We left our campsite early, meeting a chap whose job it was to maintain it whilst the boss was away. Since we hadn’t actually met the boss we left payment with him and set our sights on Morogoro a large town 100 kilometres from Dar. This would provide a night’s accommodation before timing our entrance into Dar to avoid the horrific congestion during the several rush hours it suffers from daily.
The roads in Tanzania, are horrible to drive on. It’s not the surface, we’d chosen tarred roads with few potholes, it’s the experience. Firstly road signs are not always there, but police with radar guns are. You may see a limit sign of 50km/h, annoyingly almost one kilometre before the first habitation arises, and then you pass through town, past the police, over the speed bumps designed to slow you down by removing one or both axles, and then you leave habitation. But on leaving there may or may not be a delimitation sign. Are we in a fifty or is it open? The only way to be sure would be to drive at fifty until otherwise advised but that’s thirty miles per hour and we have both a country and a continent to cross. Meanwhile to add to the mental frustration there is a physical fear of death as coaches drive half an hour in twenty minutes around bends that shouldn’t allow for more than a trundle. They’re old and their chassis and axles have been so overloaded that they’re twisted and the whole vehicle is crabbing. (Crabbing is when a four wheel vehicle leaves four separate tracks whilst driving in a ‘straight line,’ the rear of the vehicle is twisted out of line with the front.) As they hurtle around the corner their back ends screech sideways into your lane, (picture hand brake turning in an overloaded and top heavy 1960’s coach,) frequently we’d swerve to miss them as they cut the corner in an effort to remain upright and fast. Lorries too don’t help, but their sin is that of overloading and sloth. Many of them still retain their previous owners’ names, from Guildford to Lancashire, all of those un-MOT’able vehicles have found a new lease of life in Tanzania. But, rather than slow an economy by taking them off the road, the police are bolstering the economy, and their pockets, by radar gunning the drivers of privately owned vehicles.
What with the mixed bunch of signs, the abundance of radar guns and a general disrespect for the police a ticket was bound to happen at some point. Driving out of a town Laura and I decided that it was time to switch drivers. I pulled into a bus stop as changing drivers is easiest when Redvers has stopped, only for a police man to approach and say that he’d caught me doing 66km/h despite braking to a halt. He and his female assistant caught us off guard, I hadn’t seen any signs, but I hadn’t been looking too closely, we weakly argued the cause whilst they frequently told us we’d have to pay and then pausing, waiting perhaps for our ‘suggestion.’ My suggestion came in the form of “You’d better get writing a ticket then.” They smiled, gave us a quizzical look and the in response to a second statement for a written receipt they pointed me in the direction of the two fat police officers sat, sadly, in another Land Rover 110. I greeted the male cop and he spoke only in Swahili. I apologised for not speaking Swahili, told him I’d learnt a few words but hadn’t been here long and he then started talking over me, more loudly than before but still in Swahili including the word ‘mazungu’ and generating bursts of laughter from the officers around him. I told him he was rude, disrespectful and that he ought to show a little more deference to tourists, who are his country’s third largest source of income (that last bit was made up.) I told him I’d apologised for not understanding Swahili and that I expected better. His smile disappeared and I was shown round to the other side of the car where the fat lady was sat. She asked me for the money. I pointed to her ticket book and told her I needed a receipt first. She stopped, offered another quizzical look and then she slowly reached for the book. Ten minutes later she’d completed what appeared to be one of the first tickets in her fines pad and I arrogantly folded out three 10,000TSh notes (20 quid) and thanked them for their time. (Fat man said thank you and goodbye in English.)
It wasn’t the money, nor was it the manners, we’d travelled 25,00kms without a fine or bribe and we’d just broken our duck; damn it.
Not long after, Somers was pulled over for doing sixty in a fifty. She’d been driving like an old lady to avoid more fines and obeying the road signs with some degree of fanaticism. The cop told her she’d need to pay a fine, Somers told the cop that there hadn’t been a sign and so how could she know it was a fifty and anyway she was only doing sixty. The cop pointed two hundred metres up the road to a delimitation sign as proof that we were driving in a fifty; unbelievable. Somers apologised but calmly stated that with no sign there she wouldn’t be paying any fines. The cop accepted her apology and we pulled away.
Our plan to stop at Morogoro changed when we realised we could probably make it all the way to Dar es Salaam by nightfall. We trundled through Morogoro at 48km/h and past the waiting police officers, stood as if casually talking but with a radar gun hidden underneath his folded arms and aimed directly at the oncoming traffic.
