Back on our own, no more luxury lodges or guides or vehicle, we must cross Africaâ€™s largest lake to get to Uganda (via Bukoba), where we will meet up with Tayâ€™s long-lost Great Aunt Linda, granddaughter of the esteemed Dr. Stewart, development worker with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and one of Tayâ€™s inspirations for continued work abroad, even though they have only met once.
But first, Lake Victoria, notorious for ferry sinkings (the latest disaster happened a few weeks ago), although in reality, only cargo boats are dangerous; weâ€™ll be in a first-class cabin on the M/V Victoria, an overnight passenger ship, but only if we can book a cabin and find out what day the boat leaves.
Upon arrival in Mwanza, with no helpful information in our guidebook (our Insight Guide to Tanzania, the only one available in the bookstore in Colombo, has pretty pictures, detailed maps, and intelligent writing, but is crap for nuts-and-bolts practical data, the main reason we use guidebooks) and not sure what to do, I step into a barber shop and call the local Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), whose blog I discovered quite by accident the morning we departed Moshi and whose number I quickly scrawled into my journal.
Andrew suggests a few hotels, all of which are booked, and our choice is to either settle for a spartan $3 cell with dubious security, or throw down for an overpriced $40 room across town. Spoiled rotten from our safari, we blow our budget and check into an â€œexecutive suiteâ€ at Hotel La Kairo. The next day, we meet Andrew at the Post Office Internet CafÃ©, and he takes us for a walk along the lakeshore to a Chinese restaurant with a beautiful view.
PCVs are good for local knowledge, language tips, expat gossip, and good conversation over a cheap beer (or three). I usually try to look them up during my travels, especially when researching a book or an article, as they also are a source of invaluable local contacts; it is amazing that in a year of travel, Andrew is the first active volunteer weâ€™ve met on the road.
Andrew is nine months into his two-and-a-half-year service, a recent engineering graduate from North Carolina whose assignment is teaching math at the Nsumba Boysâ€™ School, half-hour outside Mwanza. There are a few other volunteers in the area, all health and education workers, but out of Tanzaniaâ€™s 110 PCVs, the lake volunteers are the most isolated, more than a 30-hour bus ride from the capital (they must travel via Nairobi, Kenya). Andrew will be making this trip next month, for a training with his fellow volunteers where he will compete in the 2006 Peace Corps Tanzania Mullet-Festâ€”thus the shaggy â€˜do and beard (click here if you are unsure what a mullet is). I think Andrewâ€™s plan of complimenting his mullet with a handlebar mustache, cut-off tee, and Carolina twang, makes him a strong contender.
We spend a little more than 48 hours in Mwanza, including an afternoon trip to Andrew’s site, where we admire the largest PCV library we’ve ever seen (this collection of books has been passed down over numerous volunteers) and that night, we board the Victoria at 10 pm, keeping in mind the last point of advice from our hotel door: