Forward unto Dar! (Part 1)
After my visit to Shiwa House, I returned to Kapishya and its hot spring, down the bumpy red dust road. A layer of dust had settled on top of the dash, and to this day my car has never been truly clean. The Dutch students had returned to Mpika in the morning to continue with their volunteer work, and the lodge felt a lot quieter and I started to doubt my solitary nature. I had enjoyed their friendship. I met a South African called Ed at the camp on my return. He couldn’t believe that the little Alfa had made it all the way to Kapishya. He had battled with fuel between Kapiri Mposhi and Mpika in his Range Rover, as there’s a 450km stretch without any fuel. The Alfa pulled into Mpika with a little to spare. I hadn’t touched my long range tank between Lusaka and Shiwa, and in all honesty, that was the section I had built the tank for. Ed was very impressed with the Alfa, and had nothing but praise for it.
In the morning the rest of the guests decamped for Buffalo Camp with Mr Harvey. I had developed a longing for the road, and strangely, a craving to see the ocean. My plan had been to head to Tanzania and then into Rwanda. But I decided on that morning that I would go to Dar es Salaam instead. It was a three day drive across two countries. The thought of white sand beaches and palm trees was pretty tempting in that moment.
I packed up my tent and said goodbye to Mr Harvey before heading towards the border of Tanzania. I spent almost an hour driving the dirt track back to the Great North Road. This was my fourth trip up the track and my car was filthy, but it did seem to cope with the abuse rather well. The steering box makes an awful racket on dirt roads, and I was worried that I had damaged it, but touching down on tar the steering was as smooth and sharp as it had ever been.
At Chinsali I stopped for a last splash of crappy 91 octane fuel before heading for the border town of Tunduma. I rolled into a dusty filling stating packed with PHO Land Cruisers. I imagine that’s some sort of NGO. Generally, the big white Toyotas belong to NGOs or posh game parks. Even here, I began to miss Kapishya, as it had been a haven in the chaos.
With a full tank of fuel, I settled down for the drive to Tanzania. I was hoping to arrive in Mbeya that afternoon. After Chinsali the good tar runs out, and the road gets very narrow. There are potholes that would wreck even the toughest Landy. And they’re a bit of a surprise, as there are stretches of smooth tar for kilometres, and then suddenly a patch of potholes so savage that I could lose my Alfa in them.
I arrived in the border town of Tunduma with what I thought was plenty of time to spare. I parked up, tipped a man to keep an eye on my car, and headed for immigration. A fixer approached me, and going by my previous experience, I tried my best to shake him off. I didn’t make eye contact and I answered him vaguely. Once my passport was stamped and the carnet was stamped out of Zambia I returned to my car, where he continued to follow. Eventually he explained that he was an agent for the insurance company, and that I would need his help eventually, so I relented and let him accompany me to the Tanzanian side. He, amazingly, he smoothed over the whole process, not just insurance but customs and immigration too. At the end, he asked only for the money for insurance, and a small tip ($5) , which I was happy to pay, as he had saved me hours.
Entering Tanzania I felt far from home for the first time. Culturally it’s very different. Suddenly there were motorcycles and Tuk Tuks. It was much busier, and there were settlements all along the road, whereas Zambia and Zimbabwe had open space for mile after mile.
Not far into Tanzania I was pulled over by the Tanzanian Police. They dress like Monacan Royal Guards, all in white. The officer told me that I had been speeding. He didn’t tell me how fast I had been going, but that I was over the 50kph limit. I hadn’t seen the sign, but I knew that I had indeed been over, badly. He told me that I was to be arrested and I would have to pay a rather large fine, and I didn’t have enough Tanzanian Shillings on me to pay anyway. He asked to see my papers, and he told me that this was a serious situation, but that he could help me out. $20 later he let me go, he slipped the money into his pocket and returned to his fellow officers. From then on I was careful about the 50kph zones, which seem to be everywhere. They’re not always sign posted, often you need to keep an eye on the signs in your mirrors. If there is an end of 50kph zone sign behind you, you’re in the limited zone.
The drive into Mbeya became a slow stop-start affair. I was constantly in 3rd gear to avoid breaking the speed limit. And even then I was stopped at every police check point where my paperwork was all checked, over and over, as if it had changed since the last check point.
I arrived in Mbeya in the dark, and found my way to the Karibuni Centre, which is a church and Christian Mission. The gate guard, who I was sure was blind, let me in. He assured me that it was very safe and he showed me to a small but clean room, with its own loo. Also, he told me not to leave my room after 11pm, as the dogs would be out, and they’re rather mean. I was glad for the safe harbour in Mbeya, as it’s a really unpleasant town. I battled in the traffic and the police presence gave it a very special kind of menace, as the police don’t seem to be there for the people.
I seemed to have the whole place to myself, apart from one other traveller. I decided to get to bed early after a phone call home. The long drive had tired me awfully. I knew I had a few more days of this ahead of me before I would reach the promised land of Dar es Salaam, where I would just sit on the beach and relax. In that room in Mbeya Dar es Salaam felt a thousand miles away (it wasn’t too far off that) and I missed Kapishya. In these moments I wished I had a friend with me, I felt awfully alone, and far from anyone…