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Adventures in African transportation

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Hi all! I’m here safe in big, bad Nairobi, waiting to meet my safari group this evening for the trip that leaves tomorrow. I’m pretty thrilled about the prospect of meeting some other travelers and having someone hold my hand for a little while. So, I think I left you in Blantyre, Malawi, where I landed with a nice Danish couple. Here, my friends, is where the transportation saga gets really interesting. Brace yourself, mom and dad. Everyone else, pop some popcorn.

Phase 1 of the epic journey from Blantyre to Nairobi begins…
There are many bus companies operating out of Blantyre, I’m told, and advised to take a night bus called the “Axa bus,” which departs Blantyre at 5pm and goes overnight to Karonga, near the Tanzania border, arriving there around 10am, which is perfect, as Karonga is not a nice place to spend the night: One must make it all the way to Mbeya in Tanzania for a good option. Anyway, this bus leaves on Fridays and Sundays. I arrived on a Thursday late at night, and just couldn’t face another 17 hour journey the next day. So, I decided to take a bus run by the national bus line called the Sacramento (I don’t know why, either.) which made the same journey, only leaving on Saturday night at 5:30 instead – I certainly didn’t want to wait till Sunday to leave – way too late! And this Sacramento is a “luxury” bus service, people – think Greyhound, only shittier. So I thought, same difference. Here, dear readers is how it played out:

1) Arrive at bus station around 5pm, and sit, waiting, till 7:30. In the dark. Fall into narrow trench I don’t see after crossing road to eat dinner. Well, at least the bus came, I thought, never mind the windshield, cracked in a million places or the rust around the wheels.
2) All’s well till 3am, and then Boom! a huge expellation of air as the bus hits what I can only assume was a crater-sized pothole and limps to a stop about 20 minutes later.
3) Everyone, including self, mills around bus, waiting for something to happen. Eventually decide to go back inside and try to sleep. Large African lady in seat opposite me keeps shaking fist in air and saying “Aye, Sacra-MEN-to.” As it gets light, notice many young Malawian boys standing outside my window, holding out their hands, repeating “Give me money.”
4) Around 7am, an American expat guy named Mike announces to me that he’s abandoning ship and I’m welcome to join, cause this bus could sit here all day while they wait for an elusive mechanic from a city 200k south. I throw in with him, cause really, how could it get worse than sitting in a dead coach by the side of the road with no toilet? Side note: If any of you ever travel extensively in Africa, I’ll make two life-saving suggestions: First, carry toilet paper. This is essential. Second, severely, severely dehydrate yourself. One day I went until 5:30pm till I had a sip of anything. It sounds harsh, but believe me, it’s better than having to pee when you’re wedged into the back of a minibus.
3) We exit the coach to hordes of young boys with bicycle taxis, 3-speeds, ready to take us to Dwanga, a “town” about 2km ahead. I think they’ve just been sitting there, waiting till we gave up. I get on one bike and my bag gets on another. This part was actually pretty fun. In Dwanga, I have to pee, despite dehydration. I enter a pub, they show me to the toilet outside, which makes the squat toilets everywhere else look palatial. It’s so gross I pee next to the building instead of inside it. Back on the road the most decrepit chapa (minibus) I’ve ever seen, held together with duct tape and gum, is waiting to take us to Nkhata Bay, not where I want to go, but close-ish. At this point, I’ve abandoned hope to get to Karonga and have decided to settle for Mzuzu, where there’s at least a hostel. It’s about 8:30am before the bus fills up, and I mean FULL, and we take off.
4) Minibus, inevitably, breaks down. Am struggling to see humor in situation. Haha! All of us are shuttled from dead bus to a passing pickup, where there are: 22 people in the bed of the truck. My size truck, people. The bags are “tied” to the back end, although to be fair, they didn’t need to be, as the 4-6 people sitting on top of them held them down just fine. I begin to question the integrity of my brand-new conditioner bottle, as everyone uses my bag as either a seat or a step-ladder to get in and out. I sit, at various times on bags of grain, the floor, standing and finally holding onto a bar on the back to make room for an old lady with some live chickens.
5) About an hour into the truck ride, guess what?? Haha! The broken-down Sacramento bus PASSES us!!! Haha! Hilarious! I talk myself off the ledge though. This will make an hilarious story!
6)American guy disembarks to walk 40 minutes to his solar-powered hippie compound near Nkhata Bay and leaves me to fend for myself. The truck stops about 3km outside Nkhata Bay, and everyone is instructed to get out and walk, because the truck doesn’t have a taxi license, I assume. I politely say, “I cannot get out of this truck. I would like to ride in the front. Thank you.” The truck driver can see that I’m five seconds from losing my shit, and says, uh, OK.
6) I’m here in Nkhata Bay! Yay! Except that now I have to catch another minibus to Mzuzu. On minibus, am sitting next to man with huge bag of dried fish. Of course. This ride, though tedious, is uneventful.
6) Arrive in Mzuzu, where I should have been this morning at 5am, around 3pm. Get taxi to hostel.
7) Here it is people, the very best part: I must spend the night here in Mzuzu and leave for Karonga the following morning, Sunday morning. Cast your minds back is none other than the Axa bus, en route from Blantyre, the very same one I didn’t want to wait for! HAHAHA! (Maniacal laughter).

