Dante-esque trip through purgatory. Boarded the bus from hell at midnight. We'd bought tickets on the express luxury international coach - it sounded good, but we should have known better when there were no seat numbers on the ticket. When the bus pulled up it looked full so I thought there must be a lot of people getting off in Mzuzu. I was wrong. They just packed us in standing in the isle. There were so many people on the bus that it was impossible to even move my feet more than a couple inches - sitting down was out of the question. Which was just as well as the driver was a maniac. There were definitely times where I would have fallen down if it hadn't been for the crush of bodies around me. We drove for three hours then stopped at a gas station for an hour - apparently we made to good of time and there's no reason to get to the border to long before it opens. From the gas station the driver drove slowly for another hour to the border. At the border we sat around and watched the sun rise for an hour until it opened. On the Tanzanian side we got a very pleasant surprise. We were expecting to have to buy another $50 visa, and we were hoping that maybe we could get a half price transit visa. What happened was we got a free week transit visa! We were one of the first people through immigration - good thing, as two Canadian guys at the end had to pay $50 for a two day transit visa (I think they might have annoyed the officials...)
On the Tanzanian side the ride was even worse than the Malawian side. It was light so we could see, there were slightly fewer people (though I still had to stand up), and the roads were better, but I could also see my watch so time seemed to stop. Plus by this time I was really in bad shape - eyes gritty, unable to concentrate, and feeling weak. The ride to Mbeya was less than two hours, yet for me it was the longest part of the trip. The bus was headed for Dar es Salaam but we'd just bought tickets to Mbeya. It turned out that the bus didn't really even go to Mbeya - it went near Mbeya. Furthermore no one even bothered to tell us that we were there. I was watching for the Mbeya bus station and we just never got there. Another tourist on the bus noticed that we were going by signs pointing to Mbeya behind us. By the time we got off the bus we were twenty kilometers away! Amy and I were just lucky that someone was still capable of noticing details like that! On the side of the road we waited for a daladala which got us back to the right area. From there a second daladala got us to the central bus station.
At the bus station we bought tickets for tomorrow's Scandinavia (the luxury line - one passenger per seat!) to Dar. We then negotiated a taxi to take us to get money changed and then to the hotel. The first bank we went to didn't do foreign exchange. The second one did, but at a bad rate. I noticed that the exchange rate was slightly better for travelers checks, and as I was running low on US dollars I decided to use go with a check. They wouldn't take it because I didn't have the receipts with me (you know they ones that say "Keep this form... separate from your Cheques"). I ended up changing a little cash (wait in a line, fill out a form, wait for presidents approval, wait in line again, show passport and sign forms, wait in a different line with the paperwork, show passport again, sign forms again, and finally count the money) - I'd forgotten how bad the bureaucracy is in Tanzania.
We'd been dreaming of our hotel (actually a missionary center) - we stayed there on our way south and were looking forward to the cozy room with feather beds, hot water, and antique furniture. What we got was two beds in a dorm and cold water. Apparently they are quite a bit busier than last time. We went in to the restaurant had a mediocre pizza that tasted incredible - we hadn't eaten since lunch yesterday. I'd been planning on trying to stay up as long as possible so that I'd be able to sleep through the night, but the next thing I knew I was waking up five hours later. I got up and tried to take a shower only to find out that now we have no water. We went back to the restaurant and had a light dinner, then headed back to the room and got ready to go to bed again.
Today was one of the hardest travel days I've ever had. The only trip I can think of that even competes was the forty hour shared taxi ride going from Senegal into Guinea nearly two years ago. From getting on the bus in Mzuzu to checking in to our hotel room was only twelve hours. But it was twelve hours standing in a hot airless box driven (shaken? rattled?) by a madman - it wasn't that long - but it was so vividly and surreally uncomfortable and unanticipated.