Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Road to Kilwa, Tanzania . . . "Jambo"

As everyone knows, travelling does not free you from all decision making responsibilities. True- I no longer have to make an agonising decision about whether to sign-off a letter with “Yours sincerely”, “Yours faithfully” or one of the other five prescribed options built into the computer at one firm I used to work at. (“Love” was never an option). Nor do I have to decide what to wear on Dress-Down Fridays. All that is, tragically, behind me.

However, there are still decisions to be made: where to go and how to get there. Easy? Yes, very easy. We essentially follow 3 simple steps:

(1) Listen to the information we get from other travellers and locals, who always want to help. (You, where are you going? You must catch this bus.”)

(2) Consider the information and whether it has been provided for our assistance (which it usually is) or in an effort to somehow part us from our money. (“You give me money and my brother’s taxi will pick you up tomorrow from your hotel.” “You give me money and I will buy the ticket for you. Special discount.” Or simply . . . “You give me money.”)

(3) Decide what to do before someone else decides for us by grabbing our bags and strapping them to the top of an already moving bus . . . destination unknown.

We were pretty confident in our decision-making. Perhaps over confident, which is how I explain our behaviour travelling north from the Tanzanian border to Kilwa, a mere 200 km away.

We were told: “You have missed the bus. Too late now for the bus to Kilwa.” “You wait. Tomorrow morning there is the bus.”

Do we listen? No, we went to the bus stop and decided to catch a truck that we were told (by the person who took our money) would take 2 hours to get to Kilwa. We climbed onto the truck and were informed, by others concerned that we had been misled, that the bus will take “6 hours, maybe more” and that it didn’t stop at Kilwa itself but at a junction about 10 km from Kilwa.

At the time it was about 4pm. Did we consider how we would get from the junction to Kilwa late at night when the truck arrived? No, we attempted to make ourselves comfortable squashed into the back of the truck with about 30 locals on top of a few hundred coconuts. We soon found that, given the coconuts, we were never going to get comfortable. We began to have second thoughts . . .

Phil: Maybe we should get off and catch the bus tomorrow morning?
Me: Mmmm, maybe we should. Should we get off then?
Phil: Maybe, what do you think?
Me: Maybe we should.

This inane conversation continued along the same lines for some time. Did we make a decision? No, the truck started and we were off.

Phil: At least we are moving.

In a continent where we have spent significant amounts of time waiting for a bus/truck/train to leave, it is always a relief to be moving. Unfortunately, we were not moving for long before we got our first flat tyre. Or what we presumed was a flat tyre. The truck stopped, the front wheel was taken off, the inner back wheel was swapped with the outer back wheel the outer back wheel was swapped with the front wheel and, I think, something was done with the spare, but I was too confused to work it out. Shortly afterwards, we had another flat, the truck developed battery problems and sparks intermittently flew from underneath it which we could see quite well as it was dark by this time. It slowly dawned on us that, perhaps, we had made a mistake.

At about 11pm, after 7 hours on the coconuts, we were told we were still a few hours from the junction. We finally realised that by the time we got to the junction there would be no way to get to Kilwa and no one to ask for help, our fellow travellers were all heading further north to Dar Es Salaam. We considered cutting our losses by abandoning the truck, setting up camp by the side of the road and waiting for the morning bus. We were discussing the pros (we can get off the truck and the coconuts) and the cons (we had no food and no real idea where we were) of this idea, when we were interrupted by the other travellers, yelling “Simba!! Simba!!”. ‘Simba’ means lion in Swahili. Apparently, the section of road we were on is frequented by prowling lions. I added “possibility of attack by lion” to the list of ‘cons’ and we decided to stay on the truck.

We arrived at the junction at 4am, about 12 hours after climbing onto the truck. Like ‘moving’, ‘arriving’ is always something to be celebrated, but this time we were not as pleased as we usually are. Luckily for us, the truck driver was, like most locals we meet travelling, genuinely concerned about our welfare and willing to put himself out to ensure we were OK. Worried about leaving us in a place that was (as we later found out) known for its after-dark muggings, the driver escorted us to a nearby police road block and informed the incredulous police officers that they had to baby-sit the “mzungus”. (‘Mzungu’ means ‘white person' or 'foreigner’ and no matter how much I protest -“No, he’s a mzungu, I’m not a mzungu. My father is from Ghana... Africa!” - it seems that I am still considered a ‘mzungu’.)

We thanked the truck driver and settled ourselves into the dirt by the side of the road and chatted to Wilford and his fellow policemen until day break.

On the bright side, it was a nice sunrise.

Shortly after the sun came up we managed to hitch our way into Kilwa and spent the next few days recovering at a lovely place on the beach, Kilwa Dreams. It was aptly named, as we spent the first two days there asleep. Once we had recovered we visited the ruins at Kilwa Kisiwani, a Unesco World Heritage site. Kilwa Kisiwani is now a fishing village on an island but it had at one time been the seat of sultans and the centre of a trading network linking the East African coast with Persia, India and China. Having done our cultural duty it was time to leave Kilwa and head north for Dar Es Salaam.

More on Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar in the next entry, which will be within the fortnight.


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