Starting Point: Mpulungu, Zambia
End Point: Bujumbura, Burundi
Approximately 750kms over 25 days
Starting Point: Mpulungu, Zambia
End Point: Bujumbura, Burundi
Approximately 750kms over 25 days
13th July 2016 – Lake Shore Lodge, Tanganyika
We’re at the tranquil little piece of paradise that is Lake Shore Lodge, near Kipili on Lake Tanganyika. Three years ago, I had driven through Tanzania on my way down to Cape Town and had stopped by to see South African owners Chris and Louise Horsfall. I had the most wonderful few days there, and knew I’d be back.
Lake Shore Lodge just happens to be a place where I feel completely and utterly relaxed. Chris and Lou are the most incredible hosts and can’t do enough to make my stay a pleasure every time. What’s not to love about this…
Chris is also my main source of information for the expedition as he has lived on the lake for seven years and has paddled from the south up to Kigoma himself. He is also my emergency contact if anything goes wrong…
After transporting the blue and green kayaks down from Nairobi atop my trusted Land Cruiser, I had planned to leave the vehicle at Lake Shore but we still needed to get the kayaks to the very bottom of the lake, 200km south. I had timed this to coincide with the schedule of the MV Liemba ferry; an old WWI gunship that is still in service and runs up and down the lake between Kigoma in the north of Tanzania, and Mpulungu in Zambia at the southern most point. The ferry only goes every two weeks and timing was essential.
“You guys are going to have to paddle out at about midnight and wait. She could be early, she could be late. I’m guessing you might be on your way at about 3am,” Chris informs us. I’m not looking forward to the mozzies…
As we’d received the kayaks a day before leaving Nairobi, Lake Shore was the first opportunity we would have to experience a little paddle before departure. We had one day to get everything together and haul ourselves onto the MV Liemba.
I’m not a paddler. Sitting in London in the months leading up to the expedition, I had no idea what kind of boat I should be looking for, and had no idea how far I would be able to paddle daily. It was all guess work really. But here is my rationale for my boat of choice.
I used a company called Fluid Kayaks – they were the only outfit I could find with a dealer in East Africa (Kris Collyer) who could arrange to get them to Kenya from South Africa for us. My choice… a flat bottom, plastic, sit-on-top kayak.
Most paddlers recoil in horror when I mention these three keywords in succession. In their minds, for long distance paddling, it just doesn’t make sense. But this was no ordinary paddling expedition.
Simon and I set about getting supplies packed into the boats, ready for our paddle out that same evening when Chris comes around the corner, looking slightly distressed.
“I have some bad news for you.” he says, hand on hip, “The Liemba is undergoing repairs in Kigoma and hasn’t left yet. They’re skipping this cycle and will resume in 2 weeks time.”
If you’ve ever met Chris Horsfall, you will undoubtably know that he is the biggest joker south of the equator and so my natural reaction was to tell him to bugger off.
Sadly, it was the truth and our transport to the bottom of the lake was no longer.
After much debating about what to do, we put aside the idea of Chris taking us down in his boat (fuel costs would have been horrendous) or driving us down (long round trip for him), we settled on finding a local fishing boat that could carry us and the kayaks down to the starting point, almost 200kms south.
It’s a squash, there’s barely enough space for the kayaks. Simon and I are perched on top of our kayak seats, and three local guys hop on – the driver, the bailer and one more for the ride…
What should have taken the better part of a day turns into a two day ordeal. We’re going at 10km/h. Saving fuel I’m guessing. We’re fortunate the waves aren’t too bad. Psychologically though, we’re undoing the entire first quarter of our trip. Watching the shore pass by without having to lift a finger, time seems to drag on forever and I a feeling of dread sweeps over me. Have I bitten off more than I can chew here.
This is a VERY long way, and it’s only a quarter of the lake…
After two cramped and lethargic days aboard, we reach Mpulungu in Zambia and pull into the port market get some last minute supplies before setting off for a further hour to the very southern most tip of the lake.
We’re finally here. The GPS confirms it. We’re greeted by the few villagers who live here. As we’ll come to discover, very few local Africans have seen a coloured plastic boat and so we’re swamped from the word go which makes the final pack fairly difficult.
It’s with an equal mix of wild anticipation, nerves and dread that I get into my kayak for the first leg. Simon isn’t far behind. “Asante sana,” I call back to our crew of three.
Let the expedition commence!
TO STAY: We stayed in Masai Camp on the outskirts of Arusha on the Overlanding trip with Absoulte Africa – it’s a place to pop up your tent but is nothing special. See Lonely Planet’s write up here.
TO EAT: Can’t fault the Blue Heron, we had a light lunch here and coffee – lovely garden atmosphere and definitely worth the visit. Blues and Chutney also comes very highly rated – it also has extremely good reports about the accommodation offered here. We also stopped at the Mango Tree for a few drinks which was pretty good, a nice local mix of people pull in here on the weekends.
TO DO: You could always go climb Kilimanjaro – something I did in 2008… We organised our trip through African Travel Resource, and would do so again.
TO STAY and EAT: I spent two nights with the tobacco farmers having dinner and drinks at the Orion Hotel, an old German hunting lodge in it’s heyday. It’s probably the only place that’s half way decent in town.
To STAY and EAT and DO: Our time at Lakeshore Lodge cannot be faulted. The resort has a range of accommodation types, from honeymoon type chalets, to smart bandas, to camping under the mango trees. The food is absolutely exquisite top restaurant-quality and there is a fully stocked bar with the most incredible lounge overlooking the lake. You’ll have to come off the beaten track to get here but it’s so worth it. The owner Chris will pick guests up from Sumbawanga if necessary. There is so much to do here – kayak, diving, boat tours, walks – and visits to nearby game parks can be arranged.
To STAY: We stayed at the Moravian Conference Hotel. It’s run by a Christian organisation so you’re pretty safe here. The rooms are simple but clean – two beds in each with an ensuite. At under £5/night, it’s more than adequate! It’s a dry establishment so you’ll need to go elsewhere if you want a beer or two.
To EAT: We had dinner at Forest Hill, a short trip from the Moravian Conference Centre. The owner was wonderfully friendly and the food was pretty standard but good for this part of the world – I would recommend it if you’re passing through. They also have rooms for the night here.
If you’re looking for a tailor-made and exclusive safari experience get hold of Brad Hansen of Hansen Safaris. Brad is extremely capable when it comes to accommodating his guests’ expectations and turning whatever adventure they desire into reality – walk like Livingstone through the bush, done! Armed with excellent local knowledge and heaps of bush sense, Brad doesn’t disappoint – give him a shout and see what he can muster up for you!
I used Vodacom. The coverage in cities is fine but the moment you’re out in the middle of nowhere, reception is zero. It’s the same with all the providers.
Nairobi (blue) to Arusha (red) – 170 miles (5 hours, great road, border crossing easy) – read about this stretch here
Arusha to Tabora (green) – 392 miles (they were doing road works near Arusha, good tar to Singida and then patchy gravel road to Tabora) this took around 10 hours… – read about this stretch here
Tabora to Katavi (yellow) – 275 miles (this road is very do-able but incredibly slow. It had been dry and so the roads were ok, very bumpy 20km/h driving. Wouldn’t like to do this in the rainy season!) Stopping for photos and taking it chilled, this took almost 12 hours – read about this stretch here
Katavi to Kipili LakeShore Lodge (purple) – 93 miles (took things slow as we completed the game drive through Katavi, roads quite corrugated for a long time and you’re not able to drive at pace, last stretch down to Kipili is a beautiful escarpment road) this took around 4 hours – read about this stretch here
Kipili LakeShore Lodge to Sumbawanga (teal) – 92 miles (ok dirt road) took 3 hours – read about this part here
Sumbawanga to Mbeya (blue) – 210 miles (first 40 miles are being rebuilt this road so it should be great in a few months, the rest was great tar, extremely congested with trucks near Tunduma due to Zambian border) took 5 hours – read about this part here
Mbeya to Songwe Malawi Border (red) – 70 miles (great tar all the way, absolutely beatufiul drive down the escarpment into Malawi) took 2 hours – SPEED COPS THE ENTIRE WAY (they sit in the many 50km/h zones) – read about this part here
23rd – 26th November 2013
I can’t explain the sense of awe we had on rising up over the escarpment and seeing Lake Tanganyika stretched out in front of us. This lake is rather special. Formed in the fissure of the Great Rift Valley, at 673kms long, Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake, the second deepest and the second largest by volume, in the world. At over 13 million years old, it’s also one of the oldest. Across it’s waters lies the forbidden DRC.
We were headed for Lakeshore Lodge, near Kipili on the eastern shores of the Lake Tanganyika. Lesanne had been in touch with the South African owners, Chris and Louise Horsfall, to arrange a photo shoot for her photographic book on Africa. Chris and Louise had very kindly agreed to have me stay with Lesanne. We came off the main road to Sumbawanga and down the escarpment track to the small fishing village of Kipili. The road narrows and just about disappears as you creep slowly past village huts and you are greeted by singing and dancing children along the way. There isn’t much room between the lake and the village and, at times, you’re driving over front lawns and under their fruit trees. This Lakeshore place sure was off the beaten track!
A huge sign, the length of the entrance wall greets you as you drive into the grounds… “Welcome to Lakeshore Lodge. Arrive as guests, leave as friends.” Never a more true phrase spoken.
The owners, Chris and Louise Horsfall originally from Joburg, had arrived in 2007 and built Lakeshore Lodge in this remote part of Tanzania. It’s exclusive, it’s a hidden gem and is so worth the visit – honeymooners, this is the place for you! Overlanders, you have to come well off the beaten track to get here but it’s so worth it.
The lodge has a range of luxury chalets on water’s edge, stylish bandas and a campsite under their mango trees. The heart of Lakeshore Lodge lies in it’s amazing lounge, restaurant and bar area where we spent the next few days hanging out with these amazing people.
Lesanne and I couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been treated to superbly stylish and luxurious chalet – the lake lapping the shore metres from the steps. The whole side of the chalet opens up to the water and before anything else, we took off our flip flops and went straight into the lake – the waters are crystal clear and the visibility is incredible.
With only eight or so rooms available here, you’re bound to get to know the other guests – and I’m so glad we did.
Louise’s brother Dave and his lovely wife Cath were over from South Africa to stay for six weeks. There were Nod and Emily, a couple from the UK. Nod was doing research on the slave trade in East Africa – super interesting to talk to. The last two guests were quite special. Mat, a Kiwi now living in Scotland, and Jaap, a Dutchie now living in Switzerland, were on their own overlanding adventure down from Europe to South Africa on their KTMs. They got in contact through mutual friends and met up for the first time in September in Genoa on their way down. They had also heard whispers of this magical place and had come down the length of the lake from Burundi. Having hung up their riding boots for a few days, they too were enjoying the respite from travelling. Jaap is a camera man by trade had the most incredible footage of their journey – all shot on GoPro and edited by Jaap along the way. I had a serious spell of camera skill envy. My monotonous footage shot from the driver’s window of roads ahead, paled in comparison to the stuff these guys had!
Over the next few days we had some of the most memorable times of my entire trip. Diving time! Chris called us all out with his vuvuzela and off we headed, towards the Congo. We moored near a small island a few kms off shore and to our suprise there was a whole village living on the island. The children jumped off rocks and swam out to us, happiest in the world these Tanganyika kids! Descending only a few metres, we followed Louise’s fins and cruised around massive boulders, taking in the lake’s special little cichlids.
Overlanding requires constant tinkering with the vehicle, the camping gear etc. I had tightened the steering bolts and I’d noticed the tent wasn’t sitting quite straight. On closer inspection, I realised that the second section had been sitting at an angle and the hinges had been warped over time. Handy Mat helped me get the bolts undone and hammered the hinges straight. This took the better part of an hour and by the time we came back to the bar area, all we could hear was shouting and singing. We found the rest of the crew in the lake… Cath shouting for more wine, and Dave and Lesanne singing with their glasses raised high out the water. What could we do but join in? The wine flowed, the singing got louder and more passionate and the sun set on Lake Tanganyika – one of the most incredible sunsets ever.
We had dinner in the old boat on the beach and were entertained by some incredibly inebriated individuals…
The following day was a little stormy, perfect time to sit and blog and watch more of the boys’ footage. Mat and Jaap were due to leave that morning, but as the rest of us were all leaving the following day, we promised them a big party that evening (as if the previous night hadn’t been enough). So they stayed, one more night…
We had the most incredible meal – pig on the spit. At Lakeshore Lodge, you all eat together like one big happy family, and you drink together like long lost friends. Conversation flowed, the drinks kept coming and before we knew it Chris had brought down two enormous speakers from upstairs. Thank goodness the closest neighbours are about 10kms away – music pumped, there was dancing, there was singing, there were body shots on the bar… With Chris behind the bar, the night went downhill fast, and the evening decended into anarchy. Bring on the ‘tequila omelettes’… one times raw egg, chew, swig of chilly from the bottle, swallow and chase with a shot of tequila. We all did it. I wish never to do it again. A couple of us found ourselves in the lake (despite Louise’s warning about a resident croc, and please don’t swim after dark). Someone arrived back in the bar from the lake, soaking wet just their undies as they couldn’t find their clothes in the dark… Nights like this will be remembered for a very long time. It was 4:30am by the time before I found myself a human prop and we staggerd down the path and off to bed.
Well the next morning was interesting. Lesanne and I were due to leave for Sumbawanga early in the morning and were taking Nod and Emily with us in the Beast. We only woke up after 11am and struggled with the very idea of getting packed and ready to go. Everyone was in the lounge, nursing hangovers – Dave was back on the beers… Mat and Jaap were due to get to Zambia that day, but on critical reflection decided that a short ride to Sumbawanga was tolerable, anything further would not be possible on a day like today. Time to leave these wonderful people, this magical place and move on… it was a sad goodbye to Chris, Louise, Dave and Cath.
26th November 2013
We got backpacks racheted down on the roof and with Nod and Emily in the back, Lesanne and I headed off up the escarpment and back to the main road that runs the length of the lake. This 150km journey took about 3 hours and was mostly on dirt. We’d agreed to meet Mat and Jaap at the Morovian Conference Centre, a christian establishment with clean double rooms and ensuite bathrooms. We decided to go out and have dinner at Forest Way, the four of us hopped in the Beast and Mat & Jaap caught a lift standing on the back bumper – just like in Africa… Still struggling from the previous night’s shenanigans, we had dinner and hit the sack early.
After a slow start the following day, we said our sad farewells… Mat and Jaap were headed for Zambia and then were hoping to make a daring dash through a short strip of the Congo. Lesanne was to travel with Nod down to Zambia by bus and Emily was to wait in Sumbawanga for Nod to come back in a week or so. My compass had been set for Malawi and so I turned south east for Mbeya.
Lesanne is one of the bravest young girls I have met, full of life and was such a pleasure to have on board for this stretch of the trip. She completed her trip near Christmas time and is in the process of putting together a coffee table book of her travel photos. Her travel page can be found on Facebook – Lesanne’s Trip Around Africa.
Jaap and Mat made it all the way to the Cape without too much hassle – I envy them for having ridden the length of the continent! Two of the nicest gents I met on my trip, sorry to see them go… Check out their Facebook page Edinburgh to Cape Town Overland.
27th November 2013
The drive to Mbeya was a little uneventful and took just over 6 hours. 40miles of off road next to “roadworks” ie. an almost complete new road. Then the remaining 160 miles was good tar all the way. The road takes you past the Tanzania/Zambia border in Tunduma. Abostlute chaos with trucks back to back down kilometres of road. Thank the stars I wasn’t crossing here and I pushed on to Mbeya. The scenery towards the end of the drive was pretty awesome – the road rose and fell with the undulating forested land.
Garth Pereira had put me in touch with a friend from Zimbabwe, now living in Mbeya. Paul Metcalf very kindly had me stay for the night. I was treated to a night of darts and pool at the local hotel whilst the rest of the town’s volunteers played volleyball – clearly a favourite and very competitive sport round these parts.
28th November 2013
Following our little steering wheel issue up in Kipili and before heading for the border, I decided to get the Beast into a local garage and have them check that all the bolts were on tight. This took the better part of the morning but they understood my need to get going and so did me a favour by getting my vehicle first in line. With a few things tightened and adjusted, I was off to Malawi.
The 140km escarpment road from Mbeya to Kasumulu is one of the most stunning of the entire trip. Long winding roads rise up and then roller coast you down again on the other side past lush green forests and banana, coffee and tea plantations. This trip is slower than you think. Every time you pass a village, and there are many many villages, the speed limit decreases to 50km/h. I passed no less than 8 traffic police blocks along the way and got stopped by the 2nd one for driving 10kph over th limit. I sweet talked my way out of it, learned my lesson and just took it easy the rest of the way. They seem to have an appreciation for all things British round these parts – I drove past the “London Car Wash” and the previous day had come across the “Modern London Pub” in the middle of downtown Mbeya.
The border was chaos but definitely better than Tanduma. The carnet makes customs straightforward and pretty painless, and despite the number of trucks, I was through fairly quickly. There is no charge for road/fuel tax at all, and the only fee they needed was for 3rd party insurance which I already have in the Yellow Card Comesa.
Thanks Tanzania… for your shy and quiet people, for the chance of heading off into the unknown, for your unpredictability, for your picturesque woodlands and vast expanses and for the memorable times we had with the most hospitable and incredible people.
Facebook has all the photos for this stretch of the journey – click here to check them out.
15th – 18th November 2013
After flying from Diani to Nairobi, I collected the Beast from the garage in Karen. Luke Davey had been dropping in every now and again to keep an eye on progress and update me with photos, but seeing it again after three months, I couldn’t believe how good the Beast looked. Not a scratch, not a dent, it had simply been restored to it’s former handsome self.
After the crash and whilst waiting at Mikey Diesbecq’s place in Naivasha, I had stripped the Beast down entirely before sending it off for repairs in Nairobi. You know things grow legs here in Africa – so best not take that chance. (I later caught the security guys at Toyota Kenya draining my 80l of diesel…) The roof top tent, side awning, every box, every tool, books, cooker, gas stove, spares, recovery gear, clothing, shoes, batteries – every removable item had to come out. We stored everything under a massive plastic sheet in Mikey’s workshop along with his assorted collection of various vehicle and motorbike parts.
I was back to reload, restock and say farewell for the final time, to my Naivasha crew.
Mikey, being a mechanically minded young man, cast a quick eye over the Beast. We found a couple of things hadn’t been screwed in properly or bolted down and so cracked on with tightening up all the loose ends. With much heaving and sweating under the harsh Kenyan sun, the farm workers Nino and Albert helped us get the roof top tent back up, load the recovery gear onto the roof rack under canvas, tightened nuts and bolts and fill the jerry cans with water. Boxes went back into their respective drawers, leisure battery connected, camping gear arranged on the side and the fridge was re-stocked with what drinks and food remained after a three month stint in Mike’s fridge – there wasn’t much…
As always, I had a great evening catching up with the Carnelleys at their camp next door. Sadly the visit was short lived and I was chasing a visa deadline. I put my foot to the floor, and after a short stop in Nairobi (thanks Luke and Chloe for the use of your home… again!) turned south for the Tanzanian border of Namanga.
18th – 19th November 2013
Whilst living in Diani, I had met a young Zimbawean in the waves off Tiwi. Lesanne Dunlop, had been photographing lodges around East and Southern Africa and was staying at Kenyaways in Diani at the time. The lovely Monique had befriended her and brought her down to surf with us one afternoon. Lesanne was on her way to Tanzania, and I had kept in contact with her on the off chance our plans would coincide at a later date. We were both going to be in Arusha at the same time and so I offered to come and pick her up, and we’d go through Tanzania together.
Before I could put pedal to metal and get out of the streets of Arusha, I had a couple of things that needed to be done on the Beast. I had started to notice a tractor-like noise when overtaking or exerting the Beast. I had also lost the use of my hooter on the way down from Nairobi, and I found myself in heightened state of alert at the prospect of dopey beasts of burden or inadvertent humans wandering into the road at any given time.
Arusha is a hot and heaving mass of traffic and people. There is very little space for all the modes of transport and hawkers and people and animals that wish to use the same space. Pedestrians, donkeys, cars and boda bodas ebbing and flowing, jostling for an inch more pavement or road. Women with babies slung to their backs selling fruit, men pushing carts, kids and dogs running all over the place. Driving with no hooter is an experience I choose not to repeat. I got the Beast to Toyota in Arusha (and as usual, Toyota were useless and told me the noise was fine). I organised a fixer to ride with me for the day and help me sort out the rest of my affairs. I needed a new hooter, tinting on my drivers window and possibly a new tyre (my front drivers side had a bulge – patched up from the accident no doubt). No one could help me with the tractor noise coming from the engine… Driving back and forth fixing this and that took almost the entire day – thank goodness for fixers!
Whilst waiting in Diani, I had been in touch with my good friend Brad Hansen. A Natal boy now living in Arusha, Brad has his own exclusive company – Hansen Safaris – and I had been trying to get some bush time out with him. I missed a few fantastic expedition opportunities the month before as the Beast wasn’t quite ready, and when I did manage to roll into Arusha, Brad was out on a safari of his own. Despite not being there, and typical of what you’d expect from a nice Natal boy, Brad had offered to have me stay at his place whilst I was in Arusha. His flatmate Justin would be at home and here was his number.
After days of failed attempts get hold of Justin, I picked Lesanne up from Arusha Backpackers and just turned up at Brad’s house, climbed over the gate and walked into the living room. “Hey Justin! Been trying to get hold of you and did you know we were coming to stay?”. Turns out Brad had given me Justin’s old number and the dear boy had no idea.
Lucky for us, JT is a welcoming and awesome host. “Karibu” he said, and opened up his home to his new and unexpected guests. Over the next few days, Lesanne and I set about planning the trip through Tanzania.
Through previous discussions with Brad I had learned that Kingsley Holgate was making his way up on the Mozambique coastline, through Tanzania and up to Thompson Falls near the Abadares in Kenya, following in the footsteps of the Scottish explorer Joseph Thomson.
This trip was also a personal journey for Kingsley and his son Ross, as they were carrying the ashes of their late wife and mother Gill “Mashozi” Holgate. The journey took Kingsley up to Thomson Falls and down to the Ololoolo Escarpment on the Maasai Mara where they scattered Mashozi’s ashes from the escaprment under the spiritual blessing of the Maasai warriors around them. You can follow Kingsley’s expeditions and see the work his foundation is doing here – Kingsley Holgate Foundation.By the time I had rolled into Arusha, Brad had joined Kingsley on his journey back down towards South Africa and was near Rungwa Game Reserve on the south western side of the country. I was hoping to catch up with them to join the travelling party as they made their way down towards Zambia.
Lesanne needed to get to Lakeshore Lodge on Tanganyika to do a photo shoot and we had about four days to get across Tanzania. We both needed to get to just about the same place, but choosing how we were going to get there was the next problem… The safest option was to double back east and drive in completely the wrong direction, past the roads to Tanga and Dar es Salaam, to Morongoro, Iringa, Mbeya and up to Kipili on Lake Tanganyika – this route would see us do a clockwise route of the country from – safer roads, smooth tarmac but it would take the longest time and over 1800km.
Another option would be the 1500km drive via Dodoma road towards Malawi and then hang right to Lake Tanganyika – but on closer inspection this was completely out of the question as we’d heard that the roadworks along this section caused the flow of busses, trucks, cars and everything else, to crawl at a tediously sluggish pace over corrugations and through air thick with dust next to the actual road, taking days to complete even short stretches. Errrrr… next?
The only option left was to cut south west through the country directly towards Lake Tanganyika on roads less travelled. We tried researching this route but found no information on any overlanders’ blogs or any mention of this trail in any guide books. We had no idea whether the roads were safe, tarred or were even passable in this, the start of the rainy season. A couple of local people in Arusha had told us that they knew the stretch to Singida had been recently tarred but after that, not even the Tanzanians seemed to know what lay beyond.
Time to find out, and do a bit of trailblazing for anyone else wishing to venture off the beaten track…
Word from Brad, he Holgate party is in the Rungwa area… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
20th – 21st November 2014
Lesanne had a contact in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Tabora was en route and so we had decided to push on through to stay with Roy, a Zimbabwean tobacco farmer. Tabora was almost 400 miles from Arusha… and 400 miles on small Africa roads is not like 400 miles anywhere else on the planet. We set off nice and early with high spirits, and after an initial 50kms of roadworks outside Arusha, we were on good tar all the way to Singida. Now when I mention “roadworks”, I refer to this in the loosest term possible. There could be a perfectly good tar road ready to be driven on but the workers have left rows of rocks across the width every 10m to deprive you of this convenience, forcing you to churn dirt on some made up gravel track along the side of the perfectly good road – avoiding rocks, under low trees, thumping over corrugations and detouring around the odd hut. If you so happen to get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle, you grind on blindly through plumes of dust and diesel fumes. There is no passing lane on this made-up-dirt-track-along-the-perfectly-good-tar-road, so with patience wearing thin and my sense of humour waning there were times when I chose to overtake lumbering vehicles and plough through the bush taking out termite mounds, crashing through ditches and ramping over rocks to get ahead of the pack. The road from Singida to Tabora was patchy gravel for most of the way and the journey took over 10 hours.
Buggered and in need of a good feed, Roy welcomed us with open arms and told us we were going to the local club to have dinner. Bare in mind, this is a small African town, so my idea of having dinner at “the club” conjured up thoughts of loud music, plastic chairs, checked wipable table cloths, ugali (sadza/pap) and goat stew for dinner. Turns out we were headed for the Tabora Hotel, the old colonial country club I expect, and to my delight we were greeted (with double vodkas and cokes thrust into our hands on arrival) by no fewer than 15 Zimbabean tabacco farmers. Ayyyyeeeee, we ate, we drank, we laughed, we played pool and we had sore heads in the morning…
The Beast was in need of attention After Toyota Arusha telling me the intermittent trumpeting was “usual”, the resounding noise now roaring from the engine made the Beast sound less like a thoroughbred Land Cruiser and more like an old tractor with emphysema. It had become progressively worse over the past day and the noise was unbearable.I had spoken to some of the guys the night before, a few rally car drivers/enthusiasts who had all put in their thoughts, and I was to see the local garage man in the morning. The workshop had the Beast in for a full day and found that the sound was coming from a missing exhaust manifold gasket, which had come loose and fallen away. Their verdict on hearing the Beast had been rebuilt in Nairobi: it hadn’t been screwed on properly. Their solution: put an asbestos replica in it’s place until I find a garage that stocks my part (I changed this in Harare, over 3000kms later – no problem!). Good job by the garage team in Tabora!
This manifold affair, along with the broken spiral cable in the hooter (fixed in Arusha), and the bolting on of the winch that was just sitting in it’s slot (which Mikey found and fixed in Naivasha), was just the start of things that I found wrong with the Beast on leaving the workshop in Karen, Nairobi. After almost three months of waiting, I had put pressure on the workshop to have the Beast completed and it was only when I started sending Luke Davey to check on the proceedings and to take photos, that things started happening. But it had been a hasty repair in the final weeks before I needed to leave. It was no wonder the owner (name withheld) was a little brusque with me in Nairobi. Knowing I had a visa deadline and needed to be out of Kenya, there was no way of me coming back to have him fix these issues. [There were a few more incidental episodes following the hasty repair of the Beast further on down the line… keep reading.]
Slowing us down by a day didn’t help Lesanne but she called ahead to Lakeshore Lodge to let them know we were delayed. We spent the next day catching up with the wives of the farmers, some of whom Lesanne knew from Zimbabwe. It’s times like these you appreciate even a simple lunch of fresh bread, pickled onions, salami, ham, tomatoes and cheese. Thank you Esmé Blair, it was heavenly! We met everyone at the club that evening for a more civilised evening, everyone feeling a little less inclined to follow the previous night’s antics.
Who would have thought, in the arse end of nowhere Tabora, that we would find this wonderful group of Zimbos? We can’t thank Roy enough for his hospitality and for looking after us. Also, massive thanks to Garth and Jane Pereira for all their help and contacts throughout Tanzania.
Word from Brad, the Holgate party are near Rukwa Game Reserve… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
22nd November 2014
Stocked up with a few luxuries from Roy (steaks, tinned mussels, crackers and additional surprises), Lesanne and I set off. Before leaving Tabora, we just so happened to be driving behind a morning marathon training session – what looked like the entire male population of Tabora was out on a pacey morning jog in a peloton pack.
On our way out of town, we were stopped by a fat cat in uniform. With his hand in the air – I wanted to drive up and give him a high five, but thought best not.
“Eh, you ah going down a one-way street”, Mr Official slurred whilst reaching for a pen and his booklet of fines (aka, notepad void of any written receipts whatsoever)
I looked around. I saw no one-way signs. In fact, I saw no signs at all which is why we were a little lost, and we were on a dirt road so there sure weren’t any road markings to forewarn us of this violation in the first place…
“I’m sorry, I didn’t see the sign, and which way to Mpanda kind officer?”
“You are going down a one-way street. You need to pay a fine”
Lesanne leaned over, elbowed me in the ribs slightly and started talking so fast I could barely keep up, “Hello Shamwari (uh, Lesanne that’s Shona and he’s speaks Swahili…), we need to get to Mpanda and are lost, and please can you show us the road that will lead us out of town, and we’ve got far to go and people are waiting for us to arrive, and what a nice day it is, and we’re in a hurry, and which way again?”
We threw a joke in the mix and forced a laugh, it’s amazing how quickly one can distract a fat cat… he gave us a series of turns this way and that, I put my foot down and thank him with a hand wave as I speed off.
The road to Mpanda and on to Katavi was the slowest and most arduous journey of my entire trip. We were headed into the real unknown, a place very few people venture. We probably overtook one car that day and passed another four or five trucks coming towards us. The road was poorly maintained and progress was extremely slow, barely breaking 20km/hour at times. We descended into thick woodlands and passed up to six of broken down trucks. Worried about ambushes in such a remote area, we didn’t take any chances, kept our speed up, our distance round the rigs as far as we could and our eyes peeled. The track varied from full on graded dirt road to single lane track, and the ground rose and fell under the Old Man Emu suspension. Dodging fallen trees and weaving my way around pitfalls, constantly having to choose the best line and having to slow down every 30m made for tedious driving.
We pass a few small villages on the way and stopped to buy some local food and drink. The kids stared and we waved. Lesanne took photos and they all ran inside. Mostly I think the kids are happy to see us but with so few muzungus ever coming out this way, let alone stopping at their particular village, we must have been something of an anomaly. I’m guessing we must look like two albino humanoids with with long wild hair, our faces covered with black plastic across our eyes, how can we possibly see? Lifting the sunglasses, waving and shouting “jumbo toto” (hello kids) makes all the difference, and suddenly they all want to come out and dance! At another village, we passed a run down hut with the sign “The Hilton Hotel” painted on the wall. I wondered if they might have a concierge service out here?
As we were driving past, Lesanne pointed up high in the the trees to what I can only describe as rectangular boxes hanging on rope. We wondered what they were for. Later we did a bit of research and found that they were for bees and it was the local communities’ form of bee keeping and honey harvesting. We also happened upon a dead hyena to the side of the road and stopped to have a look. At first it seemed like everyday road kill but on closer inspection, we realised that the bloated hyena’s ears and paws had been severed and it’s eyes had been taken, for more sinister intentions perhaps? In Africa, hyenas are mostly viewed with fear and contempt as well as being associated with witchcraft, as their body parts are used as ingredients in traditional medicine. We got the hell out of there…
It took all day to complete the 275 miles and by the end of the day the sky had darkened so much that it seemed night had came early. It started to pour with rain and we drove into the Katavi National Park Offices only to find that it was extortionately expensive to spend the night in the park. Weary from a heck of a long day’s drive, we just paid the park fees and drove towards the camp site on the river.
On crossing over the river and into the park we came across something that I doubt I will ever see again. We stopped the Beast on the bridge and grabbed our cameras for this unique photo opportunity. A heaving mass of hippos lay as thick as the river was wide. At first glance this might look like a bumpy road, or old lava flow, but it’s nothing short of unbelievable. Hippos side by side and nose to tail as far as the eye can see. During the wet season there is a vast wetland area, but in the dry season the rivers reduce down to paltry muddy streams. The hippos converge and jostle for space, it’s a sight to behold. You’ll find crocs in the mix – often tucking into the bloated, swollen bodies of hippos that have died in amongst the masses – nice…
We camped on the Ikuu River’s edge, a short distance from the ranger’s post. Lesanne made a good fire and we had Roy’s steaks for supper. Without too much light about, and with night upon us, we had to cook and keep sentry at the same time. Hippos rule this part of the land and we had a couple of inquisitive cows saunter right past our camp. We were the only vehicle in the area and were on our own if a bold individual decided they didn’t like the look of us. We fell asleep to the rain and heard them grunting all night long……………
Word from Brad, the Holgate party are near Mbeya… WAIT BRAD AND KINGSLEY – I’m on my way!
23rd November 2014
Bleary-eyed from all the nocturnal riverside commotion (worse than a Saturday night in Clapham) and in need of strong coffee, we took almost two hours to get sorted out before heading off on a short game drive on our way out of the park. From the previous night’s rain, things were strung out to dry and this gave us the opportunity to attend to general overlanding living chores. Today we were headed for Kipili on Lake Tanganyika – with just under 100 miles to go, we were ok to take things at a slower pace. The road out was all dirt track but we journeyed on through heavy woodland with mostly green velvety carpet. Passed some rural villages and stopped for a quick bite to eat on the side of the road. The rains had come, the land was green, the cows were fat and the children were happy!
On the last stretch, the road takes you down the most incredible escarpment road down towards Lake Tanganyika. You’re in thick lush forest and with the winds and bends, you can just about see the lake at times. It was on one of these lovely hairpin bends that I felt something wrong with the steering. I could feel a jolt when I turned the steering wheel at a certain point and could hear a faint thunk at the same time. I mentioned it to Lesanne but didn’t want to make a bit deal of it and came down the rest of the way at snail’s pace.
On arriving safely at Lakeshore Lodge at the bottom of the escapement, I parked and had a look under the steering wheel to find that all but one bolt and a few washers come away from the steering arm into the engine bay and were lying in my footwell. With a few shakes of the steering wheel, everything came away and I was left with a free spinning steering wheel… thinking about what might have happened winding down the escarpment at speed, and having the bolts give way, just isn’t worth it. Once again, the Beast held out until we were safe before letting go.
Sadly, I believe this too was probably the fault of the workshop in Nairobi not getting everything bolted down tightly and with care, and we’re just incredibly lucky it didn’t happen on that escarpment track or on a busy road.
Word from Brad, the Holgate party have crossed in Zambia… ahhhhhh man… the King has left the country and all my hopes of me joining my favourite modern day explorer were dashed.
Things work out for a reason, and I stayed at on at Lakeshore with Lesanne instead – turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip!