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Mpulungu – Kigoma

This article will be slightly different from the previous ones. Firstly because it has near to no cycling involved, secondly because there are (sadly) no pictures and thirdly because it doesn’t concern Fabian for the major part.

The reason is the following: After we published “Karonga – Mpulungu” we boarded, after quite some confusion with departing times, a cargo ship to Bujumbura. It was supposed to leave at 2 p.m. when we arrived there. We were told that it wouldn’t leave before 4 p.m. and we could go into town again.
We killed some two hours around town and returned back late. We hurried to get our exit stamps before the immigration closed and in the second the stamp hit the passport the captain came into the office and told us they wouldn’t be leaving before 10 a.m. the following day.
Now we had already officially left Zambia and technically couldn’t go back to the camping ground, so we convinced the captain to let us sleep on the boat… together with around 40 other passengers.

The night on deck was an experience of it’s own. As cargo boats should be (“it’s a ship not a boat!”) it was fully loaded with, in that case, cement, iron bars and a car. Somewhere in between the passengers tried to find a place to spend the night on deck. A huge light was illuminating the entire deck for the whole night, a generator was running somewhere and everything was full with cement dust.

Fabian by that time was starting to feel worse again and pitched his mosquito net, mats and luggage in the only free shade where no people were walking, which sent me grumbling and lying jammed between iron bars, the luggage and underneath the ropes holding the car. I literally couldn’t move when I was down there. And I was for the first time of the tour really pissed with Fabian because at that point in my opinion it was an evitable major discomfort.
I later felt sorry for my anger when he approached me to check whether he had fever (which he had). He moved drowsily and was obviously really feeling ill. Still, as much as I regretted that, there wasn’t much I could have done for him in the middle of the night on that cargo ship. They wouldn’t even let us leave the harbor at night, so we just had to go back to sleep and wait for the next morning.

The next morning then brought no major improvement to Fabians condition and he decided not to be capable of making the 40 hour journey. He wanted to rest and stay in Mpulungu until he was feeling really better again, also he was afraid he might have caught Malaria and wanted to have that checked too.
So once again we (in that case me and the porters) hurled the bikes across the water and up the next ship, back to land. We left the harbor shortly after sunrise so the immigration was not open yet.
I accompanied Fabian back to the camping ground where I told Charity (the manager) about him feeling so ill. She most kindly offered to stay room camping for the same price as normal camping which we accepted gratefully.
The Americans (I am very sorry but I can only recall Bill’s name) we had met there before offered us a ride to the hospital, where we discovered it was not Malaria.
Although still joking about Amoeba and Typhoid Fever we came to the conclusion that it will probably be symptoms of exhaustion combined with digestive problems.
The last thing we had to do that day was go to the immigration office and organize an re-entry into Zambia.
Although the people there were very helpful and understanding it still took some two hours to solve the problem: They crossed out the “exit” stamp and wrote “canceled” over it. Hrmmm…

Now with us both allowed to stay in Zambia for some more time and Fabians numerous assurances that he would get along fine I decided to continue traveling on my own for the time Fabian would be resting.
Fabian intends to take the Liemba on Friday which left me with 11 days of spare time if we were to meet in Kigoma (Tanzania, where the Liemba leaves).
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, Tanzania is very big, but I wanted to go to Tanzania and I wanted to do some backpacking. So by noon that day I was on my way out of Mpulungu.

Since I was allowed to stay in Zambia for the remaining time of my Visa I decided to take the 80km detour (return) to the Kalambo Falls. We had heard a lot about them and people said they were more impressive than the Vic Falls – which I wouldn’t quite believe.
The road to the Kalambo Falls was, down hill, very beautiful although it required some driving skill. It offered literally everything: Steep ascends and even steeper descends, rock passages with rocks the size of 6-month babies and everything smaller, deep sand, sealed surface, forest, gravel. And once again also everything combined.
The last descend was actually so steep and precipitous that I was close to getting convulsions in my hands from the constant braking.

Anyway: It took me some three hours to reach the falls and they were worth everything, the endless suffering on the way down and the even greater suffering on the way up again. But enough of the exaggeration, the road was demanding but just fine.
Concerning the Falls I am once again lacking the adjectives and especially superlatives to do them justice. I don’t normally like to do these kinds of comparisons but for all of you who have seen the “Avatar” movie (which according to statistics will probably have been more or less everyone) it looks just like the scenes in the movie.
No flying rocks and fish and octopuses of course but the fall itself, the landscape. The same.

