Driving in Tanzania

Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Manyara Region, Tanzania
The Roads & Driving
We were apprehensive about driving in Tanzania as everyone said it was very difficult. I started a forum in Trip Advisor (Driving in Tanzania) to try and get some advice most of which was “don’t drive”.
We don’t know what all the fuss was about. The main roads are OK, the lesser roads, particularly in the mountains not good but so long as you drive sensibly there are no real problems.
The one exception is the main road in the Serengeti National Park which has very bad corrugations (for 50 miles) and it is difficult to do more than 20mph, unfortunately anyone doing the main parks ends up on this road a lot. The roads in Tanzania are no where near as bad as people led us to believe. The tar roads are fine, the gravel ones are OK so long as you keep below 40 mph there are only two problems – sleeping policemen and real policemen. Each village has a sleeping policeman as you go in and out which are designed to slow you down to 20mph. This is fine if you spot them but if you don’t and you hit them at 60 your head hits the roof of the truck and everything is thrown about.
Real policemen are terrible. We get stopped about once an hour, they are looking for any excuse to fine you except they don’t want the fine they want a bribe to let you off. We make it clear we don’t pay bribes – “That’s very interesting, perhaps we should visit the police station to sort out the details” sometimes works as does “accidentally” showing them the paperwork for the speeding fine so they know they are on a losing wicket. We were stopped three times in the 188 miles covered on Monday. We have not had hassle before in Africa, we were stopped twice in South Africa but both times we were doing daft things, in Botswana we were only stopped at vet fences and there was no hassle as long as you were not carrying an unlicenced sausage and the only time in Namibia was to be told not to overtake the car in front, as it contained the President it was a fair instruction it was just a pain that he insisted on keeping to the speed limit. Even in Mozambique which has a reputation for doggy policemen we were OK. The government introduced a telephone number to call if you thought the policemen was after a bribe, those who received the most “votes” were promoted away from traffic duties.
Tanzania needs to do something similar, they don’t just stop cars, at many checkpoints the buses are pulled up and every passenger has to identify their luggage, it takes ages.
You do see some interesting sights on the road, the chap below is carrying six 25ft poles on his bike, I hope he doesn’t go under any electricity wires (there won’t be any telephone wires as everyone uses a mobile – even people without water or electricity still have a mobile phone).
But rarely do tourists drive themselves, it seems. We only saw two other self drive vehicles in the parks and nowhere is geared up for us. Hotels don’t have customer car parks and ask us to park in with the staff trucks, the entrance gates at the parks are very bureaucratic and unless you know the system (as all the safari divers do) they can be a real puzzle. But as we are seen as being a bit “odd” everyone helps us through the maze of paperwork.
When you arrive at a lodge in the parks they ask “Where is your driver?” because they give him a bed in a dormitory and feed him as well (they don’t however offer us a discount for not having one).
When we say we don’t have one they look at us as if we are very odd, which I suppose we are but it is fun being different and not having someone else on holiday with you.
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