Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Why I remember Dahab aka The Amazing Race

The happiest backpacker. Not us.

Following on from yesterday:

Yesterday I left you on the bank of Lake Malawi, diving among the reedy weeds with the eels, or drinking down film canisters of beer with lots of drunk backpackers on the shore.  Here is yesterdays post so you can catch up.

It was here our guide gave us the fabulous news that our tour truck had to move on to the next destination a full day before Mike's last dive.  He couldn't dive earlier because of the restrictions you have on depth and altitude and timing etc.

We consulted at length with our guide who told us to catch a mini bus to the nearest village, then  another one to the major town and then walk to the truck at the big marketplace.  It would be easy, he said cheerfully.  Then he warned us if we were not to the truck by 3pm he would have to leave.  Because if he didn't he'd not make the Zambian border by the time it shut.  And if we missed the truck we'd have to make the border crossing ourselves (subject to bribery, corruption and guys with semi automatic weapons).  

We'd already met some gun toting locals at the other borders we'd crossed, but none so mad as the one we met at the border of Uganda and Rwanda (yep...Rwanda) three weeks earlier.

He climbed onto our truck (with his semi automatic weapon) while the driver and guide negotiated with border staff and shouted at us all, "DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE GENOCIDE?? DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS?!!"

We did, or we thought we did. Actually we didn't because none of us were over 25 and we were completely clueless. But we just sat there, frozen and terrified until he (thank God) got off and went to scare the shit out of someone else.  

Not long after we went to Rwanda a busload of tourists were kidnapped and half of them were killed.  

Writing this, looking back 15 years, at 41, it feels like I'm writing about someone else.


Anyways, Mike successfully completed his dive with the weeds and the eels and we woke up bright and early on the morning we were supposed to perform our Amazing Race style feat.  At dawn we waited at the driveway of the lodge we had stayed in.   The first bus drove past.  As did the second one.   Forty-five minutes went past. A mild panic began in my stomach.   

The third one stopped.  It had two spots in the back row. We felt very lucky as we sat there with our backpacks on our knees, next to an elderly man, who started up a conversation.  He told us he was off to the nearby town (whose name is lost in the mists of time to me), to see his doctor.  Because he had tuberculosis.

Hence the two spare seats.  

As Mike and I shifted ever so slightly away from him, he even got out his wallet and showed us a card, which stated that he did, indeed, suffer from TB.  (Please don't ask me why he had a card, I have no idea.)  We held our breath, and completely unknowingly, exemplified this blog name.  

At the town we popped out of the mini bus like corks from a bottle and took a big breath.  Then we ran around all the white minibuses with our backpacks on, just like those Amazing Race contestants, shouting the name of THE BLOODY TOWN I CAN'T REMEMBER until a driver nodded and gestured to his van.  Then we got to sit on the minibus for half an hour until it filled up at least one third beyond it's recommended capacity and watched about five other buses leave (who may or may not have been also going to the same place). We have done this in a few countries and there are few things more agonising.  I'd prefer to watch a 6 year old try to tie his shoelaces.  Without interfering.  For two hours. 

Despite leaving the camp at 6am, it was already 2:30 by the time the second minibus deposited us at the main depot of Mystery Town.  We attempted map reading, decided on a general direction and set off at a run.  Every couple of minutes we stopped and asked a passer by.  They smiled and waved us on, but we were never really sure if they understood us, or if we understood them.  

Mike drew ahead of me, doing his best impression of an Amazing Race contestant, determined to be the "first team to arrive".  I did my impression of the whiney girlfriend, slowing to a walk.  

At 3pm we still hadn't arrived.  And I gave up.  Mike didn't.  He never does.  With me trailing miserably behind him, he jogged over a bridge, a level railway crossing, and through several back streets until he found the market.  He just kept asking people.  The man can't read a map for shit.  It was his complete inability to admit failure that got us there.  Fifteen minutes after our deadline.  

What we hadn't counted on, was the bond with our travel companions.  There were only 8 of us on the truck and we were tight. 5 weeks on an African overland truck will do that do you. They asked our guide to wait just another half hour.  Our friend M, who is still one of our dearest friends to this day, simply refused to let them leave until we'd been given a half hour's grace.  As it was, we only needed 15 minutes.  And they even let us have a few minutes to browse the markets before we set off for the border.  Which we arrived at well in time and crossed safely into Zambia.  

Thanks guys. 

Ps.  This is how I remember it.  My memory is a bit fuzzy after 15 years, but this is my version as I recall.  

And that's why I remember Dahab.