A few hours from Kigali is the Rwanda / Tanzania border, a road that sweeps around a hillside and reaches the Rushmo Falls. We get off the bus then walk over the border, a sealed road edged with metal fencing, peer over the old bridge at the rushing water below. It’s hot and we wonder why we didn’t take a boda for this kilometre walk in the midday sun. At Tanzanian border control we negotiate with a clump of moneychangers who quickly peel notes from wads of cash and convert rates on their phones. The two guys behind the immigration desk are friendly, wanting to know if my nose piercing hurt and asking why we’re married yet don’t have any children. “You need to make more effort” they say sternly to Moz.
We take a shared taxi the 20km to the border where we’re hoping to catch an onward bus but it’s late afternoon by this time and the square bus station is empty. We buy a ticket for the next morning and have to stay the night in the village of Benako, finding a basic room for £2 where the receptionist Latifa looks as baffled as I do when confronted with a column in the signing-in register entitled ‘tribe’. I look at her; “mzungu?” she suggests and we both laugh.
It’s half 4 in the morning when we’re woken by shouting in the corridor outside our room. “Mwanza!” a man yells “MWANZA!”: our destination that day. Despite our ticket saying 7am and having double and triple checked the time the previous day, it seems the bus has arrived two hours early, unprecedented in Africa, and we’re meant to be on it. We stumble out into the rain and try to work out of the guy is indeed the one we bought the ticket from. It’s pitch black and we have no idea what is happening, putting total faith in a man who may or may not be the one we think he is. There is a set of headlights illuminating the falling rain and we get in a small minibus, sit there dazed with sleep while huge insects, attracted to the light, fly in the open sliding door and crawl on a man’s face. My skin itches with tiredness and damp clothes from the rain. We sit for ages then finally leave, bumping on a dirt road in the dark and I try to work out if we’ve been kidnapped. There’s the slow grey of dawn and the small bus gets fuller with people crammed in and sleeping on each other. I doze on my arms for a minute then jerk awake. Moz has an upset stomach. It’s not fun.
We reach Runweze and change onto a larger bus, glad we can stretch our legs and find a toilet. People stare at us as we get on and a little boy across the aisle waves. Our tickets sweetly say our names: Mr Phirip and Crara. We’re so tired when we arrive in Mwanza and catch a boda in the evening light to our hotel. All we’ve eaten all day is an apple and a chapatti but our room is clean and comfortable and I go down to the bar to bring us up two cold beers. They taste so good. We sleep well and long after that intense journey, and wake still sleepy – perhaps nine months on the road is starting to catch up with us. Breakfast downstairs is weird: we give the spaghetti and chicken soup a wide berth and crunch away on fried mandazis and fresh fruit.
Mwanza is Tanzania’s second largest city. There’s not much to do here but we’re in need of a few days doing nothing so we walk into town and find ourselves in the market. There are piles of fruit, lovingly presented in pyramids, silver fish spread out on canvas, mounds of potatoes, ginger, herbs, bright tomatoes and cucumbers, old-fashioned weighing scales. Women seated by their wares call out to us and invite us to buy; I keep thinking to myself to soak it all in, it’s not long we have left here, to keep my eyes open.
We walk towards Lake Victoria to a hotel with a garden on the lake where we sit with a drink looking over the calm water, spotting kingfishers above. The landscape around is littered with large boulders and gradually people have built their homes in and amongst them. We’re approached by a man who wants to talk to us, a normal occurrence, but in this case he’s odd, telling us he’s a preacher and married to an American called Maria who is more beautiful than me, then decides that I am Maria and we’re married. We ask him to leave but it’s weird and sad.
For dinner we walk to a cheap streetside restaurant with plastic tables and chairs out on the pavement. They have a big grill outside, belching blue and delicious smelling smoke onto the street. We share grilled fish and curry and popadoms and cold sodas that sweat onto the cotton cloth.
We’re back in town the next day to go to the bus company offices and, accompanied by about five guys each looking for a cut, climb inside a concrete building packed with traders and find a little office. The man writes our tickets carefully, checking as the details are copied through onto three layers of delicate transfer paper. As we leave Moz points down onto the market, at the women below dishing out plates of food and washing up in big bright plastic basins. There are shops selling colourful printed material and we stop to buy a deepfried sweet soft doughnut from a lady sat in the street who wraps it up in a scrap of newspaper. We eat them walking along, hot and greasy and delicious.
On our last night we go to a mall and buy a ticket to the pictures, something totally different from what we’d normally do. It’s nice though, to walk through a faceless mall, sit in the dark and crunch on popcorn bought from a lady on the street outside – it sort of feels like downtime from the madness outside.
Next stop: Arusha!