And so the events leading to bus ride from hell number three started to unfold. The bus wasn’t due to arrive until 11.30 pm but Leonard, who was not as friendly and as obliging now that we were leaving, would only give us a lift to Mzuzu at 12.30 in the afternoon and charged us for the privilege. So the three of us (Stephan and Lucy were also coming, except Lucy decided that she wasn’t ready to leave at that time and would get the bus later whilst Stephan obligingly took her bag with us) plus two other locals crammed into the back of this small Ute. After another bone jarring journey we were dropped off at the Mzuzu hotel where the porter helpfully checked in our bags whilst we killed time in the town. We had lunch at the Sombrero restaurant and wondered as aimlessly as possible around the markets. It was here that we found a tape of ‘Brenda’ the instigator of the song that had been buzzing around in our heads ever since that sleepless night in the Gross Barmen camp in Namibia. It must have finally brain washed us because we actually bought the damn thing!
Back at the hotel we settled down in the bar to watch the cricket world cup until the game got rained off and we decided that we might as well have a decent feed here at the hotel.
Stephan is a big bloke who, we had noticed, likes his tucker. So when our meals arrived first – all looking quite respectful in quality and quantity, his mouth was watering. However, the look on his face, when what can only be described as a sample of a mini pizza, was put in front of him was priceless. He shook his head in absolute disbelief and sent it back, replacing it with the curry hoping it that it came in the same or bigger portion as Lucy had. Fortunately for the rather confused waiter, it did.
We caught a taxi to the bus station with all our bags and waited there with three other tourists for three hours. At around 12.30 am the bus eventually turned up and then all hell let loose. From the shadows all the other passengers moved as one towards the bus. People on the bus were trying to get off to go to the toilet and stretch their legs whilst what seems like the population of Malawi was trying to get on. Stephan used his bulk to push his way through the madding crowd with us following in his wake and eventually we get on. But there was nowhere to sit! The bus had obviously been overbooked and we had a choice, stand and travel or get off and wait a couple of days for the next one like one of the other tourists was doing. Well we stayed on and I stood with our bags around my feet and only one of my feet actually on the floor, rubbing rear ends with a sizeable local woman and hanging on for dear life. Eventually the bus moved on and the journey for the next five and half hours will remain forever etched into my memory. The recent heavy rains and flooding had damaged a lot of the roads and once again the bus spent valuable time trying to avoid or simply running straight through potholes. At one time both Sue and I incredibly fell asleep whilst standing up for just a few seconds of escape from this nightmare. Its 36 hours to Dar and somehow the thought of travelling like this put us into denial. Surely people would get off on the way and we would end up sitting.
We reached the Tanzania border just after dawn and without much fuss we were allowed to pass into our last African country of the journey.
Even though we were assured by the driver and his sidekick that there would be seats for everyone from hereon as a lot were getting off; the thought of travelling another 30 hours standing up was too painful to contemplate and we looked for an alternative during the hour or so stop.
It was Stephan who came up trumps. A group of five preachers from Malawi were travelling to Dar for a conference. They would take us on condition that we pay some of the cost of fuel and change some local currency into US$, which they badly needed to pay the horrendous vehicle transit fees that Tanzania had imposed on them at the border. They had a four seater Toyota Hilux Ute and the only room for all of us was in the tray! We didn’t deliberate too long; at least we would be sitting down and would most likely get there well before the bus. We later found out that the bus got to Dar an hour later but had to sit on the outskirts of the city for five hours because of a midnight to dawn city curfew on large vehicles.
So we got in and somehow the four of us managed to cram amongst the preachers and our bags and we were off. It was a long trip. Lucy and Stephan jumped out at Mbeya from where they were making their way elsewhere and we continued on with another 880 kilometres to go. All in all it wasn’t too uncomfortable and we were out in the fresh air.
We soon came to realise why these guys had been so anxious to have us along…………. they had no money! The fees they had to pay at the border was an unbudgeted expense and had wiped them out, so we ended up having to pay for most of the fuel. At first I felt cheated but then I thought well we’re helping them as much as they’re helping us. Maybe their master will look after us a bit better next time we attempt to travel by local transport.
Watching the scenery and the towns and villages go past from the rear was an interesting experience for that length of time (we had our backs to the cab). It was typical African rural countryside. Dusty villages and towns were dotted along the road with crops of tobacco, coffee and various others dominated the terrain. At one stage the scenery changed to that of the high country, small streams, rainforest and mountains as we passed through the Rubeho and Ulunguru Mountains before ascending down towards the coast where Dar es Salaam sits. Just on the outskirts of the Dar we were diverted down what seemed to be an endless, very dark unsealed road that made us very nervous. Our apprehension was justified half way along when a skinny shadow suddenly appeared on the back of the Ute and was obviously looking to pinch one of the bags. The speed of my reaction surprised me as much as it did him. I lunged with my foot and made enough contact and noise to frighten him off. The old heart was pumping well at that moment.
Eventually at 1 am we reached the city and then spent the next half an hour trying to find a hotel we had booked. These guys really didn’t know Dar at all and eventually we gave up and settled for any hotel. The Starlight Hotel was not the best value for money. It was tired and grotty and for US$50 it was a rip-off but by that time we really didn’t care and just wanted to find a safe bed.
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