Booze Cruise in Tanzania – Dar – Mbeya

14 Jan

If this post is lacking insight, it’s because I’ve been blind drunk for the past 48 hours. If it’s lacking cultural awareness, it’s because I’ve been blind drunk with travellers. And if it’s left unfinished, it’s because I’ve gone back to the bar.

Before the booze cruise, I bobbed around Dar with Chip for a couple of days. Between eating street foody* and hanging around the casino, we made a day of getting the bike serviced. With Chip straddling the rear rack, we cycled through the city centre, took a ferry (12p for adult + bicycle) across Dar es Salaam Bay to Kigomboni, and rolled along for another 7 – 10 km to meet Goddfrey, the Tanzanian national cycling coach.
I had been in contact with Goddfrey when on Zanzibar whilst helping Nilsu look for a new bike. He co-founded UWABA (uwaba.co.tz), an NGO based in Dar.

We left Goddfrey to be alone with the bike (he liked it a lot) and stole through a coconut orchard to find our way to the scruffy beach. When we returned he had also cleaned the bike for free (Mitch had been rubbing mud on it to make it look scrappy). Chip interrogated Goddfrey on the practicalities of setting up an NGO before we hopped back on the bike and rode to the ferry just as the earth’s rotation was causing a periodic darkness.

Famous Chinese actors, comedians and big shots decended on the New Africa Casino that evening. With a mic and an audience, the ‘Charlie Chaplin of China’ combined high pitched singing with jumping up and down on the spot to apparently great effect.

Between loud macho laughs, the men twisted around to photograph everything. They took several not-so-covert pictures of me, ignoring my sarchastic waving, and Chip was a celebrity to the celebrities. After the performance they became insular again. You’d think if you were as rude and rich as these guys, you’d be having a great time. But no. One woman sticks in my mind particularly. Slapping the arsiest arse in the world with a bominocker wouldn’t do justice to that face.

The next day I left Chip at the casino and cycled the 10km to the Tazara train station. On reporting to the luggage desk I was told that there’s no room on the train for the bicycle and it would have to be sent on the next train in 4 days time. Not a chance in France is that happening. I persuaded them to take my bike eventually without paying any ‘extra’. Then on second thoughts I decided to slip the baggage handler something. Here’s 2000 shillings not to break this one. Bloody baggage handlers.

The Tazara train is a tourist attract in itself. Cutting right across Tanzania and into Zambia, through game parks and over the Rift Valley. A group of Canadian blokes made the journey simply for the sake of it. Travelling the 50 hours from Dar to Kapiri Moshi and then flying back the day after arrival (and paying 4 times the normal fare for the ‘experience’). They were great guys to sit with, and they adopted me for 6 hours, buying me beers, dinner and konyagi.

Opposite our table were 2 Danish girls and a couple of local guys. As we were drinking our beers they were seeing down a couple of bottles of vodka, and once the Canadians called it a night (and the local guys had presumably gone to vomit), we drank together until 4 in the morning – these are the second lot of Danish girls I’ve met who could drink me under the table with ease.

The train is a loud, rollocking old codger. You hop between the carriages as they swing and slam against each other and here and there the engine cuts off and everybody’s thrown forward as if we’ve hit a herd of elephants. There were stops throughout the night, some in the game parks where hunters climbed off and into jeeps. It’s $20,000 to shoot a lion and it’s a very difficult thing to do, I was told.

Careful not to wake the 3 businessmen in my cabin as I clambered up onto my top bunk in the early hours, I slept for 7 hours and woke up with cold rain pouring down outside. Within 30 minutes I was climbing off with my bags and running around shouting ‘bicycley!’ while the train threatened to pull away. A smooth downhill ride for 10km took me to Mbalizi, where 2 German computer science teacher volunteers, Lucas and Marius, live.

I noticed a sign in town advertising the Liverpool vs. Man City game at 4.30, so once the guys had showed me their house and my room and I had taken a shower, I suggested we head down to watch it. In fact the game started at 11pm. I was mistaking Swahili time** for Western time. That meant 6 hours in the bar before kick off. A small hitch. We talked to local teachers, who were also getting smashed on Konyagi, and played drinking games until 2 am. By the end of the game I thought I was watching a 3-D game without 3-D glasses.

Lucas and Marius took a 6am bus the next morning to spend the weekend in Iringa. I was in no fit state to cycle and they generously let me housesit for another day. Today is also a national holiday, celebrating the revolution on Zanzibar I think. A candidate for president of Tanzania came to this small town to do a speech today, and I caught sight of him and his convoy leaving in the afternoon. Thousands of people spilled out onto the roads and into Mbalizi. I have no idea what he said to everyone but the attitude towards the lone mzungu had changed. People were definitely less friendly, and in the midst of this atmosphere a well dressed man made a marked point to come over and shake my hand and welcome me to Tanzania and thank me for being here.

A crazy started being very aggressive, approaching me from behind and saying ‘I swear to you’ and sticking his fingers up somewhere in the other direction. He continuously shouted around as I walked behind him, beating his fists against his palms, shouting ‘mzungu’ a lot and pointing at me, trying to get the crowds (of non crazies) to beat me up, I guessed. I crossed the road but I was interested enough in this skinny yellow eyed chap to track his path as he went from one group to another shouting about the mzungu. When he turned to point back at me again and didn’t find me there, he started pointing down the road and punching his fists and pointing back down the road. It looked like he was showing off, as if he had frightened me off, so I got their attention from accross the road and made the peace sign, which coincidentally is the opposing party’s logo, to laughs from everyone apart from the crazy racist.

The Germans’ house is a mosquito sanctuary. There’s hundreds of the buggers and they’re massive. I stuck on The Matrix (in German) and went on a killing rampage under my mosquito net as Neo eliminated dozens of henchmen in a foyer with similar deadliness and acrobatics.

I’m looking forward to cycling in the cool climate up here in the mountains, so I’ll be sure not to drink too much tonight, but with the electricity in the house acting up, I might just have to leave it there and head back to the bar.

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