Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: A crazy bus ride to Dar es Salaam and my neighbor who ate bones (April 16)

Current Location: Nungwi, Zanzibar
Highlights: A 550km plus bus ride, what an experience...............
Upcoming: Aaron was robber again, relaxing in peaceful isolation on the beaches of Zanzibar, then its off to Kenya.

Gena had flown back last night. I don't really want to talk about her departure because it makes me sad. It felt like we were pulled form each others squeezing arms and neither of us could do anything to stop it; we were not ready to say goodbye after being apart for 5 months.

I had to be at the bus station by 6 am to catch my bus to Dar es Salaam. This was a local bus "station" used by the locals, not usually by tourists, at least not by any tourists other than the occasional backpacker. As soon as I showed up, our vehicle was mobbed by people wanting to sell me a bus ticket. A small fight broke out between two of the tours which I tried to break up, but left them to it and bought my ticket for the bargain price of 8500 TSH (almost US$11). The bus journey was about 550km long and would get me into Dar around 2.30 pm on a relatively comfortable vehicle the size of a Greyhound Coach. By comparison, it would have taken me about 14 hrs to drive in the Landy and cost about 55 000 TSH in petrol, and besides I like bus rides, I mean I really like riding on local buses. You get to experience local life more closely.

These buses have a terrible reputation for being driven by maniacs who attempt to break the sound barrier on the two lane roads that wind through the country side only infrequently punctuated by
small to large villages. On our first drive to Dar in the Landy, we were almost forced off the road by one of these busses that skidded round a bend at "warp" speed into our lane with only the rubber of the tires from one side to hold it onto the road. All I remember seeing after I turned sharply to avoid the bus was the crazed smile on the face of the driver which resembled Jack Nicholsons smile when
he played the joker in the first Batman movie. They have a complex set of hand signals to communicate with other vehicles, especially the other bus drivers, designed to pre-warm of the location of Police speed traps. Upturned fingers that beckon mean its OK to speed up, downturned fingers pointing downwards mean slow down, speed trap ahead with the distance often indicated by holding up 2 or 3 fingers. When a speed trap is close, they slow down to 80 mph (50 mph) until past. At all other times they drive about as fast as the bus will go. I don't know the exact speed as the speedo needle was usually pegged at 140 kph. Of course they have to stop for the numerous Police check points where they have to show their papers and slow down when going through a village with speed bumps. When going through a village without speed bumps, or when passing people
on the road whether walking or on bikes, they just give several blasts on the horn which means "you better get out the way". After reading this, you must think I would be crazy to ride one these busses, especially if you could see the skeletons of vehicles that didn't make it rusting by the road side. But actually, I felt quite safe, they have the system down and they know the roads.

I got on the he bus at 6.15am and it hung around for another 30 mins, then took off to the blast of its loud horn. Over the next 2hrs it slowly filled up with frequent stops and the vacant seat beside me was the last to fill as a rather large, very smartly dresses woman sat down (see sneaky picture I took below). I smiled, she ignored me. Within the next hour, we stopped at a small cafe, people got off, went to the bathroom and bought food and drinks. My neighbor came back with a brown paper bag filled with chips (that's proper chips, aka French fries in the USA) and fried chicken. As we set off she tore open the bottom of the bag and began to eat. First most of the chips (this made me hungry), and then a drum stick. She picked clean the bone of all the meat, then bit off the end of the bone with the cartilage attached which I could hear her crunch as she chewed. Good grief, I thought, she must really be hungry or like the taste of bones! I then watched her for the next 10 mins chew down and consume another 50% of the chicken leg bone. I have never seen anyone do this before. When she had finished, she wiped her fingers on the brown paper bag, wrapped it up into a tight ball and tossed it out the window of the moving bus. I must admit, I was more shocked by this. She then took frequent sleep breaks, most of time using my shoulder as the resting spot for her head. During another stop, she, the man who appeared to be the bus conductor, and the run around guy all bought small plastic bottles of water. When they finished, they all just tossed them out of the window. In the USA, I would have politely offered to disposed of the bottles had I thought they would be tossed out of the window. Here I decided I should not say anything, I am not sure if this the correct choice. Maybe when we take the bus back to Moshi to pick up the Landy, I will ask if I can dispose of the bottles before they fly out of the window.

I enjoyed the bus ride. I could relax and look out of the window and see life in Tanzania. We made many a quick stop by the roadside, on one occasion two men came running out holding live chickens holding them up to the window and another man came running holding two clear bottles filled with honey. I'm going to buy one of the bottles of honey on the way back. When we stopped at villages, people selling snacks, fruit, drinks, soap, toothbrushes would run up the window.
This was great. I liked the sound of the large diesel engines on busses, I always have ever since I could remember riding busses into London when I was a child seeing the sights of London with 40 pence Red Bus Rover pass.

We arrived into Dar, I caught a taxi to the Ferry terminal, bought my boat ticket, and before I knew it, I had met up with Aaron and I was back on the Spice Island of Zanzibar.

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