Lusaka to Dar es Salaam
01.12.2006 - 01.12.2006
1st - 3rd December 2006 Friday - Sunday
I woke up at 05:45, just too late to get the 1st bus that to Kapiri Mposhi. So I finished typing up my blog for two hours, packed up my stuff (it only took 10 minutes and I was very proud of myself), boiled water to fill my bottles with, and got psyched up for the journey ahead…
David (from the ‘Post’) delivered both newspapers as promised. I posted my blog, checked e-mail and then organized a lift from a staff member to the bus station. I wasn’t prepared to do the exhausting walk again.
I stupidly tried climb onto his bakkie (pick-up truck), with my pack on my back, and ended up going head over heels into the back. I stayed inside, my gear was okay, and I didn’t sustain any grievous bodily harm.
I moaned to the bored lady at the City to City office, informing them of the luggage, bribery and ‘early-morning-illegal-undeclared-goods-drop-off’ routine in Harare.
She didn’t bat an eyelid. I wasn’t surprised, it was a waste of time really. While I was in my complaining mode, I decided to lose it with the local police as well. I ordered them to do something about the plethora of touts, moneychangers and pickpockets, and showed them the signs prohibiting said touts, moneychangers and pickpockets. Their eyelids didn’t move much either and once again, par for the course, I wasn’t surprised.
I got the expensive luxury bus (with aircon and TV) to Kapiri Mposhi, after fighting about the Mzungu prices. There wasn’t much point haggling over it because it was my only option. Once on the bus, a porter (drunk and dirty baggage handler) demanded 20,000 Kwacha for putting my backpack in the hold! I screamed at him “I actually put it in there! Why didn’t you ask anyone else for money? It’s because I am Mzungu isn’t it?” He walked away embarrassed.
I was seated next to a wise Zambian man, reading and discussing two days of news in The Post. We spoke about religion, the DRC, if I could visit the Copper Belt area in less that five hours, general prices of things in Zambia, and what the Lonely Planet had to say about his country. We were soon interrupted by a Leon Schuster movie on TV, in which Schuster was pretending to be a char for an prissy America woman living in Cape Town. Everyone on the bus kept looking at me, again the only Mzungu on the bus and who also came from Cape Town. When I jumped off the bus at Kapiri, I was literally pounced on by dozens of savvy touts (a hungry pack of wolves).
“TAZARA – I take you – 15 pin” (a pin is a 1,000 Kwacha);
“Taxi-Taxi, me carry you bags”
“Mzungu, I help you – private – 10,000”
to which I replied:
“Ah-Ah – Mzungu walk, TAZARA 10 minutes away – only leave in four hours – I stay in Kapiri – take picture”
They only got the message when I donned my enormous backpack, knocking them all out of my path in the process.
I walked east, away from the chaos of the taxi rank, receiving looks of amazement from the children and jaw dropping horror from everyone else.
I ducked into a nearby computer shop, pretending to need the Internet. They pointed me in the direction I had just come from. I decided to brave the wolves again, and this time they avoided me like the plague!
I made it to a filling station and was spoilt for choice inside. They had three restaurants surrounding a dozen tables. I opted for a burger and milk (I had to exchange the loaf of fresh bread they gave me, as there was a big fly crawling around the inside the clear bag).
They agreed to look after my pack, and I headed back into town, sporting two cameras dangling from my red neck.
Everyone wanted their picture taken (that I would have to send them) and failing that, they wanted one of my cameras.
“give me”. I’m still not sure if this demanding attitude was a sense of entitlement or lack of etiquette.
To my surprise, someone offered to take a picture of me! He was a local photographer with an SLR camera as old as mine. He used my camera and then also asked me to send him the picture, and/or ‘give’ him my camera. I couldn’t stop laughing. I got him to take a shot with his camera; we exchanged ‘box numbers’, and promised to send the pics to each other.
I’m not so sure he even had film in his camera…
Today was world Aids day, and this little town, which the Lonely Planet says ‘will be wiped off the map’ if the TAZARA station ever moves to Lusaka, was teaming with foreign aid agencies, press, local dignitaries and thousands of activists wearing bright yellow t-shirts. I had a field day snapping away, shadowing the other photographers, and once again, I was the only Mzungu amongst the throngs.
The International ‘Medicins sans Frontiers’ (doctors without borders) were one of the event’s sponsors, and the familiar red and white logo excited me, as it was almost identical to the ‘Reporters without Borders’.
After going through a few rolls of film, I wandered through the back streets into a quieter side of town. I was thrilled when I found a treasure of culture, businesses, friendly faces and cheap tacky Chinese goods.
The combinations of businesses housed in the same shop were bizarre:
A Tailor and Private investigator (the tailor of Panama);
a Photographer and bicycle spares dealer; and
a radiator repairman and artist.
