Day 17

We’ve got a few long travel days ahead of us, which means early wake up calls. This morning we cross out of Malawi into Tanzania.

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I am almost finished with Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and I am struck by the enormity of personal sacrifice. Intellectually, I can appreciate the need for personal sacrifices in the face of strong convictions. But emotionally, I’ve always been leveled by exactly how much sacrifice is often required. One of Mandela’s most touching sentiments was that while his sacrifice was easy to recognize (nearly three decades in jail, he missed his youngest daughters growing up, wasn’t able to attend his son’s or mother’s funeral, etc.), he felt that sacrifices and the challenges that his family faced as a result of his convictions (and theirs) were likely greater. I feel very humbled by these ideas.

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We make it to camp as the sun is going down. We had a saying in my old job, “The nicer the place, the shorter the stay.” And our campsite at the Old Farmhouse in Iringa, Tanzania was no exception to this rule. The bathrooms and showers were some of the loveliest we had all trip. We had a delicious dinner in the restaurant there and drinks and dessert in the cozy bar hut, which was warmed by terracotta pots filled with hot charcoal.

Inside the bar hut

But we’d leave before the sun rose.

As I got ready for bed that night, I walked down the dark down the path to the bathroom with the help of my headlamp. As I shined my light into the thick vegetation all around, I saw, some distance in front of me, two very distinct eyes glowing back at me in the darkness. In the back of my head, I remembered what our driver Barry had told us at the campsite in Elephant Sands: Before you get up in middle of the night to go to the bathroom, shine your light around and if you see eyes glowing back, get back in your tent because it could be a leopard.

I stood motionless for a good 10 seconds and then I thought, “I should probably run.”

I sprinted back to the overland truck where Mazza was still busy preparing breakfast burritos for our super early departure the next morning.

Huffing and puffing, I explained to her what had happened. “There are no leopards in this area,” she explained, “It was probably a dog.”

Yes, that’s true it could have been a dog. I had seen many dogs around camp that night. And the eyes didn’t look that big or that far apart. It was probably a dog.

I was still sufficiently shaken from my “near” encounter that I made Nellu walk me back down the path to brush my teeth.

Also important to note, running away from the eyes, as Mazza later explained, was the single worst thing I could have done. “Once you start running,” she said. “You become prey.” Good to know.

Day 18

We’re up way before the sun rose this morning. It’s odd to be in the truckbus while it’s still dark. And it’s quite cold. I bust out my hat and gloves and attempt to go back to sleep.

The reason for our early departure is that we’ll be making our way into Dar es Salam, the largest, one of the  most chaotic, and possibly one of the most dangerous cities in Tanzania, whose name ironically means “abode of peace.” A lot can go wrong when trying to get through the city, we’re told. Apparently, like many of our border crossings, traversing the city can take a short time or a long time depending on the traffic or if a truck gets stuck and blocks the one road we need to take to get there.

When we hit the city around mid afternoon, traffic is busy but moving. We’re looking good until we turn off one of the main roads to head for camp. And there it is – Mazza and Raymond could not have predicted the situation more clearly – one big oil tanker stuck in the massive drainage ditches on either side of the road, blocking the road so no one can get across.

Of course, this is the only road we can take to get to camp. Mazza and a security detail consisting of Nellu and Bob go out to assess the situation and come back with grim news. It could take anywhere from hours to a day to get the stuck truck out of the way.

But Mazza comes up with Plan B in an impressively short amount of time. She calls for help and arranges for another overland truck to come pick us up. So we pack up all our gear and walk down to the stuck truck where we take turns sliding our belongings and ourselves underneath the tank. Raymond stays behind with our overland truck. We walk some distance up the hill on the other side and pass a line of cars to promptly meet the other truck.

But this story has a happy ending for Raymond too. A few hours after we arrive in camp, just as we’re sitting down to eat, Raymond triumphantly appears. He took a picture of the stuck truck on his phone and used it to convince the normally reluctant ferry operators to take him to the other side. Well done overland team, well done.

Photo by Chloe Stucki. Warning sign in the bathrooms of our Dar es Salam camp.

To be continued…

~ Molly

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