HITCHHIKING IN TANZANIA – PART I

P1010630$50 USD bought me three months in Tanzania.

“And if you go to Kenya or Uganda, you don’t have to pay again on re-entry,” informed the courteous immigration officer. “And don’t change your money with the guys outside. Go to the bank.”

“Asante,” I thanked him in Ki-Swahili, the language of the Swahili people. Swahili means ‘People of the coast’ while Ki-Swahili means ‘Language of the People of the Coast’.

I made my way around the cargo loads of the people of the coast and their possessions. The excitement of being in new territories had me with my head up and chest out, despite the combined weight of my three packs – which I still don’t know.

I shrugged off all money exchanger attempts and the motorbike taxis. “You couldn’t carry me with all of my bags,” I grinned, trekking through the border town of Ipenda.

As I hiked I kept looking back to see if there were any cars or trucks heading to Mbeya, some 130 K’s away.

Nothing but motorbikes and buses.

Merde.

I squinted up to the sky, the sun baking down on me. 4 K’s later I came across a timber yard where one of the guys standing on the stock of wood called out to me.

“Jumbo,” I called back, stopping for a break.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Mbeya.”

“Why don’t you take a bus?”

“I don’t use money. Don’t have it.”

He grinned. “You muzunghos all have money.”

“A misconception, my friend,” I grinned back and explained my way of travels.

He whipped out a ten thousand Tanzanian shilling note (about $8 AUD). “Take this and take the bus.”

Thanking him I declined his offer. “I barter. Exchange things for things. No money.”

“No money?” he cracked up laughing.

“Money is the cause of every single problem we have in the world,” I preached. “War, power, unhappiness, poverty, bills.”

“Come up here, take a break,” he waved me up as he translated to the rest of the crew who cracked up laughing. “I’m Japhet. I’m going to Mbeya in about an hour. I’ll take you,” he said, handing me the keys to his car.

“Asante,” I thanked him.

An hour later we were cruising at about 130 K’s an hour in his Toyota SUV with tinted windows and air con.

“Want to browse the internet?” he handed over his tablet.

I hadn’t been online for almost two months. My mother would be worried which caused me to worry so I shot off a quick, ‘I’m alive’ message.

Mbeya is a busy city. Every single truck in the country appeared to converge on this town. Japhet pulled up to the bus stand. Instantly the vehicle was surrounded by hawkers, women selling mangoes and maize, everyone banging on the doors and window. Some posing for photos with the car.

“Let me pay you for a bus to Iringa,” Japhet offered.

“No,” I declined. “I appreciate it and I’m very grateful. But if you know of a lodge where I could play music for a bed and then in the morning I’ll hit the road to Iringa, that’d be great.”

Japhet watched a truck loaded with timber drive by. “He’s going to Iringa. Let me talk with him.”

We pulled into traffic and drove behind the truck that pulled into a truck stop. Five minutes later I found myself in the driving hands of Reginald and David, two guys lugging 35 tonnes of timber to Arusha with Iringa on their route.

“We go in the morning,” Reginald said in the little English he knew.

I had been in Tanzania for less than four hours but already noticed the significant difference in the people compared to southern west Africa. English wasn’t an official language. All the signs were in Ki-Swahili but still, everyone was friendly.

Reginald took me down the road to eat some hot cinnamon porridge and then later, at a halal restaurant, goat and rice with beans and steamed kayel. We returned to the truck. His cab had a double bunk. I was offered to sleep in the lower one while he took the upper bunk. David slept across the front seats.

I could only hope none of them snored.

***

The Banana That Split

05:30.

Pounding on the metallic door woke not just me, Reginald and David, but anything that might have been dead in the truck. Two women were seeking a ride. Reginald agreed to take them and we were off – at about 10 K’s an hour. 35 tonnes of timber was an ‘I think I can’ situation for the truck.

Bunches of banana lined the dashboard and I was practically force-fed potassium. As far as I knew, eating too many bananas causes constipation which can be quickly resolved with a strong coffee so I didn’t really worry about it.

After we dropped off the women Reginald indicated to my guitar. “Play music.”

David turned off the radio and after No Woman No Cry, both men whipped out their phones and recorded the rest of my set. The roads were smooth in comparison to Malawi (they actually had shoulder lanes here. Shoulder lanes!). Still, we bounced which turned the five bananas in my stomach into a smoothie. Clinching, I had a window of a few hours before the point-of-no-return.

Iringa came into view.

Reginald drove us into town where the roads were being re-constructed. Both truck and road teamed up to make my banana smoothie something to remember, the point-of-no-return fast approaching.

Stomach signaling brain via colon – find a can and hit it fast.

I was dropped off in the centre of town. I thanked the boys and began to briskly walk around looking for Central Lodge. I had emailed the lodge with a bartering request. I was offered a few days with a stay in a Masai village.

“Excuse me,” I asked a shopkeeper, clenching every abdomen and arse muscle I had. “Can you tell me where Central Lodge is?”

“Central Lodge?” the shopkeeper pondered. “Let me call someone,” he took his phone out.

“It’s OK, I’ll find it,” I walked off. I spied a safari truck with some tourists. I signaled the driver who rolled down his window.

