Something about travelling Africa by public transport really appeals to me. Africa itself seems like an adventure and taking it all on by road seems like the best way to do it. After yesterday’s bus ride I’m not so sure this was the best idea I’ve had in my life…
I needed to go from Arusha on the eastern side of the Serengeti to Mwanza on the western side. The recommended route is up through Kenya to Nairobi and then back down on the other side of the national park. I didn’t want to go through Nairobi and pay the visa fee for Kenya, so that was out. Then there was the straight through the park approach which sort of seemed appealing until I read that I would have to pay at least $50 in park fees and I wasn’t likely to see any animals as I would be hurtling past them at breakneck speeds. That left the third option, past the park on the southern side. Cheap and I didn’t remember reading anything bad about the route (although I don’t remember reading anything at all) so how much worse than the other routes could it possibly be?
I boarded a bus with three seats on one side and two on the other. It was pretty crammed but I was lucky to have a window seat. We got going at 6am on the dot and as I settled in I thought to myself ‘this isn’t so bad’. That’s about when the paved road ended and my hell began.
The dirt road was hard and full of bumps and potholes, but it was also covered in sand and red dirt which meant it was seriously dusty. Fortunately, it was cool enough to be able to keep the window closed. Unfortunately, once we hit the bumpy road the window took on a life of its own, violently shaking open with each bump. The latch was broken and the stiff window was too hard to close with my fingers. There were two holes where the handle used to be and every five minutes I would have to take out a pencil, stick it in the hole and use it to close the window. Sometimes I wasn’t quick enough (I might have left it for six minutes instead of five) and a truck would come thundering past, sending dust and dirt through the two inch space. By the time we reached the rest stop, my face was covered with red dirt.
The rest stop was another cause of panic! I didn’t think we were ever going to stop for a break. We must have stopped ten times in six hours with nobody on the bus making a move to get off… I was convinced everyone in this country has superhuman bladders. The journey was hellish at the start but when I got to hour five and thought I was going to pee my pants, that’s when things really got hellish. Fortunately for me, my pants, the person sitting next to me and the bus upholstery, we stopped at hour six for 15 minutes before being herded back on board to continue the journey.
After ten hours, a bruised ass, a possibly broken computer and camera, a face covered in dirt and a damaged bladder we were approaching a large city – Mwanza! Right? This is the final stop… right? ‘No, this is Shinyanza’.
This is about the point where I wanted to kill myself. Shinyanza, from what I could remember from the map I had glanced at, was only the halfway point. Did that mean that when the bus ticket guy said the bus would arrive at four, he meant 4am? Did that mean that I had another 10 hours of this hell journey ahead of me?!? PANIC. Nobody seemed to be able to give me an answer so I sat there, willing the bus to crash.
‘It’s not that bad. The road is paved again. I’ll just have a snooze and when I wake up, hopefully I’ll be there.’ Driving… driving… zzz… BANG!!! ‘What the f-??? BUH BANG!!!
Speed bumps! The fricking highway had speed bumps! And guess what? The driver didn’t slow down one bit. We took those suckers at full speed, launching us passengers in the back a foot in the air each time and scaring the living hell out of me. Going over speed bumps at 130kms an hour is LOUD.
So at this point, as far as I knew I had another nine hours of speed bumps and the sun was down so I couldn’t even read my book in between the bumps. Plus I had a splitting headache and I needed to pee again. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ate some popcorn and tried to zone out. BANG!!! ARG!!!
We arrived into Mwanza after four hours instead of the expected ten, so I guess I was relieved although all I felt was utterly exhausted and defeated. I’m not sure how I survived those four hours without throwing myself out the window. It’s probably because the window wouldn’t open the whole way, actually.
I shared a cab into town with a youngish Kenya lady (she had shown me the way to the toilets as I wandered around looking panicked) and her 71 year old husband-to-be from England who looked like he was about 100. How he survived that journey, I will never know. I passed out at about 9pm happy to be alive.
Anyone got any terrible bus journey stories to share?