That, everyone, was one day! Here’s the next day, but I’ll abbreviate for all your sakes.
1) Taxi to bus station in Mzuzu.
2) Bus from Mzuzu to Karonga
3) Shared taxi from Karonga to border.
4) Walk across border and additional mile, I’d say, to
5) Minibus (called daladalas here in Tanzania)
6) Bus stops every 25 feet to pick up and drop off. The usual, by now. Could have taken taxi direct to Mbeya, but wanted to save ONE DOLLAR. What is wrong with me?? There are banana trees everywhere though, and the nice man sitting next to/on top of me, buys me a cooked banana to try when I express skepticism. It’s like tasteless mush, not sweet at all; they actually salt them. Is gross. Man throws most of it out window for me, in addition to aluminum cans and plastic bags. This is also normal.
7) Arrive in Mzuzu, relatively unscathed at 4pm. Eat. Finally drink something – can of Coke in 30 seconds flat. Bus to Dar Es Salaam at 7am next morning. Nightie night.

I was going to combine the entries and write about Dar now too, but I’m sure you all have to take a break and go to the bathroom or something, so I’ll make it a separate entry. Peace out. xx

Ryan Adams would hate Mozambique

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Hi all! Here I am in Blantyre, Malawi, on my first computer for days and days. And naturally I forgot my journal with all the juicy (well, some of the juicy) details in it. Anywho, I think I left you in Tofo, where I was hanging out for days and days at this very chilled out place called Bamboozi. A big group of people actually shuttled up from Maputo together to Tofo, and we all ended up hanging out the whole time. On the shuttle on the way up, in addition to much Portuguese pop music, the driver played some sort of mix tape starring: Bryan Adams! The whole bus was rocking out to “Summer of 69.” Boy, that’s weird, I thought.

So Tofo was filled with days spent scuba diving with Manta rays, snorkeling with whale sharks, lying on the beach and drinking. Ahh. The closest town is Inhambane, where we went for a day trip also. Went to the market, got a cute straw purse, and took a picture of the market scene, with a woman sitting in her stall: She = freaked out. Started screaming at me in Portuguese for taking the picture. Luckily I was with a native Spanish speaker, who can understand some Portuguese and just kept apologizing for me. It is going to be very, very difficult for me to show you how different it is here, readers, cause no one wants their picture taken. I have a few very cool ones that I will post tonight or tomorrow though. It is, as you can imagine, extremely poor.

So, back to Bryan Adams. A group of seven of us left the same day from Tofo for another town on the coast called Vilanculos, which was hit by a cyclone in February, but is pulling it together. On the minibus to Inhambane, who should come over the speakers but: Bryan Adams! Hmm. We all sang along, of course. Spent three nights in Vilanculos, and took a dhow trip out to this amazing island called Bazaruto. On one side of the island, a huge sand dune, on the other, and Edenic wilderness. Except for the 5-star resort, but never mind. We opted for the cheaper trip which = mistake. Our boat driver dropped anchor right on the coral reef, which kills all the coral, then on the way back in to shore we ran out of gas. The boat only had a 15-horsepower engine, anyway, but it was something. I wouldn’t have cared, but I had to buy the bus ticket for the next leg of my journey that evening, and by the time we drifted in to shore it was like 7pm. I = was pissed off. I guess I just have to adapt to Africa time, though. When we told the owners of the hostel (called Zombie Cucumber) that we had run out of gas, they were like, “Oh, that happens every time. He only brings enough for one way.”

