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Published: September 9th 2018
If a place is only accessible by boat and the people at the town of the port are staring, you know you've managed to get away from most other tourists, which is awesome, but who will my hubby moan about in his blogs? We are at the edge of Lake Tanganyika, in the Gombe Nature Park in East Tanzania and we practically have the place to ourselves, except for a few staff and many potentially thieving baboons. It took some getting to and we started at 4.30am, in Dar Es Salaam.
My first thought of the day was no one can helped but be wowed by an all-in-one shower and squat loo, how eco is that?!! AND not only does the loo act as the drain for shower water, you can also take a dump whilst showering! I tell you what, I have no idea why my hubby told me NOT to look at the TripAdvisor reviews for this place, somewhere in darkest/ pot-holed Dar Es Salaam before we left. We arrived at around 11.30pm and left at 5am, so I regret not being to try out the rest of the facilities, assuming there were any.
After a 45
min flight to Amsterdam followed by 10 hours to Dar Es Salaam, we arrived in Tanzania at around 10.30 pm to be confronted by the slowest visa system possible. It began with a long queue that we managed to be at the back of. We were separated into different queues in the hopeless hope of efficiency. Desk 1 took my passport, application, photographed me and scanned fingerprints; slowly, oh so very slowly. Desk 2, again had my documents and gave me a receipt for a payment as yet unpaid. Desk 3 took my cash, passport and then I had to wait. Desk 3 tapped on the glass for a man to take my passport to the adjoining desk 4 where they kept my passport a while longer. Eventually a man called for 'Claire Waday' and I was ready to go. Glyn wasn't though, but he wasn't quite the last either.
Glyn had booked a driver who hadn't given up waiting for us, to take us to our accommodation. The short drive took us through town where markets were still bustling despite it being 11.30pm. It was quite dark as there's not a lot of street lighting, but many of
the hundreds of shack shops, (many of which were open) had extremely bright lights which lit up the mostly single-storey town which looked like it had never seen better days. People had small barbecues by the roadside and there was a nice social atmosphere. Our driver made a phonecall in Swahili and then explained that he didn't know where he was going. Eventually he found a dark dirt road with huge potholes with our 'hotelier' waiting on the corner, he got in the car and chatted to our driver. Around the corner, our accommodation was the only lit building, we vacated the car and our hotel guy said hello, then led us silently to a basic room and left.
It was fine for the few hours sleep we were to get, the bed was clean and had a mosquito net, plus a few mosquitoes. Luckily Glyn had saved a bottle of water from the plane to clean our teeth with and we were soon tucked up.
We got up at 4.30am, expecting to be picked up at 5.30. Our driver arrived at 4.45 just as Glyn was getting out of the shower, so we rushed thinking we might
be late but we weren't. The journey there was busy, what in earth are so many people doing up at this ungodly hour on a Sunday? Buses were packed, the city was bustling and we were barely awake.
We got to the airport at 5.15am but check-in wasn't until 7am. Great. We had a flavourless breakfast and then took the 2 hour flight to Kigoma in a smallish plane.
Kigomao airport is minimal, with an orange-brown dirt runway and tiny building for everything. Immigration was an outside desk where a uniformed guy wrote passport details of all foreigners in a lined A4 notebook. Like everything so far here, it took time. Two guys pulled a hand-cart containing all the luggage past us to where all the passengers gathered, blocking each other from collecting their bags. I'd lost my baggage ticket so had to grab and run with my rucksack whilst one official was demanding the ticket from another guy who'd also lost his. There were women singing as we arrived, but they weren't there for us, but to greet worshippers returning from some festival.
Another driver, James took us to Ujiji which once was the centre of
the ivory trade and slave trade. The town is small now with mostly orange dirt roads skirted with goats, chickens, a few cattle plus many people generally dressed in bright clothing. The buildings were small with either thatched or corrugated iron roofs. Shops and businesses also lined the roads, with various goods on display outside such as vegetables, textiles, sofas and electrical goods. We seem to be the only tourists and people were staring curiously.
Our driver took us to a Dr Livingstone memorial centre, where an elderly guide told us a lot, but most of which we struggled to understand. One of the bonuses of being female at these times is that the guides generally direct their attention at Glyn, so I don't have to pretend so hard to understand. This guy had eye contact with Glyn throughout as he told us about Livingstone, a mango tree and that he was mates with Michael Palin since 1992.
A short drive took us to a 'port' or place on the edge of the lake where wooden fishing boats pulled up. Here we met Barack and Duma, our boat driver and cook who took us on a covered blue
wooden boat up the lake to Gombe. The engine was uncovered and it took Barack many attempts with a piece of rope to get it started. The journey took 2 hours and took us along the shoreline on fairly choppy water, as this is the only way to the Gombe Reserve. I lay down and napped for a while, waking up to see a baboon at the water's edge having a drink. Families appeared and it was amazing to see them in the wild, unbothered by us.
Our base had a few buildings and fancy tents with their own verandas. We had the cheapest accommodation which had an ensuite bathroom with a western style loo that was also placed almost directly under the shower, so again there's the opportunity to take a dump and shower combined! There were only two other tourists here (and we only saw them briefly), plus a few park staff, a couple of passing fishermen and us - perfect! It was too late to go trekking as the chimps would be far away, so we actually relaxed and went for a swim in Lake Tanganyika, which is massive being the second deepest in the world
and we were assured that there are no crocodiles or snakes. We couldn't take any valuables because the baboons are guaranteed to steal them.
As we had arrived so late for no explained reason, lunch had become tea and was basic but nice with beans, vegetables and rice finished off with pineapple and a banana. After a briefing about tomorrow's trek, we chilled by the lake watching the sun go down. A good start to the holiday!
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