Tanzania - let the games begin
A variety of transportation is much appreciated
241 buses later... That's my total count thus far. Perhaps 241 doesn't sound like that much to you? Perhaps you ride the bus every day to school or work? I only count a mode of transportation, if I bring my bags along. So any and all buses within a stay in a city does not count. And most of my bus rides last for far more than 10 hours (the record is still the 54 hour bus ride in Brazil). In addition to all of that we have still only touched upon conventional buses with 241. There are also minibuses and a variety of other forms of transportation. They have all been counted individually: Shared taxis, various boats and ships, motorcycles etc...
Oh, how I have been longing for a train! Only 3 times prior within Africa have I had the pleasure: Morocco, Cameroun and Congo Republic. Lately it hasn't been practical, safe or even possible to board a train. But from Mbeya it was!
The "party bus"
I boarded the "party bus" from Lilongwe in Malawi (country #111) to Mbeya in Tanzania (country #112). It was after sunset and the bus rank in Lilongwe was buzzing with life. The bus was reasonably comfortable and I had secured a seat in the far back up against the window. We left...
Minutes later the large flatscreen television behind the driver started portraying music videos. And to "everyone's" delight the 6 high quality speakers started blasting out music. This continued throughout the night. At 06:00am the bus had reached the border. What's up with people and noise? Reflecting a bit on this I must come to the conclusion that the majority of our world is noisy. At least Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Africa and Central Africa...and apparently northeastern Southern Africa too... Loud music, loud television, loud conversations, shouting and yelling, honking of horns...
It was around noon when the bus broke down outside of Mbeya. The bus was on route to Dar es Salaam, where it would probably arrive around midnight. But I was dead set on finally getting on a train again. So I left the "party bus", the driver and all the passengers at the roadside outside Mbeya, while a few of them were replacing the drive shaft. This seemed to surprise a lot of people as they probably thought I was destined to Dar es Salaam along with everyone else. But no - not this Mzungu. This one was getting off here. I flagged a minibus and made my way to town.
Roadside village and fresh bananas.
Mbeya is a small town which sits beautifully between various mountain ranges. It's a simple place which doesn't offer much wifi to be found anywhere. But it does have a train station. Cairo in Egypt was once connected with Cape Town in South Africa via train. What an incredible journey that would have been!!! How amazing if it only existed today!! I'm sure a phenomenal route as such could easily rival the Transiberian railway for tourists. But to bring it back to life would require a lot of maintenance along with several international agreements and cooperation. It's a good idea though - however very far from today's reality.
I arrived to Mbeya last Sunday. The train comes from Zambia and departs from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It arrives at the coast the following day. So all in all that would give me a few days of rest and recreation (between Sunday and Wednesday) which I felt I needed. Good stuff.
I sent my sister an email to say that I would arrive Thursday - but later than her - so she needed to make her own way to the hotel where I would meet her. I haven't seen my sister since 2013 and now she is here to visit!!! But she's a grown woman who can take care of herself for a day or two if needed. I'm just a little boy who wants to get on a train!! ;)
Mbeya was perfect for relaxing. On my very first day in Tanzania I had no idea about distance or tuctuc prices. A tuctuc is a small 3 wheel motorcart with a roof. I know them from Asia, but in the rest of the world I've only seen them in Honduras, Nigeria, Malawi and now Tanzania. A driver wanted 60,000 schilling to take me to a bank and afterwards the train station. That sounded expensive? So I went over to a nearby store and asked a 3rd party how much he would pay. He replied that around 5,000 should be enough. That is less than $3.00. The tuctuc driver left disappointed and the guy at the shop called his regular guy David. And off we went.
My guesthouse. Mu fortress of solitude.
To make a long story short, David negotiated a price for me at a guesthouse in rural Mbeya. It was by far the nicest looking building among the more simple houses in the area. 50,000 schilling for 3 nights including breakfast. I got 2 rooms and a bathroom. The first room contained a lounge area and a flatscreen tv. The second contained a large comfortable bed draped with a mosquito net. Perfect!
As the days went by I would enjoy my solitude. I didn't tell anyone about Once Upon A Saga. I needed a break from it all. Social media for this project takes up much of my time. But largely because I manage it poorly. If I spent 1 hour on it in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening then I would probably be much better off. But I tend to log on and check status all throughout the day. However I need wifi to do so, which I did not have at the guesthouse. That was a blessing!
I managed to locate free wifi inside Mbeya at a Vodafone shop. In order to get there I had to walk for 10 minutes on dirt roads until I reached the main road. From there I could flag a minibus and squeeze myself inside (they were all fairly overloaded). At the bus rank I would walk for another 15 minutes to the Vodafone shop and sit outside the store window. There I could reach the wifi signal and send and receive emails while update the social media. Afterwards I would make my way back to my "cave of solitude" again...the same way I had arrived.
