Racing The Sun To Tanzania


This blog entry about the events of Monday, April 26, 2004 was originally posted on April 29, 2004.

DAY 191:  My goal of the day was to make it to the southern Tanzanian city of Mbeya, 120 km. north of the Malawian/Tanzanian border.  I questioned whether or not I would make it before the sun went down so that I wouldn’t arrive in the uncertainties of darkness.  Anel, who had made her way down from the north, said I’d make it to Tanzania’s border by nightfall, but not Mbeya.  Frank said I’d make it by 7:30 at night, but not to worry because a nice hotel was just across the street from the Mbeya bus terminal and that I wouldn’t have to stray too far at night to find it.  I supposed that was the worst case scenario, but I still tried to make the effort to get there before the sun beat me to it.

Taro was smart and got a head start before the sun rose, leaving at 5 a.m. with his Japanese friend to their destination.  With my head up my ass from the night before, I didn’t get up until my alarm woke me up at 6:30, in hopes of getting a 7 a.m. minibus to Mzuzu.  But along with Anel and Maaike, I was way too hungover for any sort of rush.  We had a leisurely breakfast around eight o’clock and then bid goodbye to the more-than-friendly staff after one last group photo.  Out of our big group, only Ed remained as he was “stuck” another week to make up the scuba class work he missed when he was sick with giardia.  The fact that “stuck” is in quotes should be self-explanatory, although I knew that if he remained in the dorm house, he’d still have to deal with the daily morning hairball coughs of the resident cat.

A courteous guy on staff rowed our luggage across the bay so we didn’t have to lug them on the trail into town.  A courteous dog escorted all the way on our final Mayoka-Nkhata hike, passed the prisoners working in a field, to where our bags were waiting for us in town. 

“Thanks for telling me about that place,” I told Frank and Francesca as I bid them farewell.  The two of them, along with Maaike, were headed off on a ferry southbound that traveled up and down the length of Lake Malawi.

“See you in July,” Maaike said to me, reminding me of the invitation to visit her in Holland when I made my way through Europe in the coming summer.

Anel, Maia, Mari and I said our goodbyes to Martha and Benson who escorted us to the mini-buses.  Our transport to the closest main terminal in Mzuzu didn’t arrive until about 10:30.  With the estimated eight more hours of travelling to go, the sun was way ahead of me.

AFTER BIDDING GOODBYES TO THE GIRLS in Mzuzu (they were all headed somewhere else), I hopped on the only next available transport to my next city, Karonga: a mid-sized bus that would take longer to fill — which meant more waiting before departure.  I waited about an hour before we actually took off, squished in between the left side wall and a friendly Tanzanian man in Malawi on business.  The northbound journey took us on winding roads through green mountains with wonderful picturesque views of the northern sections of the lake, not to mention the usual police checkpoints and searches. 

When we reached Karonga’s bus terminal a little over three hours later, I was glad I had made up some time — Anel told me the ride to Karonga would have taken 5-6 hours.  The time I gained I lost again though, when the almost-full mini-bus I was in broke down before leaving and we all had to transfer to a bigger one, only to have more room to fill.  I waited about another hour before we actually left (picture above), watching my bag and listening to the peeps of the little chicks someone was transporting in the back.

When the mini-bus got filled to over capacity — some passengers had to hang out the doorway — we headed north towards the border.  I thought I was making good time against the sun, but we pretty much stopped in every village along the way for pick-ups and drop-offs.  At least I got some Malawi kwacha changed for some Tanzanian shillings.

The clouds of an overcast sky kept the status of the sun hidden, but I knew it was approaching sunset anyway.  We got to the border area around 5:30, where aggressive locals reached into the mini-bus with their grubby hands not to grab my bag (thankfully) but the big bags of maize cargo that would be sold locally.  However, two guys noticed me, the lone traveler, and “escorted” me to the immigration office, trying to get me to exchange money.  I brushed them off politely.

Malawi’s exit formalities were pretty straightforward, but the immigration officer there told me that the Tanzanian border post might be closing so I better get there quick — it was still another half-kilometer walk, and an another “hour into the future” with the time zone change. 

“Watch out for thieves,” a fellow mini-bus passenger warned me as I approached the bridge that separated the two African nations.  Left and right, guys followed me to change money, but I insisted I had already done it. 

“I have no kwacha left!  I have no dollars either!”  I’d say, which was a total fib because I still had a wad of kwacha in my big bag and some American greenbacks, $50 of which I used for my entry visa into Tanzania.

