Driving like the Dalai Lama: On the Moshi-Arusha Highway.
Once you decided to go to Africa for your self drive Safari, driving the vehicle on the African roads and pads is pretty easy. Some cities have some terrible traffic, Dar es Salaam or Kampala, for instance, but Safari capitals like Maun or Windhoek are, when it comes to driving, a piece of cake.
The same goes for the whole of Botswana and Namibia, and Tanzania: empty tarmac roads, where you hardly meet any other vehicles except other Safari vehicles, some busses, some lorrys. Where some cows and goats browse in the grass along the road, two lanes, no people, no traffic at all.
Tanzania self-drive Safari: Recommendations for driving
There is one exception (counting the Mombasa – Nairobi Highway makes it two), and this exception to the easy African driving is the notorious highway between the cities of Moshi and Arusha in Northern Tanzania.
Arusha is the Safari capital of Tanzanias northern Safari circuit, where all Safaris to the Serengeti, Tarangire and Ngorongoro crater National Parks are commencing.
Moshi is the base camp for all expeditions and hikes trying to conquer Mount Kilimandjaro, the highest African peak. In between the two cities is the major international airport of the region called Kilimandjaro International (JRO).
And of course, this area is densely populated and agricultured, with plenty of coffee plantations scattered on the slopes of the mountains. Everywhere in between, you find small villages and subsistence farming by the people living between Kilimandjaro to the East and Ngorongoro crater tot he West.
The only road linking these tourist hubs is the two lane tarmac road between Moshi and Arusha, called the Moshi – Arusha highway, with a length of approx. 70 Km.
It might not have the size of a real highway, but it definetly has the traffic of a real, very busy and very messy highway. Traffic means: Very old and very slow driving trucks. Very old and and very fast driving overland buses. Some new buses, driving like hell. Matatus (Mini buses) all over the place, racing around in all directions trying to find passengers and behaving like a stampede of wild bees.
Safari vehicles driven by professional safari guides being paid for risking their lifes, and the lifes of their customers. Police cars, not trying to police anything except their wallets. Taxis and private vehicles of all ages, brands and corrosion statuses. People on foot, on bycicles, on motorbikes, on cows, on mules, on coaches and carts pulled by mules.
Only elefants are missing, but there are none left in Arusha National park, but zebras, goats, geese, dogs, worthogs or monkeys are crossing the highway, too. Old people, bunches of young people and school children in blue uniforms, people carrying huge loads of anything are crisscrossing the lanes without any indication whatsoever.
And in between all this chaos is the completely crazed European or American Safari tourist, trying to drive, maybe for the first time, on the other side of the road (Like in UK or Australia, in Tanzania it is rhight side steering, left side driving).
As Tanzania is becoming more and more interesting for self drive Safaris, the following code of conduct for the Arusha – Moshi highway might be useful for all of us who do not have any more lifes available.
Code of Conduct, if the Dalai Lama would have a driving license
The only approach that can help you to survive on this street - and I did it just like that: You have to drive like the Dalai Lama. Assuming the Dalai Lama would be the holder of a driving licence, of course.
Drive slowly. You let the buses overtake you. The more the bus is having signs painted on their front screen saying „Jesus is our saviour“, the more they are to drive like they have some more lifes available somewhere else.
The highway has only two lanes. Which does not mean, that only two vehicles can use it at the same time in the same place. You are expected to overtake, even there is traffic on the other lane speeding towards you and an ox wagon blocking you on the other side. So, do the Dalai Lama thing: do not overtake.
Any life form strolling along the road can suddenly become a traffic participant, so do what the Dalai Lama would do: Drive slowly and respect the other traffic participants intentions and maybe their strange ways.
If it all becomes too much, too stressful, and too chaotic, do it like the Dalai Lama: try to find your inner zen and regulate your chacras, or in other words: pull over and halt for a while.
Taking these recommendations and the approach of driving like the Dalai Lama, the Arusha – Moshi Highway can be mastered peacefully. Shortly after Moshi, when driving towards Mkomazi NP or the Tanzanian coastline, or some more Kilometers out of Arusha heading west, the craziness winds down, and the highway becomes the easy to drive on African tar road of our dreams.
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