A Stopover in Mwanza (Or, Where We First Saw the Marabou Storks Which Haunt My Dreams)

After checking out the rock paintings in Kondoa, we planned to head northwest to Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city, for a stopover on our way to Rwanda.

It was another early morning when we left Kondoa. Unfortunately, the best (least worst?) routing to Mwanza from Kondoa required us to first backtrack to Dodoma. Unsurprisingly, the road back to Dodoma was just as bumpy as it had been on the way up to Kondoa. If anything, the ride was more bumpy because our seats didn’t appear to be permanently attached to the bus – so when we went over a bump, it wasn’t just us flying out of our seats, it was us flying out of our seats with the seats flying along behind us.

We arrived in Dodoma mid-morning, and our plan was to forge on to Mwanza that same afternoon. Our guidebook indicated that Mwanza-bound buses that originated in Dar es Salaam passed through Dodoma around noon, and we set about looking for tickets on one of those buses.1

Bus station, Dodoma, Tanzania
Welcome to the Dodoma bus station, no one’s favorite place! | image credit: Massimiliano

The problem with the Dodoma bus station – and other Tanzanian bus stations like it – is that it’s full of middlemen. As soon as we stepped off the bus from Kondoa, we were immediately surrounded by a circle of obnoxious touts barking at us. Making matters worse, finding anyone actually affiliated with the bus lines was nearly impossible – the Dodoma bus station was nothing more than a sea of small third-party ticket offices, all plastered with pictures of buses from the same handful of bus companies.

There was no shortage of people willing to sell us tickets for buses to Mwanza. The problem was that everyone was wanted to sell us the tickets for the same journey at vastly different prices, and no one could guarantee that we were going to get a seat, although a few managed to produce conflicting, alleged seating charts. Beyond frustrated, we decided we would just wait until one of the Mwazna-bound buses arrived, at which point we could verify that there were actually seats to be had and then simply purchase tickets onboard at the appropriate fare.

Thinking that we could wait at the bus station in peace was just a pipe dream. We were relentlessly pestered as we sat on empty a patch of concrete, trying to fix peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and consult our guidebook for accommodation options in Mwanza. Telling the touts “later” didn’t work; “later” to them meant 90 seconds later.

At one point, a man (who I think was selling food nearby) noted our unmistakable displeasure with the whole situation and tried to intervene. “Tanzanians are friendly,” he told us. “They ask everyone where they are going. They just want to exchange ideas with you.” Marc politely explained to him that, as Americans, we did not view being swarmed by people incessantly badgering us about purchasing obscenely marked-up tickets as an “exchange of ideas.”

As we were finishing our sandwiches, some of the touts ran over to tell us that one of the buses heading for Mwanza had arrived. It was a bus with 2×3 seating coming from Iringa (rather than one of the posher buses with 2×2 seating that we had been waiting to arrive from Dar) and the only seats available were two in the very back row (which I don’t think I have to explain is the very worst place to be sitting on those bumpy Tanzanian roads), but it was in the station and we were promised it was leaving imminently, so we boarded.

As we could have predicted, the bus then proceeded to idle in the station while blaring music so loud that you could feel it in your teeth. African buses are infamous for their loud music, but this was just absurd. We tried to get off the bus, but, just as we were making our way down the aisle to exit, they slammed the doors shut and peeled away. Some shouting might have followed, but we got them to turn down the music before we were relegated to our terrible seats.

Welcome to the Super Sammy Express, our mode of transportation from Dodoma to Mwanza. (It looks nicer than it was.)

Somehow, we survived the hot, bumpy 11-hour ride to Mwanza. The driver took the rutted roads and ubiquitous speed bumps with such enthusiasm that I was sure my spine had compressed during the trip, but, miraculously, I was able to walk once we arrived in Mwanza that evening, a grueling 16 hours after leaving Kondoa.

Mwanza is an interesting place. Located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, the largest of the African Great Lakes, Mwanza’s setting is rather spectacular, situated amongst huge boulders – including one in the water known as Bismarck’s Rock.

Mwanza. | Image credit: Nikolaj F. Rasmussen
Lake Victoria, Mwanza, Tanzania.
Shore of Lake Victoria, with Bismarck’s Rock in the background.
Bismarck's Rock, Mwanza, Tanzania.
Close-up of Bismarck’s Rock. | Image credit: Jonathan Stonehouse

To provide us with some rest before heading on to Rwanda, we allotted ourselves a full day in Mwanza, which we spent lazing around our hotel (a welcome activity between two days of 12+ hour bus rides) and wandering around town. For the most part, our walk around the city was lovely – we loved the water, the rocks, and the brightly colored lizards we saw sunbathing near the shore. But Mwanza is also the first place that we saw the marabou storks, which are terrifying creatures that haunt my dreams. It didn’t help that this first group we saw was picking over a bunch of trash and fighting with some dogs.

Marabou stork
My first glimpse of the marabou storks. Tell me you won’t have dreams about them now.
Marabou stork
Close-up of a marabou stork. *shudder* | Image credit: sarahemcc

Where We Stayed:
☆ New Mwanza Hotel. Three goats. There were some weird aspects to this place: the clear glass-wall separating the bathroom from the bedroom, the rock-hard beds, and the ashtray in our room (when the manager swore to us that the whole hotel was non-smoking). But after the dismal places that we had stayed in Dodoma and Kondoa, the semi-poshness was a welcome, albeit pricey, respite.

Where We Ate:
☆ New Mwanza Hotel. Our hotel had a restaurant that was open late and served pretty tasty Indian food. I loved the vegetable biryani in particular, which was deliciously spicy.
☆ Kuleana Pizzeria. We were feeling unadventurous and had the “New York” pizza for lunch. It wasn’t great pizza, but it wasn’t bad food.

1 As we have mentioned in a prior post, trying to catch a long-distance bus at any point other than its origin is simply courting disaster.

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4 thoughts on “A Stopover in Mwanza (Or, Where We First Saw the Marabou Storks Which Haunt My Dreams)”

  1. I mean, I think the pile of trash which is next to the stork is much more disturbing. And is that a dog climbing the trash pile? What is happening here? 🙂

    1. Yeah, that’s definitely a dog. The dog and one of the marabou storks started fighting over some trash. If I remember correctly, there were some goats thinking about entering the fray as well. I didn’t stick around to see how the situation developed.

  2. I’m living in Mwanza right now, and saw one of these storks while walking into town last week. My reaction was very much a “WTF ARE THOSE. THEY’RE HUGE!” Glad I’m not the only one to have done a second take!

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