I had been too ambitious in my plans to cover vast swathes of eastern Africa with limited time. Nobody told me that travelling in Africa is exhausting. Firstly you have to be at bus stations at 6am which means waking up at 5am on travel days. For some reason intercity buses only leave at 6am or if your lucky 7am. So there you are lugging around a backpack in a scary bus station trying to find the right man to sell the bus ticket, don’t even think about trying to eat breakfast or even get a coffee. The freakiest place of all was in Arusha. A guy we met in Nairobi called Nelson arranged our travel back to Tanzania but it kind of felt as if we had been kidnapped.
Typical street scene in Tanzania
We were met from bus stations by men with our names printed out on A4 sheets of paper who would insist we got in unmarked cars where other men were sitting shouting to each other in Swahili. It was really confusing and I kept mentioning that they should at least invest in something as simple as a name badge with company logo as it was impossible to know who was who. Anyway, I didn’t like Arusha at all, there were too many touts and the place had quite a sinister rundown feel to it so we just spent the night there. I was too wrecked to try and find a place to stay but remembered the name Arusha Backpackers from my guide book so we told the kidnappers to take us there. The rooms were nothing special but the roof terrace we amazing and so was the food – I was in heaven talking to French people, the first westerners we saw since arriving in Africa. The men who had “kidnapped” us even went and arranged our onward journey to Lushoto, the 6am Fasaha V.I.P. Executive Travel.
I have to laugh now when I think of it. I imagined reclining chairs and maybe someone who brought around drinks and snacks on the bus. It was H-E-L-L. An old over crowded battered bus with narrow chairs and tiny windows which no one would be able to crawl out if anything happened. I realise things now about travel in Africa. There is a driver who smokes and chats on his phone while going way over the speed limit and he is surrounded by a gang of men who you could see as the mob. Once we are out in the middle of no where it’s as if they think they are gods. In the 8 hour bus journey from Arusha to Lushoto they only stopped once for 5 mins in some bushes where we were expected to go to the toilet. Every now and they they’ll let on a group of people who are selling snacks, the mob can take which ever snack they want for free as payment. Public transport is about money and speed.
The bus was crammed, at times I had elbows in my face, it was horrible as i’m claustrophobic. Somewhere half way I could feel a panic attack coming on and all I could do was cry quietly to myself while looking out the window while we raced through bush fires, deserts and some of the most harrowing poverty you could ever imagine. Avoid Fasaha if you can. Another bus company called Chokito also leave for Lushoto from Arusha and their buses looked slightly better although not much. The lowest point of the bus trip and infact the lowest point of the whole trip to Africa was on that Fasaha bus in the middle of no where when I was sitting in tears as the middle aisle was crammed full of people and people were banging on the glass from outside trying to sell you things you would ever need. It was horrible – the heat and chaos – the thing that made me snap was someone getting on the bus with a double mattrass which was then passed along across the heads of everyone to the back of the bus.
Typical rural Tanzania
I was fuming and I must say I hated Africa in that moment and never wanted to come back EVER!!!!!! Every now and then the police stopped the bus for over speeding but what is the point of traffic police when you can just get rid of them with a bribe?
Last glimpse of Kilimanjaro
Then again I was in one of the world’s poorest countries so what was I expecting The Orient Express? I thought it was just us suffering but I noticed a woman getting off the bus in Soni who collapsed onto the ground in tears so it was hell for everyone. Once we got into the Usambara Mountains my spirits lifted, the driver put on music which I’m guessing was the music of the mountain peoples and everything got amazing. Gorgeous mountain villages with the women dressed in vibrantly coloured kangals, views that went on for miles, waterfalls, rainforests, monkeys, cooler climates, no dust. After the hell of being in Arusha and the hell of travelling across the Masai Steppe in a bone shaker it was like arriving in paradise!