Published: July 23rd 2012July 21st 2012
Yes, I'm definitely off the beaten track. Most visitors to Tanzania concentrate on the northern circuit of game parks, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. Not that there aren't game parks here on the west of Tanzania by Lake Tanganyika - there's Gombe NP and Mahale Mountains NP both known for their chimps, and Katavi NP, the 3rd largest NP in Tanzania.
But since I'm not planning on visiting any national parks around here ... I'm just travelling down to Zambia to meet up with my family ... I haven't met any other travellers ... there's been the occasional safari 4x4 ... but very few in number. I expected to meet some hardy souls in Ujiji or Kigoma ... but, I was the only Muzungu.
There would likely have been some travellers on the MV Liemba travelling down to Zambia. But, due to bad plannning on my part in not having a Zambian visa pre-arranged, I'm on the Muzungu-free trail for a short time. Vic Falls/Livingstone is going to be the opposite of this.
I tried to leave Kigoma on Friday the 20th ... but, there were no seats so I booked a ticket for Saturday. Turns out the ticket was
made out for the 22nd. I didn't realize that.
On Saturday morning, I set out in the dark to the ticket office. I was a bit apprehensive in the dark, and realizing that cars would not see me on the road, I tried to stay as close to the edge as possible. I ended up falling into a deep ditch and got a bruised hip.
I got to the ticket office just before 5:30 and passed some men standing by an open flame warming themselves up. I was the only one there for the bus. One of the men standing by the flame approached me. I was ready for anything. If he showed a weapon or made a threatning move, I was prepared to throw my flashlight at him to distract him, and run back to the main road.
But, he greeted me and then said in broken English, "No bus here ... Bus there" and pointed in the direction of the hotel I'd just come from. I thanked him and went right back where I'd come from. I found the Mpanda bus at 5:30, the required reporting time. See, it pays to trust in people. Even
if the circumstances are not ideal.
Well,I boarded the bus, found my seat, and introduced myself to the nice Tanzanian man beside me. After the bus left, the conductor came and pointed out the problem with my ticket. Seems there were another person for the same seat. Hakuna matata - no problem. I just switched to the empty seat on the other side.
Then the man who'd been sitting beside me had a good loud argument with the conductor in Swahili. As you've probably guessed, my only Swahili is Hakuna Matata, jumbo (hello) and Karibu (Welcome), oh and Asante. Turns out the conductor was insisting I pay for that day and this man had advocated on my behalf to take it up with the bus company, since they are who wrote the wrong day on the ticket. Thanks fellow traveller. More trust building.
On the bus was the driver, the conductor, a mechanic who was constantly busy topping up the radiator, jumping out and helping the fuel pump every time the bus stalled, and other sundry mechanical chores while the bus was moving. There were also two armed guards. One in the front, and the other further back. Turns out this area was known for banditry.
The travel bit was on the tough side. I expected the lack of leg space. But, I didn't bargain on a 3 year old Tanzanian girl sleeping on my lap for most of the trip and her mother's elbows digging into my knee caps throughout. The mother hadn't paid for a seat, so sat up front where the engine was. She was nursing her infant daughter most of the trip while fellow passengers cared for her older daughter.
This seems pretty common communal practice while travelling in Africa. Passengers naturally take care of each other's young children while loudly sharing peanuts, sugar cane and jokes in Swahili. The children are quite content being held in pretty well anyone's arms or lap. Not much in the way of crying babies. Any crying baby is pretty well instantly nursed by their mother. When I got too cramped holding onto the little girl, the man beside me was only too happy to take her for a while. The mother continued nursing her infant while digging into my knee caps with her sharp elbows every now and then. There was one lonely chicken who attempted an escape during one of the bus stops. But, it was caught and brought back to the luggage hold.
Remember, I mentioned armed guards. Well, armed in these parts means AK47. We were driving along when there was a loud BANG. Much louder than a gun shot. The driver just kept driving. I thought blown tire. But, the driver didn't stop. So, maybe a really loud back-fire? The mechanic didn't seem too concerned. At the next village, we stopped, and sure enough, it was a blown tire. For security reasons, they avoid stopping in remote areas ... so drove to the village and spent an hour there changing the tire.
About half way in the trip we met another bus comming the other way. The armed guards and the conductor switched buses. That way, they get to go home every day. The drivers and the mechanics continued on with their charges, because they are very intimate with handling the individual beasts.
I also met Dr. G.T. who has a Chinese doctorate in Agrochemicals from Shaolin, China - Yes, the kungfu place. He also has studied in Mumbai and Kenya but was born in Arusha in Northern Tanzania. He's very keen to get married and have children ... but with a non-Tanzanian. He's working for a chinese company selling agricultural chemicals, such as ferilizer and pesticides. He's a pretty intense and decent character, and I ended up taking his recommendation for a hotel. I'll be travelling to Sumbawanga with him tomorrow. More trust building.