I watched a thrilling chess match between a pharmacist and general dealer. In the heat of it, the dealer had to attend to his customers, so I was asked to finish the game.
By this stage in the game there was no hope for me, but I slogged it out ‘till the bitter end’, much to the delight of the audience that had gathered behind us in silence.
I bought some fresh peanuts, fetched my backpack, filled up with water and started off on the 2 km, 20 minute trek to the train station. On the way I bought some ‘Futumbua’, the Bemba version of the South African Vetkoek or Fritter, a big soft ball of deep-fried sweet dough.
I desperately wanted mangoes, and got three little kids to climb a nearby tree to get me some. They returned with four bleeding, green, rock-hard fruits. I didn’t know at the time that the locals eat the whole fruit like an apple. I sent them back for ripe fruit but they couldn’t find any. Paw-paws had also just gone out of season.
Ten minutes and a kilometer later, they caught up with me and had two pucker yellow mangos.
I gave them 500 Kwacha (about R1) and resisted the temptation to tuck into the ripe fruit and make a mess of my beard!
A Zambian cyclist joined me and we chatted for a while. I had the bright idea of putting my pack on his bike, until we passed a young boy carrying a 50kg bag of cement. His back tire was flat from the weight!
I arrived at the station and plutzed under a tree, waiting for my purple face to return to its former color. It was bliss!
Three weeks back I had e-mailed the TAZARA authorities, offering to improve their outdated website, which was not only factually inaccurate, but also failed to entice the Mzungu with words and pictures.
I searched for the stationmaster, and waited in the queue to see him. Next to me was an industrial scale which was accurate down to the gram. I couldn’t resist the temptation and hopped on. It was incredulous – I asked the staff to confirm what I was seeing. I took off all my gear and weighed 90kg exactly. I subtracted, re-subtracted, then added again, but I couldn’t get any other figure besides 45 kg! At the airport in Cape Town it was 23 kg.
Where the fuck did the other 22kg miraculously appear from?
Then I calculated it and it all added up:
My hiking boots were now tied to my pack, I had three litres of water, a bag of food, the camera bag and handbag. The camera equipment weighed 12 kg. The handbag 6 kg and the other bits and bobs about 5 kg. I felt like an imbecile – why didn’t I follow everyone’s advice?
I was moving home! I vowed to give away clothes, lose the water, not carry food, & possibly ditch my boots…
The stationmaster gave me diplomatic license to take pictures of the train and platform and submit a story to the office in Dar es Salaam. He added that they wouldn’t be paying for it!
In between taking pictures of the station, train, and staff, I plonked myself onto a big soft bag of luggage opposite a large Zambian mama. I attacked my mango while she told me that she had been waiting three days for her goods to clear. She refused to pay the required bribe so all she could do was wait patiently. She had ordered a 5-piece sofa from Dubai and a few million toothpicks from China. “Toothpicks are big in Zambia. With all the beef, maize and mangos there’s plenty to get out your teeth”. She pulled one out from the bag I was sitting on and I used it to get rid of all the mango threads.
I found it impressive that Chinese goods were being sold and transported to Zambia, on a train built by the Chinese 30 years before. It was built in order to get millions of tons of quality copper to the coast, and then on to China! Now the locals were paying the Chinese to bring the processed goods back. I suppose the Chinese children worked for much less than their African counterparts.
There were at least a dozen Mzungus boarding the train – some in 1st class, most in 2nd cabins and a few unlucky ones were stuck in 2nd sitting. I had the best of both worlds. There were four of us in the 6-berth compartment: One Korean, two Zambians and me, a South African using his British Passport to enter Tanzania.
We were later joined by two Tanzanians who jumped off 10 hours later.
Ryu, the Korean, was traveling the globe and read his bible most of the time. After many attempts I was able to extract a substantial amount of information from him about his country and life.
Charles Ngoma, who got his name from the son of his fathers’ Mzungu boss, and his friend Kombe Ngonga, were on their way to Dar to buy hardware (translated to electronics, cell phones and PC spares). They did the journey every 3 months to fulfill their orders. Both were well educated and we spoke at length about Africa, corruption, business, travel, philosophy and even politics. We all got on like a house on fire.
The other Mzungus on the train all had small backpacks and big budgets. I felt out of place.
Almost all of them were volunteers (usually compulsory because their country or school required a period of community service, some of which included teaching skills to Africans). All of them were enjoying a final safari before going home.
The three compartments next to us all contained ‘drivers’, whose job entailed picking up bare-bones truck chassis’ and driving them back to Zambia. I found out their journey took a week and they drove with helmets on, Mad Max style, sometimes in 20-vehicle convoys. The trucks have no bodies. Sp the drivers sit on a plastic tractor seat, and are battered by winds. I spent hours with Godfrey, Charles, James, Ferdie, Paul and Kakoma.
