Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The same only different

Willie Nelson sang it best. Or was it Donkey? "On the road again....". Ring any bells, Smitch? Smitch? Hey Smitch, I'm talking to you! Pay attention! That's better. I mean, really....

Not the smooth, seamless transition I'd been hoping for, thanks to a cock up in the aerial transportation department, courtesy of Emirates breaking their aeroplane and delaying my departure from NZ by 48 hours. Not the kind of stress you need, let me tell you. Still, I got a couple of days to drink beer and be sent off by Rich and Oddette, so thanks for stepping up, guys.

On the down side, I missed out on a day or two acclimatisation in Dar es Salaam, finally arriving on Saturday pm to be met by Kara (thanks so much for that) who also looked after me and showed me around a bit, taking me to a Korean restaurant (?!) one night and a fish restaurant the other, where I met a whole bunch of great people. My jet lag slowed me down a bit unfortunately, so I'm hoping I'll get a chance to give a second first impression when I get back. I eventually jumped a bus to Moshi and Mt kilimanjaro on the Monday morning - a 4am arousal followed by an hour waiting in the dark at a busy bus depot feeling slightly nervous and not entirely sure I was in the right place, until the bus finally arrived and loaded my bag. I figured even if it wasn't the right bus, if I got on it, as least I wouldn't lose my stuff! As it 'appens, it was the right one, and also the wrong one....

First, I had paid a bloke a whole dollar to carry my bag form the taxi to the bus stop. He wanted Tsh 10,000 (about US$7.50), I laughed at his very good joke and offered 500, he looked cross and asked for 5000, we settled on 1500. I knew I'd been had, but i was running the scene from Life of Brian through my head as I haggled, and couldn't keep a straight face any longer ("Hey, Bert, this bloke won't haggle!" "Won't haggle?"). Settled on the bus, I was next approached by a man with a clip[board (always a sign of officiality). who said I had to pay Tsh 10,000 for bag security. Look, he said. I'll even write it on your ticket. Must be fair. To be honest, I thought this might be a ruse too, albeit a very bold one, but paid up nonetheless, as it crossed my mind that it would be easy to "lose" my bag while we waited to leave, and I'd be none the wiser.

Finally, we were off, at least about 200 yards, before we joined the log jam of buses trying to leave the depot all at the same time. Once again, we got moving and, after about half an hour, I got my first look at rural TZ. The similarities with parts of South America were instantly there, and I hope I don't just travel around making those sorts of comparisons, but I guess its unavoidable at times, especially when adjusting to a bit of culture shock. Many of the houses were of a similar mud brick construction, although sturdier looking bricks - must be a better quality mud over here - people lined the roads selling all sorts of stuff from wheelbarrows (if they were lucky), scraping a living any way they can, harvesting meagre looking crops from half-arsed looking plots of vaguely farmed land.

It was to be an 8 - 10 hour jouney to Moshi (depending on oh so many things!). Things went smoothly enough up to lunch time - a truck stop type of place to stretch legs and buy street meat if you dared - but about an hour after setting off again, the bus pulled over and the passenger next to me explained we wouldnt be going any further in this bus as it was broken. Luckily wee were by a string of small houses/stores, so most of the passengers tucked in to fizzy pop. I watched helplessly as a group of locals tried helping the driver fill the engine with first with oil (it leaked out only slightly slower than the tipped it in from the cola bottles they were using), and then the radiator with buckets of water (which fair flooded out the bottom). At last, as a bus from the same company came by and was flagged down, people were shoe-honed in to seats that weren't really there, and the crowd of waiting passengers began to thin out. The funniest thing was that everyone stood about very calmly, making no fuss about the delay, but when a bus arrived, there was a scrum for the empty seats and the last place you wanted to be was the middle of it! I stood out the way a bit, with my bags, until a bloke pointed at me, shoved someone out the way and pushed me onto the bus, stowing my pack in the luggage bins underneath. The only seat left was the ticket collector's, so I got that one, right at the front with all the extra leg room, and she got to stand up. seemed fair to me....

On we went, Dodging scarily large potholes, overtaking in ways that were familiar, although the last time I'd seem them, I'd been outside the bus, heading towards it on a motorbike and fearing form my life. I know where I'd rather be...It rained at one point, and the wipers were duly employed. One of them anyway, and it only wiped in one direction. I have to say there are time when I'd rather not be in the front seat with the best view.

Finally, at about 5 pm, 11 hours after starting, we arrived in Moshi, and i was met by a rep from my tour company, who got me to my hotel safe and sound.

It was nice to get a kind of intro to Tanzania through the window of a bus. So much seemed familiar (with regards to the chaos, the bodge it and scarper stylings of the villages/roads/traffic rules etc) to what I"d seen in South America, although in TZ they seem to be working at the next level up in the world rankings of "Making Do". Comforting, though, in its own funny way.

About an hour after the half way break (the whole trip was due to be 8 hours...or 10...or however many it takes, don't fret it) we stopped for what i took to be another pee stop/ buy some fruit stop, only to be told the bus was knackered and we'd all be getting off to wait for a replacement. No idea how long that would take, but as the oil and water various people were shoving into the poor bus were dripping out the bottom in a kind of perpetual motion, it was clear I had little choice but to wait.

Luckily, there were several buses on a staggered departure time leaving Dar, so each one that came past stopped and took a few passengers from my bus. Its a funny thing. All the locals were behaving so calmly and relaxed about the whole thing, it was totally normal, no aggro at all, until a bus arrived when things dissolved into a scrum of silent shoving and pushing to try and get a place. I was somewhat bemused by the whole thing and starting to worry that I'd end up being the last one left, when a guy pushed me forward and got me on the 3 rd bus. Front row seat too, with the extra leg room, so the hour or so delay was almost worth it!

Things were going well, potholes like craters were being dodged, and then the rain started. So did the wipers, but only one of them, and it only wiped in one direction, so obviously the driver didn't slow down to meet the conditions. Sometimes the front seat with the best view is not the best place to be!

Finally, at about 5pm, 11 hours after we started, I arrived in Moshi. I was met, as promised and despite being either 1 hour or 3 hours late, at the bus depot by my Kili tour company, and dropped to my hotel, for what I'd hoped would be a quick air conditioned rest. No such luck, I had to unpack everything and show them what I intended to take up the mountain. My choices were approved, arrangements for the morning were made, and I was directed to a great wee place across the street to get some dinner. I was also told that the other 3 people that had been booked on my trip had pulled out at the last minute, so I'd be the only one in my group. Good and bad that - I'll get individual treatment I guess, and get to go at my pace, but also I'll have to work harder to find anyone to talk to I expect. Anyhow, we'll see how that all works out when we see how all that works out. Time to relax with a beer and a curry at last! Off up a mountain tomorrow (Obviously, I'm already down but I'm cleverly writing this retrospectively! You're gonna get a 7 day hike shortly. Aren't you lucky?)

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