The guidebook said something about an eight-hour bus trip – at least that’s what I’d remembered. But as it happens, it was a 12 hour bus trip. Josef, the hotel’s go-to cab man, and I started off with a little mix-up in that the ticket said boarding time was at 6:30 and the bus left at 7:00. It turned out that it left at 7:00 from the Main Terminal in town, and not from the bus office, which is where we went first. We passed the bus on the street at 6:30. Arg. So, we went to the office and asked and they told us to hurry to the main terminal. Hurry Josef did, and I got on the bus just fine. A young man tried to help me, but I waved him off until he showed me ID from the bus company and promised I would not have to pay him. I relented and asked for his assistance. He asked what had me so set against porters, and I told him lately, it seemed that some people thought that I used my spare cash to make fires at night. Of course, he wasn’t that type and was very nice in the usual Tanzanian way, so everything turned out just fine.
I’ve gotten a little leery of porters and cabs since my last dockside experience. I was sick on my way back from Zanzibar, as you know, and what I didn’t tell you was that I actually had to use a sea-sick bag on the boat back, once we docked. Sorry, but it is germane to the story. I had just cleaned my face when it was time to disembark and try to get to that fine oasis, the Swiss Garden Hotel. Maybe you can imagine my desperation and misery with this digestive infection that would not even let me keep water in my stomach. A porter ran up to ask if I need him and I said yes. But I told him I was not well. He was in a great hurry for me to push and shove ahead and get the bag, but I could not do that. I moved as fast as I could, and sat down after several people jostled into my backpack (I was so dehydrated at this point that I nearly fell over). From my dockside bench, I pointed out my bag, and the man got it. We walked up about ten stairs, he asked about a cab and I told him I needed one, and about a minute later we were through the press and the bag was sitting in the open trunk of a cab. I wanted to pay him 5,000 shillings, which is twice the going rate for portage. I knew the bag weighed a ton, though, and felt bad about it. But he asked for 10,000! That’s approximately $7 for carrying the bag less than 50 yards. This effrontery was too much to bear. I was especially insulted because it was plain to see I was green, smelled bad, was swaying and obviously sick. I refused to pay the ten, and told him I was sick, that the rate is in fact 2,000 and five was more than enough. I began to put bills back into my purse, scaling back to 3,500 and he continued with a sad story about how he had licensing fees. Dude, we all have licensing fees of one form or another! This discussion went on for a while, him pleading and me refusing, and the driver did nothing but stand there laughing. Which tells you something about their arrangement, I think. We had been approached by several cabbies but had been immediately moved to this one, after all. Finally, in a most decidedly American and not Tanzanian way, I told the porter that he should be ashamed of himself and damned him. I don’t think he knew much of what was saying but everyone there knew I was upset. The driver kept laughing and suggesting I pay it. Unlike in Asia, this laughter means what you think it means. I handed the driver the money I was willing to pay for the porter, since at this point they were clearly in it together. I called them both bastards, got in the cab, shut the door, and refused to budge. If I had not been so ill, I would have demanded they open the trunk, taken my own large bag and called for another taxi. But I was too sick and could not. As you would expect, the cabbie overcharged me to boot. He was a dirty, self-satisfied young man who looked well on his way to a venereal disease. When we got to my hotel, he had to make change from his wallet. I had no intention of tipping him any further. But his pants were so tight, he decided to unbutton and unzip them, in front of me, to get the wallet. TMI. But I’ll be damned if I did not stand there and wait for my change anyway! This is the reason I try to arrange transport in advance. Akaz in Delhi, for instance, would never have stood for that sort of thing. If only I’d been healthy.
Not surprisingly, my 12 hour bus ride was most preferable to that 15 minute cab ride. We saw villages, sisal plantations, banana and palm orchards, and a lot of cornfields and sunflower fields. It went sort of like: [pothole, cornfield, palm tree, cornfield, sunflowers, fruit stand, village] repeat, and change out “sisal plantation” for cornfield every now and then, and add an occasional side-of-road pee break, and that’s pretty much the trip. Sisal plants are the funniest looking plants I have ever seen. They are rather like a pineapple plant, or an agave plant but more bowl-shaped in growth habit. The broad succulent leaves are cut by the farmer, pulped and the fibers are dried on racks after extraction from the pulp. Growing out of this plant is a large tree stem (!) about 2-3 meters high, in the form of a little tree. This is not used for fiber, but for roof and ceiling beams. Once, we passed a plantation that had all its sisal cut down and left on the ground. I found out later that the sisal root will send up a new plant when this happens and the process starts again.
We had a 20 minute lunch stop on the way there, but the rest of the time men were waiting in places where the buses were stuck in traffic or normally stopped. Those men had books, snacks, big bags of oranges, bottled drinks and anything else you could want. They’d run to the busses and knock on the sides to get you to look and open the windows and buy. Lots of people did. I think we went through a good orange territory because half the people on the bus bought 5-kilo bags of oranges but did not eat them. The bus also gave us a drink service twice, with timely stops about 45 minutes afterwards. In this situation, people had to “do business” there and then. I tried not to drink too much.
On the way, I met Rose and her children Ashley and Vernon. Vernon was probably about 9 years old and had a lot of energy, and he was sitting behind me. So Rose and I got to talk about him from time to time, but it was done in a friendly way. She was very nice and tried to make me feel welcome – can you imagine? I was the only white person on the bus, so maybe I looked lost, but I think she was just that nice. If Vernon was awake, you couldn’t talk more than ten seconds without Vernon getting swatted upside the head by Rose. She said “if I don’t do this, he’ll never stop.” It was hard not to laugh. She was on him like white on rice. He was mischievous though – at the rest stop I saw him peeing on another boy! The kid must have had a thick hide by now because he seemed unaffected by any punishment. They disembarked at Moshi and I was sorry to see her go. She asked me in for supper, and I wish I could have taken her up on it, but I knew that Tropical Trails had sent someone to meet me and would worry if I did not arrive, which I explained. About 30 minutes after we left Moshi, we finally got to our last stop in Arusha. Not the main terminal in Arusha, but the Kilimanjaro Express Bus ticket office. That’s part of the reason for taking this bus: avoiding the “ticks” in the main station (as they call the touts here). At the bus stop, there was Frank Mbuhilo, my driver and safari guide. He took me to the hotel (Le Jacaranda – I do not recommend it but it was the $40 hotel I was looking for), and the next day at 8:30 came to get me so we could start our safari! We stopped at Tropical Trails first to get a sleeping bag, and make remaining reservations for my return. I decided to fly back to Dar Es Salaam since I got started a day later. I can get the full safari I had wanted and had already paid for. It was nice to meet my agent in person after all that email, and great to be well enough to go at all. I am looking forward to the adventure.