It started to rain.
So, we left Nairobi and headed down towards Mombasa. A fascinating drive with giraffes and gazelle gazing at the flowing river of maniac drivers.
In the night a huge figure startled us out of our daze… Elephant!
A huge elephant grazing along the side of the highway…where are we?
Ah! Of course!
All so natural, all so surprising to our senses numbed and dulled by the haze of civilization, pollution and possessiveness.
Mombasa. Fascinating mix of cultures and history in the humid mix of heat and… yes, more rain!
Our search for suitable orphanages turned out to be fruitless, the ones we did find were not real and the ones that were real were so over funded that we kept on searching until the rain told us to move on.
Jordi’s back was giving him trouble so a bus ride was out of the question. Vanessa and him flew to Zanzibar to recuperate and explore FootBallSmiles possibilities there.
I took an easy 500 kilometre bus ride from Mombasa to Dar Es Salaam, via the sexy town of Tanga!
Estimated travel time: 8 hours.
At 8 in the morning I went in the deluge to the hole-in-the-wall office, where the picture of the bus eased my apprehension.
After a breakfast of hole-less donuts and chai, I waited.
A screeching of brakes and yelling of Swahili greetings jolted me into action, running with my bags, dodging puddles and rain-drops.
I gave one of the ticket guys (there were 4!) my ticket, let myself be relieved of the bags and watched in dismay as they threw them into the hold, stuffing them in.
He promptly said my seat was changed to the front which was fine with me as I got to see the whole scene unfold straight ahead.
Except for one little problem.
In the rush, I just plonked myself down and proceeded to fill in the Tanzanian immigration forms.
Only too late did I realise that my seat was soaking wet!
Oh, well, only 7 hours to go. Dixit!
The drive was pleasant enough, considering the dead suspension, holes in the road and speed-breakers. the bus was nothing at all like the photo!
Mud huts, Masai tribespeople, animals and lush greenery all distracted me from feeling any intense discomfort.
At the border, all went smoothly and I chatted in my 6 words of Swahili with the young street vendors, bargaining hard for my peanuts and coke (yes, I had a bad stomach!).
The first 64 kilometres in Tanzania or 2 very long hours, if you prefer, were enough to shake all of my bones into place.
You see, the paving of that section has not been done yet and the rains have had an enjoyable time creating a mosaic of holes, puddles and gaping ravines in the sandy road.
Upon reaching the town of Tanga, the rain giving way to a sweltering tropical/equatorial heat, our front suspension gave way after bravely holding out the toughest part of the trip.
Our 20 minutes lunch break turned into 2 hours as they changed the springs.
A minor drama occurred as I realised that I had left my phone in my jacket…on the bus that had just disappeared on its way to get repaired.
I must admit that I prayed and sent white light around it…
After a while, I noticed the driver walking past so, I followed him discreetly around the corner and found the bus!
I calmly chatted to the ticket guy and asked if I could get something from the bus. He acquiesced and I checked my jacket pocket, heart thumping, for my phone.
Thank you! My praying had worked! That or all the horror stories one hears from travellers are over-rated, or, I was just lucky.
Regardless, I was happily relieved and gave the ticket man some money for lunch as he had been busy with the repairs.
As there was still time to wait, I got myself another coke and relaxed a bit.
Sitting there on a box, sipping my drink, the only mzungu in town, on the street of the mechanics…all black and greasy…dirty doesn’t quite depict the scene accurately enough, I noticed 2 kids playing with a football.
Hmm… should I?
Of course, temptation got the better of me and in total disregard for my wet jeans and white t-shirt, I proceeded to ask them if I could play too.
They graciously accepted, wide eyes and even wider smiles as I performed a few tricks for them.
As the bus went past, I yelled my Asantes (Thanks) and Kwaheris (byes) to my new Watoto rafikis (kids, friends) and ran to catch it for the few hours remaining to Dar.
As night fell, we were well on our way and I dared ask how much longer… only 45 minutes… no sooner had I nodded with satisfaction did we sputter to a halt, Dalla Dalla’s, buses and trucks (I had already seen 5 off the road) zooming perilously past us.
One of the support crew got a huge container, jumped onto a Dalla dalla and sped off into the night.
Some of the passengers jumped onto another bus that stopped to enquire as to what the problem was.
The women all took advantage to creep carefully into the bush for much needed bladder relief whilst the men stood around trying to figure out if lack of gas was the only problem…
Eventually our man returned and they proceeded to dismantle the floor in front of me and pump by hand something that was supposed to get the groaning starter engine metamorphose into a roar…
No luck. Only a long wimpy groan…
Ok, try again…
Roarrrrrr, Roarrr…on and on and on!
I have never understood why mechanics love to do that, but, the important thing is that we were on our way again!
The money changer in Tanga had told me where to get off in Dar, which hotel was good and how much it would cost by taxi, so I was confident it would all go smoothly.
My lunch money friend also told me he would help with negotiating a good price with a taxi.
As we arrived, we were accosted by a swarm of men, I managed to secure my bags, looked at my friend who was super busy and proceeded to ask one of the swarm how much for the taxi.
I was quoted 5 times the price!
I stuck to my price (3000 Tanzanian Shillings) and he came down to 12,000. I disagreed and walked back to the bus. At this point my friend looked over and seemed to nod that it was ok.
Still not convinced, I was off to ask another taxi. At that point, he offered to take me to the hotel and ask them what the price was. That seemed ok and I tiredly accepted.
Another guy got in the taxi as well.
Why are you coming too?
To make sure you are safe, he says.
Oh, well, a bit out of my hands now…
We get to the hotel and he comes back with his original price of 15,000!
I ask the receptionist how much the normal price is to the station.
He says 3,000.
Right. All clear.
No, he starts arguing that he had brought me from another station, that I was a Mzungu who did not know where I had come from!
He even called the police!
Not good. How could I know that the policeman was not his friend!
At this point, I noticed a tourist map on the counter…I then saw the name of the station and knew what he had done, typical drive around in a big loop!
So I drew our route out and the receptionist understood.
Even so, it was not enough and he was getting aggressive.
At this point, I called a friend who knew exactly what to say and I ended up paying 4,000, getting a receipt and changing hotel early the next morning. No need to hang around and risk retaliation…
By the time the police arrived he was gone.
Total travel time: 15 hours of rattle and hum!
One torn bag, very dirty clothes and a few gray hairs more.
This Is Africa!