A Series of Unfortunate Events in Tanzania

Wednesday, December 14, 2011  at 6:58 AM
We arrived at the bus depot in Shinyanga, Tanzania, promptly at the recommended arrival time of 7:00AM.  We had left our Couchsurf host’s house at 5:30AM that morning to give ourselves ample time to walk the eight kilometers into town, but we still barely made it in time (weighted down with our bags, we were slower walkers than anticipated).  The bus hadn’t arrived yet, so we grabbed a bag of sweet crackers and got ready for the 7:30AM departure time.

First Clue Something Was NOT Right: The bus did not arrive until 9:30AM, two hours later than its expected arrival time.  We were just happy that it had arrived, so we rushed on and secured our seats near the back of the bus.

Tanzanian Bus Africa by Danalynn C
Our view of the bus from our seats near the back

Second Clue Something Was NOT Right: Barely after clearing the city limits, the bus coasted to a stop at the side of the road.  We thought it was a quick bathroom break for the children, until many people disembarked from the bus and stood at the shoulder, contemplating the bus itself.  Apparently the bus had broken down, apparently for the second time of the morning (hence the late arrival) and it was another hour before it was fixed and we were moving again.

Third Clue Something Was NOT Right: After we continued down the road for another half hour, we turned off the paved road and on to a small, bumpy dirt road.  We were happily oblivious, thinking that perhaps this was a shortcut due to our late start, but our joy began to fade as we continued on the dirt road with no end in sight.  This pothole-ridden, skinny, windey, bumpy dirt road was, in fact, the main freeway in western Tanzania and was to be our road for the rest of the journey.

Tanzanian Forest Africa by Danalynn C
The scenery was pretty though!

Fourth Clue Something Was NOT Right: According to Google Maps, the journey was estimated to take 9 hours, and according to the ticket salesman, the journey was meant to take 10 hours, so we thought it would be perhaps 12 hours or so.  However, by the time dusk was falling (roughly 10 hours), no big towns were yet in sight.  Furthermore, people told us that Mzuzu (our stop, the biggest town in south-western Tanzania) was still a ways away.  Worrisome?  Yes.

Fifth Clue Something Was NOT Right: After a particularly violent set of potholes, my seat broke.  After that, I was balancing precariously on a metal bar for most of the trip (very unpleasant when traveling over potholes).

Sixth Clue Something Was NOT Right: Despite the pitch-black night, the bumpy road, the weak bus headlights and the rapidly-deteriorating bus, the driver did not decrease speed at all—in fact, he seemed to think that speed needed to be increased to make up for lost time.

Yay, We Caught A Break!:  At midnight our bus broke down, forcing our driver to take a break until morning.  Yes, at this point we counted it as lucky that the bus broke down.  We spent the night sleeping in our seats.

Tanzanian Broken Bus Africa by Danalynn C
Our bus, broken down on the side of the road in the morning

Seventh Clue Something Was NOT Right: The next morning found the driver, assistants and a gaggle of interested onlookers trying to repair the bus.  Apparently, some crucial part had fallen off of the engine and the bus wouldn’t go without it.  This problem was resolved with plenty of superglue and all the passengers pushing the bus to start it.

Eight Clue Something Was NOT Right:  Chris’s seat back broke, so he couldn’t lean back in his seat for the rest of the trip.

Tanzanian Flower Africa by Danalynn 
Hey, but there were pretty flowers out of the window!

Nineth Clue Something Was NOT Right: The entire window in the row in front of us fell out—frame and all.

The End In Sight: We were careening down a mountain, praying that the bus would not skip off the edge down the sheer drop.  During this treacherous descent, we kept our eyes on the horizon—Mzuzu was in sight.  

We finally arrived at 5:30 PM, 33 hours after we initially boarded the bus and a full 24 hours after we had expected to arrive.  One lost day traded for a safe arrival?    We’ll take it.
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