In the rural area I would walk about and observe people. A man was picking "food" right out of a dump on the side of the road. Some of the leftovers and spoiled vegetables he found would go into his mouth right then and there. I turned my head to see two uniformed schoolgirls at a distance. One of them was laughing hard about something. Almost as if what her friend had said was the funniest thing ever! Pure happiness right then and there. Some women were bent down over their work in the nearby fields. A toddler sat in the same field playing with a scarf. A boy passed me on an oversized bicycle. The dust behind a newly polished Toyota filled the air for a few minutes. A kid was listening to music on a smartphone. An old man offered to shine my shoes. Giant white cumulus clouds above dotted the blue sky and the green mountain range set the background for my view. Nearby corn crops moved gently in the wind. Everyone I met would wave and greet me...
I combined my days with binge watching season 4 of the Sopranos on the flatscreen tv I had at my disposal. As the sun set I switched to Godfather 2 and completed the mafia experience... How great to have a few days without internet and with nothing much to do. I don't know if you can understand this at all? But I'm never completely off. My mind is a box of constant noise, which goes over a thousand thoughts a minute. I left home on October 10th 2013 and I cannot fly according to the project rules. I have no weekends, holidays or anything which gives me a break from the Saga. The Saga is a constant in my life. It's always there and I cannot escape it. It's where I am, what I eat, what I hear, what I do, what I see and what I breathe. If I want to leave...then I can't. It's a constant. If I'm fed up with where I am in the world, then there is only the very slow escape of moving through the next series of countries. My best estimates are that I'll be out of Africa and into Europe in about 4 months. That's 4 months of day and night including weekends ;)
Keeping on, keeping on.
Could I leave the Saga? Could I get on an airplane and quit? Yes, I could do that - but what would the aftermath be after nearly 1,000 unbroken days of committing myself to it? Perhaps first relief...but surely in time regret. And should I one day many years from now read about someone who actually did manage to visit every country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without flight...well...how would I react to that? And how about those who live and breathe for the Saga? And what about those who draw inspiration from it? Would I also be letting them down? Do I want to quit?
Wednesday arrived. I had a train ticket for 2nd class which cost less than 40,000 schilling ($18.00). At the train station I met David from Germany and we started talking. David is a teacher and so is his fiancée Marguerite from South Africa. David and Marguerite had bought all 4 beds inside a 1st class coupe. They were not permitted to only have 2 beds as man and woman. One thing lead to the next and before I knew it I had received a refund for my 2nd class ticket and paid David 40,000 schilling for a 1st class ticket. Great stuff!! :)
The train arrived 3 hours late from Zambia. So we only had a few hours onboard before the sun set. To travel at 50kph through the splendid nature of Tanzania felt like the only right thing in life! The windows came halfway down which was just enough for me to stick my head outside and inhale the warm moist air surrounding the green nature which slowly drifted past us. The famed Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, was inspired by a train ride when he wrote: "To travel is to live".
My mind raced back to the first basic trains I experienced, with such joy in the Balkan, back in 2013. Then my mind raced across the Atlantic Ocean to Art, the American I shared my US train experience with, back in 2014. I remembered the Rocky Mountains, crossing the Mississippi River, conversations with strangers at breakfast, lunch and dinner... Suddenly I was back in Tanzania. The sun set and a smile was left on my face. I know for a fact that I'm doing exactly what I was meant to do with my young life.
David and Marguerite were wonderful company. And in addition to them we added Sean to our group. Sean is from Minnesota, USA (which borders Canada). He is traveling solo throughout planet earth for a planned year and a half. Currently 6 months into his adventures. David and Marguerite surely have a long and happy life ahead of them. Marriage is probably not very far into their future and I personally plan on reuniting with them at their future home in Hannover, Germany.
In the blue T-shirt: Sean. The girl is Marguerite and to her right it's David.
We all headed to the dining cart. Dinner with Tanzanian beer was followed by a long deep sleep for all of us...
The next day, as our train crossed through Mikumi National Park, we spotted a heard of elephants on the run from the noisy iron beast which was cutting through the landscape. Perhaps 30 of them at a distance. For us inside "the beast" the soothing sound of life onboard a train was putting us all back to sleep: "Clonck, clonck, clonck, clonck, clonck, clonck, clonck...
The temperature and humidity rose as the train steadily approached Dar Es Salaam at the Indian Ocean. What an exotic name to a historically exotic place. And this would be the first time I could see the ocean since I left Maputo in Mozambique. Who doesn't love the ocean?
Now the games have begun. The next 4 countries are all island nations. Madagascar is among them and which order to conquer them in is up to local logistics. Because now I need a boat ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - Island hopping again
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga