Monday, May 12, 2008

Lessons of an idle bus

Visitors aren’t good for travel blogs but they can be good for travelers and recent arrivals have been as good for me as they’ve been bad for this blog.

Jill landed in Nairobi a couple weeks ago and we flew for Zanzibar, the beach island with a catchy name off the Tanzanian coast. It was raining when we landed but we walked out of the airport anyway threatening to catch a bus to town instead of a taxi. This was enough to lower the price of the taxi.

The maximum ATM withdrawal was $65 and was dispensed in bills worth less than $2 and Jill joked that we should shower ourselves with the bulging wads of bills we needed for our four days there and take a picture.

We spent a couple of the bills on a ride to Page in the back of a pickup truck with 16 others on the rain soaked roads heading to the east coast of the island.

Page was empty and most of the hotels closed for the rainy season so after a couple nights we headed up to Nungwi where it was sunnier and more populated.

We flew back to Nairobi, met Jaimie and went on a safari, which is probably the most expensive and worthwhile thing I’ve done on this trip.

It is amazing how habituated the animals are to people and vehicles; only the zebras ran when we approached. On three occasions we rolled up within 20 feet of lounging lions and clicked at them for fifteen or twenty minutes without them paying much notice.

I tried—but probably failed—to avoid telling Jill and Jaimie how hard West Africa was compared to East Africa. It was exotic and intense and hard enough as it was. And then it got much harder.

We were back in Nairobi, heading west to Uganda and it was very early on a Wednesday morning. Jill and Jaimie were battling food poisoning, apparently from some scrumptious chicken stew the previous day and the bus ride was scheduled for 12 hours.

Our seats were in the back row of the bus and lacked the legroom needed to sit in a traditional seated position. I tried not to say it was just like the bus from Niger to Benin.

Jill later described the day of food poisoning in the back row of the bus as the worst of her life and it would be unkind to convey any more on her behalf except to report her admirable pluck in overcoming the ordeal.

We finally reached Jinja, Uganda where the Nile gets its start and some of the world’s best white water rafting is done. The next day Jill’s stomach was settled so we went rafting and before not long she had lost a tooth to the rapids. Whether it was claimed by her stomach or the Nile was not certain or important. But it was enough for Jill and Jaimie to curse rafts, rivers, and river rafting for a good chunk of the day. We made it 30 kilometers towards Egypt, then got off the water and into a van to Kampala.

The next morning around 8am we boarded our bus from Kampala to Lake Bunyoni after an hour wait in the “Passenger’s Shade Area.” The bus sat there in the parking lot for another three hours and Jill observed that traveling in Africa really tests your patience.

The only good part of sitting on the idling bus for three hours was we had seats in the front row and plenty of room. The ticket seller had promised the bus would leave hours before and when I complained he asked me to sponsor him to visit the U.S. I asked him why the bus had been running for three hours while it sat still in the parking lot waiting for passengers.

“In Africa if the bus isn’t on people won’t believe it works.”

Just before noon it finally pulled away, circled the parking lot and stopped. Everyone got off.

“We’re going on another bus,” someone said.

We took much worse seats on the new bus and finally pulled away. We reached our guesthouse on beautiful Lake Bunyoni about 14 hours after we left our place in Kampala. The bus ride was supposed to take five.

“It isn’t quite what you expect,” Jaimie said about traveling Africa yesterday. We were on a bus coming back from Bunyoni. The headlights didn’t work and we were parked on the side of the road for an hour waiting for some fuses to be replaced.

We were headed back to Kampala because somehow Jill’s two weeks in Africa were over and she had to fly home.

“I’m just getting good at this again,” Jill said.

She didn’t envy me the numbness of brushing off bus misery or ignoring what should be noticed and remembered. But she envied my chance to stay here and take another bus tomorrow.


Anthony said...

Your alive! Man, I thought you'd gotten abducted in an African jungle by cannibals. Good to see your still kicking.

KK said...

@ Anthony above : Am glad your planned trip avoids Africa... Your attitude wouldn't get you far.

Brook, perhaps you know now why they've always said 'no hurry in Africa' Take care and all the best as you continue on your journey.

Anthony said...

I'm not avoiding Africa, its not part of this trip, kk. Its called I'll-be-in-Kenya-or-South-Africa-in-2009-or-2010. Don't know what you see as "attitude" in a comment that is intended for Brooke. Appreciate your comments on my blog and this post nonetheless.

KK said...

My bad.

JK said...

Hey friend, I miss you! Glad you are alright.