Sunday, May 23, 2010

A day in the life of African travel

- Rise at 3:15am for the half-hour walk (there are no such thing as taxis) to the bus station. Line up for your 4:00am departure.

- Be forced by the driver to pay an additional 100 Mets for each backpack, even though they told you when you purchased your ticket that luggage was included. Since the ride has been paid for in advance, you have no negotiation power. Refuse to pay, and they are leaving without you.

- Pay for your bags, and watch them be tied to one another on the roof with a shoelace. Then a single rope will be used to tie the backpack bunch to a windowsill on the left side of the bus. This gives you confidence that the bags won't fall off the right side of the bus. Sweet, your chances of arriving with your belongings just rose to 50%!

- Of course, there are people seated in your "assigned" seats when you board, so you choose two empty seats. Get yelled at in Portuguese that you must move. They expect you and your boyfriend to share the one empty seat in the back of the bus.

- Play dumb, and refuse to move. Mahem ensues. You can't tell if the other passengers are angry that you won't vacate the seats, or angry that the driver won't just get going.

- Your resistance pays off, and eventually everyone is seated. Then it becomes quiet, and you wait for two hours. From what little you can understand, it seems the bus cannot leave until the sun rises cause the headlights are broken. Th driver knew this yesterday of course, but it never dawned on anybody to postpone the scheduled departure time. So, you wait.

- It becomes light out, and a group of men push the bus backwards out of the parking space. You gain some momentum before crashing into a curb, and are certain your bags must have flown off the back of the bus. Eventually with some more pushing they get it started. The sounds coming from the engine indicates there may be one good mile left in this thing.

- Ride for a few hours, stopping every few miles to pick up more people. Thank goodness for those seat assingments. As the temperature rises, the giant box of dead fish in front of your lap begins to stink terribly. The massive jugs of gasoline at your feet begin to get increasingly hot with the roar of the engine underneath it, and you realize if the bus crashes you'll be incinerated immediately. During a roadside pee stop, some chickens are thrown out the door to do their thing, then hop back on. Very considerate of them.

- It begins to rain heavily. Your bags and their contents are completely soaked.

- Your body begins to ache from the discomfort, and you count three people physically on you. The man in front of you laying on your knees. The woman to your left resting on your shoulder. And the guy behind you with his feet propped up on your butt between the broken seat cushions.

- About 10 miles shy of your destination, the bus breaks down. Everybody gets out to hang on the side of the road in the rain, while your driver attempts to repair the engine with a wrench and some string. An hour later, he succeeds.

- About 1 mile shy of your destination, the bus breaks down again. You decide to walk.

- What I mean by "destination" of course, is where you catch a small van to the town your are actually looking for. These vans, known as "chappas", are the 12-seater vehicles that regularly transport about 25 people wherever they need to go.

- Your bags are strapped to the back and you hop on. Many people get in and are seated in front of you. All of a sudden there is some excitement up front, and the driver speeds off in a hurry with all of the doors still open. You see some men chasing after you. You have no idea what's going on.

- A minute later, the chappa seems to have broken down, and the men catch up to you. A fist fight ensues. You are trapped on board behind the dozens of people seated in front of you. Two men grab the driver by his bare feet and try to yank him from the vehicle, while he holds onto the steering wheel for dear life. Others seem to find this funny, so you try not to be alarmed.

- Eventually the fight is broken up by a large, angry looking man. Someone else takes the wheel and speeds off in a fit of rage, yelling in Portuguese the whole time.

- "Were we just hijacked??"

- The fact that the van is full of local passengers gives you hope that you still may actually be going where the driver says you're going.

- Delighted and exhausted, you arrive at the final bus stop of the day. You pay the chappa driver a few extra bucks to take you directly to your hostel. He manages to only get lost once on the way.

- After 14 hours of travel, you have just enough time to eat some dinner and get to bed. The following day you will rise at 3:15am and do it all over again.

- Tomorrow's ride will include not two, but FOUR different means of transportation, plus one border crossing. Malawi here we come!


  1. Honestly...would you say that at any point during this day of insane events that you maybe wanted to cut the African trip short???

  2. Funny you should mention that... see next entry!

  3. Ugh. Sounds like a lot of drama to get from a to b. I guess there are some less-than-glamorous aspects to being a world traveler. You guys are definitely earning some stripes over there. Hope things get easier for you soon! Xo