Good evening all. I’m at the same cafe in Kabale, Uganda, and I feel like blogging a bit more. The owners of this cafe are Indian, and a bunch of them are watching some bizarre soap opera. I just ordered some chicken spring rolls for roughly $3.75, and I’m listening to this song at a relatively high volume:
In addition to me, there are 4 other white people (mzungus) in this cafe, which is rather uncommon, give that I generally see, on average, ~7 other white people on a given day. And yep, the power just went off. The flashlights are coming out. Someone light a candle!
After a week on Zanzibar I was, above all, recharged. That’s why people love the beach, eh? For my next move, I decided to head to Kigali, Rwanda, and see what was up around there. I really hadn’t planned to go to Rwanda before departing for East Africa, but the travelers told me it was nice, so I decided to give it a go. The journey was a multi-step process, and was not short by any Western nor Eastern standard.
Part 1: Dalla-dalla from Jambiani to Stone Town – 2 hours
Yonnas, Mona and I pay our bill, and step outside to catch the hourly dalla-dalla. We are a few minutes late, and are forced to wait for the next. After a while, we realize that there is a dead goat under the back-right tire of the Lexus SUV parked ahead. The goal was killed the previous night–both gnarly and sad.
We finally hop on the dalla-dalla and, while we are only 3 of 5 people aboard, we are forced to throw our bags on top; more people will be coming. This particular dalla-dalla was a pick-up truck with a large rear bed, with wooden benches implanted and a wooden roof over top. I want to say it was a “chicken-truck,” but I’m not sure this term has any real meaning. Roughly 20 minutes later, and after a few more pickups, this vehicle, which probably sat about 15 people comfortably, was carrying over 30, with about 6 or 7 more hanging off the back. In addition, as mothers were periodically exiting, they would simply pass their babies down the line, hop off, and then reclaim their child from the last man in line. This is certainly not something you would ever see in the Western world. Pretty awesome.
Two hours later, and after paying our fare of 2000 Tanzanian Shillings (roughly $1.25), and we arrive in Stone Town. Hilarious transport is one of my absolute favorite aspects of traveling. I love this kind of stuff.
Part 2: Ferry from Stone Town to Dar Es Salaam – 2 hours
After some light jogging and heavy sweat, we make the ferry by only a few minutes. It’s already packed, so we sit on the floor. I watched some Breaking Bad (hell of a show), eat some potato-meat pie type things, and try not to get too sick. Boats are not my thing. The ride was fairly painless, and around 4pm, we arrive in Dar Es Salaam, the often overlooked, purportedly drab, monotonously industrial capital of Tanzania.
At this point, I had resolved to get to Kigali via Kampala, the capital of Uganda, which would require me to travel back through Kenya, into Uganda, and move around Lake Victoria in an illogical, counter-clockwise fashion towards my destination. I was told there was no bus directly to Kigali for a few days, so this was the only option.
As Yonnas and I were walking back into town after sorting my next-day transport, we started chatting with a Rwandese guy who told us that it was in fact possible to go to Kigali in the preferred, clockwise fashion. I have no plans, of course, and inquire further. He instructs me to take a cab to the main bus station, roughly 10km away, where I can magically sort it all out with a variety of bus operators. He seems legit.
I hop in a cab, and the driver demands 30,000 shillings for the round-trip–just under $20. This is expensive! However, direct transport to Kigali will eliminate transit visa fees in Kenya and Uganda, so if this works out, the cab ride will pay for itself. I need to incent him though, as it’s getting late, and we could easily arrive, get a few “no’s,” and the driver would likely quit rather quickly. I propose:
“Sir. I pay you 30,000, but only if we are successful in getting me a ticket. If not, I pay you only 20,000.”
Initially, he would only take the 30,000, but eventually, he caved. The mzungus have the money (sigh–but it’s true), and he knows that supply outweighs demand. Off we go.
