On The Road: A journey into the unknown in Tanzania

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The Independent Travel

"Safari njema!" our taxi-driver calls out as he leaves us at Mtwara bus station, wishing us well. No, we're not starting some luxurious Serengeti adventure with chilled G&Ts at sunset. "Safari" in Swahili simply means journey, and we're boarding a dalla-dalla – a strangely fairy-tale-like name for a battered minibus – to our next destination, Lindi.

My partner Will and I are squashed on a seat that would be a tight squeeze for two five-year-olds. He's by the window blocking my view, so I busy myself observing life inside the minibus. We're the only wazungu (white people) on board. Six of the 18 passengers on this 14-seater bus are shouting into their mobiles, the radio's pumping out African hip-hop and the horn is constantly blaring. An elegant young mother with a crying baby slung in a papoose now boards, so the conductor offers his seat, grabs the first-aid box – the size of a large loaf – and sits on it.

Then the fish-man gets on, carrying four carrier-bags stuffed with fish, and plonks them in the aisle. Their smell permeates everything. Will turns pale – he has an aversion to the smell of fish, in the same way that most people have an aversion to the smell of vomit. When he opens the window, raindrops the size of chipolatas pour in. We screech to a halt and the first-aid box reappears as the conductor bounces off his make- shift stool, because a bajaji – a Tanzanian tuk-tuk – does a U-turn in front of us. Reassured that our brakes do in fact work, we relax.

On the next emergency brake – caused by the proverbial chicken crossing the road – my bag crashes onto the feet of an elderly lady wearing a kanga, the traditional wrap-around skirt that usually bears Swahili proverbs. Hers has Coca-cola logos and footballs emblazoned all over it. "Pole," I say quickly, apologising, and she gives me the warmest smile I've ever seen, reminding me of all that's great about Tanzania. Two hours later, we reach Lindi, find the nearest bar and devour an aptly-named Safari beer.

The next edition of Footprint's Tanzania Handbook is available in June (£14.99)