Posts tagged ‘Tanzania’

Road reveries in Tanzania

As beautiful as Lake Tanganyika is we can not stay here forever, or can we?  After much deliberation and pondering, we decide to head off in the opposite direction.  Let’s go to Kitavi Park, yes, it is bloody far and the roads are awful but it sounds rather exciting.  We seem to have shed our trepidations about breaking down in the middle of nowhere, in fact, we discuss it and come to the conclusion that we like the feeling of uneasiness that being in the middle of nowhere brings.  So off we go into even wilder territory.

1023The drive to Katavi Park looks short enough on the map.  As usual it turns out to be a very long way!  The road is so bad that after 20ks we both wonder if we should perhaps turn back.  Of course not, let’s continue, silly idea, maybe the road will improve.  Well, it does not improve at all and it takes hours to cover a few ks.  It is beautiful though and deserted.  Geoff is fretting about petrol, as per usual, I tend to drive way past the reserve light is flashing.  We stop at a small village and get some petrol, they always seem to have some in plastic containers which is handy.  People come to see us and gather around, probably wondering what on earth we are doing there, covered in dust and without petrol.  Still, they are friendly and helpful and I enjoy trying to talk to the women who just giggle and laugh at me.


On we go.  We give a lift to a man who appears to be stranded next to his broken motorbike.  He is young and very friendly but not long after we start driving he starts sobbing and sobbing.  Unable to communicate due to language barriers, we continue and hope that he is not a mass murderer as he is sitting next to the kids.  When we finally drop him, he stops crying and will not stop thanking us.  Eventually we manage to “get rid” of him and feel rather relieved.  What was that about?!

Arriving in Sitalike feels like a victory and the car is still in one piece.  There are two places to stay so not too hard to decide.  Both run down and lacking in facilities so we choose the one closer to the river and the hippos.  It is a beautiful location and our host, a Tanzanian woman from Moshi, is so welcoming and helpful that we fall in love with the place.  She cooks really good food too which makes us very happy and at night she lights a fire for us by the river.  Our little cabin is by the water’s edge and we can see and hear the hippos.  Flora assures us that they are not dangerous and that the fire will keep them away from us.  I agree that they do look extremely cute and cuddly but do some research anyway and find out that after the mosquito, the hippo is the second most dangerous animal in Africa and is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal.  I also think that being so huge they are probably slow but I later observe that they are bloody fast!  So sitting out by the fire in total darkness (there is no electricity here) is not so relaxing after all.  I still think they are cute though.  At night we can hear them walking about and making their incredible calling noises.


A whole hotel just for us!


River outside the cabin







Relaxing (kind of) by the hippo river

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From this base we explore Katavi Park, Tanzania’s third largest national park.  It lies in the remove southwest part of the Tanzania within a truncated arm of the Rift Valley.  It is isolated and seldom visited and a true wilderness.  We spent two days in the park and did not see anybody apart from one safari car with a couple of people.  We got lost as the only track often disappears and the map was useless but eventually found our way back.  The park is beautiful and has two distinctive areas.  One area is mainly lake and has thousands of hippos, the other area is drier and has huge crocodiles, giraffes and elephants.  Funnily enough when we went into the park, the rangers failed to warn us that the elephants are dangerous and not used to humans so that when they see a car they either charge or run away.  We found the first to be true.  I love elephants so was rather excited, as usual, when I spotted a family.  They, however, were not so pleased to see us.  The large male proceeded to waft its massive ears and trumpet.  Ok, I know you are not supposed to run, or in this case drive off very fast, but that is what we did.  Further encounters with elephants were rather scary from then on!


Park entrance


Out and about in the park


Wow they are huge!




Hippos running in the water, they were so fast!!!


Hippo pool


Spot the hippo


Sausage tree




Park road


Park entrance


Park road


Big teeth


Park road

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After so much wilderness we are ready to hit the big city.  Mwanza here we come!  The second largest city in Tanzania and we are excited.  There will be shops, restaurants, stuff!  Mwanza turns out to be big, busy and chaotic.  We find that we are craving the wilderness shortly after arriving.  We settle in a “posh” hotel with a pool to try and create some sort of balance.  The hotel is nice enough but we do not like being in a city.  We explore the town.  The market is a nightmare of people, stalls, very narrow passages, barging, noise….  We feel like screaming and go looking for a supermarket instead where we heard you can buy interesting food.  I get excited at the sight of Golden Syrup.  Odd as normally I would not give it a second glance.  I also buy garlic salt and biscuits.  We hike up to Capri Point where you get wonderful views of Lake Victoria and Mwanza and chill by the lake with a drink.  Two nights feels more than enough and we decide to go on to the Serengeti.  Onwards…


Roadside boutique


Sunset over Mwanza


Lake Victoria at dusk


Lake Victoria from Capri Point


Come on boys!


Joshua has got big and strong!


Boy crossing the lake on some weird contraption


Where to next?

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One year on…

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.


The long road ahead and nice tarmac too.


Only the odd bike for company….


One of many local churches


Mangoes and more mangoes


Local boutique


Charcoal transport


Water transport


Where is the tarmac gone?!


Singuida lake


Singuida lake


Not quite sure what to choose for breakfast….


Bananas for the road


Typical dusty roads, miles and miles….

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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…

Train station

Kigoma train station

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.


Still going strong!

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.


Hope they do not eat clothes…


Sunset over the lake from our camp

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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….


Daily life in Ujiji


Maybe another time.


Arsenal is everywhere!


Local accommodation in Ujiji


“Give my regards to Palin”

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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…

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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…

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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.


Park entrance


Beach at Gombe Park


Our boat

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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.


Baby playing


Spot the tiny baby’s head!


A spot of grooming


That is close!


Baby teeth

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.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.

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Back to camp and onwards to more destinations.

To be continued…

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