Disaster was averted the next morning though, as I was given a seat on the bus from Vilanculos to Chimoio, Mozambique, sitting right on top of: a bag of dried fish! Lucky for me I got on the bus, cause it only goes every few days, when full. Three of us were going on to Malawi, so I have been traveling the last few days with a cool Danish couple, which has been great because all the buses in Mozambique leave at 4am, and going to the bus station alone at 4 am = not fun. And, you guessed it: back to Bryan Adams. On the fish bus from Vilanculos to Chimoio, guess who?? That’s right, people! Bryan Adams!! I think maybe he has some sort of contract with the Mozambique public transport system.

Spent one night in Chimoio, then carried on yesterday, leaving there at 4am, and arriving in Blantyre at 6:30 pm. Needless to say, a long day. Here’s what it entailed: woke up at 3am, sat on bus till around 5am, got off bus in Tete, in northern Mozambique, got on a chapa (minibus taxi) to the border, took a cab from one border to the other, then got another chapa from the border to Blantyre, then finally, a chapa to the hostel. The trip is a blast, but people don’t realize that travel like this is hard work. I’ll be here for at least one more night, taking care of big-city stuff like email, before I hit the road. I’m trying to change my plane ticket and leave Africa on July 27 instead of the 13 so I can chill a little instead of having to hurry up to Nairobi.

Oh, here’s one more good story for you, and I won’t mention where it happened, but it’s crazy. When we arrived at this town, a bunch of people harassed us to let them walk us to the hostel, and we politely declined. We got there on our own, to find the English expat owner really upset, cause I guess this kind of thing happens all the time. Anyway, she had complained to police that street kids were harassing her guests, and then when they delivered them to her door, the kids would demand to be paid commission. So the kids, in retaliation, keyed the shit out of her car, really, really badly. This had all happened the day we arrived, so she was in a tizzy. Told us first that she was going to pay the police to beat the shit out of the kid who did it, and then when talking about it more, she said, and I quote, “I hope the little fuckers have AIDS. They probably do – serves them right.” OMG, lady, I think it may be time for you to go home.

That’s my news for today people. I’ll try to post some pictures tonight from the hostel. Oh, and I ran out of hair product. Get ready for some crazy hair. And before anyone says, “yeah, but you’ll probably be able to find something really good for your hair in Africa, Becky,” I’ll just say that hair gel is low on the priority list here. More on Malawi later! xx

Swaziland Etc.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007
Well, it's been a great morning of snorkeling with whale sharks here in Mozambique, but, back to South Africa and Swaziland! So, where did I leave off? I think I was covered in bedbug bites, ah yes. So, in total ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jumping the Shark

Monday, June 4th, 2007
Hi all! Well, I'm here in Mozambique, writing about all the stuff I've done two weeks ago already... I'll start with the shark dive! We were able to do it in an area called the Gansbaai, about two hours east of ... [Continue reading this entry]

Into Africa

Sunday, May 20th, 2007
Becky 022.jpg Hey all! This has been a long Internet day, what with the Italy posts too, but I found a super-cheap place and the weather sucks, cause guess what? They actually have winter here - ... [Continue reading this entry]

Lemon Trees, Package Tourists and Frosting

Sunday, May 20th, 2007
After Rome, we arrived in Sorrento much relieved to be in a smaller town. We had neglected to get accurate directions to our hostel, which was actually in a suburb of Sorrento, and after what really was the Bataan Death ... [Continue reading this entry]

When In Rome

Sunday, May 20th, 2007
Becky 010.jpg Hey peeps! Still here in Cape Town as I fill you in on Roma and the rest of Italia. Just BTW, if any of you are thinking of coming to South Africa in winter ... [Continue reading this entry]

Little White Sugar Cubes

Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Becky 001.jpg Left in the morning for Santorini on a 8-hour ferry ride. Never has the world seen so much gin rummy played in one day! Got to Santorini around 3pm, picked up at the port ... [Continue reading this entry]

Clash of the Titans

Thursday, May 17th, 2007
Athens.jpg Hi all! It's been a while, I know. As I get ready to write this blog entry about Greece, I'm sitting in Cape Town, South Africa. It's pissing down rain, and I've been advised countless ... [Continue reading this entry]

Let’s Get Out Of This Country

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
Before I get to the FAQs, here’s a little map to illustrate the wide swath of destruction I’ll cut across the planet. JK! (Props to Scott M. for creating this map!) beckysmap.jpg