bus operators.
Operators who charge less than what is indicated on the ticket compensate from the extra luggage pushed into compartments under the chassis of their buses and charge premium for such cargo. There are two weigh bridges along the Arusha-Dar route; the first is stationed at Njia-Panda section of Himo, in Kilimanjaro region, where many buses and lorries are sent to the backyard for overloading.
The other one, which is relatively new, is situated at Mkata area in the Coast region after being shifted from the old one at the Chalinze road junction. This weigh bridge is state-of-art, with four-track drives, LED measurement indicators and rest rooms for travellers. Inside the wash rooms for men, passengers queue up and there is a notice glued onto the wall that reads; 'The fine for peeing on the floor in 50,000/-.' Beneath the notice someone scribbled with a pen; 'Yesu Anaokoa!' meaning 'Jesus Saves!'
The weighing station is at Mkata and falls under Handeni District of Tanga and a few paces ahead is Msata the locations that sound almost the same are separated by a bridge. The journey usually takes between nine and ten hours through different environs ranging from semi-aridity of King'ori in Meru, the high winds between Same and Hedaru, some downpour around Mombo, misty clouds after Korogwe, the body-steaming heat in Chalinze and the salty sea breeze as the journey gets stuck in the gridlocking traffic jam when entering Dar.
The buses breathe new forms of life to traders peddling fruits and wares at Himo, Segera, Chalinze and Mlandizi areas and are the main customers of roadside restaurants located at Mombo and Korogwe areas. Some bus operators serve their passengers sodas and mineral water, along the journey which means the Arusha-Dar es Salaam route itself keeps beverage companies in business. The buses are subjected to pay station levies in the ten districts they drive through along the journey which just goes to show that people living along the highways continue to benefit from the route.