Saturday, July 4, 2009

Snatching Victoria from the Jaws of Defeat (Part 1)

Grab a coke and some popcorn and hang on because this is going to be a while.
This story actually begins 4 years ago when I was preparing to travel to South America and wanted some quick dry cargo pants. I realized that the youth XL were almost the same size as my regular 30x30s and $20 cheaper. So, in an attempt to be thrifty and wise I bought the kids pants. Did I mention that the main difference in the youth XL and the mens was that, other than the snugness, the pockets were significantly smaller...

Chapter 1:
4:30 am Friday morning. I awake to my alarm clock and a rooster crowing outside, stuff my sleeping bag into my backpack and leave the fortress to meet 5 others volunteers who are about to embark on an incredible journey. 2 weeks ago all of the volunteers but myself were planning on taking a safari this weekend. Having already been on safari and not wanting to spend $500.00 I decided I would do something else. And after seeing the biggest mountain in Africa I figured "why not go see the biggest lake". Once I told my new friends about my plan 5 of them defected from safari and joined me in this pursuit (they really weren't missing safari, they are smart people and realized that the safari is wherever I go). So myself, the french guy (Paul), the german guy (Justos), the canadian girl (Julie), and the florida girls (Jenny and Furdos) got a friend of ours in moshi to arrange transport to Mwanza, the 2nd largest city in Tanzania which happens to be on the shores of Lake Victoria. Our "11 hour" bus ride would leave Moshi at 6 am. The Lonely Liar book (from now on I will be referring to Lonely Planet as Lonely Liar) said that we could take a bus through the Serengeti, but this was not an option. Instead we went around the Serengetti, which made the drive about 2x as long.

7:30 am - After stopping to pick up passengers in Arusha I have a suspicious looking Tanzanian sitting beside me. My wallet is in my front pocket and, thinking that we have 10 more hours to go and I will fall asleep I should sit on my billfold to prevent being pickpocketed, I move it to the back pocket of my quick dry cargo pants....completely ignorant of the road ahead.

Our bus seats about 70 people and has no shock absorbing capabilities whatsoever. After leaving Arusha and passing the gate to the Serengeti, the road has not pavement whatsoever. And our driver does not like to go slow. The remainder of the bus ride was more like a rodeo, except instead of hanging on for 8 seconds you have to do it for 14 hours (remember, we have already been on the road for 2). This bus trip redefined the term "ride it don't fight it". I spent most of the time suspended in the air about inches above the seat. The rest of the time was spent crashing my shoulder into the window or bruising my butt while making repeatedly harder landings on the seat below.

11:00 am - I start reading the Green Hills of Africa by Papa Hemingway and realize that he is describing a safari he took in the 1930s at the exact same location my bus is currently bouncing through...I look out the window and try to picture the landscape the way he describes it. It is mostly agricultural now with small huts and farms. I try to see it the way it was, with savannah and bush and rhinos running around and stomping out fires. I am also impressed with my ability to read while being knocked around like a pinball - no doubt, this is a talent.

1:00 pm - The road is even rougher and dust is flying through the window and covering the passengers. As I look out the window to admire Mt. Hanang, it dawns on me that my pockets are small and my billfold my fall out so I should put it back in the front. I reach back to find an empty pocket and get a sick, stupid feeling all over. Once I realize that it is not in the floor around my seat I start to get an even sicker, stupider feeling. None of the other volunteers have seen it and my friend beside me pleads innocent and starts asking other passengers in Swahili if they have found it (I honestly think he was innocent).

3:00 pm - After making a couple of stops and I looking over the entire bus and talking to the crew on the bus, who all of a sudden cant speak any English, and realizing that my Swahili, although getting better, is still not good enough to say "everyone empty your pockets" or "who stole my money" (I did manage to get out Ninapotea pesa (I lost my money) but no one seemed to care about this mzungu) I take out my trusty Zantel phone and call my wonderful father whom I can always count on to impersonate me and cancel all of my credit cards (Kathryn, if you are reading this and need to make room in the safe you can trash my papers. They are no good to anyone now). The contents of the wallet are 91000 TZ shillings (roughly $60 or about 2 months wages for the average Tanzanian according to Lonely Liar), my credit and debit cards and insurance card and drivers license. It bothers me that whoever found my money didn't return it but I wonder how great the temptation would be for me if I were in their shoes and found a small fortune. With my cards cancelled I now begin to relax and enjoy the countryside again. I still have emergency travellers checks in my money belt but was dumb didn't put any money there. And I kind of like the thought of being a poor mzungu in Africa.

5:00 pm - We have passed hundreds of Baobab trees (my favorite tree on earth, i like them even more than live oaks) and I still get excited every time I see one. We also pass some baby-bob trees (that is what I call the young baobobs). Oh, and someone with a chicken just sat down beside me.

7:00pm - I am seeing my first Tanzanian sunset of this trip (we don't get this in the cloudy mountains of Moshi) and it is priceless. Watching the profile of a magnificent baobob surrounded by a burning orange sun that seems to melt into the savannah, I couldn't care less that I lost all of my money. Oh, and some dude sits down beside me and starts singing in Swahili and I suspec that he is drunk or possibly has some type of mental illness.

8:15 - I have been asleep for about 15 minutes (the only time I slept the entire bus ride) when I awake to see that the singing swahili guy (still singing) has his left pinky and ring finger in my right pocket. I want to say "you are too late buddy" but instead I just give him the "you got to be kidding me" look...He gently removes his fingers from my pocket and folds his hands in his lap...and never stops singing.

9:15 - The conductor shines his light in my eyes and then hands me my wallet. The contents of the wallet are now 0 TZ shillings, 3 cancelled cards, drivers license, insurance card. I just laugh and am kind of relieved because I like the billfold.

10:30 pm - The bus tops in Mwanza, bruised and exhausted we get off and are greeted by a friend of our friend in Moshi. Her name is Cleopatra. I finally reach the source of the nile and I am received by Cleopatra. I think this is freaking awesome. And I also thank God to be off of the bus and realize that 16.5 hours on the road is a new record for me beating out the Sons of Robert F. Townsend drive in Mexico earlier this year (that is still my record for driving in one day - for more on the adventures of the Sons of Robert F. Townsend check out Cleo takes us to a hostel and the end of a very long day is capped by the news of Michael Jackson's death and I am a little sad but really excited about being so close to Lake Victoria and the notorious Nile Perch. be continued (I realize that only the people who love me the most are going to read this saga and hopefully it is not a waste of your time, we are now 1/3 of the way through this tale).

1 comment:

  1. Samuel is offended. He told me.
    (See 5:00 pm)