Road trip through hell to paradise – travelling through East Africa by bus. Part Two

The five hours of waiting weren’t too bad – I could get off the coach; there were toilets, and food was available, the worst part was not knowing when the repairs were to take place.
However, in the food area, where I managed to get a seat in the shade, some of the seasoned travellers were getting unhappy – it wasn’t about the delay – I don’t think anyone travels this way expecting a timetabled arrival (apart from me). We’d set out at 6am, arrived at the food area at 11 am, and now it was getting on for 4 pm. By my calculations we had another 5 hours of travelling, but the engineers were still working frantically. If we could get going soon, we’d be in Kigoma for 9 – 10pm – it wasn’t that bad.
Then it was explained to me – there was a nasty section ahead, through wooded jungle that had a reputation for bandits stopping vehicles. The bandits, armed with machine guns, operated in the dark, and would take everything, including clothing, leaving bereft travellers naked and with no hope of rescue until light. Darkness would fall at about 7pm, so we would hit that section at exactly the wrong time.
Security forces were apparently available to accompany overnight convoys of vehicles, but usually had to be arranged in advance. The other passengers were adamant they wanted to continue, which surprised me, as many were carrying children, but I was less sure – I had my camera, computer, credit cards and passport on me – the loss of which would make life very difficult to continue as a traveller.
An hour later, the bus roared into life; the passengers got on; I squeezed back into my seat and we set off.
2 hours travel later, darkness fell, but the driver showed no signs of noticing – his speed was back to warp factor 3, and we entered a forested area.
The blackness was almost complete, apart from our headlights. Although I did spot occasional flashlights in the trees, and on two occasions, we passed small bonfires set back from the road, with shadowy figures moving around them. It was a tense time. No other vehicles were now travelling, so we were alone on the road, still moving at over 100kph. I guessed the speed would make stopping us very difficult, but I did watch out for tree trunks across our path. I was also aware of the prevalence of mobile phones in Africa. Our speed wasn’t a solution if the bandits were able to phone ahead to accomplices to prepare a trap.
The driver slammed on his brakes. There was an audible gasp from the passengers behind me as we all spotted the lorry pulled right across the road, blocking our way.
We slowed quickly, but I knew there was no chance of turning round – there just wasn’t room for a bus this size, and I guessed the bandits would block the road behind anyway. I couldn’t hide anything as, if they took the bus and my clothes, nowhere was safe anyway. I resigned myself to having to give up everything and just hoped the bandits weren’t vicious enough to hurt anyone, and would be satisfied with whatever new-found wealth they could steal.
Then the lorry pulled forward and disappeared into some narrow track. It had simply been manoeuvring to enable it to line itself up with a dirt road leading to goodness knows where. I breathed through pursed lips and sighed, pleased for once that our speed was picking up once more.
Two hours later, as it neared 11pm, we emerged from the forest and hit lighted streets. Houses flashed by and I knew we had made it. Hopefully this was Kigoma. It was Christmas Eve, 2014 and there was still time to find a bar and have a small celebration to see in Christmas Day.
We pulled up at a police checkpoint and were directed off the road. “What’s happening?” I asked someone behind, as the Sleep-Easi lady beside me didn’t seem disposed to talk.
“Bandit area,” said the couple behind.
“I thought we’d just passed through that,” I asked, exasperated.
“No. That was just a small forest,” they smiled. “This next bit is the bad bit. And the police won’t let us travel until sunrise.”
“So this isn’t Kigoma?” I asked.
They found that hilarious, and the news of the Mzungu’s (European) thinking we’d arrived in Kigoma passed down the bus amidst gales of laughter. “No, we’ll have to stay here until 5am and then we’ll be escorted.”
I turned back to the front. What a Christmas Eve this would be. It started to rain. There was nowhere to sleep. I was trapped on the bus next to Miss buttress-buttocks. It couldn’t get any worse.
The driver disappeared somewhere. The engineer found some pillows to place on the engine cover to lie down to sleep, then a passenger got up and turned up the bus radio to entertain everyone during the long hours. It was too loud to be enjoyable and wouldn’t allow for sleep as, every time I closed my eyes, it impinged forcefully into my consciousness.
There were a dozen lorries parked alongside us, and a constant troop of police and security guards walking around our area ensuring our safety, but talking loudly. It was going to be a long night, with no sleep.
I awoke several hours later, my left arm dangling out of the window, soaked by the rain, and my right forearm resting nonchalantly on the pillowy buttocks of the woman next to me. I don’t think she’d noticed.
It was 5am. Still dark, and the bus rocked with a movement. The driver was back.
”We go!” was all he said.
“What about the security convoy?” asked the man behind me.
The driver waved his hands, uncaring. “They follow later.”
The engine roared noisily into life and we lurched off into the blackness of the forest.
There was no road from this point – it was just a single-track, dirt path, the thick foliage of the forest rattling against both sides of the coach as we picked up speed. Our lights barely touched the darkness, and we were thrown around mercilessly as the wheels hits ruts and small boulders and the driver swung the wheel viciously to avoid small crevices and other dangerous obstacles.
An ominous silence fell over the coach, everyone watching the trees for movement, or trying to prepare themselves for an unforeseen collision. We were alone and reaching the 100 kph mark again.
To be continued…

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