Well after being taken into the ghetto of Tanzania’s capital Dar Es Salam and kindly relieved of my lap top, credit card, money, jewelry sun glasses, pocket knife I then spent the afternoon in the sweltering police station (but that’s all another story).
The following morning I was up at 4.15am and caught the usual overcrowded unairconditioned hurtling coffin of a bus 12 hours to Mbeya in Tanzania’s south. In Mbeya I had a bucket shower and spent the night in a local hostel.
Next morning I was up at 5.30am to catch a collection of chicken buses (literally with chickens) and motorcycle taxis, cleared the Malawi boarder and arrived in Muzuzu, the big city in Malawi’s north. In Muzuzu I stayed at a place called the Zoo – yes that’s a lot of zoos if you say it, Moozoozoo Zoo. Which by the way it’s not a zoo, but a hostel. There I was welcomed by Phil, a long haired 60 year old Englishman that looks like he has partied everyday of those 60 years, “A f**king kiwi eh? no sheep here kiwi” – I liked this guy.
Over dinner I met some locals and they took me to the local night club. That was an experience in itself, I thought everyone on the dance floor were having sex with their clothes on, then I got told they were dancing – never seen grinding like it.
Following morning woke up thinking I had Malaria, then remembered that someone had invited Mr Tequilla to the party last night. I went in search of cardboard boxes to pack my bike up that I was going to go and get that day. It seems that cardboard boxes are like gold in Malawi, or should I say petrol, they are rather hard to find. Three hours of sweating later and 800 Malawi Kwacha ($5) I was the proud owner of 10 boxes of which like a true local I carried through town on my head. Once dropping them at the zoo I got a chicken bus to Nkhata Bay where I had locked my bike to a tree two and half weeks earlier before going to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro.
My bike was still there and a whole bunch of people that I had met during my time there. They excitedly tell me “theres a party tonight”, I unexcitedly reply “cool”. I get all my gear from a storage locker, and prepare my bike to cycle the 55km back to Muzuzu the next day where I would box it up.
Somehow I end up at the party that night, it seems I have a lot of “will power” but no “will NOT power” for hanging out with cool good fun people.
7am the next morning I get on my bike, already sweating, my god it was hot. But it seemed the people of Malawi wanted to give me a send off. As they were all walking to Sunday morning church I was showered in smiles and hellos like a ticket tape parade as I wound myself through the lush green hills.
With 30km’s left of up hill -and I mean all UPHILL- my motivation diminished, tiredness and the beers from last night set in. What made it worse was that Nhkata Bay had been the end point of my trip, the destination I had been striving for, so this last 55km to Muzuzu was a little torturous and extremely annoying, it was like a rotten cherry on top.
I pulled over for a cold coke to try and left my spirit that was oozing out of my pores and soaking my shirt. I slumped down on the side of the mud hut selling coke with six young guys sitting around outside doing what young village guys do, which is sitting around.
I drain the last drops from the reusuable glass bottle and hear a truck approaching on the hilly road. I wave it down, $4 to take me and my bike the last gruelling 30kms – a bloody bargain. The locals on the back help me lift it on, and I take my place on the back of the truck beside a breast feeding lady on a sack of some miscellaneous vegetable.
With the sun beating down and the wind in my soap washed greasy hair I smile. I’m not guilty that I’m cheating and getting a ride, I’ve already cycled 2,550km and I can’t think of better way to end my trip than on the back of packed death trap Malawian truck with smiling locals crawling up the steep hill road.
I arrive at the zoo in the afternoon and Phil wearing a Hawaiian shirt is in his chair on the porch half way through a bottle of vodka. “Kiwi, you know where the key is”
“sweet, cheers Phil. You didn’t burn me bloody boxes did ya?”
“Nah. But what the f**k you wrapping with those, a truck?”
10 boxes later and three rolls of tape my bike is boxed. Under candle light (no electricity due to another power cut) I use another roll of tape and two bungy cords to tape up my broken Africa polyweave bag (like the ones you buy from the $2 shop) that houses all my panniers.
5am the next morning I’m woken by the taxi beeping at the gate and remember Phil telling me the night before to “make sure you at the f**king gate on time or the barstards will honk and wake me up you kiwi f**k” – I really liked this guy, he’s a real character, he’s interesting. Sorry Phil, but but my watch and lap top were stolen in Dar Es Salam and I lost my cell phone, therefore I have no time telling device, and anywhoo the taxi is uncharacteristically 30 minutes early! Adios.
