East African transport. Part I. Dala-dala and basi

While most of the tourists in East Africa are looking for the reliable company to rent a jeep, we will tell about tougher African experience – public transport. It is tough, however, not because it is too terrible, but because too many white people consider it is terrible. But, as we said, it is often fun!

How to get from Zanzibar airport to Stown City.

Our first encounter with African public transport took place on our arrival to Zanzibar airport, when we had to get to the center of the island. There is very little information about the public transport from the airport to Stone City, mostly about the taxi for 10 dollars. Indeed, to find a dala-dala (public small bus) one has to cross the taxi stand fighting off the taxi drivers and follow a thin path through the hole in the fence. Dala-dalas are junkers, nevertheless, employing two workers each. Apart from the driver, there is a conductor – not only selling the tickets (and often “forgetting” to give the change back), but carrying out a multiplicity of other responsibilities. At every stop – almost at every turn, he yells out the direction of his dala-dala and tries to persuade potential passengers to go with him, even in case they do not need to get anywhere. Somebody finally agrees and sloooowly gets towards and then into dala-dala. Then the conductor informs the driver that they may go by knocking on the roof of dala-dala with his hand once. With two knocks the conductor requests the stop. One day when we were waiting for dala-dala to fill in for too long, Nastya could not stand it anymore, and knocked the dala-dala. It worked, as the driver started the vehicle in a reflex response, and only after some confusion stopped it.
Moreover, the conductor jumps into and out of dala-dala and stands on the footboard on the go in a spectacular way, entertaining the passengers. The demand for the payment is also unusual: the conductor jingles the coins in his hand, poking his finger into your shoulder: pay, my friend! Finally, the conductor cheats you in a number of ways, about which we will tell separately in a vast post “How to cheat a clueless mzungu”.

Dala-dala is the most widespread transport in the whole Eastern Africa, though unlike Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, in Kenya they are called “matatus”.



We have already mentioned the way locals get into dala-dala in Dar es Salaam to get the seats. We saw it on our first day in Africa, and in a month, returning through Dar es Salaam, we were perfectly fine creeping into dala-dala through the driver’s door to get the seats.

Our first bus station was Ubungo in Dar es Sallam too. Everybody tries to pull your hands to make you buy tickets from their office.


At every basi (“buss” in Swahili) stop, they try to sell you lots of things, including food and drinks. The rules are simple: first take what your purchase and only then give the money. Otherwise you risk to stay without both.


The seller of the sunglussed:

During the first two rides we were very lucky to take a very good basi of the ABC transport company, with air conditioner, cookies and even drinks provided.


Even its terminals were very nice:


There was no electricity on that day though, so we could not charge anything. Still, ABC was the best buss company we used in East Africa. We were too happy, expecting that the rest of the buses would be the same, in vain.
The buses in Africa are painted in bright colors wit different themes, whether you want safari or ferrari…



There are religious themes as well – Muslim and Christian:


In Tanzania, they mostly use old Scania buses, changing 4 seats in a row into 5. The new seats in the buses are of the very low quality, so old that Vitya once tore his pants with them.

There are pleasant exceptions though. For instance, the buses in Rwanda have only as many people as they have seats – we always imagined how outraged the Tanzanians should be by this wastefulness!

Not to disappoint the neighbors, Rwandians make the forth additional seat in dala-dalas.

And in Ugandan cars everything clicks into place again. Front seats of Toyota Corolla:

The transport in general can carry really a lot here:


Our most terrible bus ride was with Mohammed Trans from Tanzanian Mwanza to the border with Burundi. In this region of Tanzania, after every 10-20 minutes of a ride, there is a huge speed bump. It is not clear, what is the need of them, and the only reasonable explanation is that some local official just develops his own speed bump installation company.
Our bus driver never slowed down before them, that is why we jumped at every bump, sometimes badly hitting the heads against the bus (of course there were no any safety belts). Every speed bump was followed by the laughter of the passengers, although by the end we were not in the laughing mood any more. Also, many passengers did not have their own seats, standing in the bus with their luggage. During this 12-hour ride, only Nastya managed to get out into the toilet once from our back seats. The passengers were trying to sit next to us or on top of our back seats, and we realized that if we leave out seats for five minutes, they will be immediately occupied even though we had the tickets with the seat numbers.


On arrival, we also learned that there was a mattress behind our seats.

After 12 hours, that trip was not finished, as we proceeded to the capital of Burundi with Congolese pastor, but this is a different story; we will post only one photo as a spoiler of it:

In fact, chickens are very frequent passengers in African transport – Africans carry them in their hands similar to how we would carry some Chihuahua. Also we saw them carried on the top of the trucks, and the intercity buses, of course:

That is why every time we could not stand African transport any more, we realized that the chickens were anyway feeling worse. And we moved further…

You can find also the second part of our report about East African transport here.

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