MBEYA, Tanzania. We finally left Mayoka Village in Nkatha Bay, it had been too long already. We truly got stuck there. This place is such a piece of heaven, with its little chalets located in a beautiful bay, and the pleasure to wake up on the lake and its inviting crystal clear water. I got the chance to turn 24 there, it couldn’t have been a more perfect place to be!
Last Sunday we finally decided to make a move. We thought we could hitchhike all the way from Nkatha bay in Malawi, to Mbeya in Tanzania, 430km away, in one day. We were ambitious.
We woke up at 5, were on the road at 6, at 10 we were at the next big city, Mzuzu, where our chances of getting a ride would be much higher than in the secluded area we were staying (it took us 4 hours to reach Mzuzu which is only a 45 minutes’ drive away..)
We got dropped at a police block and asked them to help us finding a ride. “Yeah sure, wait over there.” We waited so long… So many cars were passing, they didn’t even seem to be asking them, we wouldn’t see them pointing at us or anything, sometimes they would just lift the gate and let them go without even talking to them. We could see how many bank notes were passing from one hand to another. Road blocks are probably corruption hotspots… At some point I got tired, walked away a bit and started stopping people by myself. After ten minutes only I found someone.
Note for myself: never rely on police officers, they don’t care if you sit there for hours and they probably wait for you to give them a little something to accelerate the process.
We made it to the border pretty “quickly”, it was around 4pm when we arrived. The entry to Tanzania was much more of a hassle. We crossed the border and got some street people wanting to exchange us money. They are always in the “no man’s land” between two countries, trying to exchange you money before you go to a proper bureau de change.
Sometimes it’s a good deal to do business with them, they have slightly better rates. But this time, they were willing to give us much much more than the actual price. We had 8500 malawian kwawha, the bank rate for Tanzania Shilling would have been 30,000. They were willing to give us the online rate, 34,000, we started to be very suspicious, nobody can offer this rate, there is always a commission on top.
To push us to exchange, they offered us 40,000, then 50,000. That was way too much. We were afraid that the bank notes they had were old and invalid, or that it was fake money. So we walked away. At the Tanzanian border, we exchanged with the official people. They had the same bills than the guys on the street. We didn’t get it… I wish we would have exchanged with them instead and discovered afterwards what the trick was.
It started to get dark, we were still far away from Mbeya, the city we were planning to reach. Nobody was driving there anymore, it was more than a hundred km away. We didn’t know if we had to sleep at the border and try to hitch hike the day after, or take a bus to there…
We started walking to the bus station; people were following us on their motorbike, trying to persuade us to get a ride to the bus station that was “so far away”. We didn’t want to pay for that and they were being very annoying anyway, so after some point they gave up.
We kept on walking, it was now dark. I didn’t feel very comfortable. A bus stopped next to us, they were going to Mbeya, we took the chance and jumped in. Nevermind. I didn’t want to save 8$ and take the risk to get mugged on the street.
The bus was dark. I thought about this for a while: “darkness”, something we don’t experience much in the “first world”. The streets have lights, the public transports have lights, you never walk in the dark, except in the little streets maybe. You always see what’s around you and who’s around you in the public places. Here it’s pitch black everywhere, you’re suddenly caught by a complete darkness and it’s only at this moment that you realize how much light means safety, how precious it is, and how we take it for granted at home.
The bus ride was long, but at least the darkness would allow us to get some rest. After a long while, it stopped. People started getting agitated, grabbing their belongings even though we were in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t know what was going on. Maybe they were going down because they were living in the village nearby (that you wouldn’t see in the night anyway).
The lady behind us warned us “take your stuff, the bus is broken”. What the hell was that now… “Go in the other bus quickly to get seats!” I jumped out, letting Schatz take care of the bags, and rushed in the other bus that was indeed parked right in front of us.
When I climbed in there, I couldn’t believe it. It was full. Really, really full. Three people were seating on each bench (that only fit two), and they had unfolded the little planks in the middle and two more people were squeezed between every row. People dragged me at the very bottom of the bus were I could barely fit, I couldn’t do anything for Schatz.
I heard the lady who gave us information earlier talking in Swahili to the people, she was telling them that Schatz was still outside, she was using the word “Mzungu” all the time, which means “Stranger”. People were looking at me, probably thinking that the bus couldn’t go with me inside and let him outside, so they finally squeezed him in.
The rest of the journey was a nightmare. It was so painful. I couldn’t sit properly, I couldn’t rest my back on anything, I had a baby falling asleep on my arm, I was exhausted, and we didn’t even know where we were going…
People around us started to ask us where we were going, if we had arranged a place to stay. We said that we were going to the main bus station, they have guest houses around there, so that we could take another bus West the morning after. “This bus isn’t going to the main station” they told us. What the hell again. They were concerned with the idea of us going to the main station, which didn’t make me feel very good either.
When we finally arrived, it was around 10pm. Someone told us that he knew a guest house somewhere around, we took a taxi with him there, another game of trust that you have to play here. It’s all about how you feel about someone, but most of the time it is quite easy to sense if someone wants you good or bad. We ended up in that little place, an old lady showed us a room, pretty basic but clean, for 10$, we took it.
She didn’t speak English, she was probably not making much money, there was no point for us to try to explain her about the project, and let alone trying to get the night for free. So for the first time, we paid for accommodation, but we were safe and had a shelter.
Hopefully it’ll get better! Tomorrow, we’re heading west!