You’re standing on a cliff, a thin river flows next to you, falling over the edge of the cliff and down for some estimated 200 to 300meters. It’s roaring at least as loud as the Vic Falls.
You can’t see the water crashing into the river below because of the mist but then you will see the rapids winding through the steep slopes densely covered with rain forest.
You can see through the river valley for some five kms until it takes a turn and flows into the lake. At the end of the valley the sun will be setting.
It’s just plain amazing. I even took a swim, two meters from the edge, in a slower pool.
Now that was nice but it’s going to become better: five meters from where the water falls there is a rock spine pointing horizontally out of the cliff into the abyss.
It’s wide enough for a mat (but only five cms remaining on either side) and long for a human of my size to lie on the spine the whole body and majority of the legs. The wardens were joking about me sleeping there, I did it. And it was amazing.
You can’t move because either side you could fall down, five meters from your head there’s the water falling across the edge in the light of the full moon. The wind occasionally blows drops of water into you face, the roaring and thundering eliminates all other noises. There was a thunder storm on the horizon.
It was simply.. amazing is not strong enough. Incredibly intense. A primal experience.

And then I broke with diarrhea. It came over me at some point in the night and I had to start running. I packed my stuff together because with me running to the toilet all the time sleeping on the cliff appeared to dangerous to me.
But still it was worth it and if I had slept through the night only my ears would have suffered. You don’t notice your sleeping next to a water fall while sleeping anyway.

The next day after getting up I was already too exhausted from the night to go back to the falls and have a last glimpse at them. I had a tough ascend ahead of me but still I decided to proceed to Tanzania.
I just didn’t want to waste the chance and the freedom I had enjoyed on the way down. Now don’t get me wrong here: I really enjoy cycling with Fabian a lot and I need him to keep up motivation and for his greater knowledge of bikes and company for that matter. But once in a while it is nice to have the absolute freedom of choice about what you do.
Stopping for a butterfly or not, going where you want, eating what you want, taking the detours you want and stopping whenever you want or not stopping when you don’t want to.
So I enjoyed that freedom and decided to proceed although I really suffered my way back up hill, pushing the greater parts. And this time without exaggeration.

I later ran into a South African whom we had met at the camping ground earlier, briefly and we traveled to Sumbawanga together. Sadly it took a rather unpleasant ending but I won’t go into details here.
I cycled (after returning back from the falls) to Mbala to get my exit stamp and after no ride arrived to the hour I proceeded to the Tanzanian border by bike. I was feeling better, still not strong but better by that time and the way was quite nice.
The border itself wasn’t very spectacular, the Zambian side being not much more than a cattle fence and the Tanzanian side a concrete lock with iron gates.
The border official then was pretty much the coolest officer we met on the tour. No uniform, sitting behind a laptop in the otherwise empty office. A young guy who spoke perfect English. We chatted for quite some time alongside dealing with my entry. He was a great help at getting the right Visa and also told me that a collective East Africa Visa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania) is planned but not yet available.
The border town, Kaseya, wasn’t spectacular at all. I found a place in a tiny guesthouse and a cheap meal. What was spectacular though is the following:
Firstly I was taught how to play “Boa”, a terribly mathematical East African board game which you can not possibly learn just by watching. They play it so quick and seem to place marbles randomly on the four rows of the game.
It’s fun though once you’ve learned it and getting taught a game without understanding a word of each others language except for Nidyo (Yes) and Hapana (No) is a great experience too.

The other thing is the remarkable kindness and helpfulness of the Tanzanian people. Starting with the border official through all my way through Tanzania I encountered amazingly helpful people.
Everybody is interested and if you seem to need help it will take no five minutes until somebody has stopped, discovered that to his surprise you don’t seem to understand Kisuaheli and then found somebody who speaks English.

But the best thing is that the Tanzanian people seem to be, although extremely friendly if approached, comparably cautious. They don’t yell as you as much as Zambians and Malawians did. I didn’t here a single whistle or hiss in the whole of Tanzania.
But once you approach them they ware very friendly and talkative. As you can see I love this place. Tanzania is my new favorite place so far (with more reasons to come).

