Wild Western Tanzania

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December 2nd 2011
Published: December 2nd 2011
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Western Tanzania is a very vast unpopulated place and getting anywhere is in terms of days. It is really of the beaten track and it is easy to see why, transport here is scarce and the sights are a long way apart. It is a place to go if you have time to spare and can be stuck for a few days in one town or along the road if it rains.

The main reason for us heading here was to visit Lake Tanganyika which is the longest and second deepest lake in the world but we did not realize that arriving there would be such a challenge. Leaving Rwanda you can soon see the differences in the efficiently of the transport. No busses or dalla dalls’s (minibuses which is the common local transportation) scheduled in sight and not an inkling if any are going to leave soon so by foot we started.

An hour or so a car taxi (called dalla-dalla car) pulls up and we jump in for a three hour drive to the nearest town. The car taxis now seem to be the best option for travel in these parts are they are cheap and quick but fill every space possible with people. Four in the front, five in the back and if any space if left after luggage in the rear more people in there. We were hoping to get to arrive at the main road intersection that from Rwanda goes east to Lake Victoria along a nice tarmac road or west along a dirt road into no man’s land. By dusk we arrived at the ramshackle of a town and found a cheap place to spend the night, nobody speaks English and we have to show our Swahili and body language skills but mostly people are just laughing at us and actually we think it is quite funny. Since we haven’t had any food for past 24 hours and we are absolute starving, and we are turning to a local restaurant/bar and trying to explain that we need have some food… well we order something but we don’t have a clue what we’ll get. It wasn’t so bad food at all and we didn’t get sick since we were expecting to be after this kind of food. We were falling to sleep very early after a long day travel and knowing that tomorrow would be worse.

Kigoma was our main destination, the main town for the whole of western Tanzania and on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and from here we planned to take the train inland to the capital of Tanzania, Dodoma. We found out that a bus passed the intersection town at 8am, well apparently, heading towards Kigoma and after 7 hours (10 if raining) you should arrive. The distance is 350km so the going is very slow.

Waiting on the road a guy pulls up and asks where we are going and happens to be going the same way, we negotiate a price and are of. This seems to be a much better option than the bus that was already by this stage 30 minutes late and we were right. Driving along we pass some of the busses heading the other way and they are completely packed to the rafters with people and something we didn’t really want to do for the 10+ hours.

The scenery in this area is really breathtaking though which made the journey very enjoyable. Tribes pass by waving with one hand and holding spears in the other, this is remote country. It is really green in Western Tanzania which is not what we were expecting for this part of the world, for some reason when we think of the wild western parts of this country we think dry, unbearably hot unlivable land but it is quite the opposite. As we got closer to Lake Tanganyika things turn into even more lush tropical plants, mangoes, bananas and pineapples everywhere, we were looking forward to stopping and getting into that fruit. The pineapples, mangoes and papayas are in season this time of years and for a dollar you can get two large fresh pineapples and four mangoes.

Once into Kigoma our main mission was to find out when the train left to go to Dodoma, we were hoping it would be on the Monday to give us two nights in Kigoma before moving on but it turns out it only leaves twice per week. Either Sunday or Thursdays, this was exactly what we didn’t want. One night or five nights here was our choice and we would have been happy with five but we needed to meet some friends before the 30th in Dodoma so only one night it was. This was maybe the worst option for us as we have been on the road for three days and then about to board the train which has a reputation for having delays up to twelve hours long.

It was a quick look around only a tiny section of Lake Tanganyika and we would have loved to spend a few days here to get to know the area more but this is what happens in this part of the world, you need to make the most of the travel chances or be stuck in one place for quite some time.

The train has two choices at the moment, first and third class but first class was fully booked since it was the next day train and the thought of having to travel in third class for at least 24 hours does not sound like a pleasant experience. We tries everything to hopefully get into first class and just before the train left the next day we got some luck and got a cabin for ourselves. First class may sound great, but remember this is Africa and although we had a bed each sleeping was another story. Cockroaches are everywhere as well as all sorts of other insects crawling around the place, the windows have to be close by a wooden stick in the tropical heat since we can be robbed in middle of night (the train is really slow and people jumping on and off all the time and especially in the night time), the thought of third class just makes us shiver. We had a look at one of cabins if you’re lucky in this class you get a seat and that’s it, goats, chickens and other animals are all cramped in with passengers for the long haul.

The train is terribly slow and if it rains it is even slower and at one stage we were even going backwards for some reason. The whole trip for us was supposed to take 24 hours but ended up at 36 hours which makes it even more enjoyable to be in ‘first class’. The train is even so slow that people are always walking along the train selling fruits, vegetables and it is even possible to jump off and have a proper meal.

At one stage the whole train seemed to empty of passengers and the sky was glowing red with people cooking everything from beans to chicken and also proper meals. The train was still chugging away but very slow so people had time to get off, find what they desired and get back on. We got some barbeque chicken and chips but other was getting rice, carrots, goat and all sorts, a really cool experience.

Western Tanzania is one place we would love to go back to and spend a great more deal of time. The landscape is amazing and empty of people which makes it a great alternative to the touristy northern circuit of the country, it is just getting around that is a problem. If you have own transport it would be utterly fantastic with a remote National Parks out here that are truly wild, true Africa.

Diana hit the touristic road of Tanzania three years ago and she absolutely loved it, and it is why we chose to come back. Since we are travelling by local transportation, she was worried that her opinion would change about this corner of the world. We were expecting that backpacking through Tanzania would be similar to Kenya which means a lot hassle and annoying people who is asking for money. Surprisingly we had opposite to our expectations and a fabulous first impression of Western Tanzania. Such nice and friendly people, they are coming to you talk and greet you “Karibu” (Welcome) to Tanzania. They will make sure that you’ll have a pleasant time in this area. Well this part of the world is still absolute amazing but everything builds on the personal experiences.

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