Our chosen camp site in Dar was actually just south of the city centre; and separated by a river with no bridge, only a ferry service. Our worry was making it to the bridge in time before the ferry closed for the evening. (It turned out that the ferry was 24hrs.)
We drove through a manic town centre in a traffic jam that had started ten kilometres outside of the centre. Laura was still in command and, at a junction with a filter light she waited for the green light before turning across the oncoming traffic. Two hundred metres later an angry voice on a bike was shouting through her window for her to pull over. The guy had on a blue helmet with five of the six letters required to spell police adhered to its side. His uniform was a pair of slacks and a yellow vest this time emblazoned with all six letters. His bike had funny coloured plates which we’d not noticed before but was otherwise another $1000 Toyo Chinese import the same as a million others in the city. He shouted again telling us to turn into a side street. Laura did, we pulled to a stop and waited to see what our offence had been.
The cop unstraddled his bike and walked over to Laura’s window. “Do you even understand international driving?” was his first remark. That took us a little by surprise, we paused before stating that we did and we had licenses to prove it. Laura avoided immediately condescending him by telling him she’d driven in more countries in five months than he had in his entire life. He looked at her driving license and demanded the import papers for the car.
The cop told us we’d gone through the junction without waiting for a filter light that permitted our turn and that as a result he’d have to take us to the station to process us. It was half past five in the afternoon. Evening was upon us, the sun in descent and we had good reason to wager that a police station tour wasn’t really up for grabs. Despite the fact we knew he was lying we were still nervous. He took the license and the carnet and disappeared around the back of Redvers for two minutes. That was the slow burn, that was supposed to be the time where our minds questioned all the nasty things that could happen in prison, all the consular officials we’d need to speak to, all the charges that could be levelled at us and that we could solve it all by giving him the equivalent of six quid. But we’d already paid the entire trip’s fines earlier that day, his chances of a bribe were zero.
He comes back with the papers and we get him to explain that he’s charging us for driving through a green light, he agrees, but sees no fault in his statement. Laura now points out that the carnet shows we’ve been in eight countries before here. Again neglecting to add that she’s probably driven on more continents than he has countries; his first remark had clearly riled us.
Once again we found ourselves looking at his uniform. Every cop in Tanzania is dressed to the nines. Crisp, pressed, whiter than white uniforms; and that joker was in his slacks and luminous vest, still wearing his skid lid with his chicken-chaser parked at a jaunty angle in front of Redvers’ sneering grille. Redvers was probably thinking “Just let me on, we’ll walk over that tin-pot tin-can of an engine.” The cop reiterated that we’d need to go to the police station and we didn’t dispute. But the time had arrived for him to give us some information, tit for tat and all that. “You’ve seen all of our papers so can we see yours please? How do we even know you’re a cop?” He faltered for the first time.
“Ask anyone around and they’ll tell you what I am.” We all looked around, there was a traffic jam over his shoulder pushing into a traffic jam to his left. There were lots of people milling around but none seemed eager to even notice us let alone jump to his defense. "I don’t carry my papers when I’m wearing my uniform," he added, pointing to his vest and ‘po ice’ helmet. We reiterated that his gear wasn’t convincing, if he was a cop he should be able to convince us, he had no radio and with no papers he hadn’t even got a charge sheet. He told us that we could ask anyone but we knew we'd broken the back of this encounter and even with our hearts still racing we were reaching the climax. He was still protesting but we reckoned that within two minutes he'd realise the game was up and send us on our way. He’d lost his vim, his get up and go, it was gone a quarter to six on a Tuesday night. His wife probably wanted him home for dinner not booking some tourist down the station for the sake of a few shillings. As hoped, he duly cracked and told us we could leave. We waited until he was on his bike before we sighed with relief. We don’t even know if he was a real cop. He did little to prove his credentials but the truth is we’ll never know. Laura drove away.
We got to the ferry queue and found that it was 24 hrs and busy around six at night and we a bought ice creams whilst we queued for an hour. We paid 80 pence for the car and driver and another 8 pence for the passenger. The campsite at Kipepeo was nice enough but a little expensive and a little farther away from the ferry than necessary. It was late and dark; we pitched camp and ate dinner with a couple of Swedish girls over doing a six volunteer session combined with holiday. My ‘fillet steak’ was a pummelled piece of leather made entirely delicious by whatever it had been marinated in.
Once more we drifted into slumber with the sounds of the Indian Ocean lapping into our ears.