Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
37Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
We arrived at the bus station, and the taxi full of Mzungus was immediately mobbed by bus touts. Despite already having tickets we were assured that they could supply a better service. I had been through this bus station before on the way to Pangani and therefore knew that the best option was to keep walking. Their favourite trick is to tell you that the bus you have a ticket for has already left! The boys went in search of the Buffalo Bus ticket office and Kirsty and I tried to defend ourselves against the hordes of young boys selling drinks, biscuits, bread and.....water-pistols! (actually we did look twice at them! - I knew the bus was going to be hot - Stuart had asked me how hot it got going to Pangani last time - and I had answered enough to make the back of your knees sweat.....the water-pistol may not be such a bad idea!) The Boys came back looking slightly glum - apparently our bus was still here, but it wasn't the one they had been shown when they had bought the tickets..... it was slightly more "local"! I laughed:- as the trip progressed, Kirsty and I would develop a catchphrase: TAB.... "That's Africa Baby". You were never quite sure what you were going to get. I looked at the bus; the wheels were huge, the type fitted to JCBs on muddy building sites. Kirsty and I needed to be hauled up the stairwell to the seats, as floor of the bus was high and the steps were large to accommodate the oversized wheels. As the bus got going, I started to see the advantage of the 'mean machine' wheels. The rainy season had begun, the monsoon rains washing away trees, shrubs, telephone lines .... and much of the road. The road to Tanga, our first stop on the East Africa Trip, is actually very scenic. Despite the rain, I sat back to watch the hills in the distance and the children running by the bus at each stop. I also liked spotting the most unusual shop/bar names along the way, a game Kirsty joined in with: Mama Muddy's shop, The Survival Pub, Manchester United House. (actually none of them beat our favorites in Arusha: The House of Lubricants and Mingey Butcher!!)
The bus stopped every couple of miles at police road blocks; I never quite saw the point of the blockades as the police rarely got on the bus, just stopped it; the driver leant out of the window, greetings exchanged between him and the police women and we moved on. The police women here remind me of Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers, their unflattering uniform creating a severe image, with wide belt tightening a dark calve length skirt and long socks. The Police women probably need to look severe, as they appear to man the road blocks alone, and most are on remote sections of road.
As with all African buses we had more passengers than seats, the aisles rammed with extra people, children sat between their mamma's legs as she swayed and struggled to stay standing with each roll and jolt of the bus on waterlogged roads. At each police check point, all the people without seats had to duck down, so the bus looked to be carrying the correct number of people. One of the check points had a weighing station, and I was amused when we stopped before it, and several of the people standing were ushered off the bus and onto a daladala, we then picked them up again in the next village after our bus had been weighed and allowed to pass! I was just glad I had a seat, and impressed at the ingenuity that the African coach companies had learnt to dodge the system!
Once I had learnt to think of the bus sway as similar to being at sea, I managed to drift off to sleep, just as the bus driver figured out how to use his radio - and stuck Atomic Kitten on repeat. I tried the childish method of screwing up my face so that I couldn't hear the music, followed by tossing and turning in my seat, but the dulcette tones of the 'kittens' kept filtering through. I looked over at Kirsty to find her singing along, head thrown back in delight: Tanga never looked so welcoming! I got off the bus, only to wish I was back on again... I would even brave another rendition of Atomic Kitten - it seemed obvious to every tout in the province of Tanga that we needed accommodation for the night, and they were all desperate to help, tugging each of us in a different direction, promising the luxury of the Hilton, if only we would follow them!
We stayed the night at MK Inn, a hostel close enough to the bus station to make it very convenient in the morning, and a safe haven away from the touts immediately! 4000 Tanzanian shillings (2.40) for twin room, ensuite with shower, 'sitdown' loo and TV!! I was surprised - I had expected the place to be grotty as it was so close to the bus station. We had definitely started the trip the wrong way round, to begin with luxury bathrooms, and the African equivalent of MTV, was surely going to lead to disappointment at the next destination!
We walked around Tanga before dinner and I found it a pleasant change to Arusha. It lacks the bustle and tourist input of Arusha, but is more laidback and organized, the houses are structured into neat lines along the street, with a mosque at each street corner. (Our proximity to the mosque would become evident at midnight, and again at 4am - when the local people were called to prayer!!). I was also struck by hordes of bicycles - everyone had them, the streets were shrill with the ting-aling of the little bells as twenty people riding together went past, followed by another twenty. The flat dusty roads make the bike the easiest mode of transport, and I saw very few cars or daladalas.
Back at MK Inn, we wondered down to the bar for dinner. We were impressed with the extensive menu:- beef, chicken, vegetable curry, chapattis; we were all hungry after the long bus ride, and were looking forward to dinner. The waitress came to the table and we asked for a bit longer to study the menu and let out mouths water at the thought of dinner. When she returned to take our order, and had listened to all of us state our requests, she announced that they only had chicken. Fried chicken. Our faces fell; even the boys and Kirsty who eat meat are a bit wary of chicken in Africa and tend to avoid it. I opted for a bowl of rice, while the others debated whether to risk it. After an hour of playing cards in the bar, our food still hadn't come, and the jokes of whether the cook was still chasing the chicken round the yard were wearing thin, and even the stray cats had given up canvassing our table for tidbits.
My bowl of rice arrived with the waitress repeatedly asking if I wanted any meat with it - the concept of vegetarianism is alien in a culture where food is scarce. I have witnessed it several times, and often feel guilty for having the luxury of choosing what I eat. For most of my children, the option is only ugali, or fruit. It has to be what ever their parents have grown or can buy cheaply in the market. So to be given meat would be considered a luxury. (However I think it would be a luxury Stuart would have happily given a miss, as he was ill all night!)
We went to sleep listening to the mosque on the street corner, the cats rummaging through the restaurant rubbish, the ting-aling of bicycles, and Stuart groaning.....
That's Africa Baby!