They were hilarious and we ate together, played music and had a ball.
Both the guide books and the internet said that the train journey lasted 38 hours. That was from Tanzania to Zambia. The other way was 49 hours.
At almost every stop, Matotos (little children) were selling fresh produce.
I was in heaven! Mangos, Bananas (bunches containing over 50 tiny fruit), Sweet Plum Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, Potatoes, Giant Pineapples, Peanuts, Avocado, locally grown rice, snacks and drinks.
While meandering through misty mountains, I enjoying the locals hard at work. They were ploughing, hoeing, sowing, watering and harvesting their crops. Coffee, Banana and Mango plantations were interspersed among thatched huts. They even fired their own mud bricks. Sometimes I saw four generations toiling the fields from dawn till dusk. I was envious of these subsistence farmers. They were scared of me.
Their crops were GM free and I’m sure there weren’t any hormones in their very small cows, which weren’t much bigger than a great Dane (and these were the adults). Goats were tethered to anything on the verge of the railway and chickens were munching on earthworms. Rice and Maize were planted wherever there was free space.
These villagers had never seen a car, and were terrified when a camera was pointed in their direction. I had to hide in the train or behind a tree, and capture them naturally with a zoom lens. I couldn’t take enough pictures. The Matatos were fascinated by empty plastic bottles, and fought over as if they were sweets.
I wanted to jump off the train and help them for a few days.
I had a surprisingly good sleep on my top bunk
They provided pillows, sheets and thick blankets, and I only woke up once in the early hours when two passengers that had just boarded were sent to our cabin to sleep for a few hours.
We had no power in our compartment, but the light on my watch was bright enough to fiddle around for stuff, and the window stayed open at all times.
The toilet on the train was quite an adventure, just a stainless steel hole in the floor, with a bucket and scoop on the side. I got away with using it only once, partly due to constipation, but largely as a result of stage fright.
Three millimeters of urine flooded the floor and the accompanying stench was difficult to bear. I was amused trying not to get my pants wet, or soaking my toes in urine, at the same time as watching my stool slither down the hole. The flushing process was equally amusing – a blast of water and steam engulfed the bowl, removing all evidence.
I discovered the shower cubicle in the 1st class carriage on the last day at 05:30. I braved the icy water and scrubbed my filthy body clean.
Upon entering Tanzania, the authorities boarded the train and did their rounds, issuing visas and stamping passports. I was so happy I had organized my Tanzanian visa in advance, and in my British Passport, as not only did they dislike South Africans, they made a real issue about visas, especially with Europeans. Ryu, the Korean in my compartment, freaked out at the officials when they disappeared with his precious passport. He refused to let it out of his site, but couldn’t do anything but stress for the 20 minutes it was in their grubby hands. I was snapping away with my cameras when a police woman stopped me and demanded I buy a ‘photography permit’. I gave her a piece of my mind, in front of her colleagues, as this was clearly an example of blatant corruption. I explained to them my feelings on the matter, including how disgusted I was that I couldn’t ascend Mt Kilimanjaro or visit the Serengeti or Ngorongoro Crater or any other game park without coughing up my (non-existent) life savings. To see the above three would cost me more than my entire 10 week journey! They had the audacity to demand 486 US$ from me. Instead, I gave them laughter and continued to snap away at all and sundry, reminding them of my rights as a tourist (I wasn’t stupid enough to inform them of my journalistic intentions).
I stocked up on fruit and on the last day made a fruit platter for five.
We all enjoyed biting mouth-watering chunks of pineapple, cut Bahamian Style, accompanied by Mangos, Tomatoes and Bananas.
In the last few hours before Dar, we traversed the Selous Game Reserve and I spotted Impalas and Warthogs grazing on the lush green pastures. It was too difficult to get a shot of the game, as the train was moving so fast, but I tried my best anyway.
I missed the 10 elephants that were 50m from the train, but I think I got the group of Zebras, Giraffe and Eland later.
An elderly Swedish man boarded the train and instantly warmed to me. He read my journals, spoke about Desmond Tutu’s new book and pondered on Africa and international aid. He kept calling me South Africa’s Ernest Hemingway, and although I was flattered at first, it got a bit too much after he paraded around the train, horribly drunk, telling everyone about “Mr Hemingway in Compartment number four”. The Mzungus laughed, the locals were confused.
I was on a first name basis with dozens of passengers, especially after taking all the pictures and establishish a rapport with my humor and strange antics.
