Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sai Baba ‘Express’

I meet Holly and Elsa back on the mainland and we enjoy a meal atop the roof of a hotel, taking in the towering buildings of Dar Es Salaam before preparing for the next leg of our journey.

Elsa, Holly and I in Dar Es Salaam
The taxi picks us up before 5am and takes us to the bus station. Being just before Christmas, all the buses travelling from Dar to Arusha were booked, and we settle for a cheap commuter bus, the ‘Sai Baba Express’, which we are told, will take us to Arusha in 7 hours.

Onboard it is uncomfortably hot before 7am. As usual, the bus leaves late, after 8 am. Our saving grace is that although we are in a 3-seat row of small, uncomfortable chairs, we are in the front of the bus and have some extra space in front of us. We put our luggage there and take turns sitting on the floor so that our sweaty bodies aren’t pressing up uncomfortably close together.

 Elsa and I - a mere 2 hours in...
Holly taking her turn on the floor

Me taking my turn on the floor

The Sai Baba bumps along slowly, picking up people on the side of the road and stopping (seemingly randomly) to eject passengers. We squish into our seats as bags of random objects and people crowd in front of us. At one point I end up holding a baby – his mom looks incredibly uncomfortable sitting on the floor with him so I reach out my hands as a gesture that I can hold him if she’d like. She passes him to me, and the girls and I take turns holding him. After a substantial length of time, I offer to pass him back to her. She shakes her head and avoids eye contact to prolong her break.

En route to Arusha - view from the window
Tusker (beer) ad - from the bus windown
The first 6 hours of the bus ride are ok, but things become a bit suspect when, after 8 hours we stop for our ‘half-way’ break. We pile out, stretch and buy food from a roadside cafeteria-style restaurant. I agree to watch Holly and Elsa’s food while they go to the washroom. Suddenly, I notice that the restaurant has all but emptied out. A wonky honk emerges from the bus. It’s going to leave without us! All of our luggage is on that bus! I run towards it as it lurches forward. I yell at it to stop. It moves forward again.
I have no choice – I can’t get on the bus and leave my friends, but I can’t allow the bus to leave. I stand a few metres in front of it, turn sideways and spread my legs to sturdy my standing position. I extend my arm out in front of me towards the bus and spread my fingers in a ‘STOP – don’t move any further!!!’ sign.

The bus moves forward a bit more and I’m forced to retreat. I move back but hold the same, ridiculous, defiant position. Holly and Elsa come into view and I yell at them to hurry to the bus. We get on and everyone is laughing. Someone quips ‘You think we could miss you?’ and someone else jokes ‘Do you really think we would leave without you?’. I look around and see that we are the only white people on the bus. They were just having fun with us. We laugh and get ready for the rest of the journey.

5 hours later, Kilimanjaro comes into view. It looks spectacularly big, but it is tough to see because of the clouds and setting sun. At this point we’ve been on this hellish bus for thirteen hours with only one stop. We tell ourselves that we are almost there, but it is another 2 hours before we arrive in Arusha. A passenger says that this is the longest time the bus has ever taken (due to bad traffic and frequent stops).

Later in our travels, we recount the story to a Tanzanian man. He rolls his eyes and knowingly says ‘you didn’t take Sai Baba did you?!’

Apparently the Sai Baba Express is infamous for being hellish. Holly, Elsa and I laugh and agree that from herein we will ‘Sai No to Sai Baba!'.

Sai No to Sai Baba


  1. First!

    Seriously, what's with the lack of comments? :)

    Awesome blog Lesley, keep up the good work.

    Steve J

  2. Wow!! Thoroughly enjoyed this piece! Some friends and I want to take a bus ride to Dar and someone recommended Sai Baba, so i decided to check it out online online when i bumped into your blog! Quite the adventure you had )))) I think i will Sai No to Sai Baba!