“The ferry is in Mombasa,” Rahim translated the ticket officer’s words at Zanzibar’s port, surrounded by an angry crowd hurling abuse at the ticketer.
“Mombasa?” I repeated, blinking.
“Mombasa,” he re-repeated. “That’s why all these people are angry.”
“Well,” I began. “Fuck.” My return ticket was now as useful as a faeces-flavoured lollypop.
“Don’t worry, bro,” he clapped me on the shoulder as we headed back to his car. “I’ll get you a ticket on the fast ferry in the morning.”
I had told the abundance of friends I had made in Stone Town that I was leaving Wednesday on the night ferry. That didn’t happen due to Rahim taking me to the east coast for some final drinks. I figured, Alright, missed the ferry but Thursday night I’m definitely boarding and getting off this island.
Turns out I never missed the ferry due to its current docking in fuckin’ Mombasa. And, in the true African way, no replacement ferry was offered.
So we did what we do best in Zanzibar – we ate at the Forodhani night food market and then went out for drinks at Tatu where I lost two games of pool (my arse was kicked by a local who pocketed all his balls before I even got one in).
The next morning, although having only slept for two hours, Rahim dropped me off at the ferry. We had met at the Sauti Za Busara and clicked, becoming brothers. When I got back from my travels around the island Rahim not only hosted me, but wined and dined me, gave me a pair of boardshorts, a kikoe (sarong), a funky hat, a small backpack he had had for 15 years, a ticket on the fast ferry and a Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone which was playing dumb as it had issues.
“Worst case you can exchange it for something along your travels,” he suggested.
On top of all of that, he took me to Nyamvembe Island where he was the project manager of a restaurant proposed to being built there. And then there were the sailing trips on his private (and very exclusive) traditional outrigger canoe – The Vanora.
The man is a legend in the true sense of the word.
We hugged at the ferry port and I sat in the waiting area, watching the news on the big screen above my head reporting of Al Shabab’s latest terrorist attack where 147 people were killed in Kenya, my next destination.
The fast ferry arrived. A large, high-powered catamaran, it almost left on its scheduled time of 09:30. I sat on the top deck in the open air. Beside me, Jameson introduced himself.
“I live in Morogoro,” he said.
I explained my way of travels when asked what I do and as we docked in Dar es Salaam’s port 90 minutes later, he offered to pay for my bus fare to Ubongo, where Dar’s main bus terminal is located on the outskirts of the widespread city.
I thanked him and relaxed. I had been trying to conjure a plan as to how to get out of Dar. It’s one of the biggest cities in Africa (it feels like it, anyway) and has the worst traffic anywhere I’ve been to in the world.
Luckily, it was Good Friday and as such most of Dar’s residents were out on a long weekend Easter holiday.
From Ubongo, after thanking Jameson, I hiked up the road in search for a good spot to hitch to Arusha, some 600 K’s away. I was last in Arusha in the beginning of February when I couch-surfed with Magic Mike, Nelson ’33.3 cents’ (he looks like Curtis ’Fiddy cents’ Jackson) and Nick the Greek who sent me up Mt Meru, Africa’s 5th highest peak.
The boys had treated me like a brother and had helped celebrate my birthday in style (don’t remember much). I had managed to barter a day in Arusha’s National Park with the safari company, Africa Tried and Tested so I had a few days in the city. And I had yet to play a gig there and figured this would be my chance.
The dark grey clouds above my head had me stop and cover my packs with rain guards as small droplets dropped, a welcoming respite from Dar es Salaam’s humidity that had me soaked in my own sweat from the moment I stepped off the ferry. A bus was parked by the side of the road. As I passed it on the driver’s side he called out to me.
We conversed in Ki-Swahili. He offered me a 5-minute ride up the road which was better than the 15-minute walk it would take me to get to the hitching point. Thanking him I was immediately rushed by the usual ‘transport officers’ that Africa seems to be in endless supply of.
“Where are you going?” they asked.
“Arusha,” I grinned.
I explained my penniless ways and they sat me down, promising to organise a ride for me. Although a direct ride to Arusha would be difficult, they did get me a ride to Chalinze, the main turn-off towards Arusha, some one hundred K’s outside of Dar. The truck, driven by Danny, just happened to be the slowest thing on wheels in Africa. I was in Chalinze five hours later. Arriving at sunset I did what a hitch hiker should really never do – I attempted night-hitching.
Of course, no one stopped. And all the trucks parked at the junction were spending the night. I had noticed the police station at the junction and as the sun completely disappeared and it became pitch black, I headed up to the cops to ask if I could pitch a tent somewhere safe.
“And to avoid the rains,” I added. “My tent isn’t waterproof.”
William, a young officer brandishing an AK-47 took me under his wing. He asked his commanding officer who pointed to a tree in the carpark.
“You can put your tent there,” he offered.
“What about rain protection?” I asked, watching the gathering clouds on the horizon.
“It won’t rain tonight,” he said, as though he moonlighted as a meteorologist.
Travelling for almost two years on the road, I’ve come to learn to know when it’s going to rain.
I looked at the clouds behind the meteorologist cop. Lightening was flashing through them.
Regardless, I pitched my tent under the tree and then sat on the steps of the station reading John Simpson’s autobiography of his 30-something years at the BBC, reporting on almost all the major events of the 20th century since the late 60s.
“Do you want some food?” William interrupted with a soft smile.
“Thank you,” I grinned.
Half an hour later, a woman showed up with a plate of rice, beans, chargrilled goat meat, sauce and a bottle of water.
