The Craziest Travel Experience I’ve Ever Had

Thursday October 22nd, 2015

4:15-5:30 AM.
We woke up at Ohana Amani. Early. So early. There was a fifteen minute interval of people rolling around, groaning, and kicking each other up. It was pitch black, the only sounds audible were ones of animals in the forest. It was cold, too. Maybe 60 degrees Fahrenheit. We got our bags packed up and made our way from the campsite to the lodge, where Curry and Luca were waiting for us with the food we’d packed the night before for the long day ahead; popcorn, peanuts, cupcakes, cookies, peanut butter and jelly/honey sandwiches, and oranges. It seemed like it was going to be a good, successful day. At 5:30AM our private dala dala arrived and we got it all packed up and had our last hugs and words with Curry and Luca. Then we were on the road to the Njombe bus station to catch our 6:30AM 12 hour bus ride to Dar es Salaam. We had to be at the airport in Dar by 2AM to catch our 5AM flight to Kigali, Rwanda, with a short layover through Nairobi, Kenya.

6:15 AM.
Arrive at Njombe bus station. Alison, Simon, and Aydan (this week’s dala dala) got out of the car to see if our bus had arrived yet. After being gone for 20 minutes, they came back looking quite unhappy. Turns out our bus actually left 6 AM and the bus station had written the wrong times on our tickets a couple days before. Frustrated, Aydan, Simon, and Alison went back to the company stand where we bought the tickets and demanded a refund or an exchange of bus tickets, but they wouldn’t give us one. So we were stuck. After at least 20 more minutes, our dala dala driver agreed to drive us an our over to Makambako, which is in the direction of Dar, to see if we could catch another bus.

8:30 AM.
Arrive in Makambako. Good news! We found a bus with the same company that refused to give us a refund and they basically agreed to transfer what we paid over to a ticket to Dar from Makambako. The bus smelled pretty bad. East Africa seems to have a distinct odor wherever you go. And the bus was jam packed with sweaty people, including a breast feeding mother. It stank, but it was beginning to look up. Off we went!

2:03 PM.
Lunch stop! No idea where we were, but they said we had about 20 minutes to use the choo (bathroom) and grab something to eat before the bus would aggressively honk its horn over and over again to signal it was time to leave. We got back on the bus around 2:15 just to be safe. And then we sat there for 20 more minutes. Without the air from the windows, the bus was HOT. Everyone else was getting out to wait on the road so we did that too. It took 15 more minutes before we left because there was a mechanic underneath the bus fixing something or other. I didn’t think much of it, just got back on the bus when he was done.

3:15 PM.
I’m taking a nice nice nap. No dreams, just a really deep sleep leaning on Aydan as a pillow. All of a sudden he pats me on the shoulder twice and says “Time to get up. The bus is on fire. Go out the window,” in the most calm and collected voice I’d ever heard anyone speak in. Still 80% asleep, moved over to the window in one swift movement and squeezed myself through the little window. I didn’t wake up until my feet hit the ground and I did a little roll. Confused, I moved towards the side of the road and turned around to see people coming out of the bus windows in a flow, including all of my group members. And there was smoke. We didn’t see any flames. There was some panic, but no screaming or anything. Everyone got out in time, no injuries, but we were stuck on the side of the road in Middle Of Nowhere, Tanzania, as other buses roared past with no time to stop for us. I wasn’t scared in the moment, probably mostly because I was literally still asleep, but partly also because of the adrenaline. We took a couple of breaths as a group to calm down, completely bewildered by what had just happened. Eventually another bus came to pick us up, but it was completely full, although we had no choice but to get on anyways. We all got on the bus completely baffled by what had just happened.

3:30-6:30 PM.
We rode on the jam packed bus all the way to Morogoro, about 3 hours away from wherever the burning bus incident had occurred. We spent this whole time sitting on the dirty bus aisle floor, or standing up and holding on to the shelves above the seats for balance.

6:30- nearly 7:30 PM.
Stuck in Morogoro. As the bus was leaving the station, a policeman came on and said that the bus couldn’t leave because there were people standing in the aisle. They motioned to me and Val to get on the next bus, calling us “wazungu” (foreigners). I kept looking back at Simon to see what to do and he said not to get off. Our faith in buses was completely shattered at this point, there was no way we were going to get off and wait for another possibly nonexistent bus to arrive. Simon and Alison called Curry on the phone. Her fiery attitude and fluent Swahili was such a big help, as she yelled at the bus people for trying to make us get off. So what they did was clever. The first 9 people in the front of the bus just got off and the bus driver motioned for us to take their seats. We were cleared by the police and went on our way. About 2 minutes down the road the bus stopped and picked up the people that had just gotten off. They promptly got on and took their seats back from us. I was disappointing, but also impressed, it was a clever thing to do.

7:30-11 PM.
Riding on the bus from Morogoro to Dar was probably one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life. Most out of the 9 of us were stuck sitting on the floor and standing. At a point, I gave up. I was so tired and achy that I laid down a kanga and laid across the floor of the aisle and fell asleep while people touched and kicked me with their feet. We arrived at Dar around 11 PM to a bus station of complete madness. Luckily we met Alison’s friend there very soon and he brought us to our hotel.

11PM-2AM. (October 23rd, 2015)
We got to our hotel and it was a highrise. It was the highest building we’d been in so far. We had a little balcony, in the room I shared with Sam and Mila, that overlooked Dar. We took cold showers which felt SO GOOD after spending over 12 hours moving around on sweaty, burning buses. And we all had dinner; rice, chips (french fries), vegetable sauce, chicken, and soda. I had never been happier for the simple foods and we all literally INHALED the food. Then we sat on our balcony overlooking the city until 2AM when we had to go to the airport.

2:00-5:00 AM.
We sat on the floor of the Dar airport when we got there because they weren’t ready to check us in. We were all exhausted in different ways. Some people were just falling asleep, some were so kicked on adrenaline they were moving, and others (just Aydan) claimed they were delusional. As we sat on the floor, Simon shared his Schisandra berries with us which gave a kick of energy, and we also shared a lemon shot that gave energy and caffeine too (it was basically organic five hour energy). We got through security and to our gate and had a free for all in the airport buying candy with American labels and having bowls of cereal and cappuccinos.
At 5AM we got on the plane and flew to Nairobi, Kenya, where we had short layover. Everyone bought coffee and muffins and croissants from a coffee shop and we boarded the next plane. We landed in Kigali, Rwanda about at about 9AM, but it was actually 8AM because of the time differences. During both of the flights everyone was completely knocked out, but in the airport in Kigali we were all awake eating chocolate and gummy bears. We were getting our bags and it turns out they left Sam’s bag in Kenya, I think. So that was yet another issue of the day, and we would have to go back and get it later.

We arrived at the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel in Kigali and collapsed onto the couches in an outside lounge. Our room wouldn’t be ready until noon, but we were just going to sit there because we were all absolutely exhausted. Simon and Alison thanked us all for being so calm and composed and flexible during the crazy day and we thanked them for helping us do so. The day turned out to be a relax/shower/wander day, because no one had enough energy to do anything big.

We ended the day with a meal at a Chipotle sort of establishment. You could build burritos and burrito bowls and salads. Our gratitude circle that night before eating was such a positive and uplifting and light thing. We all laughed and joked and were honestly so happy to be here and alive.

So, that’s the craziest travel day I’ve ever had. Hopefully I won’t have to go through something like that ever again, because we ended up being awake for almost 2 days straight. But I will say it was an experience, and right now it’s one of my top stories from the trip.

Alive and well,
Nora & the Kifaru Group