The Matchbook Diaries

Hitchhiking Across Tanzania (Shanghai, China) January 25, 2024

Was thinking of how our plans for the summer this year don’t really pose much of a challenge.  Normally we are heading into a holiday where things will inevitably lead us into situations we cannot control easily, but this summer we are not so likely to have that in South Africa where we are headed.

Cause I wanna toss those off. Saw this a few weeks ago here in Shanghai.

During the height of COVID we elected not to leave Tanzania one summer and we drove our really really super magalicious awesome safari car like 1400KM across Tanzania to the border of Zambia and then to Lake Tanganyika where we camped all summer on the roof of our vehicle.  (There are photos on this site from that trip.)

Anyhow, on the way home this knuckle thingy under our huge, old British vehicle somehow got loose and disabled our drive shaft or something.  The roads in TZ are all unpaved, basically – like, there’s a wee smear of pavement, and of course all the roads are essentially one lane, and if, for example, someone is doing something the road might just unexpectedly end.  So driving there is a huge challenge, and bumpy, and stuff just might fall off your really, really old car.  So there we were in some really random area and it was getting into late afternoon and this truck, the kind you only see in developing nations, passes us – no one uses the roads so it’s pretty unusual to see much vehicular traffic.  The truck swerves over and stops just across this little bridge.  (Bridges are rare there and this one was rudimentary and kind of sketchy, which did not bother us at all – but we had our safari truck break on the other side of it.)

So the driver, who speaks a few words of English, tells us that this is a dangerous area at night and that we certainly cannot stay.  All areas in TZ are actually quite odd at night which is a story for another time.  So, the driver concludes, it would be best if he drove us into the next village, then, there, he will find someone we will tip (a few US dollars) to watch our car all night, and then he will drive us to where there are accommodations.  In the meantime we hired someone from a distant village to drive all the way (hours) to our truck the next day with repair stuff so we’d all kind of reconverge at the broken truck – us and some repair guys.  And we would be taking a public bus back from wherever the truck driver dropped us.

WOW.  That was exciting.  The truck plowed on through the night for hours, all windows open, moving at what people might consider a truly glacial speed – maybe 30 US miles per hour, topping out at 40.  No lights on these roads, and every village our driver stopped, solicited more work – he was carting stuff and was offering to cart more.  This meant we loaded a whole bunch of stuff (fruit, bags of rice, sacks tied with string…) into the back of his truck over the many hours.  Then, 5/6 hours later we stayed at this hotel.  Then, then we walked the next morning to the bus depot and contracted to get on a public bus for the 5/6 hour ride back to that tiny village where our car and all of our stuff might still be. (We’d been gone like 6 weeks so it was a BUNCH of stuff.)

On those public busses you are crammed in as many as possible and in the front there is always a salesperson with a microphone who gets on with a sack of stuff, loudly makes a very long sales pitch, then sells a few items and hops off to take another bus back the other way to do the same thing again.

My son was pretty small then and kept practicing his “man spread” so that he had at least the tiniest bit of room.  Me, I was stuffed in the back with a bunch of women sharing food and then, towards the end, the whole group of women burst into song, an endless song that seemed to take up at least 30% of the trip.

Eventually we got to our truck and we got it fixed and drove home.  We never saw the driver again but knew him very well by the end of the trip.  He did it to help us, and to practice his English.  But he wanted nothing but to help us, which is pretty standard in Tanzania and always miraculous to me.  God bless him, wherever he is driving today.