One year on. How did that happen? Life goes on pretty much as before apart from our road trip in July. For lack of anything else to do and tight finances, we decided to hop in the tank and drive west towards Lake Tanganyika. We found that this was a very long way to drive, that the roads were quite dreadful at times, that Tanzania gets wilder as you venture west and that it is a beautiful country. We set off from Moshi, full of promise and enthusiasm for the unknown road ahead. Armed with a tent, provisions and water, what could possibly go wrong? Our destination was Kigoma on the lake, where we aimed to spend a few nights and trek to see the chimps. On the way there we passed some small towns, many tiny villages and not much else. Stunning views, friendly people, stranded people, broken down cars, overturned lorries, many cows and goats and rivers and very long dusty roads.
Despite warnings of bandits, breakdowns and poor roads we encountered nothing but kindness. We are strangers in this country but are welcomed everywhere we go. We are travellers interested in seeing the country and talking to people and the smiles we get are priceless and welcoming. People go out of their way to help us, we never feel threatened or frightened and there is always the feeling that whatever happens will be ok. It is shameful that we do not, in general, give the same welcome to those who choose to come an live in Europe! Having followed the news about the migrants dying by the hundreds at sea and the ones “trapped” in Calais and being treated like animals, I feel humbled that people here have it in their heart to welcome us as white people who once colonised their country, treated them worse than animals and were part of the slave trade. Not only that, but some white people continue to profit from the spoils of Africa by continuing to live and exploit the country and the people as they did so in colonial times.
So how come “we” are still welcomed “here” with open arms, kindness and generosity and “they” are not welcomed “there”? It saddens me to see such greed and hypocrisy still so entrenched.
So on a more positive note, get out there and explore. It is a beautiful country with kind, generous people. On the road, we stopped to give people lifts and to help those who had broken down. One car, the only car, in front of us near Kahama, blew a tire. It went flying off into the bush. We stopped to help and were met with intense gratitude. It turned out the guy we helped was the District engineer for Kahama and he insisted on helping us find somewhere to stay. We ended up sitting with him and some of his colleagues for the evening as they insisted on buying us drink after drink and discussing politics. We had to refuse dinner and a night out clubbing!
We had “interesting” breakfasts in the local hotels we stayed at. A good introduction was liver stew and spaghetti with chicken broth. What I would have given for a bowl of muesli… The general chaos was the same in all the towns we passed. To a western eye, chaos prevails. Nothing seems to make sense or follow what we tend to see as logical and rational.
We stopped in Babati, Singida, Kahama, Kibondo and finally Kigoma. In Singida region we saw the Nyaturu tribes, in Kahama a huge gold mine and in Kibondo we were transported to a wild west town! After travelling for over 1,500kms we finally arrived, dusty and in awe of the scenery we had seen, the wilderness and the lack of other white people. For a time, we were celebrities and aroused great curiosity in the people we came across. I wonder what it was like 100 years ago and more…
Kigoma turned out to be a pleasant small town with a manageable market. Kigoma the largest port on Lake Tanganyika since historically it was the only one that had a functioning railway connection. The railway still runs to Kigoma but it is sporadic and unrealiable. According to Michael Palin: “The train is not in good shape. Most of the windows are broken, and that’s only in First Class. There are, considerately, two types of lavatory, announced on their doors as ‘High Type’ (European) and ‘Low Type’ (non-European). Once we are underway, I approach the High Type, prepared for the worst, only to find that it is not there at all. The High Type has vanished, leaving behind only a hole in the floor.” The train station at Kigoma is a beautiful building dating from the German times.
The MV Liemba sails every week from Kigoma to Mpulungu in Zambia at the southern tip of the lake, stopping at a number of other lakeside towns in Tanzania on the way. It is incredible that this old boat still chugs along the lake. Built as a warship in Germany, she was carried in pieces overland and assembled on Lake Tanganyika in 1913. At the end of the Great War she was scuttled by the Germans, and lay on the bottom of the lake until raised and refitted by the British in 1922. She was in regular operation as a steamship before being converted to diesel in 1978. After eighty years she remains the only way out of Kigoma to the south or to the west.
We stayed by the lake in what looked like paradise, beautiful small beach, zebras and monkeys wandering about, no people, no power, peaceful and restful.
We visited Ujiji where Stanley famously “found” Dr Livingstone in 1871. Not a lot there but a small museum with a wonderful guide who met Michael Palin during the filming of Pole to Pole. He was very excited to speak to us about Palin and asked that we pass on his regards. The location of this historic meeting is now a small museum in a well-tended garden on a hill above the busy waterfront. A forbidding, lumpish grey monument, ‘erected by the Government of Tanganyika Territory’ in 1927, stands beneath two mango trees said to be descendants of the one under which Livingstone and Stanley met. On it is carved a map of Africa with a cross incised into it. It’s a brutal and arrogant image. I am not sure how I feel about the place but the locals seem bursting with pride that the “white people” came here to spread religion and to want to give them a better life. I struggle with my view of colonisation and the local people’s view. How can we see it in such different ways? To me, we are arrogant whites coming to Africa spreading religion and civilisation but to most Africans I speak to, we are the ones who brought education, medicine, religion… I generalise, I know, but I am confused….
The remainder of our time in Kigoma was spent by the lake. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest. Having ascertained that the risk of bilharzia is low as the water is not stagnant, that crocodiles would not come in this far and sea serpents are all we had to watch out for, I we made the most of the lake. The water was clear and cool, the surroundings quite beautiful. No sailing boats or water-sporters to disturb the peace. Only the barely perceptible wake of a passing dugout troubles the placid water. It felt like the Caribbean in Africa and without people. Monkeys came to the water to drink, fish swam around us (lots of cichlids), zebras walked about the forest, not much else…
To finish off this leg of our journey we visited Gombe National Park, previous home of the famous Jane Goodall.
There are no roads to Gombe Park so we take a trip on a local boat to the entrance. The scenery along the lakeshore is stunning, green mountains and troops of baboons entertain us on out long journey. We pass packed boats coming from Burundi and the Congo, we exchange curious stares…
We finally reach the park where more baboons roam on the beach and start our trek with the obligatory guide who assures us we will find the chimps. We walk through beautiful forest, there are no other people apart from a couple of small groups leaving the park. We pass by Jane Goodall’s house and continue uphill.
An hour or so later, we find a chimp high up on a tree. It’s breakfast time for chimps and they like to eat high up on the trees. We wait and wait and start thinking that this is it, they are not coming down until one comes down and them another and another! They walk right past our legs and suddenly an excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. We are warned that they are hunting monkeys and that we should be careful.
.Well, that was quite amazing and so we continued our walk through the forest up to the waterfalls where we sat for a while taking it all in.
Back to camp and onwards to more destinations.
To be continued…