The Long Road South, and Sickness


I really wish I had written this blog post about four months ago, right after it actually happened and was fresh in my mind, but alas, I did not take my computer with me when I traveled so I’m going to attempt to recreate the stories of my travels for you now.

Downtown Dar es Salaam

After leaving Zanzibar, Jared and I took what was probably the fastest boat I’ve ever been on (and that’s saying something considering that it was a passenger ferry. . .) to the Tanzanian mainland. Even the ship crew must have known how awful their boat rides are as they passed out vomit bags to everyone on board. Luckily, I never had to use mine—at least not until a few days later. We pulled up to the chaotic port of Dar es Salaam, a city that, prior to our arrival, pretty much everyone had told us to avoid. “Traffic is horrendous,” “it’s loud and dirty and unsafe,” people told us. But it’s also the largest city in Tanzania and for that reason, we thought, worth at least a night’s stay. And to be honest, it really wasn’t that bad. Sure it was loud and dirty, but aren’t all big cities? We walked around a little bit, found an Indian restaurant to eat at, and then woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning to board a bus south.

The quiet streets of Kilwa Masoko

The bus ride wasn’t too bad (at least not compared to later rides on our trip) and we actually had assigned seats to sit in. We decided to get off in a small town called Kilwa Masoko which is about halfway down the coast between Dar es Salaam and the Mozambican border, and is known for the nearby island of Kilwa Kisiwani which is the site of ancient Arab trading ruins. We were very much looking forward to seeing the ruins however after inquiring how to get to the island, we discovered that there was only one tour group that would take visitors there and that they charged around fifty USD for a trip which only lasted a few hours. Um nope! Instead we improvised and spent the next two days wandering around the quiet fishing village and trying out the local bars. It was at this point in the trip when we really began to sync our bodies to the rise and fall of the sun. Being a small town, most of the restaurants and bars didn’t have electricity which meant that as soon as the sun went down it became very dark. So usually around 8pm we would head back to our hotel and were asleep by 9. Likewise because we were going to bed so early, we were also rising early. Like 5am early. Much too early for my liking but most of the buses left really early any way so this turned out to more convenient than I would have thought.

Food sellers rush up to the windows of the bus to sell their wares to passengers.

After leaving Kilwa Masoko we spent one night in the bustling city of Lindi and finally one more night in Mtwara which was to be our last stop in Tanzania. Now I should tell you that southeastern Tanzania is the least traveled part of the country—not even coming close to rivaling the busy island of Zanzibar, the peak of Kilimanjaro in the north, and the safari camps which dot the northern and western parts of the country. What’s cool about this is that you really have the feeling that you’re seeing a place that not many foreigners have been; certainly no one you’ve met. And that’s a really cool feeling to have. However, it also means that the place you might be traveling to doesn’t have much infrastructure for tourism and therefore not many food and hotel options. Or that you’ll have to sit in the back of a truck bed for 6 hours to get there because that is literally the only way to get there. And sometimes it means that there’s a reason not many people are going there—because it’s just not that interesting. My boyfriend Jared would probably differ with me on this but I have to say that I didn’t find this part of Tanzania to be that interesting.

The Ruvuma River border crossing

The day we were set to cross the border into Mozambique I woke feeling nauseous and feverish. We climbed into a bus that would take us to the border where we would then get out of the bus, wait in the customs line to get our passports stamped, board the bus again which would then board a ferry across the Ruvuma River, and cross into Mozambique. We arrived at the customs office and immediately I felt like I was going to vomit. I could feel my face turning pale and my whole body beginning to sweat. Just get through the customs interview I thought. Just as I was keeled over about to be sick a foreign woman approached me and said, “Are you ok? You don’t look so good.” I replied to her that I had felt nauseous and feverish all morning. She asked where we were going and when I replied that our final destination that day was a town about 2 hours south of the border she asked how we were traveling there. I pointed over at the mini bus in which we had arrived. She looked at me with the look of a kind, concerned mother and said, “You can’t travel in that. We have some room in our car, why don’t we take you.” I thanked her so much for her generosity but said I’d be fine. She persisted and once we got through customs Jared and I climbed into her car. We learned that she and her husband were from Denmark and had been living in Mtwara doing development work. There was another Danish couple traveling in the car ahead of us and it turned out that the husband was a doctor. After telling him about my symptoms he diagnosed me with Dengue fever and gave me some medicine to make me feel better. Surprisingly the medicine worked and I was able to enjoy the rest of the ride to our destination.

