When you’re standing on the bus, feet straddled either side of a stranger’s knee, your bag of groceries in the care of a Mama Africa you’ve never met so that your hands are free to hang on for dear life, stooped over with no choice but to your head resting on your neighbour’s shoulder, a rogue elbow resting on your own shoulder because personal space schmersonal space, the back of your neck thumping against the roof of the bus with each speed bump (and believe me there are many), and the flustered cluck of a chicken from the seat below you. This my friends, is when you know you’re in Africa.
And such was my daily experience in Arusha.
Arusha is one of Tanzania’s main hubs, where thousands of tourists converge to tackle Mt Kilimanjaro or to try their luck at game spotting in the Serengeti. Having opted to do neither of the two, I found myself with 5 nights to kill here.
We stayed at a campsite called Snake Park, another time-honoured tradition on the African overlanding circuit, and for good reason. Snake Park supports a life saving snake bite clinic which provides free medical care to approximately 1000 Tanzanians a month. Proceeds from the bar go directly to the clinic, so getting drunk here almost feel honourable. Any wonder all the overlanders make themselves at home here!
Being about 20 minutes out of town, I got very well acquainted with the local bus system. The easiest way to get to Arusha from Snake Park is by Dala Dala, essentially a beat up mini bus decorated in either rapper, football teams, or bible quotes. They’re cheap, they’re easy to figure out, and as a tourist you’re a guaranteed novelty so the locals are generally eager to help you out with directions and stops. Sure you might have to share the back seat with a farm animal, but it’s either that or pay $30USD to catch a taxi (I’ll take a goat over that any day)!
Driver Nick tasked us with trying to use up as much of the truck’s food stores as possible during our time at Snake Park, so we decided a party was in order. A surprise, children’s birthday themed, farewell/congratulations party to be exact. We were saying goodbye to Lottie and Carolyn who finished their journey with us in Arusha, as well as celebrating Carolyn and Helen’s mammoth feat of making it all the way to the top of Mt Kili without dying. If they didn’t deserve to eat all our truck reserves of powdered hummus and sweet onion pickle then who did?
We went into full party planning mode and every day was spent busing backwards and forwards into Arusha tracking down party food and decorations. We made streamers, donned party hats, and we even managed to make a cheesecake! I should probably be ashamed to admit that we spent approximately $25USD on cheese so we could have cheese and pineapple sticks, but I’m not. Those cheese and pineapple sticks were good.
The party was a hit, and despite a few bittersweet tears the girls were absolutely stoked. Not as stoked as Nick, the winner of pass-the-parcel, who now had a Mills and Boon to keep them company at night.
As for me, I was just looking forward to riding goat free in the back of the truck again.