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Archive for the ‘Tanzania’ Category

A Close Call

The weather has been kind to us in the Serengeti. Dramatic afternoon thunderstorms followed by stars in the evening and clear mornings. This morning rain is driving into us sideways off Lake Victoria as we exit through the western gate en route to Mwanza.

The only thing we know about Mwanza is its closer towards Rwanda and so seems a good place to find onward transport to the border. Mwanza turns out to be a pleasantly attractive little city. This is mostly due to it being built on hundreds of large rock formations and the splendid shores and inlets of Lake Victoria. The people are not really exposed to tourism and so seem politely disinterested in our presence which is a welcome change.

Our search for onward transport takes us to the central bus station. The sun is out but the mud from yesterday’s rain is still thick under foot as we pick a path through the busses and the touts. Muzungu where are you going? Muzungu follow me. This way Muzungu.

The last town in Tanzania before you get to the border is the former genocide refugee camp of Benako. The only bus going direct leaves in two days’ time. This is a small disaster as we can’t afford to sit around in Mwanza waiting. There is another option but it involves taking a bus south to Shinyanga changing to another bus going to Kahama where we are told we can pick up a dreaded dalla dalla to Benako. It’s not ideal but waiting another two days is worse.

The day starts well and we make Shinyanga by mid-morning. The touts seem astonished to see us but we are soon gathered up professionally and put on the next bus to Kahama. We arrive in Kahama just after lunch feeling buoyant and optimistic but that is soon about to change as we are now in the hands of the dalla drivers. Our presence causes a small commotion. Bags and shirts are grabbed and pulled. Tout against tout there is no law in the jungle.

The main challenges in taking a dalla include price, comfort, safety and departure time. This last point is always expressed optimistically by the dalla driver. We are assured he will be departing in 5 minutes but the empty seats indicate otherwise. We sit and wait for over two hours as we are slowly crushed by 25 other sardines and two large gas bottles. We are now a high speed, mobile bomb swerving around pot holes in the road you could bury a body in. My backside is aching, my knees are pressed deep into the seat in front of me. In spite of the drivers speed Benako is still a myth somewhere up the road.

The shadows are gone and the crickets have started singing by the time we arrive in Benako. Our day is still not over though as we need to cover the final 20km to the border in a taxi. I say taxi but what I really mean is we have to find a local who will take us in a car. Fortunately for us there is some competition around and we manage to get the cost down to 15,000.00 TZs or about $10.00

Tyres screech and suspension is tested on every bend but I am distracted by the sunset to my left. The last rays of light set on Tanzania and tonight we will sleep in a new country, it’s a beautiful moment. 

Customs in Tanzania is cleared and we walk downhill to the Kagera river bridge where the Rusumu falls are bellowing loudly to our left. At the end of the bridge lies Rwanda. We are now in total darkness. The solider at the gate directs us to the right up a small hill to the Rwanda immigration office. It has taken 13 hours to get here.

What happens next is a disaster

The officer takes our passports, studies them for a moment and informs he is not permitted to issue visas on arrival. We are required to get visas issued at a Rwandan Embassy. I feel sick and turn to look at Emma. Her face is like a nightmare. I can feel my body going limp, I have no words and no fight in me. Completely drained by the day my mind ponders the excruciation of returning to Mwanza. Then I realise the true gravity of the situation, this would mean having to return to Dar es Salaam. Not possible and not an option. At best we would have to go back to Mwanza and just cross the border to Kenya missing Rwanda all together. The officer must see the despair in our faces. I am not sure how long we have both been silent for but it is broken by him telling us to go to the cashiers office. We are both confused? The officer has taken pity on us and will now issue us both a visa for $30.00 USD each. We were expecting $50.00 so this is a double bonus. Relief floods over me. Gratitude!

It is too late to make onward connections to Kigali that night so we stay in a small hotel used by truck drivers. The beds are somewhat flat and the sheets are somewhat clean. The food is oily and somewhat edible, but none of this matters. All I can think of is sleep and waking up tomorrow in a new country.

As a note for people wanting to enter Rwanda by land, we are Australian citizens. I can’t say what the situation is for others, but when we asked the official he said anyone who requires a visa must obtain one prior to arriving at the border. Richard our friend who is British, did not require a visa at all. Lonely Planet latest addition still advises visas can be obtained at the border. This information is wrong, we were just very lucky.

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Safari

We wake up at the crack of dawn ready for our big safari adventure. After collecting a few extra provisions in Arusha and dodging the local safari touts successfully for one last time, we’re met by our guide Joyful outside the Monjies Guest House. Our eagerness and anticipation bubble over with a bombardment of questions to Joyful which he courteously answers. Our first day will take us to Lake Manyara national park about three hours west of Arusha. The fields start to give way to savannah and we catch our first sightings of Massai colourfully wrapped in their traditional dark red, purple or blue blankets. We round a bend and the escarpment of the rift valley appears before us. It stretches endlessly in both directions. Across the valley we can see the dense jungle at its base and Lake Manyara itself which is a swirl of blue and pink. It is a magnificent view and unmistakably African.
Joyful stops the Land Rover at the Park gates and opens the roof so we may all stand up, to better appreciate the scenery. We are consumed at once by thick Green Jungle. Vines hang from the trees, strange noises echo through the canopy grabbing our attention each time.

