Wed, 06 Aug 2008 13:20:15 +0000
Beira Index Tete to Blantyre
Today was an interesting day. Getting up at three in the morning to catch a bus to a place that I have no information about whatsoever, let alone a hotel booking. And no idea how long it would take to get there. This is where the backpacking really starts.
The alarm went off at three o'clock, and I wasn't feeling very happy about it. Clearly I'm pampered. I got together my stuff and headed out. There was someone at reception, surprisingly, although whether they were there to deal with guests or were just dossing for the night I have no idea. There certainly were a couple of women dossing in the foyer - part of the staff, I assume.
I headed out into the night. I'd decided to walk to the bus station, since it was less than a kilometre away. Nevertheless, it was very dark, and walking around the bus station at night is exactly what I'm not supposed to do. There were still some people on the street, so how dangerous can it be? I followed a couple of blokes on their way somewhere, and no doubt they were terrified that I was about to mug them. I also tried to steer a course past banks and other buildings with security guards. I don't know if that helps, but it makes me feel better.
I navigated my way through the trash fires to the place where I'd bought my ticket yesterday, and was relieved to see the bus was still there. I got myself on board, not easy in the pitch black. There was a woman in my seat, and I didn't try to move her because she was travelling with a baby and a small child, who was stretched out asleep across the row. So I sat behind her and waited.
It was well past the scheduled departure time of 4:00 before someone eventually showed up to kick me out of my seat, and I had to in turn kick the woman out of hers. All three members of the family were attempting to occupy one seat, so clearly this was going to be a bit of a squeeze. The child was inserted between her and the guy opposite, and the baby sat on her lap. I'm afraid I'm not much of a baby person, and I failed utterly to conceal this from her. This was not destined to be a comfortable ride.
We were underway a bit before five. The bus was nicely full, but that didn't prevent them stopping frequently to pick up more passengers. Most of these had to stand, which made me feel a little bit better about my position. That is, until I felt an unusual warm sensation in my right thigh. I turned to see that the baby was copiously spewing, and some had dribbled down between me and his mother. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Babies are great, at about a two or three metre radius. Within that, sorry, no. The poor woman mopped up everything she could with the baby's blanket, including patting at my damp thigh. Yuck, yuck. I seemed to be just wet, as opposed to stinky, but still. Yuck. Of course there were several food stops and toilet stops (toilet stops were just in the bush by the side of the road). So I used these to dry off. Mostly I was wet from my own sweat rather than baby fluids.
This is a pretty impoverished area. Most of the houses are grass huts, and don't look as if they have a lot of electricity. The livestock seem well fed, but that's the most you can say. Of course, everyone on the bus has a mobile phone that's rather higher spec than mine, but I notice that they are several years out of date and seem to have lived highly adventurous lives during those years. Does "poverty" mean only having a battered old Motorola clamshell for a phone? In 2008, quite possibly.
We also passed a couple of overturned trucks along the way, one of which must have been recent because there was a crowd of gawpers gathered around it. A bit of a worry. But we ourselves weren't going outrageously fast. The roads aren't in good enough condition to allow it.
Tete is not a big place, but I was relieved to see that the town centre has some tallish, modern-looking buildings, indicating that there would probably be some kind of hotel somewhere. In fact, I saw a sign for a hotel just as we were about to stop. So that was easy: I walked straight off the bus and went there.
Of course, I managed to pick the poshest hotel in town, again. It was about two o'clock, so I guess I had time to find somewhere else. But I had been really concerned about finding somewhere to sleep tonight, and was desperate enough to lunge at the first opportunity. At $75, this place is still far too expensive, but not as bad as the Hotel Tivoli. The room is nice, without justifying the price tag. However, my major criterion for a nice hotel room is the number of power points. Zero is very bad. One is acceptable. Two is good. This room has seven. A stellar performance.
I went out to explore the town a little bit. There's not a lot to see. I found another hotel with far more reasonable rates, but too late for that now. Maybe on the return leg. Instead I just had a beer in their bar. The barman was very lethargic about returning my change to me, which is annoying just because I didn't know whether I was going to have to be rude to him. I did eventually get my change, and took the opportunity to say "Thanks, boss", which is what people call each other instead of "mate" here. I imagine I came off as an utter wanker.
Then I went down to the main street. On the way I bought some deep-fried doughnuty things from a street vendor, since I hadn't eaten much during the journey. They didn't look awfully hygienic, but it's about time my stomach learned to rough it again.
I walked down to the street that runs along the river. There's an actual suspension bridge over the river at Tete, presumably the major reason for having a city here. It looks like a huge investment for a place like Mozambique. I'll be crossing that tomorrow.
It also turns out that there is free wifi in the hotel lobby, so I took the opportunity to download some finer grained maps, and the Wikitravel page for Monkey Bay in Malawi. It looks like I'll have enough time to go there, which is pretty astonishing. It was my best-case scenario for Africa, making it that far.
For dinner I went to a place I'd noted earlier, which seemed to offer beer and pizza. But they told me they weren't doing food. So I had to resort to the only restaurant I'd found, a pizza and pasta place down on the main street, which looked rather expensive and touristy. Indeed, the other customers were a white South African family and some German firefighters. That didn't change the fact that I needed some food, so I ordered a Pizza Romana and a beer.
So I've made it this far. Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to cross the border into Malawi, just like the itinerary says. Things seem to be going well!
Beira Index Tete to Blantyre