I get to the bus station and have two guys in tattered clothes carry my bike and tie it to the roof of a bus with string that back in the developed world would have been thrown out a couple of years ago.
“You sure that going to stay up there?”
I wouldn’t mind taking out some insurance on that reassurance. But hey, I’m in Africa, they been doing this for years, it will do.
Even though I was told the bus would leave at 6am, we pull out of the station at 6.30am – On African time that’s an early departure.
I can relax now, I’m on my way to Lilongwe the capital of Malawi. I fly out tomorrow. But no, Africa will not let me relax. In Muzuzu we pull into the petrol station to fill up for the five hour ride to Lilongwe. No Petrol. Shit! Then I remember there is a petrol shortage in Malawi. I mean full on no petrol kinda shortage, read, the first petrol station I cycled past in Malawi had 143 cars queing up as they had heard a rumour that the petrol tanker might be coming. Apparently Muzuzu had had petrol the day before. The second petrol station, no petrol. Shit! The third petrol station, YES! Fancy that, a petrol station that has petrol, I never knew I would be so happy to be at a petrol station that sells petrol. I pat myself on the back for taking the early bus as I know that by lunch time there will be no petrol left in Muzuzu.
I arrive at the hostel in Lilongwe where I had stored my bike helmet, carved wooden animals and other miscellanous stuff I didn’t need on the last part of my cycle journey to the lake. I bump into Greg and Chris who drive an overland truck, I had met them earlier in my trip. They invite me to dinner and beers with their overland truck group for my final night in Africa.
The next morning before getting my taxi to the airport i transfer my last $100 into my account, actually it’s Mandy’s $100 but she loaned it to me from our joint account so I could get back to OZ – bless her soul. My taxi comes, i’m going to arrive at the airport four hours early, but I’m still nervous. There’s something nerve racking about only having a hundred dollars to your name and no access to a credit card. There is no error for mistakes, and in a continent where errors are a part of life and with my past weeks track record, I have good reason to be nervous.
And guess what?
“Sir, you’re 25kgs over your baggage limit?”
“Ummm, there must be a mistake, I have specifically organised with my travel agent to have my bike shipped and he assured me that everything has been confirmed”
“Well, we have no confimration of this, you will have to show us the receipt”
After more begging and telling the lady how my travel agent and I emailed back and fourth 16 times especially so I would avoid this situation, she still tells me I need the receipt.
I try to find somewhere with internet and a printer. This is harder than you would expect, for example in Muzuzu Malawis 3rd largest city when I was trying to find out what day I was flying out on (my E-ticket had been on my lap top) the internet just happened to be down for 2 days.
Anyway I find an office that has a printer. I ask if I can use his internet, he says his boss is very strict, I tell him I will give him 100kwacha (60cents), he says OK. I find the email from my travel agent with the receipt, I print out the receipt on his Amiga 500 printer, yep you know the one that prints out streams of paper with little holes along the side.
I take it back to the check-in lady. Apparently it’s not the official receipt. Bloody Africa and their bloody love for bull shit paperwork – sorry angry face.
“Sir, you will have to wait for my superior to come”.
“When does she come?”
Umm, thats only an hour and a quarter before my flight departs, nervous.
Well at 11.45 the lady arrives, my plane departing in an hour. My bike and bags sitting behind the counter next to the conveyor belt. My heart sinks as I set eyes on the superior. She’s a large lady that walks with the arrogance of an African person in a position of authority. She talks to the check-in lady, points to me, I smile and try to look charming -easier said than done when you look like Osama Bin Laden of which I get referred to on a daily basis in Africa, sometimes Jesus on a good day.
She waddles off out the back with the urgency of someone going on an hour long lunch break. What felt like an eternity, she comes back and confirms what I’m treading.
“There is nothing on your ticket that says you have excess luggage”
I plead and tell her the situation. She doesn’t care. I ask her what the solution is? She tells me that they charge $36/kg for excess luggage and that I’m 25kgs over, therefore I have to pay about $900. I say I only have $100 and my credit card has been stolen. She shrugs her shoulders and walks off. Gate closing in 20 minutes.
My options are to leave my bike at the airport and never see it again which doesn’t appeal as since my lap top has been stolen it is now my only asset I own in the world. OK, plan B, BEG.
I go to the check-in lady, and I beg like I have never begged before. She tells me that her boss has told me what I need to do. I put my head back, close my eyes, breath deeply, run my hands through my hair and have one last attempt. I plead and beg and let all my helplessness and vunerability pour out of me – doing everything except crying – thats plan C.
“I’ve had everything stolen in Tanzania, including my credit card, I only have $100, I can’t pay. I had organised all my luggage allowances with my travel agent especially so I would avoid this siutation. I’ve been in Africa helping the people, volunteering, doing good. If you don’t let me on the plane I’m going to be stuck here with nothing, I have to get on that plane, I beg you (I even have my hands to my chest in the prey position), please, please let me on, I’ll do anything”
She tentatively looks behind her to see where her boss is.
She exhails “Ok, if you can rid of 15kgs, I’ll let the luggage go through. You have 10 minutes till the gate closes”
I run behind the counter and attack my carefully packed bag with a set of keys, tearing the roll of tape apart and bungy cords. I rip open my panniers and take out all the heavy stuff, wrap the bungy cord around my poor excuse for a bag and put it on the scales.
“You’re still 4kgs over”
In a frenzy I pull more stuff out begging her not to close the gate.
I place my ripped up bag with tape hanging from it being held together by a bungy cord on the scales. She gives me a look that says “my god you are a pain in the arse”.
She processes my bag and bike. I grab my ticket, and she tells me to run. I run, well I run as best as you can run when you are carrying about 20 kgs of gear that is hanging off you in the form of a back pack, two panniers, a dirty washing bag and a flimsy plastic bag that is falling apart.
I clear security, then with my array of bags I get to the air flight staff who are checking carry on baggage. The guy looks at me with a look that says “this Osama Bin Laden guy can’t be serious”. I empty my pocket of all the Malawi money I have. I go through.
As I enter the tarmac stumbling with all my hand luggage an official runs after me,
“Sir, our x-ray machine has broken down can you come with us so we can go through your checked luggage”
I enter the baggage room. I pick up my misearble looking $2 shop broken bag, the policeman looks surprised that the bag belongs to a Mzungu. He gives it the once over which involves me battling to undo the bungy cord and him telling me not to worry. But then he points to my bike box. I’m like, you can’t be bloody serious, that took my three hours and three rolls of tape to pack, and I’m bloody sure that you don’t have any tape for me to re pack it, plus the plane is waiting on me.
I look at him, and feel like saying “mate does it look like a bloody bomb”, but I decide to use a different four letter B word, I point to my bike helmet hanging off one of my bags and say “it’s a BIKE” and walk back out to board the plane.
“would you like a water or juice, sir?”
“two beers, please”
A couple of hours later we touch down in Johanesburg, I have a eight hour stop over I spend lying on the airport floor, then another nine hours of flying and I’m on Australian soil, Perth. Five more hours and I will be back in Melbourne……….or will I?
I enter the airport later than expected due to a delay. Quarantine have a feild day with me, a bicycle, camping gear, and half of Africa’s wooden souvenirs in my luggage. But I enjoy it, the qurantine lady is friendly and chatty, it’s good to be in my home continent.
Someone asks her the time “she says it’s 4pm”
I say “what did you just say the time was?”
“4pm” – Shit! I thought I had a four hour stop over. It seems that has been eaten up, my plane leaves in just over an hour and I know from my time living in Perth that the domestic airport is atleast a 10 minute drive away.
I now just stuff all my gear back into the bag and bungy cord it up not worrying to do a good job. I push my trolley into the airport meeting area with the urgency of homeless person who hears that there is a free burger give away at McDonalds.
Just my luck the of the past week the free transfer bus has just left and the next one leaves in 40 minutes. I go to the ATM and withdraw my last $100.
I pay the taxi driver $21 for the 10 minute ride, a sum of money that I used to live off for four days when cycling in Africa – ahhh the real world. I go to get a trolley. Bugger me! $4 for a trolley! Although it does say its a “smart trolley”, I’m unsure what a “smart trolley” does differently to a normal trolley, but I have no choice so pay the $4. I remember back to the days of Africa where I could get five guys to carry all my stuff for that much and still have change to buy a coke. Ahhh the real world.
I arrive at the Virgin check-in counter with my smart trolley loaded like an African truck.
Ahhhh, you guessed it.
“Sir, our system says that you only have an allowance for 5kgs excess luggage, your 15kgs over”
I look to my smart trolley, If you so smart mate, how about you handle this.
To save you the details, just reread the Malawi check-in counter bit above and substitute in friendly, smiling, attractive Australian girls.
So after showing them the 16 email correspondence between me and my travel agent clearly showing that I had pre-organised my bike, I get the pity look from the senior manager
“Sorry, I know that your bags have been checked through to Melbourne in Malawi, and I know that you have pre-organised everything, but my hands are tied. If I let you on with this I could lose my job. There’s nothing in our system………………and sir we have to close the gate in 7 minutes”
“Ok, so whats the solution, can I leave my bike here?”
“Sorry sir you can’t store it here. You are 15kgs over, and we charge $15 a kg for excess”. I think to myself that that’s a bargain compared to Malawi where it was $36/kg.
Then I give them my sob story, everything stolen, no credit card, I only have $100 to my name, which after the taxi and smart trolley is now $75, blah blah. In return I get a sorry look. I hand them my debit card that I just used to withdraw the last $100 in the hope of some miracle has happened that $225 has appeared in it.
The manager steps in again, “Sir we are going to have to shut the gate soon”
The check-in lady asks me “Is there anyone else that can pay for you”
I remember that in my pocket notebook I have a few phone numbers.
I ask the check-in lady “Can I use your phone?”
“Sorry sir, only internal calls”
There’s another guy beside me,
“mate, can I use your cell phone please?”
“Yeah, but hurry, I’m on the same flight as you and it’s leaving”
I dial my sisters number, but get a funny signal. the guy has to leave. shit.
I ask another guy who looks likes he’s in a rush. He gives me his phone.
I try my last two numbers, all I get is friendly chirpy answer machines.
“We’re closing the gate sir”
I punch in my sisters number one last time “Just wait, the phones ringing, please, please don’t shut the gate, if she doesn’t answer then you can shut it”
“Hello Jarnia speaking”
In rapid fire speaking frenzied voice I blurt out “Sis, Hap here, whats ya credit card details?”
“Hey Happy, how are you? You still in Malawi?”
“Sis, not Happy at the moment, emergency, about to miss my flight got no money, whats your credit card details?”
I pass the phone to Phoebe the check-in girl.
“it’s accepted. You’re really lucky” I ponder that for a moment, “I’m lucky”, ummmmm. I think to myself that I have a lot of luck in very unlucky situations.
The manager gives me my boarding pass with a smile “You really need to hurry, the planes waiting on you”
I run get to security, throw my day bag and dirty washing bag on the conveyor belt and empty my pockets of my passport and debit card. I pick them up and run up the escalator three stesp at a time.
With “final call” flashing at the gate I make it………..
Then I hear a kiwi accent shout out from behind me “Bro, you forgot your passport”
I sprint back from where I had just came but I can’t find an escalator that goes down. Stuff it. Down the up escalator I go, just as I jump off the bottom my dirty washing bag falls off and starts going back up the escalator. I jump back on, grab it and start running back down the upward moving stairs.
The security people are holding out my passport and debit card as I sprint to them.
“Cheers fellas” I shout behind me as head back up the escalator.
I get to the gate, “boarding pass sir”
OH NO, I’ve lost my boarding pass!
Just kidding. I get on that plane and slump into my chair. I wonder if I should use my remaining $75 to buy a beer, I refrain.
I arrive in Melbourne, $4 more for a smart trolley and I hop into the taxi with my $71. Home safe, taxi to Matt and Linnleys is only $50.
But no, as it’s after midnight it’s a “special rate”.
$72.60 the meter says as I arrive outside their apartment. Luckily the driver is a young Somalian guy that grew up in NZ and says in his Somalian kiwi accent “no worries bro, $71 is fine”
I walk through the door at 1am at Matt and Linnleys my awesome hosts who have the spare room made up with clean comfy sheets, my mail from last six months, cell phone and an emergency loan.
Matt walks out of his room in his boxers bleary eyed making sure I’m not a burglar
“hey bro, good to be back?”
I briefly tell him what happened and then he replys
“Sounds like Africa chewed you up and spat you out”.