We soon come across a family of Baboons, grooming each other, squabbling; it’s quite fascinating to see how they spend so much time on this task. Delicately they clean each other with such dedication I become engrossed watching their rituals.
Cool air drifts down the escarpment and over us. The air is fragrant and damp, the sun above is hot. The insects never stop. Through the green curtain we spy a mass of grey moving very slowly. Ears fanning back and forth, it rips loudly at a tree tearing of a sizable branch away; a small herd of elephants no more than 10 metres from the road. The elephant chews on the branch loudly, it’s breathing is amplified; its ears beat loudly against its body. A small baby emerges from under its mother, excited and playful it gives a little trumpet.

Elephants in Lake Manyara

Elephants in Lake Manyara

Our next sighting is the famed Zebra; I must admit I do have a soft spot for this charismatic animal. A stallion carefully guards his herd; eyeing us up suspiciously he holds his gaze, never losing sight of us, he is a vigilant and proud creature.
Our first night is at the beautiful Kirurumu Tented Lodge, clinging to the edge of the escarpment, set in lush vegetation with commanding views of Lake Manyara and the surrounding area. The wonderful staff comprise of locals as well as Massai. Excited at the prospect of the coming days, we lie awake listening for any animal noises until we can no longer keep our eyes open. It has been an exciting start to our safari and the best is yet to come.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the remains of a volcano that erupted 3 million years ago. Standing now on the rim I try to imagine just how powerful that force of nature must have been. It is a beautiful sight, vast and green. On the far side we can see the lake painted pink with thousands of flamingos. One side of the crater is bathed in sunshine while the other is under attack by a huge storm. In real life it doesn’t disappoint but it does look different to what I imagined. The walls of the crater appear to be impenetrable but both animal and 4WD are free to come and go, sometimes the later with more difficulty.

The Ngorongoro Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater

Safari life starts early in the day, the early bird catches the lion. Today we drive from the crater to the Serengeti. Everyone is excited about seeing what must be one of Africa’s most famous landmarks if not the world. We pass a Massai village wrapped in a protective circle of tangled acacia branches. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area or NCA is more than just a crater. It covers a huge area of highlands and extinct volcanoes. In the distance we can see the open space that is the Serengeti. It’s another 2-3 hours before we arrive at the Naabi gate. Serengeti welded across the top and flanked by two buffalo skulls. Giving the distinct impression that one enters at their own risk, danger lies ahead, look what happened to these two fellows!

Entry to the Serengeti

Entry to the Serengeti

The higher an animal is on the food chain the harder they are to find. Vegetarians are everywhere but it’s the carnivores that capture most people’s imagination. Even Rick a vegetarian himself is keen to see the big cats. How does one find these elusive animals in such a huge space? You need a lot of luck and we are very lucky to have Joyful with us. The hunt begins, and this afternoon Joyful is after Cheetah, like the leopard a notoriously difficult animal to find. We turn off the road and head across open grass. The plains are dotted with Kopjes, small islands of Rocks that hold water and allow larger tress to grow among the boulders. The shade is a favourite resting place for big cats during the hot day. Each Kopje is scrutinised optimistically before moving onto the next.

The vehicle stops and Joyful has a glint in his eye. He considers something in the distance before binoculars are produced. “Oh my gosh”, he chuckles. Just off to our left about 200 meters away is a small pride of lions. We approach slowly and coast the last 50 meters. A huge male sits alone while a short distance away is a lioness with three cubs. We watch closely and enjoy a moment together with the Lion family. The male looks quite disinterested in his children. They prefer to be left in peace, it is the mothers place to fend for the cubs as well as hunt for food. She is the Serengeti version of the working mother.

The lion family

The lion family

We leave the family to continue their day and pick up the chase for the cheetah. Stopping near a Kopje we take lunch. Joyful tells us not to climb on the rocks as it’s not un-common for a couple of lions to be taking a siesta. I decide that I’ll take my sandwich in the jeep!
After lunch the hunt for the cheetah resumes. We are already satisfied with a great day of game viewing. Safari is about enjoying the moment and accepting the circumstances. Knowing you will see an animal would remove all the excitement. This is what I tell myself but deep down you want to be lucky, you want to see these iconic animals. The jeep stops and Joyful has that familiar glint again. “Oh my gosh”, another chuckle. Joyful is obviously pleased with his stalking but we can’t see anything. Then we see it, standing alone on a small rock surveying his world, a single male. The cheetah moves with grace. He is even more beautiful than the lions we saw earlier. I feel very privileged. The sun is getting low and a huge grey wall is building to the north. We watch and listen very quietly, the grass rustles in the wind. The crickets have started to sing, then a soft distant rumble this is perfection.

