Flushed with success from my first long-distance bus journey from Dar to Bagamoyo and – more importantly – back home again via the melee of Mwenge bus station (change buses!) to Makumbusho bus stop, I offer these insights:
- Spontaneity is not the key here. Allow plenty of extra time for the journey to ensure you get a seat on the bus. Two hours standing in the aisle is an exceedingly long time. Buses do not adhere to any sort of timetable; they only leave the station when they are completely full, (i.e. one passenger in each seat and as many as can fit in the aisle as possible). This may necessitate passing up an aisle position in the bus leaving now in order to get a seat in the bus leaving next.
- Do not sit on the sunny side of the bus. The sun is unrelenting. Two hours in the full sun is an exceedingly long time.
- Sit near an open window. Two hours with moving air is considerably shorter than two hours without it. Surprisingly though, this is not nearly as important as item 2.
- Sit close to the back of the bus. The logic at play here: The bus only leaves the station when it is completely full (see item 1). Then it stops within the first 200 meters of leaving the station to pick up more passengers… They too have to fit in the aisle, and passengers seated near the door will be squashed in the process. However, passengers in the second-to-back row will experience only limited squashing, whilst passengers seated in the back row will not experience this phenomenon at all.
- There is no need to avoid sitting next to babies. These babies are extraordinarily well behaved and I have yet to hear one scream, even though the bus is hot and crowded.
- Do not wait like a polite Canadian for all other passengers to disembark at the terminus before disembarking yourself. This rookie error will require you to plunge forcefully through a solid wall of passengers hoping to embark for the return trip, and who are reluctant to concede even an inch of space to allow through passage. (A good balance between items 4 and 6 suggests the best seat on the bus is in the second-to-back row.)
- It is easier than you might have expected to locate the correct bus to change onto, in the melee of the station, to complete your journey. This is mainly because Tanzanians are exceptionally friendly and helpful and are undoubtedly more fluent in English than you are in Swahili.
- Calling “Makumbusho shusho” when you vaguely recognize an advertising billboard on your side of the road (because you are unable to see through the crowd in the aisle to locate the building that is your reference on the opposite side of the road…), will miraculously deposit you at the correct bus stop!