The kind Danish couple dropped us off in Moçimboa de Praia, a small town in northern Mozambique, where we had planned to spend a night before continuing southward. Finding a hotel wasn’t easy as it seemed that most of the hotels (or pensions as they’re known in Portuguese) were booked. This confused us as the city didn’t seem to be much more than a small town close to the border—why would people be coming here? However, we eventually learned that one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world had just been discovered off the coast of northern Mozambique and that suddenly, a few months before; foreign oil workers had flooded the area. That would explain the newly paved roads we’d driven in on and the ridiculous number of foreign men we’d seen driving SUVs. So we checked into a dingy, disgusting hotel and prayed that there weren’t any cockroaches. It was only for a night anyway.

A few hours after we arrived, my head started throbbing. I was starting to sweat again and my head felt like it was on fire. Any time I tried to get up I felt like I was going to be sick. I told Jared that I needed to go to a hospital and he heroically managed to find a taxi driver to take us to a nearby clinic (I say heroically because we didn’t speak any Portuguese and the hotel people didn’t speak much English). Standing up to go out to the taxi I threw up all over the hotel room floor. I began to sob because I didn’t know what was wrong and I wasn’t sure that there was anyone in this tiny little town that could help me and because I’d never felt my head so hot in my life. We arrived at the clinic and I pushed into the waiting room and marched up to a nurse. I pointed to my forehead and said “hot” which she didn’t seem to understand. I tried “caliente” (not knowing the word for “hot” in Portuguese but thinking that Spanish might be similar) but she didn’t seem to get that either. Finally, she reached out and tried to hand me a single pill. I didn’t know what it was and I definitely wasn’t going to take it. I barked at her that I wanted to see a doctor. This she seemed to get. A few minutes later a doctor walked in, and fortunately, he spoke a little English. I explained my symptoms to him, to which he responded, “It sounds like you have malaria.” “What?” I replied. “That can’t be. I’ve been taking my antimalarial pills every day as recommended.” He looked at my arms and my face and could see that they were dotted with mosquito bites. “Yes it is still possible to get it,” he responded. “Antimalarial pills do not prevent malaria but rather they significantly weaken the disease if it enters your body.” I was shocked. I had no idea that this could happen. I’d been cautious and had used the bug net at nighttime, worn bug repellent, and long pants and shirts and yet I had still been getting bitten every night. He tested my blood for signs of the disease and nothing came up but because my symptoms matched those of malaria he decided that the best course of action was to treat me anyway. I was prescribed the full cocktail of treatment including the 8-pill anti-malarial set to be taken over 4 days, ibuprofen to be taken 3 times a day, and some other mystery pill. Altogether, I would be taking 15 pills a day for one week.

The next morning Jared asked if I was ready to continue south. I still felt terrible and did not want to get into a cramped bus in which I would quite possibly vomit, but I knew that we needed to keep moving. Jared encouraged me and said that if we could just make it to our destination of Ibo Island we could stay there for a few days and I could relax and recover. As much as I didn’t want to travel while being sick, I knew he was right. And so we continued south and a day later we arrived on Ibo Island.

Now I’m not going to sugar coat this and say that everything was fine. It took me about a whole week to recover from my sickness and it was a miserable week. I had seriously considered going home because I couldn’t imagine continuing on for another 5 weeks the way I was feeling. I give a lot of credit to Jared who put up with me, and more than that, took care of me throughout the whole week. Not only was I sick, but as a result of my sickness, I was irritable, difficult, and rude to other people around me. On one bus ride I laid down across a whole bench because I didn’t feel good, while other people, women with children and babies, had to squish together on the floor of the truck. All because I wasn’t feeling well. It was not my finest moment and looking back I’m ashamed of how selfish I was and how I let my sickness overtake my mood, and worse, my humanity.

But I did eventually get better, and thankfully, we were able to continue our adventure.


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