After leaving the generally super smooth tarmac of Rwanda behind, and once again being amazed at the smoothness of the border operation (a one stop shop), it was a shock hitting the broken, pot holed roads of northern Tanzania. The first 100km was horrendous, and took forever, much of it taken at not much more than walking pace, you really don’t want to break-down in these parts! This is a major border crossing and an important trade route, we passed (in both directions) many many trucks loaded up, including dozens of fuel tankers. And the number that were broken down, or just merely “broken” on this “road” was unbelievable. Rwanda must look across their border and shake their heads at the mess on the other side.
This part of our journey south took so long we ended up staying in the front of a very grotty guest house in Nyakanazi that seemed set up to supply budget (very budget) rooms for truck drivers, none of which were en-suite. We agreed a price to camp in their “secure carpark” (well there was an armed guard), and were shown the shared toilet and shower. Lets just say that thank god for our onboard toilet and shower!!!!! That was a very noisy night, as we were in the centre of a scruffy little town, and many of the trucks were coming and going very early in the morning, probably to get an early start on that shocking road.
The other shock entering Tanzania from Rwanda is the state of the place. Rwanda is by far the cleanest, tidiest country in Africa, with zero rubbish anywhere, here in the early morning light there were plastic bags, bottles etc everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, Tanzania isn’t particularly dirty, it’s just a normal African country with lots of rubbish lying around, but Rwanda proves that it doesn’t have to be like this. We ended up staying in a couple more hotel carparks (obviously sleeping in the truck), but usually we were given a room to use the shower and toilet. This is not on the usual tourist route, and there are no camping facilities.
This part of northern Tanzania is quite green and as you go past the southern part of Lake Victoria, it starts to get a lot drier and more arid, and the population really starts to thin out, mostly I guess because of the lack of water.
So what does an African President do with such a huge dry, empty area in the centre of his country? Surely its obvious…….. Move the capital and that includes the parliament, administration, all the foreign embassies, etc, etc to Dodoma, a tiny town with no infrastructure to cope with this, like I say its obvious….. We drove through this little town, right in the centre of what I called “The Badlands”, and witnessed the huge amount of money that the government must be spending on this crazy “pet project”. Where the hell they are going to house all these people that are coming here to work, and more importantly, where is the water going to come from (its about 600km to Lake Victoria), I really don’t know. We heard from one person that the US has refused to relocate their American Embassy from Dar Es Salaam, at the cost of millions of dollars. There are millions of people struggling to live in Tanzania (most aren’t seen by many doing the tourist trail), and all this money is being wasted trying to build a new city where no-one wants to live, like I said CRAZY!
On this road, from Nzega, through Singida, Dodoma, to Iringa (about 1,000km) we devised a new game to pass the hours while driving this very boring stretch of tarmac. Jac listed out the alphabet, A-Z on a piece of paper then we both took it in turns to pick a letter until we had 13 letters each. Then with our iPod set on shuffle in our trusty Sony stereo, we ticked off each letter as an artist came on, e.g. A for Arctic Monkey’s, W for The Who, etc, I was confident of a fairly swift victory, at one point I was 8-4 up and cruising…..
Then Jac started coming back with weird and wonderful “one hit wonders” that I didn’t even know was on there. Within no time (well about 3 or 4 hours) of “banging tunes” Jac was 12-8 up on me, I couldn’t believe it, but I still had hope and she still had a “Q” to get, and we are not big “Queen” fans. 12-9, and it was starting to get tense, and then from no-where “Bohemian Rapsody” popped up from an old compilation album that I didn’t even know we had. I was gutted, Jac was ecstatic, oh how those hours just flew by………..
Also on this road, we both got really mad! We ended up catching up with an open truck full of donkeys, and they seemed nice and calm and not stressed at all (not sure where they were going but it wasn’t looking good for Donkey and Co), then as we were looking to overtake the truck a guy appeared in the back with a huge length of plastic pipe and started hitting the donkeys, for seemingly no reason other than to show off to us. I started blasting our horn at him, but it just seemed to make it worse, he was a nasty bit of work, and we had no option other than to overtake the truck and hope to forget about it. In Europe we aren’t used to this sort of behaviour, but in Africa it is deemed acceptable. Its a side of Africa that we don’t like to see, we know that animals are treated badly and sometimes with contempt, but we certainly don’t have to like it.
After stopping in Iringa to stock up on a few bits and pieces and getting some much needed Diesel in the belly of Colonel K, we camped that night next to some stone age excavations, we were told that the best view of the “ruins” of Isimila was from a short climb up on some nearby rocks.
We sat up on the rocks for quite some time in the early morning sun, it was a really nice spot.
And then unbelievably a dog that had spent the night sleeping under Colonel K appeared, he’d followed us to the top, was he protecting us? Who knows, but once again it was tempting to scoop him up and take him with us.
We decided to once again stop at Kisolanza Farm, we loved it here last time (about 3 months ago on our journey north) and once again it didn’t disappoint. We caught up on all our washing, first day clothes, second day was bedding and towels, oh the romance of long tern overloading eh….
It was nice to be away from the wet seasons of Uganda and Rwanda, but it was back to being hot with a vengeance. Incredibly at Kisolanza Farm we had our hair cut here, yes that included Jac getting her colour or “foils” (what ever that is) done, all carried out very professionally by Layla, in her purpose built salon (shed).
Check out that spooky face in the bottom of the mirror!
We ended up staying here for a week, and did quite a bit of walking late in the afternoon’s once it started to cool off a little, exploring the huge farm here. It really is a beautiful place, and we were made very welcome by the owner Nikki and her staff.
Within the area we were camping, the variety of birdlife was incredible with Waxbills, Finches, etc, all vying for your attention.
From here we had to retrace our steps back to the town of Mbeya, and this meant driving back through the very extended road works. Here in Africa if a road is being upgraded then the easiest way to do it is to put in a temporary road alongside the part to be upgraded. In this case the temporary sections (two of which were about 40km long) are in sand/mud, depending on the conditions and are used by hundreds of trucks, buses, motor bikes, and cars every hour, all at crazy speeds creating zero visibility and mostly in very narrow places. Driving on these parts takes forever, and adds about 3 hours to your journey.
At Mbeya we had to make a decision, our original idea was to drive from Mbeya north westwards up to Lake Tanganyika and cross the border into the far north of Zambia at Mbala, but we met a truck driver that advised us not to use this crossing as he had previously had problems here. The first time he had his diesel syphoned out of his tank, and the second time he had his spare wheel stolen, he also advised us that the first 800km of this rout ,until it gets to the Great North Road is very bad. The other road into Zambia from Mbeya is better but not very interesting, so our other option was to return via Malawi. The main down side of this was cost, visa’s into Malawi are $75 each and the road tax for Colonel K is over $50, but we could go through the country by a different route. After staying at a coffee farm for a couple of nights and trying to find out more information of the Zambia route, with little success we decided to go via Malawi.
The border crossing from Tanzania into Malawi was a joke! It started badly with a guy at a barrier into the Tanzanian side demanding $5 before he would open the barrier to let us in, we refuse. I lost my temper and started revving the engine and threatening to drive straight through the metal barrier, Jac tried polite…… I lost it !!!!!! He opened the barrier, not sure which method worked but we never paid him. Still not one dollar of a bribe has left our pockets on this trip, and it wasn’t going to start with such an idiot trying to rip off a pair of Mzunga’s!
After leaving the Tanzanian side we got to the Malawi border control, paid our $150 for two Visa’a, and went to customs to pay our road tax and get our Carnet stamped, paperwork was done reasonably quickly, but the customs officer told us we had to go to the the cashier around the corner to pay our $52, no problem, the queue was fairly short, with only about 7 or 8 truck drivers (locals) waiting to pay. It was then that we realised that these weren’t the drivers but agents paid to queue up for the truck drivers to sort out their road tax, each person in the queue had a wad of papers to be paid and stamped, maybe up to 20 vehicles worth each. After 30 minutes in the “queue” and not moving an inch, I was starting to get very, very hot (obviously no fans or aircon in these buildings) and agitated, eventually the customs guy saw us and took pity on us, took our paperwork and our $52 and went with it into the rear of the cashier’s office and gave it to the “topman”, we could see a conversation starting and fingers pointing at us from the back of the office, but somehow we had jumped the queue, papers were stamped and we were out of there. All we needed now was the barrier lifted again into Malawi, and in true Malawian style this took another 15 to 20 minutes and another stamp, very frustrating. These truck drivers deserve a medal at these borders, they can be stuck there for days on end trying to get through with their goods, all they want to do is pay their road tax….. crazy.
We couldn’t go into Malawi without stopping at Chitimba Camp and seeing Eddie and Carman the Dutch owners. Last time we went to Chitimba was 3 months ago, we had a great time there and we ended up staying a week, this time the plan was only to stop for a couple of days, then move on. Of course that never happened, its too nice a place and we ended up staying for a week again. As expected we were met very warmly (like old friends) by Ed and Carmen, they weren’t expecting to ever see us again at their lovely backpackers/campsite. This time the place was much quieter, with most of the Overland tour trucks (the happy buses, as we like to call them), now going into their quiet period on their trips from Nairobi to Capetown in about 60 days, and then back again. But we had a great time again, cooling down and swimming in Lake Malawi a couple of times a day.
As always in Malawi, its on the beach at the lake that you meet the locals (or walking to the nearby village), and especially the local kids, and we met some fantastic kids.
We knew we had stayed at Chitimba for maybe a little too long, when one morning as we walked up to the village, we had to go past the local school, and a large number of the kids were running out of the school shouting “Jacqui”, and “Vinnie”, and “SpiderMan” (I must admit I did mention to a few kids the previous day, that I was really SpiderMan), and suddenly they were holding our hands and didn’t want to go back to school!!!! We had to promise them that in return for them going back to school, we would play with them later on the beach.
Eddie Petters is a published photographer, (and a really nice guy), and we were lucky enough to have him on the beach with us for a couple of evenings snapping a few photos of us, the quality is plain to see.
These kids completely wore me out, day after day the kids wanted me to pick them up and throw them into the lake, time after time, it was exhausting, but they were so much fun.
Despite these kids spending most day after school in the lake, virtually all of them cannot swim .Bizarrely a couple of them could swim underwater until they had to come up for air, but none could swim once they were out of their depth, so I decided that the easiest way to have a break from the kids was to tell them that “I was going to swim to Tanzania” (about 50km away, and certainly not visable), so off I would swim out into the deep water, the trouble is about half a dozen of them followed me!!!! All I could hear was “Going to Tanzania”, “Going to Tanzania”………. I had to turn around to stop a drowning accident! I could see the BBC headlines “SpiderMan Drowns Six Malawian Children”, not ideal for our onward travels really.
Once again the kids showed us how agile and flexible they are, and they were proud to show off their skills.
Not once, did we ever see a parent with any of the kids at the lake, its no wonder that they latch onto Mzunga’s that are willing to spend a bit of time with them.
Whilst at Chitimba we saw this very strange pure white frog in the sand, and also a stunning chameleon in a creeping plant.
We also met a few overland travellers at Chitimba Camp, and spent many hours talking about each others varied travels here in Africa. We are definitely a dying breed in Africa so its always good to meet other independent overlanders.
We are going to follow the highland route through Malawi, and stay away from the lake after Chitimba, as we have already seen most of that part of the country. The Lake Malawi shore is stunning so we hope we won’t regret that decision.
Next stop Mzuzu, where theres a nice modern Supermarket, and there is the promise of Yum Yum Caramel Crunch Peanut Butter (the food of Gods) or YYCCPB for short.
Thanks for reading