Last week I traveled the entire length of Tanzania from Arusha to Mbeya in a day. I decided to buy my ticket a few days early to make sure I got a comfortable seat for the 18 hour journey. I chose the front row aisle seat, thinking about leg room, nausea, better air flow, etc. What I didn’t know was that there would be a wall separating the driver from the seating section and that the engine would be directly under my feet. It was a cramped, uncomfortable test of my patience with hot air blowing at my feet the entire time, not to mention the over-sized African mama next to me who had purchased a single ticket for herself and her 4-year-old daughter. She didn’t speak any English (or pretended not to) and I had to keep shoving my body into her to stay on my seat. Tanzanians don’t really open windows on buses either, preferring a sweat box to chilly air on their face. It got a little warm. Needless to say, I was thankful and relieved when we finally pulled into Mbeya at 1:00 in the morning.
Before the trip began, I encountered an incident that almost made me miss it. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 5:45 am, so I had asked a Tanzanian friend to call a cab to arrive by 5:00. At 5:15, I was still waiting at the gate in the pitch black, beginning to panic. I woke up my friend who didn’t know what to do, then woke up an American missionary family who graciously agreed to take me to the bus stand. I got there a few minutes before the bus left (which was surprisingly on time).
The rest of the trip was rather uneventful. Even though it wasn’t luxury service or as fast as a plane, I’m always glad after I do things like this. I’ve seen Tanzania now. There was a beautiful mountain range that followed us on one side for about half the trip. Rain poured on us as we looked out across the flat savannah. I met some interesting people who have to do this trip every month. Ultimately, I think that’s what travel is about: meeting the people and experiencing places along the way. And any destination can become cool if we choose to see it that way.