West Tanzania: Hippos, Mud, Scuba, Mangos, Hippos, Jane Goodall, Giraffes, Wine, Hippos, and Hippos.

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Africa » Tanzania » West » Kipili
November 26th 2013
Published: June 24th 2014
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The road to the Tanzanian border was a rutted, hilly affair, filled as in the rest of Burundi with locals carrying produce or pushing laden bicycles. The Tanzanian border post seemed organised and well resourced compared to the Burundi one, but unfortunately, despite the assurances of the officials at the Kenya/Tanzania border, our $50 visa didn’t cover re-entry into the country. There was no swaying them, so after waiting around for a while pretending we didn’t have the money, we begrudgingly forked out another $50 each for entry into a country we had only left a couple of days before. We had better luck at customs, where we managed to talk our way out of paying the various customs charges again.

That night we had planned to stop at Kigoma, so after a trip to an ATM, and Vodafone shop for a SIM card, we rode about looking for a spot to camp next to the lake (Tanganyika). While we were riding around somewhat aimlessly, we stumbled across the Jane Goodall Education Centre. I realised that just north of Kigoma is where the Gombe Stream Research Centre is where Jane Goodall carried out her pioneering research into chimp behaviour in the 60s. She was pretty amazing; a young white woman living in the African jungle for years, systematically observing chimp behaviour in the wild for the first time (including tool use, which had previously been thought to be a uniquely human trait).

We met the manager of the centre, and was kind enough to let us set up camp right on the lakeshore. What a spot. I was also able to have a good chat with one of the Gombe Stream researchers about their research. A swim in the lake was followed by a trip into town for goat kebabs at Sandra’s Bar (my mum’s name), a few beers, and then a ride back to our camp on the back of a “piki piki” motorbike taxi.

The next day was a brilliant ride. A blast on good tarmac, refreshment stop in the middle of nowhere with the juiciest fresh sweet mangos, and then a remote gravel ride through forest clad hills of western Tanzania. Oh yeah, today was what the trip was all about. A day where the thrill of the remote riding was only offset by the concern about access to petrol. The mud roads had seen some rain, and we needed to tip-toe through the slippery forest roads. One area in was particularly treacherous. Jaap put his bike down at a reasonable speed and hammered his pannier, but was good natured enough to allow me to take a photo in return for helping him get the bike up. On this trip I noticed that some days you enjoy the hard riding, feel more confident, and take more risks, while on other days you feel vulnerable and just want to potter along and keep things safe. Often Jaap and I were in similar riding moods, but today Jaap was in safe mode, and I was blasting the music and enjoying the mud.

We arrived into Mpanda and headed straight for the petrol station. Such a good feeling to top the tanks off after getting so low. Then we headed to fuel ourselves back up with barbequed meat, beer, and egg and potato omelettes. There was mobile reception, and I was able to send voice messages and a photo of us and our dinner to Trace and Finn on WhatsApp. Hard case after being so far away from civilisation during the afternoon.

A campsite just out of Mpanda had been recommended to us by another overlander Paul while in Kenya. Apparently it was right next to a waterhole frequented by hippos, so we left Mpanda just on dusk in search of it. Not the best move, riding the dark in Africa can be dodgy. After just about cleaning up a cyclist in the middle of nowhere with no lights who swerved towards me as I was passing him, and then underestimating the extent to which an oncoming truck driver would give me space (probably the closest call of the trip), we found the campsite. It was dark, but the deep grunts and sloshing of mud meant it was clear we had found the "Hippo Camp" that Paul had talked about.

When we woke up the number of hippos in the muddy stream-bed was insane. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. Hippos! Hundreds of them! Hippos! Baby hippos, lady hippos, large scarred male hippos, and run of the mill hippos. Like a cobbled street, but with hippo backs rather than cobbles.

The campsite was right on the boundary of the Katavi National Park, so after hippo watching for a while we headed off and had a great morning's ride through the park on our way south. The highlight was a tower of giraffes which ran beside and in front of us. A running giraffe is a truly beautiful thing. Languid, graceful, and fast. Check out the video below for the giraffes, hippos, and my near miss with the truck!

We took a detour out west later in the day to a lodge and campsite on the shore of Lake Tanganyika which a couple of overlanders had insisted we go to. We planned on taking a day off there to chill out, but in the end spent four nights there! Chris and Louise the owners had designed and built the place, and everything was just incredible. The location, the buildings, the people, the food. Mangos were literally falling off the massive trees near our campsite, the water was pristine, the misty mountains of the Congo loomed across the lake, we even went scuba diving with countless freshwater species of cichlid that I had never seen before. The rainy season was close, and the clouds, thunderstorms, hot sun, and sunsets kept the landscape interesting. We camped for US$10 or something, and it was absolutely brilliant.

What a dude
The sign at the front of the Lake Shore Lodge read "come as guests, leave as friends" and despite only being there for a few days, by the end I really did consider Chris and Louise to be friends. Wonderful people. They even offered us a luxury beachside banda for free and a pig-on-a-spit "leaving party" if we stayed a final night. Legends.

The other travellers who had made the detour to the Lake Shore also made our time there special. Louise's brother David and his wife Catherine had quit their jobs and were taking a couple of months off. They were a constant source of wine-fuelled hilarity. Shara was travelling by herself in a Land Cruiser along a similar route to us to Cape Town. She had been cleaned up by a bus in Kenya that had attempted to overtake her as she was turning right. The pictures of her Land Cruiser were not pretty. After waiting for weeks for it to be repaired, she had started the trip again a week or so before. Kudos to her for getting back on the road and for travelling through Africa by herself. On the way Shara had picked up Lesanne, a Zimbabwean photographer (www.lesannephotography.com) who was travelling through the area creating material for a book. An English guy called Pod was doing a PhD on the history of Lake Tanganyika, and was fascinating to talk to about an area that was starting to become more meaningful to me. So not only were we in paradise in the middle of Africa, but we had found a group of people that were so good to hang out with. This was even more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been, as our contact with other westerners had been limited and fleeting for quite a while. The only downside was that the photos of sundowner wines by the lake and luxury accommodation did not do much for the perception we were roughing it through Africa...

The morning of our departure was a shambolic affair due to the hangover from the "leaving party". Jaap was literally too hungover to speak. It took us until early afternoon to get organised enough to leave, and then a few kms down the road Jaap got a flat front tire. Poor fella having to change that in his condition in the baking afternoon sun. After he had initially tried to install the wheel back to front, the wheel was remounted, and we heading off again. Twenty minutes later he stopped again because he realised he had not done up all the bolts holding the wheel in place...

Understandably Jaap took it easy on the 140km to Sumbawanga, but I loved the dry undulating dirt roads and had a good blast. There were 1.5m high humps over large drains that crossed the road at regular intervals. They were fun to fly over, but I got over-enthusiastic with one and rather than landing on the down slope on the other side, I went too far and landed on the flat of the road bottoming the bike out. A reminder that there was still a long way to go, and that I should really look after the bike.

We met up with Lesanne, Pod, and Shara that night in Sumbawanga for a final meal together, and the next day headed south towards the minor Zambian border crossing near Kasesya. Western Tanzania had been a highlight of the trip, up there with Libya and northern Ethiopia. I was sorry to leave.

Additional photos below
Photos: 50, Displayed: 28


26th June 2014

An amazing trip
Thanks for taking us along on your travels.
7th April 2015

First view of lake Tanganika
Thanks! Have been fascinated with this area since I used to keep aquariums full of cichlids. Your blog is inspiration to go see it for myself one day. Great pics :)

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