The lone cheetah

The lone cheetah

The out of Africa experience is made complete when we arrive at The Pioneer Camp located halfway up a large chain of kopjes. The drive in has taken us through dense acacia woodland. The storm on the horizon has closed in. The view from the camp takes my breath away. Hundreds of Kopjes dot the acacia forest as far as I can see. Lightning pierces the dark sky as I take my welcome drink. Mathias is not unfamiliar with guests being spellbound and gives us a moment before he starts his briefing. The camp is open there are no fences. The tents are pitched far apart and we are located right at the end of the camp. This delights Greg and Richard who are already thinking about what noises they will hear during the night. No one may walk unescorted before 6.30am and after 6.30pm. To protect us we have James a Massai man who is armed with a torch and a large spear. The tents are decorated in a pre-war 1930’s style. The wash basin is perfectly rusted. The shower looks like a Jules Verne invention. The kerosene lamps provide subtle light. All that is missing is a phonograph playing Ella Fitzgerald which I am sure they could arrange. Our package includes free drinks and laundry which we both take advantage of. Over the next three nights we consume all the camps Amarillo.

Pioneer Camp

Pioneer Camp

The stay in soft beds is very tempting but we know we must take advantage of this short time. Again we leave early and today Joyful has the most elusive of all animals in his sights, the leopard. We drive for an hour towards the central Serengeti. Joyful receives a call. Swahili is broken with “Oh my gosh” A leopard has been sighted about 30 minutes away. We move quickly. Soon we see about 7 jeeps all crowded together. A single female leopard hangs from a tree. Even close she is hard to see, but then she moves and jumps to another branch. About 50 meters in another tree are her two cubs. We move down and observe them for an hour. Jumping and playing, they almost fall on a couple of occasions. The encounter is not as magical as the moment we had with the cheetah as we are now surrounded by 10 other cars. A group of photographers ruin it by constantly talking loudly about bad lighting and branches being in the way. Safari is a selfish quest; you want it all to yourself which of course is not always possible. The best encounters are always solitary.

Storm at the Pioneer Camp

Storm at the Pioneer Camp

The circle of life is endless in the Serengeti; sadly for us it is not. After 6 days we must say goodbye and only our bank balance is happy to see it end. We make west for Mwanza on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, where we hope to pick up onward travel to the border of Rwanda.
Oh My Gosh speak soon

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Around Kilimanjaro

The Dar Express Bus arrives into Moshi amazingly on time at 5 in the afternoon taking 9 hours from Dar es Salaam. I have been anticipating seeing Kilimanjaro all day, but it is raining this afternoon and there will be no views of the African icon today at least.

Our search for accommodation takes a little while but we settle into the AA hill street hotel. This establishment is run by an Islamic family. The sign in the foyer advises that no unmarried couples may share a room. There is no alcohol to be consumed on the premises and non-residents can’t visit the hotel. As such this keeps all of the “overland truck party” types away. We get a double room with our own shower for TZ 20,000 shillings about $15.00 AUD. There is even a balcony with views of kili, if the clouds will go away.

Rick our friend and travel partner from our first trip has met us in Dar es Salaam and will be accompanying us all the way up to Cairo. Next door to AA Hill Street, we discover an excellent restaurant called Deli Chez which specialises in Indian cuisine and toasted sandwiches. It’s been a while so I indulge in a curry for TZ 8,000 shillings; Emma goes for the Biryani which we both devour like a pride of lions.

Moshi is a bit of a Goldie Locks town, not too big, not too small but just right. We go for a walk to explore the town and are joined by a few street touts. We don’t have the heart to tell them to go away and they don’t seem to be doing much harm. Just up the road is the “Hard Core Gangster Gym” home of the hard-core hip hop body builders. The touts explain that this is where men com to lift weights. I know this is going to cost me already. Any questions will solicit a fee. Rick and I flex our skinny white Muzungu arms in front of the gym for some comic photos and this has the touts looking incredulous and laughing.

Muzungu Arms no match the hardcore hip hop body builders

Muzungu Arms no match the hardcore hip hop body builders

Morning breaks and so do the clouds. I open the curtains like Christmas paper wanting to see my present. Kilimanjaro is out, standing huge and white above Moshi. The rains from yesterday have left a lot of the snow on the summit. I had expected much and Kili has exceeded itself. The snowline extends almost half way down the mountain which I am told is unusual and not likely to last more than a couple of days.

We head to Marangu a small village that lies about a 1000m higher up the eastern side of Kili among coffee plantations. Our dalla dalla (minivan bus) this morning looks in good condition but only allows the driver to travel faster. Being squashed in the middle of 30 people, I can’t help but to consider that if we do crash I should be well protected. The slopes of Kili soon slow the dalla dalla down and I begin to feel I will live to see another day.

We have picked out the Coffee tree plantation guest house as it allows camping on the lawns. Our Guide book advises it is about 700m from dalla dalla stand, but the small fleet of Marangu touts are saying it is very far and we will need a taxi. Who do they think we are, idiots? They insist we can’t walk but being suspicious and stubborn I pick up our pack and start marching up the hill. The road is very steep and soon my legs begin to burn. 1 km at least now, where is this place, 2km and the road is getting steeper. By 3km I am feeling very tired and very stupid. I relent and drop my pack by the road. Thomas the most persistent and only tout left offers to carry it for me. No I am okay, but I’m not really. My legs are like jelly and carrying this pack at almost 2000m above sea level has my lungs burning as well. We continue on and finally after 3.8km (yes I measured it in a car later on) the guest house is in sight. I have been constructing an abusive letter to Lonely Planet in my mind for the last 2km, every step a word in my condemnation. How could they get it so wrong? Thomas was right after all, it was a long way up a very steep climb. Now I am just a tired stupid Muzungu who didn’t believe in him. The owner of the guesthouse is also called Thomas. This is going to get confusing. From now on it will be big Thomas, the guest house owner and Thomas the Tout who just happens to be a climbing guide for Kili. He shows us his license proudly. We are planning to do the first day of the Kili climb as it’s only $60.00. It is compulsory to take a guide so we let Thomas know to return tomorrow and we will go with him which makes him very happy.

Emma with Big Thomas

Emma with Big Thomas

Marangu is a charming little settlement. Even though we are only a third of the way up Kili the views stretch across to the Usambara mountains and the plains of Tanzania and even southern Kenya over 100km away. The slopes here are green and fertile. Mist begins to settle in the small valleys it all very magical. We get our tents up and go and have a coffee with Big Thomas. He makes a very jovial host and laughs at the end of every statement he makes. I climbed the mountain in 1964, oh yes, followed by ohhh hahahaha. Richard is quick to pick up on these little idiosyncrasies and is able to do a good impression quickly. It is people like Big Thomas that make this pace of travel so interesting. Hundreds of people who you never you knew you would meet, all with a story to tell.

Little Thomas is waiting for us the next morning. He looks excited for a man who has climbed kili over 100 times. Maybe this is because he knows he is only going to the first hut (mandara) and back today. It may surprise some of you but it was never our intention to climb Kilimanjaro on this trip. The expense was one factor and we have our eyes set on other treks later on. Doing the first day through the rainforest seems a good compromise but now we can see the summit I can feel the pull of the mountain. It is a little disappointing knowing now that we will be turning back. The trail up is fairly gentle and in good condition despite all the recent rains. The trees let in little light and are covered in moss and lichen. The forest chatters with birds and insects and blue monkeys who jump through the canopy to get a better look at us. We are very fortunate while taking a rest to see the rare black and white colobus monkeys. They are magnificent animals with striking coats and we quietly observe their movements high above us before returning back to Marangu.

Marangu

Marangu

That night we start to think in earnest about our upcoming safari. There is so much information to digest, so many companies to choose from. I start to become almost a little paranoid about the quality of the experience and our expectations. The wet season is also a concern as this is not the best time to visit or so we have been advised. Only time will tell and the best place to arrange a safari and find out is in Arusha our next destination.

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The Dar Express

It seems that every bus journey in Africa starts very early in the morning. This is so it has a fighting chance of reaching its destination the same day. The Dar express to Moshi in northern Tanzania is no exception. It’s apparently 30 minutes from the Econolodge in central Dar es Salaam to the northern bus station but we allow 45 to give the taxi a fighting chance as well.

We pop a malaria tablet for breakfast and head downstairs for another bruising round of taxi negotiations; an increased degree of difficulty at 5am and carrying massive backpacks. The idea is not to look like you need one or that you are in a hurry but these guys are pretty smart and have figured out we are heading up north. They even know what time the busses depart. Still we put on our best poker face and get the fare to within a reasonable striking distance of the correct value, TZ 12000 shillings, but just for you…… Yes I am sure of that!

Pot holes and trucks are avoided with last minute precision. The taxis suspension and my stomach are getting an early morning workout and I start to feel a little ill. The nausea grows and soon I am wondering how much our driver will charge for cleaning vomit off the side of his car. Emma has her head down and looks to be in trouble as well.  Amid thoughts of panic and confusion I try to think what could be causing this?  I did not eat anything, and then it dawns on me. The malaria tablet, we took them on an empty stomach, that must be it.

I am much relived to arrive at the bus station. I am already looking for any roadside vendor who can sell me stale biscuits anything to fill the awful hole in my stomach. The touts and porters have other ideas of course.

Emma by now is green but sits on our bags while I go looking for our bus and biscuits, not necessarily in that order. The touts are merciless this morning. These guys mean business or need business, I actually at times feel a little sorry for them but not this morning. I spot a few “Dar Express” busses a short distance away painted brightly in a red, orange and yellow livery. The touts are asking to see my tickets telling me they work for Dar Express but I am having none of it. I need to make sure I have the right bus. I find a real employee who points to the bus going to Moshi now I can go back and get the bags.

Emma with Richard at the Dar es Salaam bus station

Emma with Richard at the Dar es Salaam bus station

 

Emma right now is throwing up in the street. A tout who has been harassing her diagnoses she has Malaria. “You have The Malaria, I can help you.” Medications are produced. Emma vomits again, this time a little too close her doctor who retreats in disgust. I procure some stale biscuits and we eat a few to help settle our stomachs.

We move the bags over to the Moshi bus and I try to put them in the storage area. I am blocked by two guys who are in the way and are grabbing bags and throwing them in. I try again but they won’t move, and take the bags from me. I stand by the bus making sure the bags don’t find their way off again. The two men approach me and say I need to pay Tz10, 000 for each bag, about $7.00 AUD. I ignore them but this only makes them angry. We have a debate which ends when I threaten to go to the Bus office. I help you with bags. I did not want your help.

em on dar

Once again Dar es Salaam slips away this time by road. The palm trees give way to the first signs of savannah. It’s an exciting morning we are headed for Kilimanjaro and The Serengeti.

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Spices Beaches and Rashes

The shadows of Dar es Salaam are now behind us. The Azam Marine hydrofoil skims the aqua ocean heading towards the island of Zanzibar. There is a buzz in the cabin. It seems surreal that we’re finally off the train and now headed to golden sands and pale blue waters.

I can see the Island on the horizon and gaze out the window itching for us to arrive. I can’t believe how much I smell. It’s not pleasant to admit but I really stink. My hair is thick and matted with dirt; my clothes are as stiff as cardboard. In crisp white contrast the crew hand out some muffins and spice tea which I hungrily accept and gratefully consume. All I can think about is a shower and find myself discussing and obsessing; it can’t come soon enough.

The boat’s engine slow and Stone Town’s Port is in sight. It’s time to say goodbye to the Canadians who are heading directly to Paje where they have rented a private house. It’s sad to say goodbye after such an extraordinary few days together. We make for the old town quarter with Imogen and Flynn. Inspecting a small cluster of cheap end lodgings we settle on the Manch Hotel which has a lovely garden shaded by a Mango tree. It is run by Godfrey but owned by a local lady who sits in a chair by the entrance of the lobby.

I make straight for the shared bathrooms. I care about nothing else.  After much scrubbing, I finally see the water run clean. I don’t even care that it’s cold, I am just so grateful for the feeling of rejuvenation.

Spotlessly clean I am now ready to arrest my hunger and head to lunch. We come across a pleasant little café called the Green Garden Pizzeria. Everything tastes so fresh. Zanzibar is renowned for its sea food and I quickly take advantage by ordering grilled Tuna and green vegetables a steal at only $6 USD. We are all in jubilant mood and reflect back on highlights from the train journey.

Sunset in Stone Town

Sunset in Stone Town

Stone town itself is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways. The dirty and faded Arabic designed buildings show glimpses of an extravagant past. The grand wooden doors have decorative brass studs and handles. The air is scented with a cocktail of spices. Mesmerised by the sights we realise that the day is coming to an end. We’ve been so captivated by the architecture and people going about their day we’ve lost track of time. We conclude our long but memorable day by taking in the sunset with a well-deserved cocktail and a blissfully sound sleep.

Revitalised the next morning, Imogen and I are keen to go for a swim. She inquires if I feel any discomfort or itching on my back. I find this odd as I can feel nothing untoward other than maybe some tingling. Alarmingly she tells me that I have a large rash on my back. I head back to the guest house to see for myself. My back is covered in a hideous red rash. The intensity of the itching is growing by the second. I decide the best course of action is to have a cold shower and lie under the fan, hoping that it will subside. My skin is breaking out all over and spreading. By early afternoon my arms and fingers have joined in. The next morning it has spread to my legs and heading for my toes. The rash is turning to welts and breaking out into blisters; I am literally burning up. My instinct is to not scratch but I can’t figure out what I have… Maybe I have an allergic reaction to something, the sheets perhaps but why am I blistering and why is nobody else suffering from this affliction?  Surely if it was something in the room we’d all have this problem. I am becoming scared and desperate. I suspect it’s a heat rash and go looking on the internet for some assurance. By process of elimination aided by Google images, I conclude that I have an extreme heat rash. This is when the body has been unable to sweat (it has been incredibly humid here) and in extreme cases the sweat glands become blocked and infected forming blisters… Great!!

The Heat Rash

The Heat Rash

Greg takes me to a doctor; we converse in very limited English. After much pointing and charades he confirms that I am indeed suffering from an extreme heat rash. The culprit is being on the train along with the humidity in Zanzibar. Armed with anti-biotics and anti-histamines, I am told to not go out and to lie in a cold room, which will now entail an upgrade to AC as we had booked ourselves in a fan room to save money. After a couple of days with little improvement we formulate a plan to head to Kendwa beach where it should be cooler and stay in an AC room until the rash starts to heal. A Taxi with AC is on stand by and I am quickly transferred like a patient in an ambulance and taken to Kendwa Rocks where my AC prison awaits ready and prepared for my arrival. Two more days of staying inside with early evening swims in the sea and the rash is starting to abate. I am very much relieved. While at Kendwa we meet two German men Siggy and Simon who are travelling together in Tanzania. Both have travelled extensively and I love hearing Simon’s stories about travelling through India in the 70’s. Imogen and Flynn are keeping the flag waving for GB but Greg and I are doing a poor job when it comes to nightlife, although we do fit in a few Mojitos and some shisha.

The rash is still around but less severe now. The Brits and Germans head home and Greg and I head to Pongwe a small beach about 10km south of Kendwa. It is a cast away tropical paradise. The crystal clear water looks like a Bounty commercial. Although I normally hate the ocean; those you know me well there is no explanation required, the water is irresistible.

Pongwe Beach

Pongwe Beach

Rested and fully recovered after four more nights we decide we need to get back on track and head for the mainland. The local taxi drivers are wanting double again but we have little time and very little luggage, so we decide to go for the Dalla Dalla instead.  Dalla Dalla’s are rickety trucks a little like a large tuk tuk, except it has two hard wooden benches that run lengthways and absolutely no limit to its carrying capacity. If it were in Australia it could carry no more than 12 passengers but here in Africa where world records are silently set on a daily basis we climb in with a cosy 25 others, as well as buckets of locally caught fish and stow away flies. We sit waiting for more passengers to board when a commotion breaks out. Lots of shouting, people hitting their own foreheads and violently waving at each other. Logs are picked up and thrown to the ground. People leave the Dalla Dalla in protest and I quietly say to Greg that I hope this isn’t because of us; it isn’t the usual mode of transport for a tourist. Have we done something wrong?

Mnemba Island

Mnemba Island

The whole village and passengers inside are shouting. From what I can make out the Dalla Dalla Driver has not followed protocol and now we have to board another one, phew at least it’s not us. We are then swept along with the crowd and somehow get to sit right at the back with the buckets of smelly fish and bags of tomatoes going soft in the heat. I wonder if this is to keep us in place. There’s certainly no chance of bouncing out, although if we crash we’ve defiantly had it. We get moving and I crane my neck for a little fresh air, even a sardine would get claustrophobia in this contraption! It’s quite an amusing site, Greg and I confronted by all these faces, staring at us inquisitively with wonderment… Why are you not in a taxi?

As we routinely pull into villages, the locals who are sat whiling away the time, let their bored gazes fall on the Dalla Dalla, such a familiar sight to them, so unremarkable. It’s hilarious to watch them give the passengers the once over and then suddenly spot us. Their apathy evaporates, replaced by befuddlement and then laughter. We greet each of the perplexed onlookers with a smile. I remark to Greg, that you know you’re doing something interesting when the locals are surprised to see you there. After a bone shaking, arse numbing journey we reach Stone Town for our last night on this beautiful Island.

Tomorrow it’s back to mainland to organise a bus from Dar es Salaam to Moshi on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Love Emma and Greg

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Our Journey from Livingstone to Lusaka is relatively brief and scheduled to take six hours. The Muhwanza Family Bus service leaves surprisingly on time and soon we are hurtling down the road overtaking trucks on blind bends. It’s only six weeks ago that Zambia experienced a terrible bus crash where over 50 people were killed and I wonder if our driver missed the news of this event.

The inter-city bus terminal in Lusaka is soggy but this has not stopped the local unlicensed taxi drivers from gathering around as each bus arrives. This is madness. I feel like a discarded chip at the beach being fought over by angry gulls. We look for the licensed drivers but there are none. They are all parked outside the intercontinental hotel some 5km away!

Lusaka Bus Terminal

Lusaka Bus Terminal

We remain calm and endure the barrage of questions, collecting our thoughts and letting the gulls know we are in no hurry, especially when they are asking triple the going rate for a short journey. Eventually as they disperse we get a reasonable offer and head to an area 3km north where there is a small collection of cheap hostels. The first is full and does not allow camping. The second camp site is a construction and is currently under two inches of water. For this privilege they want $10 USD. Eventually after a bit of a walk around I find the Broads Hostel, no camping but the small chalet with shared bathroom is only $20USD and seems the best on offer. I wonder what the catch is and wait to find out. It’s Sunday afternoon and nothing is open so we go through our packs looking for new and improved ways to make everything fit.

The Broads Hostel also doubles as a popular BBQ restaurant and soon pulls in a large crowd of entertaining locals who gather to slap backs and solve Africa’s problems over a beer. They stay onto 2am. Catch is now clear.

The next morning we rise early as there is much to do and we want to get out of Lusaka as fast as we can. We need to arrange visas for Tanzania, so we head to the consulate first so we can submit our passports and pick them up in the afternoon. While the visas are being processed, we set about trying to get information on how to book the Tazara train which leaves tomorrow afternoon, or the mythical MV Liemba which sails from Mpulungu on Friday.

Several travel agencies are unable to help us with either option. Voyages travel who market themselves as Lusaka’s finest proves about as useful as a mammary gland on a bull. It seems flights are easy enough but ageing charismatic battleships on Lake Tanganyika are out of the question.

Frustrated we hike across town (refusing to take a taxi) to the Tazara office and try to get berths for tomorrows train to Dar es Salaam. It’s a no… the allocation in Lusaka is sold out and we are told we might be able to get seats in Kapiri Mposhi itself. We are now faced with a choice, both of which carry no certainty.

We either travel 13 hours by bus, once a week to Mpulungu arriving at 1am and see if we can get a cabin on the Liemba by asking around. If we can, we still have no way of knowing if the connecting train from Kigoma that runs twice a week and is 40 hours to Dar has any compartments? We could always just sleep on the deck for three nights with 800 Zambians and Tanzanians, but I am not sure Emma would agree. Actually she probably would maybe it’s me.

The second option is to travel 3 hours to Kapiri Mposhi tomorrow morning and see if we can get a compartment on the train (50 hour service) to Dar es Salaam by way of Mbeya at the station. We decide as its closer and leaving first, we will try our luck there. If this fails we will be able to get the bus on Wednesday to Mpulungu and get the ferry no matter what class they have.

Kapiri Mposhi is a small little town with no charm or reason to exist other than the Tazara railway connecting Zambia with Tanzania. It’s as though they ran out of money and could not continue the service all the way to Lusaka. In fact that is probably what did happen.

Mr Mosi wears a clean navy jacket and is the station officer. We squeeze into his tiny office and enquire about available compartments. There is no 1st class but 2nd class berths are available. We are not allowed to travel together unless we buy all six places. The price is steep about $250 USD in total. The train is scheduled to take 50 hours and suspecting it will be longer, the decision is made to take the entire compartment. We feel a bit sad as the Liemba promised much but its myth will remain just that for now.

Emma glancing around “New Kapiri Mposhi” station struggles to spot anything new. The toilets are kept immaculately filthy but we use them anyway. The smell of urine and God knows what else is so strong it stings your throat and makes your eyes water. The station swells with passengers throughout the day and even a few other Muzungu’s arrive. It’s fun to watch their faces as they exit the ablution block.

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

The train is due to depart at 4pm but this is surely too much to expect. We prepare ourselves for tomorrow morning just to be sure. Word spreads through the station that a derailment will delay our start for several hours. I confirm this with Mr Mosi who looks worried but assures me it will only be a couple of hours. I apply the rule of double and this proves accurate, The Mukuba Express creaks and groans away from Kapiri just after 8pm.

Joining us on the journey is Flynn and Imogen from the UK and three Canadians who are in 1st class. Already there are guesses as to when we will arrive and I allow 24 hours extra and take a stab at Friday lunch time. Our compartment is drab and bares the scares of neglect. The door will not lock which dictates that one of us must always be in the compartment at all times.

The scenery for the first 24 hours is fairly unremarkable. It’s an endless sea of low green scrub. It may be unfair but it feels aside from Victoria Falls that most of Zambia has been this way. We arrive at the border with Tanzania around 6pm after 22 hours since leaving Kapiri. The formalities are simple enough and we are spared the usual silly questions that all customs officers are taught around the world. On the heels of customs come the money changers. I have about 80 kwacha left and manage to get a rate of 285 shillings about 15 short of what it should be. I have no other option as there will be no banks in Dar that will change it later and the dining car will oddly no longer except them once we have crossed into Tanzania.

looking back

 

We arrive at Mbeya around 10pm after a fine meal of rice, chicken and chutney. The train sits along a gloomy platform lit but just a couple of fluorescent tubes. Martin, who is in charge of the train, assures me we will only be here for a few hours! I smile and ponder his use of the word only. Morning comes and we are stranded at a new station only 120km up the rails from Mbeya. The Zambians who have been waking us up each morning at 5.30 are at it again but they are now packing and the rumour is the train will be stuck here for a day. They have business in Dar and have decided to abandon the train in search of a bus. Most of the train empties but we are determined to see it through and surprisingly the train pulls away about an hour later. Martin confirms there is another derailment about 300km ahead and they are fixing the tracks. We will proceed slowly hoping the tracks are repaired by the time we arrive.

Rolling through southern Tanzania

Rolling through southern Tanzania

The scenery has gone from boring to spectacular. We carve a path through rolling hills, dense jungle and dark tunnels. The train picks up speed as we descend a pass and the temperature and humidity rise alarmingly. We pull into Mlimba around 4pm on Thursday. We are already 4 hours behind the scheduled arrival time into Dar with a long way to go. The tracks are not ready and we are stuck here in the middle of nowhere hot and sticky with not even a breeze for relief.

Martin delivers bad news; it’s going to be at least 12 hours. The rule of double bares no thought.

Where there is a station there is a town and we all go in search of some cold drinks. The town of Mlimba is not on any tourist map; in fact I am not sure it’s on any map. It proves to be an oasis though. It’s rough and shabby but somehow beautiful.  A stroll through the main street is causing a small commotion as people come to their doors and children call out Muzungu (white person). I feel lucky to be here and on the train. This is real Africa. The delays, the charming people, the rough little town, it’s all an adventure that I would not swap with the passengers of the five star train; Pride of Africa that now sits next to us. I envy the bathrooms but not the experience.

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Webster who is built like the middle weight champion of Zambia calls us over to a plastic table set up in a small garden. He is also on the train travelling to Dar with business colleagues, so Flynn, myself, Imogen, and the Canadians all join them for a beer or two. I don’t stay too long as Emma is guarding our compartment. Walking around the pride of Africa, I can see the AC’s condensation running down the windows. The men are wearing bow ties for dinner. Now I am jealous but still, the drinks and conversation with Webster and his friends in the garden are more rewarding.

Night consumes Mlimba and both trains sit together in stark contrast. “The pride” is lit up like a Christmas tree; ours hides its ugliness in total darkness. Emma sits on the platform reading her kindle. We are both enjoying the experience for this is what overland travel is all about. Meeting the unexpected and making friends with people you are unlikely to ever see again.

Flynn, Imogen and Webster join us in our compartment for drinks. Flynn has a small speaker and plugs in his iPod. The Canadians, Brian, Mina and Katrina squeeze in as well and we pass the time away. We all vow to meet again in twenty years’ time on “The pride of Africa.”

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Webster

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Emma, Webster

Friday morning and still we are parked at Mlimba station. Webster informs us that the Doctor on the Pride has been assured that we will be leaving in about three hours. We take this as reliable information as most of the passengers are on holiday and have flights to catch or reservations confirmed in Zanzibar. The toilets on the train have been locked and Emma is forced to locate a suitable place in the jungle. The spirit of adventure is waning this morning as perspiration and dehydration take over. The skin starts to crawl and your clothes begin to stiffen. We have been in our compartment so long that even the cockroaches have become familiar and are no longer hiding in the cracks. Even the locals are feeling the pressure and demands are made to Martin this is not acceptable. Tazara railway compensates everyone with 3000 Tanzanian shillings about $2 USD. I realise we have purchased 6 tickets and make sure I receive compensation for 6 passengers.

The Doctor on the Pride is right and we leave Mlimba around noon. The familiar platform pulls away. I wonder if we shall ever see it again. Wind blowing through the carriage is a welcome relief. The scenery is wonderful. More high mountains draped in green jungle. Small Children run and wave as the train passes each village. We make good progress and Martin informs us we will arrive in Dar about 2am tomorrow morning.

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

The fourth night settles over the Tazara and the best is saved for last. We sit in our compartment with the lights off. The jungle must be singing loudly as we can hear it over the sound of the train which is considerable. Hundreds of fire flies blink in the darkness and a crescent moon hangs low in the sky. Everything has gone wrong but everything is just as it should be.

Arriving into Dar at 2am is not ideal. We have heard recently about tourists being kidnapped in taxis from Dar station late at night and being forced with violence to withdraw money from ATM’s. It’s probably unlikely but we are in the grips of paranoia and the darkness and shadows of Dar station is not helping much. The travellers all group together for safety. The security of 7 is promising but Martin advises us to sleep in the 1st class lounge until morning. I take a walk around the station to break the boredom but a man who can’t speak and works for Tazara urges me back into the building. He places his own hands around his neck simulating choking and points outside. The message is clear and understood and I go back inside and wait with the others. Maybe I wasn’t being paranoid after all.

The first ferry to Zanzibar leaves at 7am, so we leave the station at 5.45 as we all need to get some money out before we buy our tickets. The usual dodgy tout spots us and starts to hustle us for an inflated ride. We get him down to 20,000 shillings still about double. The rank outside is dark and they put our bags into plain cars. I can see there are licensed taxis waiting and insist we go with them. The tout speaks with them and some deal is made. We all ensure the two taxis will follow each other the whole way and are relieved when our driver waits for the three Canadians. We all a little nervously withdraw money, all the time peering over our shoulders into the darkness.

Safely back in the taxis we arrive at the ferry terminal. The sun is up we can relax. At last Zanzibar is in reach. It feels a long way back to Livingstone when we started our journey but it has been the most adventurous part of the trip so far. We feel we are now well prepared for what Africa will throw at us next but before we do its time to soak up some sun and relax on Zanzibar’s world famous beaches.

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Love and Hugs Greg and Emma

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