The following day brought a ride on a truck to Sumbawanga. The bike was tied to the outside rail of the cargo area, our luggage was squashed somewhere beneath all the luggage of the other people, with oil barrels on top of that and then the people on top of that!
It occurred to me as a miracle that the bike and luggage survived that trip without further problems. That ride was by the way arranged by a man we had met the evening before, “Remmy”, who also went to Sumbawanga.
On that first ride we had the great privilege of boarding first and thus being able to secure seats in the driver’s cabin. Those trucks usually tend to be overloaded with people and luggage and going in the back is not too much fun.

The connection from Sumbawanga to Mpanda was organized by the mentioned border official. By that time I was planning on leaving my bicycle in Kigoma and jetting to Zanzibar for a few days so I was in quite a hurry to reach Kigoma (since the trip to Zanzibar and back takes 5 days).
Sumbawanga is an awful place and Mpanda is worse. I arrived at Mpanda at night which is bad but our bus left Sumbawanga with an 5 hour delay so there was nothing to do about it. All the while my bike was in the cargo area in the bottom of the bus with both wheels dismantled. It gave me the creeps because the ride was real tough (the roads in western Tanzania are least said adventurous), some of the bumps were so bad it gave you real pains in the spinal cord. I could virtually see my cassettes braking below me.
And once again – miraculously – my bike survived. I guess Schauff did a good job at assembling it.

I left Mpanda very early that morning. It was Sunday and so no buses were leaving for Kigoma. I intended to hitch a ride on a Lori (Truck) again and since they had left Kaseya before dawn I was up an hour before dawn again.
It took me some time to find the correct road out of Mpanda but once again I got the pleasure of the Tanzanian helpfulness. This time to the negative side. One problem is that if people don’t quite understand what you’re saying they just answer “yes”. So if you find a person who’s capable of decent English you’re never quite sure whether they understood what you said or not.
In that case another cyclist offered me to show me where the Loris leave. On the question whether he was going to take it too he answered “yes”…

We rode out of town for an hour. Sun was rising and I finally gave up hope to reach the place were the Loris depart and settled with just cycling to Kigoma. That’s some 240km from Mpanda, so doable in two days.

In a village were I stopped to fill up water (I didn’t bring any when setting off) I found a pick up truck which was actually going to Kigoma.
Some bargaining got me a decent price for the ride and so I got a ride sprawled out on the back of that pickup on my long way to Kigoma.
The ride takes 10 hours with a car going fast.

After an hour or so, we had had breakfast in between which consists of incredibly sweet but delicious Chai (tea) and Chapati (“pancakes”) and optional chicken, we passed a Lori. The problem with that Lori was that it had crashed, it just fell of the road down a small slope and all the passengers were roaming the roadside.
That of course was the end of the comfortable part of the ride. Soon after we were eight people and a baby and all their luggage on the back, clinging onto each other not to fall off on the heavy bumps.
I was sitting next to a man, a school teacher, with which I had a nice conversation. He also introduced me to the art of eating sugar cane.

All in all the ride was long, very long, and even more exhausting but enjoyable too. The driver was going at a pretty fast speed so it didn’t get too hot and the landscape was plain amazing.
First the road went up into the mountains, cliffs scattered in the known light mountainous forests, grassy parts and almost rain forest like passages. Then the road would open the view on what I assume was the rift valley and you would go down hill for ages. The forest would turn into bamboo woods, into grass land, into bamboo woods, into farm land.
There was one police road block before Uvinza at which the driver had to pay a bribe to the local police officer.
I hadn’t seen anybody paying bribes before but the matter is handled pretty openly in Tanzania. The first time I encountered it was when the driver from Kaseya to Sumbawanga actually had to bribe two different officers…
Interesting enough nobody tried to press bribes from the white travellers.

We dropped up the new passengers at Kazungula and made our way to Kigoma. Kigoma is a comparatively nice town, that due to it’s lake shore setting. It’s got the idyllic boat in a bay setting with the steep mountains of Congo on the other shore.

And now the second reason why I love Tanzania so much: It’s finally got fruit! There’s an endless supply of fresh papaya and pineapple and guava and oranges and bananas and avocado and water melon and it’s just awesome.
I’ve been feeding fresh fruit ever since I arrived here. It’s cheap to. Great! I love it. We should stay much longer in the equatorial regions.. but Ethiopia offers good food too. Only Sudan and Egypt aren’t famous.. mhmm.. Never mind.

