Near Death Experiences on the Road to Arusha.
I had made myself very much at home at Firefly, and Jo, the owner, was awfully sweet to me. She loved the car, and I certainly would not have hung around Bagamoyo as long as I did if it hadn’t been for her. I spent my time reading while the rain poured down on the tin roof by the pool. Firefly was a good place.
One day I whacked my head on the door frame leading to the kitchen and the cup of tea in my hand did a summersault and landed back on its saucer. Jo brought me tea and sympathy as I sat outside in cold sweats and shivers with a mild concussion. This, in retrospect, might be an important detail in the story of the next week.
After a good breakfast I set off for Arusha, a good 560km away. The road from Bagamoyo out towards the main road to the north was unfinished and changed often from new tarmac to dirt bypass roads, but it was fairly easy going and nothing the Alfa couldn’t handle.
After slightly more than an hour on the road I began to feel tired. That worried me, as I was on the early end of an eight hour drive. Then pretty quickly a headache developed. I pulled over for a drink of water and some painkillers, but it persisted. I kept on the road though I didn’t feel up to it. I had already passed Korogwe, the last proper town before Moshi, before I started to feel very ill. My headache became intense, and I started to feel nauseous.
I pulled over and searched my GPS for any accommodation nearby, as I was sure soon I wouldn’t be able to drive at all. A few kilometres down the road there was a camp, Pangani River, and it was also listed on my paper map of Tanzania. I felt rather lucky that I wouldn’t have to spend a night in the wilderness while feeling like I was going to die.
I found the turn off for the Pangani and Zebra camps, and made my way down a narrow dirt road, over some train lines and into the wilderness. Here I found the ruins of Pangani River Camp. The camp had long since gone out of business and most of the buildings were wrecks. The bar and lounge had collapsed in a pile near the water’s edge. Most of the bungalows, small red brick buildings, had holes in their thatched roofs. They had, this image is something that stuck in my mind, their keys in the doors. There was nowhere else to stay without driving at least 100 kilometres, and at that point I couldn’t drive back up to the main road I was so ill.
There was a man in one of the remaining buildings. And I asked if I could spend the night and he agreed at a fee of 10 thousand shillings, that’s about $4. It seemed that with permission I could at least have a safe night, and at least it was somewhere quiet. I found a spot down by the river away from the rest of the buildings and put my tent up with what felt like the last of my energy. I struggled to get it out of the boot of the car and get it up. I got the ground pegs in before I was violently ill for the first time. After spending a good half hour, doubled over next to a tree wrenching myself half to death, I started the process of moving my bags from the car to the tent. This took a lot longer than it needed to, but I felt like my body was detached from my brain and the world was spinning around me.
Once I had everything inside I set out my mattress, kicked off my shoes, and collapsed. I spent the rest of the afternoon rushing outside to be sick. Each time it would induce terrible head-spin and dizziness. This was perhaps the most serious “oh, so this is how I die” moment I had ever had. Was I dying from Malaria? Was this the result of the night I spent outside in Dar es Salaam? I eventually managed to drift off to sleep sometime late that night, worrying what I’d do in the morning if I still couldn’t drive.
In the morning my headache had faded. Thank god. So it wasn’t the onset of Malaria. The sickness had left me exhausted, with an acid burn in my throat that made eating impossible. Even drinking water had become painful. I packed up my camp and climbed back behind the wheel, hoping to make it to Arusha, and a pharmacy.
The day’s drive was pretty gruelling. I was exhausted, still feeling very ill, and now in pain. I still had to deal with the typical Tanzanian road crap; traffic cops, mad lorries and busses, and all the rest of it. I made it to Moshi and thought “meh” and continued on to Arusha, arriving in the mid afternoon.
I found Arusha Backapckers and left my car outside on the street in the care of a Masai guard, another towering figure in red. I took a small private room and took a walk to find a pharmacy, luckily there was one right across the road where I bought some antacids and heartburn medication. I hadn’t worked out why I had gotten so sick; it wasn’t Malaria. It dawned on me on that day in Arusha that it might have been food poisoning.
Later I found Anders in the rooftop bar along with a Japanese guy named Tom. They both laughed at my story of near death by food poisoning over lunch, while I chugged heartburn medicine between gulps of water and bites of a sandwich. Since I had left Anders in Paje he had grown tired of Africa and had booked a flight home. I had too was feeling very weary, and was envious that he was heading home to Denmark. I knew I didn’t want to stay in Tanzania much longer. One of my dearest friends in Dargle had spent a long while in Kenya and had nothing but praise for it, so I decided that the next morning I would head north for the border and recover in Nairobi.