Kigoma & Lake Taganyika

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June 13th 2012
Published: September 9th 2012
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Bujumbura and Kigoma, Tanzania are only 170km apart and I naively hoped that this would be a straightforward and relatively short trip. I got to the bus station in Bujumbura early enough, only to find that the only bus going direct to Kigoma had gone at 6.30 a.m. I had to get a taxi to Kinido district and find a minibus going to Mabanda, near the border and hope to connect to Kigoma there.

This minibus took about an hour to fill up, but I got quite lucky with a seat in the front. This minibus was well and truly packed like a tin of sardines by the time we got going. The drive was painfully slow as we stopped every half kilometre, or so it seemed, to let people in and out. However, it was a very scenic drive for most of it and reinforced my view of Burundi being extremely underdeveloped.

We got to Mabanda about 3 hours after leaving. I found a shared taxi that was going from Mabanda to the border. No space was wasted in this shared taxi either and I shared the front seat with another guy. I got stamped out of Burundi in Mabanda, then embarked on the 45 minute journey to the border on a terrible, pot-holed dirt track, which turned into tar, as soon as we reached the Tanzanian border.

We pulled up outside the Tanzanian Immigration office, where I was hoping that by entering at this quiet border post, I might get away with not paying the excess visa charge payable by Irish citizens. Most countries have to pay $50 for a Tanzanian visa, but USA and Irish citizens must pay $100 and Pakistanis must pay $200. I’m not sure why us Irish are singled out with the Americans, but someone did mention to me that one of our Minister for Foreign Affairs had upset them some time ago.

A big sign just inside the office with the prices payable for each nation, cast doubt on any hopes I had of pulling a fast one. These were dashed once and for all, by the irritatingly on-the-ball border official. I handed over the $100 even though he wouldn’t give me an answer, other than a big belly laugh, to what Tanzania had against the Irish. I switched to another shared taxi and got into Kigoma just as nightfall was descending. I checked into Mapundizi guest house, then watched England draw with France 1-1, before going to bed.

The next morning, I went to the bus stand to buy a ticket to Mpanda for the next day. These plans were scuppered by the fact that there wasn’t a bus going until the day after. It took about 15 minutes for the guy at the ticket office to impart this information. He had two posters up in his office – one of Muammar Gadaffi, one of ‘Africa’s Great Sons’ and one which was a commemoration to Africa’s Great Dictators, so he was not the type of guy I wanted to get to argumentative with.

There is not much to Kigoma, but it is right on Lake Tanganyika. It has a big railway station built by the Germans and a port that is still in use. It also has a few beaches, but the best ones are about 5 km outside town at a place known as Jacobsen’s Beach. I got a dalla dalla (minibus), possibly the most packed one I had been on so far.

I got off at a sand track heading towards the coast and walked for about half an hour through some very tiny, primitive villages. There are two coves once you reach the lakeshore and I went down to one, which I found to completely deserted. I spent the afternoon reading and swimming in the crystal clear water. One other white girl did appear in the water briefly at one point and some local guys came down just before I left, but other than that I had the idyllic beach to myself.

As I walked back, a vervet monkey popped out of a tree and later as I walked the same sand track back, I spotted a few zebras on the path in front of me. Even though I had seen quite a few animals on safari, this was somehow even more thrilling, to just come upon these animals in the wild. I got a lot of attention from the local kids as I passed the villages and they got extremely excited, when I took a photo of them and showed it to them on the screen. Night time in Kigoma was fairly quiet and food options were fairly limited, so after watching a few of the Euro 2012 matches, I was in bed early enough.

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