After a few misses, we finally find a company that will take me, for a fare 25,000 shillings cheaper than the initial trip to Kampala would have cost. Score. We head back to Dar, and eat at this tandoori chicken joint on the corner with two Swedish girls who were heading to Bangkok the next day. They had a layover in Qatar, and one of the girls thought Qatar was a city in India. Hrm… That’d be a bit of a shock, eh?–thinking you have a layover in India, de-boarding the plane, and realizing you’re in the Middle East? Good stuff.
Part 3: Bus from Dar Es Salaam to Kigali, Rwanda – 34 hours
I wake up at 4am, say goodbye to Yonnas, grab a taxi to the bus terminal, and arrive by 5:30 for the 6:00am bus. You’d think the terminal would be deserted at this hour, but no: it was a gongshow. The driver tells me that most of the locals can’t quite afford taxis, so they simply sleep at the terminal the night before. Baller stuff.
As I walk through the terminal, every other person is grabbing me, and telling me to come ride with their company. These types of situations–and the white traveler in Africa will encounter many–require a special skill: assertiveness. You really need to be able to walk straight, with purpose and confidence, and when grabbed or harassed, have the composure to turn around and say “take your hand off of me, I am not interested.” They back down pretty quickly.
I eventually get on the bus without any real incident, and head to sleep. I am squished in the back left corner with my bags at my feet. It’s roughly 14 hours to Kahama, Tanzania, where the bus stays for the night. We sleep on the bus, restart at 6:00am, drive 4 hours to the Tanzania/Rwanda border, and then another 6 into Kigali.
Overall, the ride wasn’t all that bad. I’m getting good at these things. However, I did have babies kicking me, sleeping on me, women breastfeeding next to me, and an entire bus laughing at me as I deboard to take a piss. I don’t see what’s so funny about it, and I certainly don’t try to hide it. Laugh away, friends.
Similar to the general yet minor harassment you encounter in Africa, there is another special skill that these types of trips require: you need a robust sense of patience, and a robust sense of humor. While the situations above may seem miserable, they did not endanger my life in any way, or render any severe discomfort. This is not the Western world, and you just need to take a deep breath, and take it all in stride. Kindly remember that the majority of our standards, sensibilities and judgements are largely arbitrary, and are simply different to those of others instead of superior or more correct. All you need to survive as a human is water, food, and shelter. I had all 3. In fact, I didn’t stock snacks too well for the trip, but roughly twice an hour, we pull off on a side road, and a whole gang of Tanzanians sprint to the bus and hoist for-sale muffins, bananas, cakes, chicken skewers, Cokes, Fantas, peanuts, water bottles, etc. up to the window. Saving the lives of the unprepared.
As the bus leaves the following morning, I befriend a Rwandese girl who is currently living in Belgium. When we arrive at the border, she tells the immigration officer that I’m with her, so I don’t encounter any you’re-white-so-let’s-try-to-extort-money-from-you hassle. Mission accomplished.
Once we pass, she offers me a ride into Kigali. The bus will take 6 more hours, but her car will only take two. She seemed like a nice girl.
Before I left for this trip, Robert Goodman told me that to do this sort of trip alone, I’d either have to be a true independent, or a true idiot. We agreed that it was a bit of both (although I didn’t think there was all that much idiocy, really). With each decision I make, well, the balance sways a bit. The unknown is fun though, adrenaline keeps the heart racing, and I’m here for a bit of adventure, of course. Please don’t send me emails, parents–I get it. But yea, I went with her. We cross into Rwanda, my passport gets rechecked by a shady woman in a shady one-room mud hut holding a shady antiquated rifle, we climb into some car with some other dude she knew, and get going.
For the first 20 minutes of the trip, I thought I would certainly get, as Marty would say, SHANKED. Then I fell asleep. I was exhausted.
We finally arrive in Kigali, without any incident as of yet, and she, well, you can read about it in the next post.
Continued in a few days…