“I’m looking for Central Lodge.”

“Central Lodge?” he pondered while my ass cheek muscles went into overtime. “I’m sorry, I’m new here.” Of course you are. “If you go up the hill, pass through the roundabout with the clock tower, there is a tourist information office on the left side.”

“Thanks,” I said and zipped off. Past the roundabout I approached a small vendor stall.

“Tourist information office?” I asked the shopkeeper.

“Office?” he frowned.

“Tourist information.” Patience, like what was about to come out of me, was running thin.

“Tourist?” he deepened his frown.

For fuck’s sake! “English?”

“No.”

I stormed off, spying a lodge down a side street with some tourists standing outside. Warning bells rang. My stomach growled. The clock was ticking – and not just the one in the roundabout.

“Hey guys,” I wiped sweat from my brow, “know where the tourist information office is?”

“No idea, bro,” answered one of them. “But it’s Sunday. It’s probably closed.”

Shit.

“OK, how about Central Lodge?”

Ding-ding. Find a toilet.

“You could ask in there,” he pointed to the Kilimanjaro Lodge. I walked in and was thankful that Emmanuel spoke fluent English.

“Yes, I know Central Lodge,” he smiled.

Sweet. “Is it far?” I was about to start hopping on the spot.

“Not far. Very close. Let me draw you a map.”

“Sure,” and while he was doing that, “Would you happen to have a toilet I could use?”

You have ten seconds.

He directed me to the squat facilities. I quickened my pace, shut the door, noted the bucket of water, dropped my pants and unleashed with the force of a burst fire hydrant.

Holy shiiii–

I squeezed, released, tensed, sweated, panted, suffocated.

Stabilising myself with outstretched arms against the wall as my stomach sighed. Fifteen minutes later I was washed over with relief and sweat. I reached for the toilet paper, my hand grabbing air.

I looked up.

Say it isn’t so…

I looked down.

You gotta be kiddin’ me…

I looked all around.

Shit, shit, shit. I stared at the bucket with water. Above it, on the windowsill was a bar of soap.

When in Rome…

I walked back lighter to Emmanuel who had completed the map.

“You see?” he pointed out the curio market. “You go through the market and there is Central Lodge.”

It was just a three-minute walk up the road. Thanking him, I walked up the hill and through the market where a lady asked me, “Where are you going?”

“Central Lodge,” I answered. “It’s just here, right?”

“Yes.”

“Sweet,” I took a step to move off.

“But it’s closed.”

I took a step back. “It’s what?”

“Closed,” she said.

“Closed?” I repeated.

“Closed.”

“Closed because it’s Sunday or closed for good?”

“Closed for renovations.”

Shit. “Do you know the owner?”

“Yes, Titho.”

“Do you have his number maybe?”

“Let me call someone.” Waiting. “No answer,” she said.

“Thanks.” I had about three hours to find a bed or a place to pitch my tent before it became dark.

“There is a guest house down the road,” she offered. “Naame Crafts.”

“Cheers.” I headed down, followed by a local, Pasco.

“Hey, you are looking for Titho?” he asked. “He is my friend.”

“Do you have his number?”

“Let me call someone.”

My stomach began knocking on the backdoor again.

“He will call me back with Titho’s number,” he said as he followed me into Naame Crafts guesthouse.

“Jumbo,” I greeted the woman at reception. “Are you the manager?”

“Yes,” she said.

I gave her my spiel but all I got in return was a blank look. “You don’t speak English do ya?”

She shook her head.

Sigh. “Thanks,” I gathered my gear and headed back out. “Your friend get you Titho’s number yet?” I asked Pasco.

“Let me call him.” A few minutes later he said, “Titho is in Dar es Salaam.”

“Dar es Salaam?” Sonofabitch. With a ticking clock on the sun setting and my stomach rising, I began about the task of finding a lodge to barter with – hopefully with toilet paper.

I walked back to the centre of town. Outta nowhere a young kid ran up to me, waving his arms and making noise. He was mute. He kept pointing, waving, moaning and following me.

“Asante,” I said, trying to shake him off. More noise. “Just go home, kid.” More moaning and flailing of the arms. I spotted a hotel and headed in, the kid staying outside.

“Jumbo,” I greeted the man at reception. “Are you the manager?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure.”

I gave him my spiel while two more guys had gathered around, the manager translating for their benefit.

“You see,” he began and confessed that, “I am the assistant manager. The manager is away.”

“I asked you if you’re the manager – twice,” you shit.

“Yes, assistant manager.”

Control. Take control. I breathed in. “Can you call the manager?”

“Not available.”

Motherfu– “Thanks.” I gathered my gear and headed out in search of another lodge. I walked in. “Jumbo,” I said to the receptionist. “Are you the manager?”

“Yes.”

“The manager-manager or the assistant manager?”

“Yes.”

Gave her the spiel. She blinks.

“You don’t speak English, do ya?”

“No.”

For the fuck of sake! I walked on, head beginning to hang heavily. Chest sunken. I entered another lodge. “Do you speak English?” I asked at reception.