Finishing up, I watched as a tiny compact car pulled right up to the steps and four large men stepped out. I assumed they were detectives or plainsclothes policemen as they opened the boot and carried out a man who appeared to be folded in half.
His hands were handcuffed behind his back to his ankles. His head hung down, limp as the four men each grabbed a limb, lifted him from the boot and carried him up the stairs, past me and into the station. I avoided making eye-contact with the passing entourage and returned to my book, hoping my eyebrow would return from it’s orbit.
I read for a few more hours before I called it a night and disappeared into my tent.
The call for prayers blasted me to wake, as though the muezzin was in the tent with me. Morning prayers are a 20-minute communique with the old man upstairs so I continued to lay there and waited. Meanwhile, trucks had begun there movements, revving diesel engines and grumbling off.
When the prayers ended I attempted to go back to sleep but the police officers were changing shifts, noisily, and then some sort of sermon was happening from the mosque, also blasted through the speakers in case anyone within a 300-kilometre radius missed out.
And then the rain began. Sighing, I forced myself up, packed quickly and moved my gear to the shelter of the police station where I greeted the officers and waited for the sun to begin the day. As soon as there was enough light, I began to head down the road when one of the officers stopped me.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”
Here we go. “No, I believe in Karma,” and proceeded to explain the meaning.
“So you don’t believe in God?” he asked, surprised.
“Not in Jesus?”
“Nope.” Didn’t we just establish that?
“Not even Mohammed the Prophet?”
Sigh. “Not even Mohammed the Prophet.”
“But you must believe in Jesus Christ. He is your saviour. He protects you!” I sensed an evangelical sermon about to begin to counter the one being detonated through the mosque’s speakers. It was way too early in the morning for this conversation so I politely said,
“You’re right. Maybe one day I’ll see the light. Kweheri,” I bid him farewell in Ki-Swahili and hit the road.
“Why don’t you come sit up there?” asked a local when I set up shop down the road. “We’ll get you a ride.”
Sometimes these ‘transport officers’ do work out. But I’ve found in most cases that A) they are usually too drunk or high by the crack of dawn and B) don’t really understand my way of travel. To appease the Gods of Hitching I sat at the station for 20 minutes. Noting that the ‘transport officers’ had disappeared I grabbed my gear and walked back down the road.
And then an Audi pulled over.
I was hoping to hitch a ride in a car. Trucks are great but they are slow movers. And Audis, well, they’re not exactly the world’s slowest car.
“I need money for petrol,” said the driver who was going to Arusha. “I’m sorry but I cannot help you.”
“That’s fine,” I grinned. “Safari Njema,” I wished him safe travels.
An hour later, a truck pulled over. I wombled over and spoke with the driver. He had the aura about him that I had come to recognise after I explain my travelling. He was going to say those three magical words, “OK, let’s go”.
I threw my bags up and sat in the passenger seat.
An alarm rang out in the cab, sounding like a reversing truck. Thinking it was the buzz to put on the seatbelt, I clicked in but the alarm continued. Matthew, the driver, and Thomas, the co-driver, appeared to take no heed towards it.
“What’s the alarm for?” I asked.
“There’s a problem with the pressure,” he shrugged.
Great. 600 K’s of this? Let’s hope the music is good.
And then Mark Anthony wailed through the speakers about some broken-hearted relationship.
He was followed by Michael Bolton’s tear-jerking renditions of some classic soul songs. Phil Collins then wished it would rain now (as it just happened to be at the time) and then Celine Dion decided to scream about the power of love. The CD ended with Enrique Iglesias offering to be my hero.
And then it repeated.
“Do you have any more music?” I asked, almost begging.
“Yes, but it’s Swahili,” Matthew said as though I’d be crestfallen.
“That’s perfect,” I beamed. “I love African music.” And I do. They have such uplifting and happy songs (except for the ones that are sad and down). And everyone loves reggae.
He changed CDs and I nestled into the bunk, dozing off, reading, chatting. We stopped in the middle of nowhere for lunch of ugali and meat and continued on to Arusha. Sporadic heavy rains escorted us as Arusha’s traffic slowed us down to a crawl on the outskirts of the tourist capital of Tanzania.
Arriving at sunset, I was dropped not far from where Mike and the boys resided. I figured I could remember the way and began to hike after thanking Matthew and Thomas.
Thing is, I’m about as good at navigation as a sloth is at sprinting. Within minutes it was pitch black with a light drizzle and I had no idea where I was. I flagged down a Land Rover with an old man behind the wheel. He didn’t speak any English which would explain why he almost dropped me off in the middle of Arusha National Park.
I managed to fish out Mike’s number from my laptop and had him talk to the old man who then demanded 20,000 shillings (about $15 AUD) to take me.
I was in a binder. Again, I had failed to explain my penniless ways. And if I couldn’t convince this guy to help me out I’d either be stuck in the middle of nowhere in complete darkness in the rain or I could offer him what I had in my pocket.
“I have a thousand, that’s it,” I said, trying my best in Ki-Swahili to explain that my friends could give him some more if he dropped me off.
He did. Next to the tiki-tikis – motorbike taxis.
“4,000,” said the rider.
“1,000,” I haggled back.
“2,000,” the rider grinned.
“OK,” I grinned back and clambered on after he spoke with Mike on his phone to explain where I needed to be dropped off.
That night Mike and Nelson took me out to Babylon, a local nightclub where the entrance sign read: ‘No guns allowed.’
Damn it. Now I couldn’t shoot myself to stop the constant beeping echoing in my head.