Life on the truck (or: It's too darn hot!)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First things first. It is a TRUCK. God forbid anyone should refer to it as a bus. For some reason, it’s a grave sin to refer to it as a bus. (My patience for this little quirk has worn tissue-thin at this point, which usually results in me referring to it like this: “Bus. TRUCK. FUCK! Whatever!”)

Here’s what it’s like on the TRUCK, on a long long drive day between Lushoto and Dar Es Salaam:

Breakfast is at 5:00 am, and it’s a relatively easy morning unless you’re on Cook Group, who have to report for duty at 4:45. We’re all divided into different groups and the duties rotate daily. Cook Group, Fire and Water, Security, Tent Locker, Back Locker, Binology (garbage), and Truck Clean. Of these, Security is the most slack (checking that the windows on the truck are rolled up, and all the lockers are secure), and Cook Group is the most work (getting up early, helping Charles with prep, and a lot of washing up). I’ve been lucky with duties so far but none of the jobs is really horrible, and most people pitch in wherever.

We’re told the drive will take twelve hours though the trip notes say we only have to cover 380 kms. This gives you an idea of how slowly things move in Africa. And that’s before we stop because the road is blocked by a cargo truck that tipped over on its side and ended up perfectly perpendicular to the road, spanning it completely. It’s cleared away in about half an hour, but it’s impossible to predict how many other of these kind of events will slow the glacial progress towards Dar. (That’s what the cool kids call it – Dar. Not Dar es Salaam.)

We’re heading for a campsite on the beach in Dar. The campgrounds have all been much better appointed than I was expecting. The documentation for this Dragoman trip seemed to indicate that there would be times we’d simply be pulling off the road and bouncing out to some random bit of wilderness to set up camp entirely on our own. Instead, we’ve been at serviced campsites with toilets and showers (often even with HOT showers). There are normally permanent cooking shelters and often there’s a bar and a dining room and sometimes even internet access and the chance to upgrade to a real room with walls and a ceiling.

The cook’s shelter / cage at our Serengeti campsite. In this case provided not to keep the cooks in, but to keep the wildlife out.

Luckily, upgrades were available at a recent stop in Lushuto, a small town in the Usambaru Mountains. We arrived after an awfully long drive up a very steep and winding road, with nine of the 23 souls on board in various stages of some kind of gastro-plague that swept through the truck with alarming speed and ferocity. Everyone on board wanted an upgrade, and if it had turned out that there weren’t enough rooms available, I suspect there would have been tears, or bloodshed, or both (likely both from me).

But back to the truck. We bounce down the not-too-bumpy-for-Africa roads. The farther we travel the hotter it gets. Not surprisingly, the truck does not have air conditioning so it gets stuffy, especially when we’re stopped and there’s no breeze through the windows. Lots of people sleep, but some read, or listen to iPods, or chat. Most of the seats are in pairs that face forward, but there are two sets of four seats that face each other and share a table between them. We’re supposed to shuffle around each day, and on this day I’m at a table, which I like. The worst seats are at the very back behind the wheels, where it’s smartest to keep your seatbelt on when going over the frequent and lofty speed bumps. I work on putting darts into the new short-sleeved shirt I picked up in Istanbul, though the quality of the roads in Africa and the suspension on the truck make it tricky work. Still, the results are good and it’s exactly the kind of tedious but useful work that makes time pass.

Here’s the inside of the truck, with Dave giving us a little speech on our first morning, pulling out of the hotel in Nairobi.

After about five hours we stop for a quick lunch. Most of us made sandwiches at breakfast and packed them away for later, but then we ran out of bread so we had to stop for more bread and pull out a table and sandwich fixings in the parking lot of a gas station. I extract my lovingly-made sandwich from underneath someone’s 15 lb daypack and munch around the squished corner. And I unearth a can of beer from the cooler in the truck. The beer is a temperature that may once have had a passing acquaintance with coldness but could now best be described as Not Boiling.

The lunch set-up

It’s hot. Really hot. And humid. Even the Aussies admit it. We pile back onto the stuffy bus and continue on the way to Dar, though progress gets slower and slower as we get into the outskirts of the city. The traffic get heavier, the truck creeps along, the temperature gets hotter and we’re all wilted and tired and dreaming of the beach at the campsite just outside of Dar. But first there’s a stop for people to change money and buy cold drinks, and for our tour leader to get our tickets for the short ferry ride. Finally we’re all rounded up again and sit in line for the ferry and continue to quietly melt into a large puddle of multi-national goo. Eventually we pull into the campsite and start to set up. Did I mention it’s hot? Really, I can’t stress this enough. It just saps your will to do anything. However, we get the tents up and change into swimsuits (swimming costumes for the Brits, swimmers for the Aussies).

Some of the tents, with the Indian Ocean in the background

And then, finally, we’re in the water. Except the water is warm. Really warm. Like almost bathtub warm. Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than the hot, sticky mess we’ve been dealing with but it’s not exactly refreshing. Still, it’s nice, and it’s even nicer to get out and stand under the cool shower. What’s not nice is that there’s actually no period of dryness in between getting out of the shower and starting to sweat again. It really gets to you after a while.

Me, after the ocean, and the shower.

We’re lucky enough to have dinner made for us at the campsite so there is no cooking to do, and, most importantly, no clean-up. This is a real treat because it mean no flapping. We overlanders don’t use towels to dry our dishes, because towels get damp and gross quickly. Our dishes are washed in soapy water, then rinsed in water with Dettol, then rinsed in clear water. Then every plate, bowl, mug, frying pan, cook pot, spatula and spoon is vigorously flapped around until dry. And when I say “dry” what I really mean is “not sopping” because more often than not when you pull out a cereal bowl the next morning there’s a skim of water at the bottom, to help in pre-moistening your Weatabix. (Dave thinks we’re just not flapping hard enough, though I’m pretty sure I saw Nicky get airborne for a few seconds one morning.)

Silya, demonstrating the Norwegian Double Pan Flap maneuver. Not recommended for beginners.

But as I said, there iss no flapping this night. Just a swim in the ocean, a cool shower, and a nice Krest Bitter Lemon soda in the bar. Krest Bitter Lemon is my new second-favourite thing, right after Krest Bitter Lemon with gin. Though on this night I go for a mojito, which is very nice indeed. Not nice enough to erase the heat a drift me off to a comfortable sleep, but nice enough for Africa.

My arty shot of Krest Bitter Lemon


Marilyn said...

While you're commenting of the heat. I'm running in -45 with windchill at the Resolution Run...
Loving your blog, keep the info coming. Happy 2010....

Karen said...

Well, at least you're getting gin, despite not having it served to you with tonic, under a lone tree on the plain, by some guy in a white suit and gloves.

Blessed be the gin to get you through.

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