I had enough of the Matotos coming to our window to beg for money (and plastic bottles), so I did the same, and jumped onto the platform, going window-to-window, saying “Me Mzungu Mzungu” and then gesturing with my hands (the right hand points into the cupped left hand) that I wanted something. The response I got was big eyes, white teeth, and screams of laughter! In addition to the plastic bottles, the children always wanted soap or ‘bic’ (pens).
Near the end of the journey, every stop, however brief, we were offered platters of food including plantains, bush meat skewers, chapattis, coconuts, cooked rice in plastic packets. Even live chickens were on offer.
My new friends helped me to organise my backpack, and then Ryu and I flicked a coin with the aim of choosing accommodation. Heads and we’d follow the Lonely Planet. Tails and we’d go with the Zambians. The coin said we should do the latter, so we disembarked and stood in a queue for half an hour, waiting to get out of the Dar train station. I lost my ticket, and had to beg the power-hungry, Mzungu-hating official, to let me through. It took a while, but he eventually succumbed to my frustration.
The five of us from the compartment jumped into a Daladala (a minibus taxi) and headed for Kiriakoo – a derelict slum on the west side of Dar es Salaam.
The weather was hot and humid, almost unbearable. My t-shirt became a wet rag and I had to wring it out.
After getting lost and wandering about a dodgy area for 20 minutes, we decided it was safer to squash into a private taxi. We had some sketchy people on our trail who saw a golden opportunity. I doubt the combination of South African, Korean, and Zambians, traipsing in that neighborhood, has or will ever be seen again.
All five hotels we tried were full, but then we bumped into the Swedish man from the train who was with the two other Scandinavians from the train, gorgeous girls from Finland and Norway.
Gert tried to direct us to the Gulf hotel but after 10 minutes we were still walking around aimlessly. He was completely legless as he’d been drinking for the past 15 hours. The girls found us and told us it was not safe. One of them had just been mugged, her mobile phone snatched out of her hands while she was sending an SMS. Norwegians don’t take this sort of thing lightly, and she quickly grabbed her phone back from the pissed vagrant.
We found a hotel next door to the woman only residence they were staying in, checked in, got something to eat and stood under the shower for almost an hour,
Ryu and I visited the Scandinavians girls in their room, where we devoured the biggest pineapple I’d ever laid my hands on. We discussed the various options and decided that it would be a good idea to get out of the stink of Dar and take a ferry to Zanzibar the next day.
I shared a room (and a bed) with Ryu, and it was all great until 04:00. The electricity went off during the night, our windows were closed and I woke up, dripping with sweat and gasping for air.
After traipsing around the filthy suburb, I rounded everyone up at 07:00 and organized a taxi to take us to the ferry. While waiting for the others, I suddenly got violently ill and involuntarily puked in the middle of the road. I thought it must have been the bush-meat from the train!
We took the ferry to Zanzibar the next day and were collected in a minibus and dropped off at our luscious accommodation. Five minutes after arriving, we were swimming (floating) in the warm sea, attempting to avoid the mosquitoes who officially come out on the hunt for blood at 18:00.
Monday 4th A weathered old man got chatting to me on the ferry. He was a minefield of information. I asked him about snorkeling, swimming and camping. He told me that Indian Ocean Divers were a ‘nice bunch of South Africans’.
With regards to the camping, he told me a story of a crazy Mzungu who thought he could get away with camping.
Unguju (the big island) and Pemba have outlawed camping since the mid 90’s.
When the authorities approached said Mzungu, he fired on them (with a gun). He died in the ensuing battle…
So I vowed to keep my tent firmly attached to my backpack.
The five of us: Jenna (Ye-nnnah) from Finland, Cecilie (Se-seel-ye) from Norway, Ryu (Ree-ooh) from South Korea and Gert (Yuhrt) from Sweden were now making plans together. Everything from what to eat, where to stay, how to travel and what to see. Gert, in his constant drunken stupor, was looking for pizza and beer most of the time and Ryu took pictures and spoke only when spoken to.
Jenna and I suffered the consequences of bad hygiene. I had serious nausea and she had awful Diarrhea, and neither of us suffered from sea sickness. We lay on the deck, ignorant of the hundreds of passengers staring at us.
The local newspaper warned of an outbreak of Cholera on Zanzibar and we both had some of the symptoms.
The Lonely Planet Healthy Travel Africa’s description of the symptoms of Cholera was distressing to stay the least:
It can cause rapid dehydration and death,
Epidemics tend to be widely represented in the Media,
It exists where standards of personal hygiene are low,
The diarrhea starts suddenly and pours out of you.
It’s characteristically described as ‘rice water’, because it is watery and flecked with white mucus.
Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual.
It can cause massive outpouring of fluid – up to 20 liters per day.
Prevent it by staying away from all seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene.
Jenna was pissing out of her arse by now. This would last for the next two weeks (besides the short Imodium break!)