Friday the 13th in Mbeya

This is going to just be a fun post. So, although I am working very hard in Tanzania I do have a lot of fun as well.  I met some folks during my time here and after a very entertaining dinner with them they invited me on a journey to Mbeya which is in southern Tanzania.  I decided that I would take my Spring break early and go since it would be a week long excursion.  We traveled 8 hours by bus to Dar es Salaam, stayed the night, and then took a 24 hour train ride to Mbeya.  The train was amazing but that is a story for another day…

Train Ride!

Train Ride!

When we got to Mbeya we checked into our hostel and the next day went on a really great hike through Kitulo National Park which is known for its gorgeous flower display and green valleys.  Mbeya is not like anything I would have ever thought Africa would look like.  I could have been in the hill of Europe if I didn’t know any better!  Tanzania ranges from freezing cold temperatures on the top of Kilimanjaro to the deserts of Dodoma to the lush jungles and greenery of Mbeya.  Truly an amazing place! But on to the next day….Friday the 13th…

We want to go to a place called Crater Lake which is suppose to be very pretty and a really nice hike to see it. We decide to not use a guided tour company because that would be expensive, we find a guy on the street who may or may not work for a local safari company and tell him that we want to do the Crater but on the cheap.  The man’s name….James Bond (I kid you not)! So we arrange public transport with Mr. Bond which included possible motorcycles, dala dalas, and a ride in the back of a pick up truck!  This sounded good to us and in the end it would only cost us $20 for the whole day!  We were in.

Well, we ended up just renting a dala dala, the “Baby Prince” as it was called, for the day and it would take us to the Crater Lake hike and to another place called God’s Bridge.  As we were driving in this van we began going off road further and further into the jungle.  Now, it is the rainy season in Mbeya and it had rained recently causing giant puddles of mud which the brave Baby Prince plowed right through, going where surely no dala dala has ever gone before!  One puddle in particular was especially giant and deep and after much deliberation the driver decided to chance it and we boldly drove through just making it.  After cheers of success we continued to a point where the dala dala could go no further and hiked the rest of the way to Crater Lake.

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Bond, James Bond and I

The hike was amazing!  We went through a vast jungle, rain forest, up a mountain path that was not for the feint of heart.  I love hiking and this was great fun for me because I got to lead the way.  I cannot describe the satisfaction of reaching the top and being rewarded with a gorgeous vista of green mountains and a beautiful lake!  Before we went down again, James told us a story about the lake.  Apparently there are evil spirits living within the forests and mountains of the crater and even stories of a giant snake monster that lives within the lake itself!

After the hike back down, the rain started. We bordered the Baby Prince and set off down the path back toward the main road.  We came to the giant puddle and the Baby Prince ran full speed into the depths.  The battle was short lived because we stopped rather suddenly…not moving…Muddy water up the the door.  We got out and assessed the situation.  We were going nowhere.  After about 5 minutes of the drivers trying to push, my friend Johnny said, “Well, I paid for this (expletive)”  and began taking off his shoes.  I followed suit, rolled up my pants, and jumped into the muddy, standing water.  Thoughts of potential parasites and other creepy things went through my mind but what the hell, worst case scenario, I bring a souvenir home.

Stuck!

Stuck!

This began a three hour struggle of trying to remove our dala dala from the mud.  James Bond was constantly leaving to bring back more locals and tools to try and get us out.  We began bucketing the water out and digging trenches to re-route the water from the hole to another part of the road, a slow process but because we were determined it seemed like progress was being made….then the thunder started.  Our efforts became even more frenzied and we took breaks to try to push and lever and lift the van any way we could.  Then the rains came.  We felt a bit defeated and sat in the dala dala watching our efforts and progress refill with new water.

At this point, someone in our group looked to their phone and said, “do you realize what day this is?”  We all said no, “Friday the 13th”.  We all started laughing and then we remembered the story of the evil spirits of the forest and the lake and laughed even harder.  We were cursed! To make an incredibly long story short (too late) James disappeared and returned with a vehicle…but not a tow truck or jeep or anything…no he came back with a 4-cylinder Toyota.  We were a bit skeptical but tied a rope to it and gave it a shot.  Nothing.  The dala dala moved not on centimeter. So we tried again and again. Finally, the few guys we had left went back into the mud puddle and together with the help of that little Toyota pushed the Baby Prince out of the mud hole!  The cheers of liberation could probably be heard from all over the countryside! We and the locals were hugging and slapping hands and each others backs for a few minutes before we jumped into our beloved ride and began driving into the cloudy afternoon.

At this point we were exhausted and just wanted to go home to the hotel and take a shower, since the majority of us were covered in mud and dirt and…..oil?  Our van stopped at a market in a near by village and 007 declared that “…there is a significant oil leak so we must now go get it patched…then we can go to God’s Bridge and finish our tour!”  The curse was not finished yet apparently…

The battered Baby Prince getting fixed

The battered Baby Prince getting fixed

( I only wish there were more pictures that are in my possession during the struggle with the dala dala but I was busy being a mess and didn’t have my phone on me, so I apologize for not having more pics)

There is even more to the story but I will spare you more details.  The day ended up being a great adventure and we had a lot of fun.  The biggest take away I received was from the people I was with.  There were over 10 people in that mud hole both locals and Westerners from different parts of the world and when it came down to it there was no arguing, bickering, snobbishness, or anything negative.  We all pitched in, saw the situation for what it was, and treated it as the adventure it was, we stayed positive.  When people come together,no matter where we come from, beautiful things happen and awesome memories are made.

The whole group at God's Bridge

The whole group at God’s Bridge

2 thoughts on “Friday the 13th in Mbeya

  1. pashelly

    Hi, Travis,
    Quite the adventure with the Baby Prince! The photo on God’s Bridge shows over a dozen people; were they all on this adventure with you? Do you find that international workers are the ones you adventure forth with, or was this a group with Tanzanians as well as non-Tanzanians? What have your visits to other parts of the country and its different climes teach you about Tanzania? Is climate change affecting the snows of Kilimanjaro?
    Thanks for your reports – I enjoy reading them!

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    1. atwatertravis Post author

      Many of the people shown on the bridge were medical students from Germany I met randomly here in Moshi. Some are interested in working internationally but most just love to travel and enjoy the sights and adventure. Many are not as culturally competent or at least do not think in the same way as a social worker concerning culture and politics but sometimes that can be a refreshing perspective to hear. The locals we met in Mbeya and they came along with us. The climates are completely different. Tanzania is amazing since you can go from freezing glaciers an Kili to deserts in Dodoma and then rain forests in Mbeya. Then stop off at the coast and relax on the beach at the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar. There is talk of the snow melt on Kili happening much faster than normal and some people even predict a complete snow melt with no return in 20 years. Although, other people have told me that they said the same thing 20 years ago as well. So, you never know! When I first arrived here there was little snow on Kili, now The whole mountain is covered, so just from my perspective it seems ok for now. no one knows what the future holds, all we can do is try to stop the deterioration of our environment by advocating for cleaner fuels sources and other ways of slowing the process of climate change.

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