Shake of the head. Next place. Rinse and repeat. Stomach knocking on the backdoor. Headed down side roads. No English, not the manager. Keep walking. Feet hurting. Weight of packs taking effect.

“Hey mister! Jumbo!” a carpenter building beds called out to me.

Maybe he could offer me a display model for the night. “Jumbo,” I said, wiping sweat off my brow.

“How are you?”

Tired and in a bad mood. “I’m looking for somewhere to stay,” I began my woeful tale. I needed to rant. A small group had gathered and by the end of it one of them, who was translating said, “Unfortunately, no one here is in need of music.”

“How about stories?”

He shook his head.

“Asante,” I said glumly and continued my search for another lodge.

“Speak English?” I asked the kid in what appeared to be a promising site.

“Yes, my name is Jackson,” he said.

Finally. “Jackson,” hopes were rising, “are you the manager?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? You are the manager? Not the assistant manager but the manager?”

“Yes,” he grinned proudly.

Spiel was given. I added, “You’re my last hope. I have nowhere to stay.” It was time to use guilt, a last measure that I have never had to use – until now.

“It’s impossible,” he said.

I grinned. “Nothing is impossible.” Cheese warning: “You know how to spell ‘impossible’? I-m-possible. See?”

He grinned. “I cannot help. I am not the manager.”

My grin vaporised. The life sucked out of my soul. “You’re not the manager?” I said, slowly.

He shook his head, his grin beginning to realise it’s mistake.

Steam rising. Hand to temples. Begin massage. “I fuckin’ asked you twice, Jackson.” I locked on his eyes. “I asked you twice if you were the manager and you said ‘yes’. It’s getting dark and I need to find a place to fuckin’ stay and you’re saying you’re not the manager after I fuckin’ asked twice.” I’ve never lost patience with locals but due to my stomach’s condition, everyone was treading on thin ice.

Silence.

“Call the manager.”

“Not available.”

“For fuck’s sake,” I sat down. I had to think but I also needed to bend the knees and settle my stomach. I took five minutes then stood up. As I gathered my gear I told Jackson, “If you’re not the manager, Jackson, it’s OK to say ‘no’. No one will be angry.”

“I’m sorry, my friend,” he said with earnest.

Ah, fuck it. “Asante,” and I headed out. The anger, unlike the rest of the bananas, was outta me. I walked around, coming unto another lodge. Went in. “Manager?”

“Small manager,” said the girl.

Another lodge. “English?”

Shake of the head. Walked out, anger resurrected like the savior everyone in Africa likened me to be.

“Jumbo, friend,” an older gentleman greeted me. “How are you?”

It was one of those rare moments where I answered, “Not too good.” Rant warning: “I don’t understand how you can work in hospitality and not speak English. Out of all the industries in the world, the one where you need to speak a universal language isn’t applied here.”

“Ah-huh,” he nodded. “Sorry for that. Good luck.” He escaped in his car.

The bananas were beginning to revolt, no doubt trying for a banana republic. I had one last option that is always my fall-back plan – the police station. All the signs were in Ki-Swahili yet I managed to decipher a large building surrounded by lush gardens as a police station.

“This is the offices of the police department,” said an officer wielding an AK-47. The station is a hundred meters down the road.”

In Africa, a hundred meters could mean 5 K’s. “Thanks.” I began to hike. I was about a kilometre from the Kilimanjaro Lodge. I had felt good vibes there and not just because I was able to ease the pressure in my stomach. Emmanuel was helpful and friendly as was the elderly owner.

A few minutes later I was back at Kilimanjaro Lodge, back squatting (toilet paper in hand). Emmanuel arrived within half an hour and I gave him my spiel with the added pains of the day – leaving out my stomach issues.

“Let me ask my manager,” he said, referring to the old woman. He came back a few minutes later.

“You can have a room,” he said.

I breathed a sigh of relief, almost hugging him.

I was lead through the mango coloured building to a small room with a double bed, a mosquito net hanging over it. A sink attached to the wall stood in the corner by the window. I lay my gear down and was led to the en-suite room to have a shower. Feeling refreshed, invigorated and empty of bananas, I hit the street.

The football was on (Africans worship the English Premier League as much as they do JC) and there were three bars packed with fans sipping on a choice of local beer: Safari (which means, ‘to travel’ in Ki-Swahili), Kilimanjaro or Tusker (very much unlike the Vanuatuian Tusker beer).

I popped into a packed bar. I needed a cold one. As I entered a local at the bar yelled out, “Jesus!” I headed over and Harrison introduced himself. “I’m having a drink with Jesus!” he announced to the bar.

I sucked down a Kilimanjaro brew while explaining that Arusha was one of my destinations. “I’d like to climb Mt Meru,” I said as the game went to half time.

“Contact this man,” Harrison scribbled on some paper a number. “He has a big safari company.”

“Cheers,” I thanked him, pocketed the note and headed back to the lodge, leaving the bar to the sounds of Harrison announcing, “I’ve just had a drink with Jesus!”

But before Arusha the town of Mwanza demanded a stop as it lay on the shores of Lake Victoria, the largest body of fresh water in Africa.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Tanzania | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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