AFTER ANOTHER 200 METERS OF WALKING amongst more aggressive hustlers, I boarded my last mini-bus of the day to my final destination, Mbeya, Tanzania.  I had beat the sunset to the border like Anel told me, and I had only the inevitable nightfall to look forward to. 

The moon and the stars came out pretty quick as we journeyed northbound in a country that I soon realized was The Country With Three Speed Bumps In A Row (Without Commercial Interruption!).  The not-so crowded ride was
“fairly pleasant,” and I put that in quotes because I had to deal with a grasshopper jumping around inside from passenger to passenger, keep an eye on my bag, and wonder what that continuous warning chime coming from the dashboard meant.  As more and more people got off the mini-bus the closer we got to Mbeya I felt a little uneasy.  I noticed two guys in an upper row joke in Swahili about how I’d probably get mugged at gunpoint when I got off the bus.  Soon they got off the bus, leaving me alone with my bag, defenseless with the driver and the conductor.

“[Where are you going?]” I figured the conductor was trying to ask me in Swahili. 

“The New Millennium Hotel.  It should be across from the bus terminal.”  Upon scrutinization, we were no where near anything that resembled a bus terminal or station.

“Two thousand shillings,” he asked for, which was what I paid to get from the border to Mbeya, but there was nothing I could do.  It was dark outside and there was no way I was going to venture out there with all my gear.  (Personal taxi fares are about the same amount as shared fares anyway.)

Luckily for me the driver knew some English and was fairly helpful.  I chatted with him to keep the good vibe going as he drove me across town to the terminal.  But he picked up his friend there for I don’t know what reason, and that friend escorted me into the hotel across the street.  He waited there in the lounge for me so that “we could go to the terminal and book a bus ticket.”  Shady, no?

I took my sweet ass time settling down in my room.  The desk attendant came back with my change and I stopped him in the hallway, away from the “friend” to ask him about the status of bus ticket offices.  Despite the fact that the desk guy spoke more Swahili than English, I figured he was telling me nothing would be open at that time of night, particularly the Scandinavian bus company that everyone in Nkhata Bay insisted I had to take for its comfort and security.

“I’ve been waiting for you!” the supposed “friend” said in the lounge, trying to lay a guilt trip on me when I popped my head in.  (Lonely Planet calls this “emotional blackmail,” which is something I really have to start looking out for.)

“I’m sorry, I went to the bathroom.”

“Let’s go and book your bus ticket for tomorrow.”

“Actually, I think I’m just going to rest here for a couple of days.”

“Oh, okay.  I will see you tomorrow then,” he said, probably thinking, Curses, foiled again by another tourist seeing through my ulterior motives!  I was polite and gave him the African handshake — which I’ve been doing since I learned it in Lusaka, Zambia, a grab of the thumb, then the forefingers.  I overheard the “friend” outside saying something like “...but he knows the African handshake!”  Surprise, surprise, I didn’t arrive in Africa yesterday bub.

The sun may have beat me to Mbeya, but I was glad that’s all that beat me that day.

Next entry: Mad Dash to Dar

Previous entry: One Last Lake Day

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Comments for “Racing The Sun To Tanzania”

  • Erik, How about a video of the handshake?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  10:21 PM

  • Yeah, that’d be fun.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  10:32 PM

  • u should’ve shown him the nyc handshake. in jersey we call it, “bitch-slap”.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/29  at  12:25 AM

  • Look out!  Watch out! I hope he doesn’t get huurt!...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/29  at  12:25 AM

  • Bub? You’re Jersey is showing. Hehe!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/29  at  10:23 PM

  • Erik - what’s up with the lone boat in the middle of the lake in most of the pictures?

    Posted by Liz  on  04/30  at  04:05 AM

  • Everytime you mention ‘checkpoints’ and ‘searches’, I think of my trip to Colombia (oh my, about 22 yrs ago), when a ‘Generalissimo’ gets on our tourbus, and starts asking for ‘papers’.

    One of the guys I was travelling with had a death wish or something, and reaches over to my camera which was hanging around my neck, and hits the timer…10 seconds later, I hear the shutter click…and SHUDDER.  Getting the shots back when I get home, I see that the ‘officer’ was looking DIRECTLY at the camera.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/30  at  09:21 PM

  • quit gettin drunk !  hahhaha hangover city for you!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/03  at  12:18 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Mad Dash to Dar

Previous entry:
One Last Lake Day


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