About African travel

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About African travel

Updated 15 years, 8 months ago

This latest update is a little delayed due to hideous expense of e-mail in
Malawi and time spent in transit. I bet you're thinking, "can't be Dan,
thought he'd carked it". No, but only just. Well, they said that travelling
Africa is frustrating and awkward, but i don't think that really does it
justice. The words "fucking slow", "fucking incompetent", "fucking crowded", "fucking inconsiderate", "fucking misleading" and various obscene swear words to cover the general impression would better describe it. After waiting five days for a supposedly "brilliant" train journey from Dar towards Mbeya, near the Malawi/Tanzania border, I arrived early on the day of departure to find it further delayed- by five hours. I was pretty anxious as I had only booked on this train as it went through the Selous game reserve- one of africa's best and remotest. But with this added delay we might get there too late and go through the park in darkness, so i got on the train pretty pissed off. My mood was not eased by the train itself. Only 15/20 years ago the Chinese built this Tazara (Tanzania + Zambia railway) train service, but it looked a lot older. 2nd class was not that plush- just a bare compartment with fold down bunks and the smell of urine wafting from the flooded toilet (someone must have had a poor aim). However i managed to get in a carriage with a south African girl and a lovely lady with her two small grandchildren, on the way to lusaka. We chatted away but then were silenced by the spectacular beauty of the Selous and the vast array of game we were slowly (agonisingly so) passing- giraffes, elephant, eland, zebra, warthog, impala, thompson's, etc etc. As we left the Selous, the most gorgeous sunset of pinks, orange and reddy purple further soothed our battered senses. We seemed to stop every cuople of miles in between our chuntering along, mobs of traders mobbed the train and we picked up cheap somosas, mandazi (like a donut type thing), bananas and most crucially, water, as it was roasting hot. The evening on the bunks was humid, sweaty and sleepless as mossies gorged themselves on our tender areas. Needless to say, we arrived late the next day, but were too tired to care. Malawi was mainly slow, with days spent waiting pointlessly in between rides, as Bakili Muluzi (Yes, that's the president, not a new and deadly gun or a character from "The Usual Suspects") declared new and pointless public holidays, for a populace that needs no second bidding to laze and do nothing. The rides themselves were the usual combination of excruciating pain (as you were crammed into two seats with ten others), sweat, hunger and boredom. If you throw in a dose of the squirts, then even UK public transport looks luxurious.
Zimbabwe however was a whole new lesson in inefficiency. I got this bus from Harare which refused to move unless it was dangerously overloaded with twice the recommended limit of passengers and luggage. The crowding I was used to and, whilst not actually enjoying it, could maintain a good old British stiff upper lip. As an esteemed visitor from overseas I was given the best seat, surrounded by a group of drunks who'd shame Oliver Reed or George Best, well on their way to achieving their goal of finishing their 10 beers before tackling an enormous bottle of Brandy- neat. Also being near the front meant I was privileged to bear the brunt of the singing blind beggars that were admitted at every stop! The combination of odour d'alcoholic sweat, wailing singing, drunken shouting, rattling begging tins under your nose and smoke from the engine entering the bus did not perhaps enhance the glamourous image of life on the road. Indeed, this engine eventually exploded just outside Gweru and still nearly 200 kms from Bulawayo. As usual the driver and his assistant did not seem too bothered and poked it a little, assuring us they'd have it going in ten
minutes. Like Fuck! The fucking thing was practically on fire! When they
stopped the bus there was a mad panic to exit the bus as smoke billowed
outside and inside the bus. With darkness rapidly approaching and a huge electrical storm building ahead there was no option but to try and hitch a lift as quickly as possible. Soon a car stopped and I felt "great, this will be quicker than that fucking bus, more comfortable and probably safer". Right on the first two points, but safe! Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Me and this very nice Zim lady got in and put on our seatbelts and the car pulled off. So relieved had we been to get a lift we did not pay much attention to the driver slumped in the driving seat, with empty beer bottles round his feet. This gave me a feeling of foreboding which was born out by our rapid rise in speed to 180km/h- a speed he more or less maintained for the whole trip- and the way he overtook on a blind bend. By now it was dark and with no street lights of course in the middle of the bush, we could not see the road and were hindered further by one of the worst storms I've ever been in a car in. Rain lashing like a wall of water, blinding the windscreen, as lightning cast eerie "daylight" sporadically and thunder boomed to a crescendo as we hurtled to our doom. The bloke made some allowance of conditions reducing speed to just 140km/h, still chatting amiably and swigging from the bottle, but it was the most terrifying journey I've ever done. Somehow, I really don't know how, we reached Bulawayo and this kind lady gotr her car and gave me a lift to a hostel. It took me about 2 hours to come out of shock. Hell. Now I'm in Vic and I need never get another local bus- Thank the Lord. Xmas will be spent here chilling out. Hope everyone in the God-awful weather place (The UK) don't get too depressed, all you others enjoy the sun like I will be. May you all enjoy Christmas and remember what its all about- the Pub and family fights. Hope New Year is cool too and that the hang over was worth it, if not get her a taxi home and pretend it never happened.

Cheers and all the best
ps good stuff happened in between the rides. Tell you later.

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