Under the scorching Malawi sun I jumped in the back of a pick-up truck thankful I wasn’t on my bike as it wound its way up the mountain road. Then a transfer onto the usual overcrowded African mini van squashed between bananas, chickens and African woman. Five hours after breathing in the unique African body odour mixed with exhaust fumes we arrive at the border town. Then a crowded taxi ride later I arrived at the Malawi boarder with the sun about to set.
Stamped out of Malawi with not long before the Tanzanian boarder closed I was on the back of a bicycle taxi. In the nick of time I arrived before the Tanzanian boarder shut, light fading. I needed Tanzanian shillings. I changed money on the black market, all the money dealers telling me that my 3000 Malawian Kwacha should give me 3000 shillings, but I smelt a little rat. Sure enough after some investigation I found out I was meant to be getting 10 times as much –worth a try guys. Crisis averted.
With my 30,000 shillings in my pocket I jumped on the back of a motorbike taxi rushing to get the “last” mini bus headed for the Southern Tanzania city of Mbeya. I arrived at the mini bus, it’s engine revving and hoon honking, the motorbike driver took me for more than the motor bike ride as I handed over this new foreign funny money as I was hustled and pulled into the departing mini van.
After facing near death on the fast dark mini bus ride a couple of hours later I got herded off somewhere on the outskirts of Mbeya. I’m surrounded by darkness and a hoard of taxi drivers pulling at the lone white man standing on the road side left for the dogs. I have no guide book, I don’t know where I am, so I say “taxi, hotel’. They all shout 9000, I say 5000, Gilbert steps forward “Ok sir”. I like Gilbert, he’s tall and skinny wearing a second hand suit two sizes too big. He puts my $2 shop bag tied up with a bungy cord in the back of his unmarked car.
I tell Gilbert that I think I might go straight for the bus station and get an overnight bus ride to Dar es Salam. “No sir, buses leave morning. It’s 10pm, now bus station danger”. Bugger me 10pm. Having lost my cell phone I also lost my one time telling device. It seems that as well as crossing the border I also crossed a time zone as well.
“OK Mr Gilbert, take me to a back packer hostel”. I get a blank stare, I say it slower, still a blank stare. Mbeya is not really a tourist city, it’s a city you bypass on your way into Malawi, or on your way to the Tanzanian coast or Mt Kilimanjaro in the north.
I rephrase it, “take me where the white man with no money sleeps”
He laughs, “all white man have money”
We stop outside a black gate, he toots and a guard lets us in. Gilbert takes me to the reception of the local hostel, it’s cheap and Mr Mango the receptionist is friendly.
I can’t be bothered having a bucket shower. I ask Mr Mango where I can get food at this time of night. I walk out the gate down the dark street, find some street food which happens to be a chip omelette – I like this country. Off another street vendor I buy a big bottle of local beer that is called “Kilimanjaro”, apparently it quenches the big Tanzanian thirst. Perfect.
The next leg of my trip starts when Mr Mango knocks of my door signalling it’s 4.45am. Gilbert was right, all buses leave in the morning. I get to the bus station at 5.15am. The bus I want is fully booked, so is my second choice. It’s clear that you have to pre-book buses to get the good one. Now I only have one option any number of shit buses. My bus station touts tell me that the buses leave at 5.30am and arrive the following day at 12 in the afternoon. Ummm, shit bus or wait for tomorrow morning. Shit bus wins. With the bus leaving soon and no choices, my bargaining attempts are received with brick wall faces. I pay more for the shit bus than I would for the nice bus. What do you do?
Before I pay I make the guy show me my seat as I have specifically asked for a window seat and to be on the side of the bus where there are 2 seats instead of 3. Funnily enough he shows me the seat on my ticket and it has me in the middle seat of the three side. “oh mistake” he tells me. Fancy that. I pay my white man price and get my window seat. The bus leaves in a mist of exhaust smoke, toots, banging on the bus and shouting. Surprisingly the bus is only half full. But an hour later and a hundred road side stops we have 70 people packed on the bus. I’m squashed on my seat, the seats are ridiculously narrow, even with my 10 year old girl hips I’m squashed next to the young university guy beside me and the window.
We hit the open road that the Chinese have built. I have never been in a country that has so many speed bumps on a main road. The university student beside me tells it is to stop speeding. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the drivers, they hit them at full speed, the bus passengers “urgh” in unison. I make an observation that there is a correlation between crying babies and hitting speed bumps at speed. As well as the babies not liking the speed bumps my bladder also is not a fan. The bus driver tells me he can’t let me off the bus to go to the toilet. OK, best I stop drinking water.
It’s only a 30 hour bus ride, could be worse.
After 18 hours of heat, sweat, no a/c, no dvd movies, no ipod, a swollen bladder, num legs, hassled by a drunk guy who is adamant I’m Israeli and only two toilet stops I get told we have arrived. What it’s only midnight, I had mentally prepared for 12 more hours. Now I realise I misunderstood the guys at the bus station, it was not midday they were meaning but rather midnight it arrived.
As I get a motorbike taxi from the bus station to a cheap hotel I think to myself how travelling as a backpacker and travelling as a cyclist are such different experiences. But maybe that’s another post.
All I actually set out to say in this post was that I arrived safely in Moshi, the town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. I start my climb on the 6th of November. I have a few posts that I have scheduled to be published whilst I’m on the mountain.
The Final countdown has begun!!!!