Monday, 15 September 2008


Imagine being on the London underground for 8 hours straight, in rush hour. That’s about as close as I can get to describing the bus journey to Songea – an 8 hour trip from where I live in Mbeya. I travelled this journey with three work friends, all having the fortunate privilege of seats because we booked our tickets in advance. However, there were bums in our faces and an old lady being sick on the floor as the aisle was crowded with over twenty standing passengers, for the whole trip.

Travelling in Tanzania is a whole new experience compared to any kind of travelling at home. Can you imagine having a loo stop on a coach trip where your toilet is the side of the road – women round the back of the bus, men round the front? Or what about having a live chicken under your seat? Or maybe you have the luxury of your own car… don’t forget that if someone indicates left, this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily turning left but are just letting you know it is safe for you to pass them, and if they indicate right, it means there’s another vehicle coming.

And that’s just on the tarmac roads. The fun really begins when you get onto dirt roads (which constitutes most travelling that doesn’t connect main towns). This time of year is terrible for dust – clouds of it billowing up around your vehicle (and inside if your ventilation consists of windows that don’t shut and doors that don’t seal)! When the rains begin, you won’t even want to be travelling those roads, the risk of getting stuck are too great in some areas.

But think of it like this… Here you get to have the adventures for free (how much would you pay for an off-road experience at Land Rover in the UK?), you get to travel through some beautiful countryside, you get to experience the richness of another culture from your seat and you can do shopping through the window as people rush to sell you things at bus stops!

And travels always have a destination – the anticipation of the destination makes you willing to bear the discomforts time and time again. This time our destination was near the border of Mozambique, where we were heading to a printing press! Out there, in the middle of nowhere, is an incredible German built settlement, replete with monastery, convent, hospital, nurses’ school, girls’ secondary school, farm (with sausage and cheese making), bakery, printing press and a beautiful church. Now there are only a few Germans there, volunteering in the hospital; the place is entirely run by Tanzanians. We spent a couple of days there, seeing around and checking on the progress of the calendars we are having printed there.

The printing press Eating out

Then it was back on the bus…
Nearly 8 hours later, we were back in Mbeya, where we climbed into the car (Toyota Land Cruiser, to be precise) of more work friends, and headed to the shores of Lake Nyasa (Malawi) for a couple of days break. This was another 3-4 hour trip, but entirely worth it as it was a beautiful spot to relax in. Swimming in the lake beats a swimming pool or the sea anytime… warm, free of salt or chlorine or seaweed and surrounded by mountains. What more could one ask for than to take a rest in a place like that, in the company of good friends?!