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The East African : November 3rd 2013
The EastAfrican II t≥avel MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2-8,2013 White beaches and dodgy bus conducto≥s Pa≥t 3 of GRAGORY NYAUCHI’s jou≥ney f≥om Nai≥obi to Lilongwe takes him th≥ough Zanziba≥ and hopefully close≥ to Lilongwe P aje is about a 40-minute drive from Stone Town. I slept most of the way and woke up when we reached a police stop. The taxi driver handed them a receipt that I assumed was proof of payment of a road levy, but when I asked he waved away my inquiries, telling me that it was not my problem. Eventually we arrived at Paje. The place we had booked was called Hakuna Shida Guest House. It had a swimming pool, a bar, beautiful rooms with four poster beds, and showers with such high pressure you just wanted to lose yourself in them. Guests were requested to walk barefoot when in the hostel. Trees with purple and red flowers overhung the walls: It was paradise. The guest house was in a neigh- bourhood of other guesthouses and a famous bar called Paje By Night. This bar may have been owned by the same people who own the kite-surfing school and rental place called Paje by Kite. All these places are only about 200 metres from the beach. The sand on the beach is white; sparkling as if the sun had carried away all its paint. So fine you wanted to walk on it with no sandals on, roll around in it, and take a handful and pour it over your stomach. The water looked beautiful. It was not exactly blue and not quite green. It was afternoon and nearly high tide. Two children had been making a sand castle and their architectural talent was to be commended. They began by building a moat so that there were defences, and then high walls, and then towers. But when the waves came crashing in, they forgot all about their castle and waded into the water. I went in for a dip and realised that I had forgotten what sea water tastes like — horrible. In the evening, we walked to the road to buy Zanzibari delicacies — octopus and lobster, and mshikakis of goat and liver. Then we went to Paje By Night. While there I began talking to a Swiss man who makes buildings for a living. As soon as I told him I was from Kenya he said, “What’s with your airport? I passed through there and it looked like someone had thrown a party; liquor bottles everywhere and the shops looked closed. If that’s what the airport looks like, I’m concerned about the rest of the country.” I had been taking one of those ana- log holidays with nothing but a book and a notepad, so I had no idea what the man was talking about. After a few beers, a night stroll on the beach seemed like a good idea. It was warm and the stars were out. They glittered and glowed and turned the sky almost as white as the sand. My companion talked of how she looks at the stars whenever she feels homesick because they are the one thing that her family and friends can see wherever in the world they are. The beach at night is different. There are fewer people and the darkness that hangs over the ocean is mysterious and romantic. It’s still warm enough to take off your shoes and walk on the sand, dip your feet in the sea and for the brave few, have a swim. Soon enough though the world catches up with paradise and you are back in your room getting rid of sand that won’t come out even after a shower. Leaving Paje We left Paje soon after. The first thing I noticed was that the dates on the ticket were wrong, but it didn’t matter because we were allowed on to the ferry terminal anyway. The waiting area on the Zanzibar side is classy, wireless-Internet classy. However, the ocean was more choppy than usual. The boat rocked back and forth as we swept along, cutting the waves into two. The spray from the sea made its way to the upper decks of the ferry and bathed us in salt water. There was nothing comforting about the sea on this day, it was menacing. In Dar, we stayed at a place called Juba Hotel that’s on Mafia Street. Mafia is a common name for streets in Dar, so common that we had to specify that the place we were going to was the Mafia Street in Kariakoo. It was an interesting hotel located in a very busy part of the city. A short walk and you find yourself on a street overflowing with activity and food. We had to go to Ubungo, which is the main bus station in Dar es Salaam, to book our tickets to Malawi. We went to the stage to wait for a matatu (known in Tanzania as dala dala.) It was rush hour and it seemed like everybody wanted to go to Ubungo. Ubungo is a huge bus stop. It is from here that Tanzania reaches out to all its neighbours. Six of Tanzania’s neighbours are landlocked, and the country is the only direct link to the sea for three of them. At the bus station, business is con- ducted in nine different languages. We booked a bus to Lilongwe for the following day; it would leave at 6am and arrive at 6am the day after. For the pleasure of sitting in an uncom- beautiful. It was not exactly blue and not quite green. I went in for a dip and realised that I had forgotten what sea water tastes like — horrible.” ‘‘ fortable hunk of metal for 24 hours, we handed over Tsh150,000 ($100) for each ticket. Before going to the hotel, we stopped for chips mayai and a beer and started up a conversation with a fellow foreigner. He was from Zambia and had spent much of his life in the UK. A friend of his had a car at the port and couldn’t pick it up, so he offered to come and get it. He said he had never been to Tanzania before. Whenever I meet someone like him I think of a quote by Ryszard Kapusinski, “Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel and the disease is essentially incurable.” We were at Ubungo by 5am, and it was already full of people. Because of the large number of people travelling, the offices of the bus companies are outside the bus station. You have to pay a fee to get into the bus station, or show a ticket that your transport will leave in the next couple of hours. It was predictably busy and dusty. The man from the office sat us next to a couple of Americans, one working with the Peace Corps in Rwanda and the other travelling with her friend to Tanzania and Malawi and wherever next they decided. Not Kenya though, because a contract with the Peace Corps specifies some countries you cannot visit because they are too dangerous. Kenya is one of them. Whenever I’m leaving a country, I The water looked carry very little money with me. So when a man who acted like the bus conductor came in and began asking for money for baggage storage I was sceptical. He claimed that the police monitor the baggage, and that every passenger is only allowed one piece. Any extra attracts a Customs levy. The American woman paid the baggage fee and handed her bag over to the conductor. He took her money, and dumped her bag in the aisle. On top of it, he piled other bags so that there was no walking space on the bus. Needless to say, I did not pay that baggage fee. The conductor came back later and asked for our passports. Conductors don’t trust the passengers to be carrying their travel documents so they are asked to produce them at the beginning of the journey, and three or four times before you get to the border. He looked at them and then asked for our medical certificates. I handed over my yellow fever certificate as did everyone else. He flipped through them and realised that nobody had a cholera certificate. He pronounced that a cholera certificate was needed to get into Malawi, and that it cost about $100 at the border. However, he could get one stamped for us at the low cost of Tsh30,000 ($20). I was saved by not having enough money for this bribe, and the cooler heads of my companions who said we should just wait and see what happened at the border. The bus was packed with bags on the floor and people on the armrests. Every time we stopped for a break, we would all file out by grabbing the seats in front and swinging over the luggage in our path. After lunch we were told we would not be able to make it to the border before it closed for the night. In addition, the bus would wait until the next evening before leaving for Lilongwe. I could not find anyone who would tell me the reason for this. So, there we were, two people and Tsh15,000 ($10) between us. Expenses to look forward to were supper, which could be forgone, a place to sleep, and maybe a cholera shot the next day. I realised that there would probably be no ATM machines in the town we were stopping at, and that we had miscalculated everything about this trip. So I turned to my companion and said, “I realise how serious this situation is but there’s nothing we can do about it till we get to the border so when I go to sleep in a few minutes it’s not because I don’t care, but because there’s nothing I can do until then.” And I slept.
October 26th 2013
November 10th 2013