Irfan and Omar were to make a few business calls after breakfast. I tagged along to further appreciate the countryside. The landscape is pristine and the air absolutely cool and clean. I was so taken in by the surroundings that I absent mindedly took off the seat belt, lowered the window and started clicking away as if there would be no tomorrow. This went on for a while till we were once again waved down by traffic cops. As soon as we stopped a cop came near me and told the driver, Steve, that I was not wearing the seatbelt. I tried to explain that as a tourist I was clicking away and had inadvertently taken off the belt. The cop would have none of it. Negotiations began almost immediately. Finally, the fine was reduced to Tshs 2000. The cops send us on our way with a smile and the greeting ‘Safari njema’ (Safe journey).
While Irfan and Omar made their business calls I chatted up the taciturn Steve. I wanted to appreciate the ‘Bantu’ tribes people in their original environment. Very reluctantly he pointed out a few people, who were on their way to work, and asked me to observe their short stature, darker complexion, thick lips and short curly hair. This southern part of Tanzania is rich in natural deposits of coal, copper, iron and manganese ores and gold. On the way back to Mbeya I requested to be taken to a railway station to appreciate the facilities. Irfan and Omar took me to two. We went first to the Mbeya railway station, which is a major transit point on the Tazara Railway line which links Tanzania and Zambia. The gauge is slightly over a metre – 1067mm to be precise. The fact that little investment is being done on the railway system is amply evident from the condition of the railway wagons and locomotives. Uyole railway station is just a few kms away from Mbeya. The station is not functional now. The loop lines have been spiked and the signaling and communication systems are defunct. When we were at the stations we saw many children returning home from school. When I asked some of them for a photograph many of them ran away. It took Omar’s vernacular skills to get them to come together for a photograph.
Instead of staying another night at Mbeya we decided to drive back to Dar. This meant that we would have to drive through night, Steve willing. He agreed to it and Irfan said that he would take over at the wheel if Steve felt tired. We had ahead of us 14 hours of travel to get back to Dar. Before checking out from the Mbeya Hotel Omar took me on a walk through the city centre and pointed out Bantus, Pygmies, Somalis, Masais and mixed tribespeople. Irrespective of the tribes the Tanzanian geniality could be seen everywhere.
It was pitch dark when we entered the road through Mikumi NP. I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife. I was not disappointed. A ‘tall’ giraffe darted across the road at speed and we almost ran into an angry elephant. Memorable moments. All along the way eateries were open to serve the fairly heavy cargo vehicle movement. We stopped at one such place and had a quick bite, which helped Steve to relax and stretch his legs a bit. We could make out that he was tiring. I offered to drive but Steve wouldn’t hear of it. We resumed the journey and I promptly dozed off.