I had some major confusion about my plans here in Kigoma. It’s just too hard to get away from this place and my mother contributed to it by suggesting just to proceed along the route rather than wasting all the money and time on transport and wait somewhere nice on the route.
I ended up with the latter suggestion but it took me through some major chaos involving a already booked (but not payed) bus ride to Dar Es Salaam.
On deciding to proceed along the route the next question arising was about the Burundian Visa. Gladly there is an consulate here in Kigoma, which although is very hard to find since it seems to move frequently.
Right now it is located on the eastern mountain about half way up and no decent road is leading toward it.
The easiest way to get there is to follow the road leaving from the roundabout in front of the gas station up the hill, continue straight when it turns left until you reach the shule (school). Go around the shule and up the dirt road. The only building with a flag is the Burundian consulate…
There is some major confusion in town about where that consulate is and asking around I was advised to go in literally every direction. Finally a man actually accompanied me there (since my lack of understanding Kisuaheli made giving directions hard) in the midday heat. Asante sana!

The people at the consulate were quite helpful and I got my Visa without further problems although I think that a 60USD for a country of Burundi’s size is rather expensive.

So tomorrow around noon, after stocking up with fresh fruit, I will take a Lake Taxi to Kagunga, the last town in Tanzania and from there to Nyanza-Lac in Burundi, to Bujumbura and finally Rwanda.
I’ll be meeting with Fabian in Ruhengeri as the plan is right now, hiking the volcanoes until he arrives.

Now since Fabian has the Camera sadly there is no evidence of my stay in Tanzania. Just believe me and perhaps enjoy the plain text without pictures. The article’s title picture is a photo taken in Malawi. And mainly to avoid the big question mark on the main page. Perhaps Fabian will upload some pictures from file later…

So long,

p.s. at least I’m trying to learn some Kisuaheli and I would strongly advise every other traveler to Tanzania to do so too. People (at least in these beautiful remoter parts) don’t speak much English.


  1. Sebastian

    Your travelogues are getting better and better!

    I think it was the right decision to skip jetting to Zanzibar; you still can do that when you’re old and gray, you’ll likely experience more adventures off the beaten path. Der Weg ist das Ziel!

    I’m a bit surprised that you’re planning to meet Fabian in Rwanda instead of Kigoma. How will he get from there to Ruhengeri? I’m also surprised that you still are planning on taking the taxi, even though you now have time to ride your bike and look at the butterflies on the way. Well, I guess your posterior must have had a word in that decision. ;-)

    Safari njema!

    • Tim

      Thanks. Concerning the taxi has two main reasons, three perhaps… a) it’s another adventure. b) the road to Burundi would include a major (80) km detour and even worse: going up again for 1500m on dirt road.. c) the border post is marked in my map for “local border traffic only”.
      Lonely Planet states that it should be possible to cross there (and is more up to date) but to be honest I don’t want to risk climbing up that hill and back down again without accomplishing anything ;-)

      On the other hand the bureaux de exchange doesn’t seem to open today so I might have to go to a bigger Tanzanian border post to get rid of my remaining Shillings.

  2. Marlies

    In Mpulungu funktioniert seit Tagen das Internet nicht. Deshalb hier eine Nachricht von Fabian, mit dem ich heute telefoniert habe. Seit heute ist er ohne Symptome :) , aber noch geschwächt. Es geht ihm gut, er liest viel, guckt Filme und es sind nette Leute in seiner Lodge am See.
    Tim, ich habe ihm gesagt, dass du Richtung Ruanda bist und am Sonntag nicht in Kigoma. Fabian geht davon aus, dass die Liemba Freitag fährt und er am Sonntagabend in Kigoma sein wird. Ich denke, dann werdet ihr übers Internet (oder Handy?) wieder in Kontakt kommen.
    Euch beiden weiterhin eine gute Reise, mit schönen Erlebnissen, erfüllenden Kontakten und ohne nennenswerte Gesundheitsprobleme. Have a nice time:)

  3. Edda

    ich hab euren blog letzte Woche im Portugiesisch Unterricht unter dem Thema digitale Tagebuecher vorgestellt, inzwischen weiss wahrscheinlich meine ganze Schule von eurer Tour =)