Trying Times in Tanzania

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June 14th 2012
Published: September 9th 2012
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Leaving Kigoma, I wanted to get to Malawi as soon as I could. I knew that this wasn’t going to easy, but it really was worse than I could have imagined. The South Western part of Tanzania is one of the most underdeveloped parts of Africa I have been to.

My journey began with a bus trip from Kigoma to Mpanda. I was up at 4.30 a.m. to get a taxi to the bus station. It was a fairly big bus, but was absolutely packed, with many people standing in the aisle. I was reasonably lucky as I got a window seat, I thought. The bus was filthy and got even worse as the day went on, as dust came in through any open windows. The bus passed Mahale Mountains NP, but any chance of seeing some animals were scuppered by the fact the windows were so dirty you could barely see out of them.

To cap it all off, an old woman in front of me, opened the window to spit out, only for it to blow back and land on my leg. The guy beside me saw this, tapped her on the shoulder and they had some exchange in Swahili. The gist of it was, I think, that she wasn’t overly concerned about her spit having landed on a mzungu’s leg, but she shoved a rag in the guy’s face, which he used to wipe the spit off my leg. I was too tired and fed up to muster up any protest of my own and just about managed to thank the guy beside me.

10 and half hours later we arrived in Mpanda. There is pretty much nothing to do or see here, so I bought a bus ticket to Mbeya for the next morning, which unfortunately was standing only for over half the journey. I checked into the Super City Hotel, which was reasonably decent. I was also amused to see a bar around the corner called the Aston Villa Bar. My half-hearted attempt to find a fellow Villa fan in this town was unsuccessful.

That night, I watched Ireland lose 4-0 to Spain in a display that made the Tanzanian management of the road from Kigoma to Mpanda look exemplary in comparison to Giovanni Trappatoni’s management of the Irish football team. Although, the materials, with which both have to work, may not differ too much in terms of quality. I was accompanied by some locals watching the match, who supported Spain and celebrated wildly as each goal went in. After goal number 3 went in, I had had enough and turned around to ask how Tanzania had done in the African Cup of Nations, knowing that they hadn’t qualified. When they told me they didn’t qualify, I asked how a country as big as Tanzania couldn’t qualify for their tournament, but a country as small as Ireland could and they had no answer. It was a very small victory, but all I had to cling to over these few days.

I was up at 5.30 a.m., still smarting from Ireland’s abject display, when I went outside the hotel to wait for my bus. It was due to come past just after 6 and at about 6.20 it came flying around the corner past the hotel and off into the distance. After getting the help from Charles, who I thought was the manager of the hotel, I went to the bus office to convey my displeasure. It turns out that this bus driver has done this before. They gave me a ticket for the midday bus, but this would only bring me as far as Sumbawanga, where I would have to stay overnight. The only saving grace was that it was a seated ticket.

It turned out Charles wasn’t the manager, but a long term guest as he was trying to set up a business in town. He was the only one who spoke English in the hotel, so they had him deal with me. He was an absolute gentleman, who had spent time in Europe and insisted on walking me to where the bus was going from to ensure, I was given the seat on my ticket. After a 7 and half hours on more terrible roads, I got into Sumbawanga, bought a ticket to Mbeya for the next morning and watched half a game from the Euros, before going to bed.

I was able to lie in until 7 a.m. on the morning I went to Mbeya. This was another gruelling 10 and half hour trip. We didn’t even have the luxury of a road for the majority of this trip, as we went along dirt tracks either side of a road that is in the early stages of construction it seems. In Mbeya, a horrible little town, only with some beautiful mountains around it to redeem it, I got an overpriced hotel room at my 4th attempt, withdrew some cash at my 4th attempt, had a cold shower and went to bed hoping the next day I would finally get to Malawi.

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17th September 2012

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