Part 1: Reiselust calling to the faraway towns
It’s just past 7 in the evening when we start out from Berlin ZOB. I’ve managed to fit all I want to take into a 55+15l backpack and a daypack. The rest of my stuff is in storage. This is the first time I’m doing such a long trip on a bus (not counting that one time back at school when we went to London). My sisters are there to give me one last hug and chocolate and to wish me an incredible journey. My dad’s there to let me know – again – that he doesn’t approve of me doing this. You guessed it: he certainly wouldn’t go to Africa… As luck would have it Max – a former intern at my last job and Oxford student – is on my bus. So there should at least be some entertainment.
Part 2: Brussels is burning
The driver’s nice. When we get into Brussels, Belgium, at five something in the morning, we have to change buses. He keeps repeating the same warning: “Do NOT leave any of your luggage unattended! There are thieves all over the coach station, especially at this time of day and week. Be CAREFUL!” Yeah, whatever! It’s early, and Brussels coach station isn’t the best organized. We see this ancient man bustling around a bus that reads “To London.” Please let this be not true! He’s never gonna get us there! But of course, that’s our bus. We store our stuff and hop on. The old driver keeps running around – clearly and completely overwhelmed. And of course, the worst case scenario materializes: guy gets on the bus; sits down in a row next to a backpack that had already been there; so we – though suspicious – trust, he’s just been to the loo; guy gets up, leaves the bus – with the backpack; walks right past the old driver; old driver says nothing. As the guy makes a dash it’s dawning on us: someone just got robbed. It must have been the old driver. When he finds out, he’s mad as hell. But still overwhelmed. Still running around, not understanding what’s going on. And none of the officials at the coach station seems to be ready to help. Then a new driver arrives – he’ll take us to London. Relief. And concern: the old driver doesn’t know to call the police. Instead, he gets on another bus to take him back home. We who are left on the bus are eying everyone coming near with suspicion. Then we leave Brussels behind. It’s 7 in the morning.
Part 3: Engines stop running
It’s a smooth ride through Northern France. We take a quick break. In contrast to the one we did before in Hanover Garbsen, Germany, they’re serving cheap coffee here, and toilets are just 30 instead of 70 cents. When we arrive in Calais border control seems to go just as smooth. Until the British decide to hold and thoroughly search one of the other passengers. The driver remains calm “They say, it’s just five minutes.” – “You said that four times five minutes ago!” exclaims one of the German passengers. German as he is he keeps pointing at the schedule: “You have a schedule to stick to! You have to make a decision!” The driver remains calm. “They say, it’s just five minutes.” When we finally make it to the train it’s past 11 – two trains later than expected. But the sun is shining. I’m mildly excited about the technology involved in taking a bus across (below) the Channel and just for fun jump out of a moving bus.
Part 4: Yes, I was there, too
We make it to London just a little after schedule. 19 hours and a bit more on a bus (buses) with Max. It was a pleasure. Though sleep was rare, and we got slightly more excitement than we had bargained for. The sun is beaming down in London. Who said we would have a golden October? Me! Max says goodbye. Getting from Victoria Coach Station to the hostel in Swiss Cottage turns out to be a doddle. I check in, have a shower, see a room mate come in and run straight back out – in tears. Then I take a walk and notice my 100-USD DKNY sunglasses are broken. Darn! Probably only the first of a few things that’ll need replacing with cheap in the coming months. Welcome to the world of budget backpacking!
PS: Now dinner’s been done (1 GBP for two prawn sandwiches at Marks & Spencer) I’m enjoying my 2 GBP pint-of. And while I’m finishing these lines, the first 24 hours of my Great African Adventure have passed. I’m still doing wonderfully.
Today’s title was brought to you by The Clash: