Sandbags to Sand Dunes Expedition 2010

40,000km overland in an Land Rover

Archive for the ‘Tanzania’ Category

Serengeti to the Swahili Coast

Posted by jamesandpolls on July 8, 2010

After the emotional day at the genocide memorial museum in Kigali our spirits were lifted when we spent a morning with Hope and Homes for children’s Country Manager Vianney. It was interesting for us to compare the operations here to those we learnt about in our previous visit to the charity in Bosnia. H&H in Rwanda supports children including genocide orphans, AIDS orphans and children who are head of their household at a very young age. The charity has made a large impact on both the lives of orphaned children in Rwanda and also the communities in which the children live.

With Vianney outside Hope and Homes Office

With a small yet highly trained and efficient team Vianney supports 300 families across Rwanda ensuring the children have the support they need to have a full and happy life. It was truly an inspiration. Something that has not gone unnoticed to many NGOs in the country who have asked H&H to collaborate in their efforts – something they are rightly careful to do. It once again reinforced how great it is to be raising money for this charity. Please see our website for more information and the opportunity to donate.

The next day we started our short journey from Kigali to the border. Rwanda had been a emotional country, such despair and devastation only 15 years ago has now turned into hope and speculation of a great future although one gets the sense that the genocide is still a ‘black dog’ on many shoulders. It is, by far and away, the cleanest country in Africa, something that it is justifiably proud of. This together with the fantastic scenery and very kind people make it a must visit country in Central East Africa.

The border between Rwanda and Tanzania is marked by the Akanyaru River, which flows into Lake Victoria. After a few photos of the waterfalls underneath the bridge we drove into our 18th country of the trip. The vegetation quickly turned into dry savannah from the lushness of Uganda and Rwanda. The far north west of Tanzania is little visited by tourists, and apart from a few small villages and a Rwandan refugee camp there is nothing for miles. Our first night was spent at an old German Fort (Boma) built in 1904 in a dusty town called Bilharamulo. It was like being back at an old English boarding school  but we had a great time with a Mexican couple who had driven up from Angola.

The next night we camped at the run down yacht club in Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria – it is a hot and sticky gold mining town with a great fruit and veg market (although one guy came up to us and told us we were in danger being there!) before heading with anticipation towards the mighty Serengeti.

Wildebeest migration in the serengeti

We were lucky to hit the Serengeti bang on migration time, and within 5 minutes of entering the park, with the Lion King tunes ringing out, herds of wildebeest and zebras were crossing our path and stretching for miles into the distance. The animals head towards the Grumenti River before going up into the Masai Mara. We drove up to the river and saw the giant crocodiles awaiting their prey – they are enormous, so prehistoric looking and we were terrifyingly close. Even saw some fighting over a head of a poor wildebeest who had been the unlucky one that morning. Groups of up to 20 hippos huddled together in pools along the river and monkeys played in the trees lining it.

Giant croc a bit to close for comfort

We drove through this spectacle for 6 hours and were blown away by the sheer volume of animals everywhere. There are a few campsites in the park, and we thought we were onto a winner – only us there and the sounds of the animals. Unfortunately at 6.58pm (2 minutes before the campsite shut for the evening) 2 overland trucks pulled up and spoilt our bush camp.  When all fell silent however the lions roared us to sleep. We were up at 6am raring to go for our morning game drive, and we saw a lion sitting on a rock Simba style, very cool.

Lake Natron

After leaving the Serengeti out of the northern gate near the Kenyan border (so we didn’t have to pay $200 to drive through the Ngorogoro Crater reserve) we took the bad but very scenic road to Lake Natron through Masai villiages and plains with jewellry clad warriors in bright red kangas watching over their cattle. It was like being back in Northern Kenya again – tribal people everywhere, this time though they were Masaai rather than Samburu. Lake Natron holds some of the most breathtaking scenery of our trip so far.

El Doinyo Lengai - Northern Tanzania

The most active volcano in east Africa El Doinyo Lenyai towers over a highly Alkaline lake which is no more than 60 cm deep. It is the breeding ground for millions of flamingos, who get their pink colour from the algae in the lake. Like the Turkana tribe, the Masaai people of this area have adapted to the harsh living conditions of the lake. We stayed one night then raced to Arusha to prepare PAX for the arrival of Lou and hetti the next day.

After a hectic morning of spring cleaning, filling the car up in Arusha, stocking up with supplies at the Shopright Supermarket and refilling our gas bottle, we managed to look calm and collected for the arrival of Hetti and Lou. These two friends would be with us for the next two weeks and after 4 days of luxury in the Serengeti they were ready to rough it a bit and get into the overlander vibe. It was pretty much straight into the deep and as we had 350km to cover that first afternoon. PAX is not designed for 4, and has no back seats, so we had fashioned two back seats from boxes and cushions. Contribution from Hetti:

Above the clouds looking over the Masaai Steppes

Arriving at a campsite in the town of Arusha to find Jimbo and Polls there to meet us was a pretty surreal moment! Apparently Arusha, a small town which serves as the gateway to many safaris, and expeditions up Kilimanjaro, is the half way point between Cairo and Cape Town – so we had literally met them in the middle of Africa! We had been dropped there by our guide at the end of our four day safari. Now we were to be part of ‘T-R Tours Ltd’, as we soon named them! It was fab to see them both – looking so well, if a little thinner, but evident that life on the road was definitely suiting them! Jimbo sporting a ginger beard that led many people we met along the way to believe he was a Scandinavian, much to our amusement!
Once greetings and hugs were done, Jimbo was keen to find out what ‘goodies’ we had brought out with us. I had been given a very important consignment – Jimbo’s South African passport which he was longing to get his hands on…  It was quickly handed over and Jimbo became the proud owner of a new nationality. He was soon telling many who we met that he was an African too – they weren’t convinced, funnily enough. They were also very keen to get their hands on the nearly week old edition of the Times that we had carefully carried with us and, of course, the selection of magazines we had brought. The copies  of Hello and Private Eye became their most prized possessions, before long.

T-R Tours Ltd had already made a plan for the day so, after a speedy lunch, we hit the road. They had cleverly made two seats in the back of PAX for us – there was plenty of room albeit that a bit of swapping around was needed to avoid cramp and numb bums! As you can imagine, on the trip from Arusha to Lushoto we talked non-stop – us filling them in on all the gossip from home whilst we were also longing to hear, first hand, about all their adventures and of course the ‘nightmare of Ethiopia’. The route had been set on the GPS. I, rather disparagingly, suggested that following Sat Nav wasn’t really travelling – surely it took some of the adventure out of it?! I take it all back! There is plenty of opportunity for adventure without having to find one’s route too. It’s an amazing piece of kit, least of all because it not only means that Jimbo and Polls can stay on schedule rather than driving round Sub-Saharan Africa in circles but also because it means there are never arguments over the map reading and divorce is therefore avoided!

Mt Kilimanjaro

On the way, we passed Mount Kilimanjaro, just seeing its snowy summit above the clouds. We were heading for a campsite somewhere in the West Usambara mountains, apparently it had amazing views. Unfortunately we arrived after dark but it meant we had something to look forward to in the morning! On arrival the T-R team kicked into action. It entertained us to see that the division of labour had fallen upon traditional male/female lines. James does the driving, charcoal and petrol buying, fire lighting, baggage loading type jobs whilst Polls does the food buying, clothes washing, cooking jobs etc. Jimbo is also responsible for the morning cup of tea – an aspect we’d slightly failed on as we hadn’t managed to bring the requested two boxes of lapsang souchong with us – I’d told Jimbo that it was girl’s tea, anyway. We did ask Polls why she did not do any of the driving – she said it was because Jimbo was such a nervous passenger that it was no fun. Apparently, every time she touched the brakes Jimbo would quickly look up from his book or whatever he was doing! It is also amused us to find out that, prior to our arrival, they had had a massive spring clean as they thought we would find them, and all their stuff, very grubby! Not at all. However, Lou and I decided that we had gone slightly urban soft since our gap years – we needed to get used to being covered in dust from head to toe and quickly embraced the daily routine of a cold shower with the water pressure of a pissing ant!

Polls cooked up some superb food – bbqs of lamb/chicken and roasted veg generally being the order of the day. Lou and I were incredibly jealous of their tent – such a luxury not having to put it up every night and to have duvet and pillows. After our breakfast (eggs and toast – another aspect of Jimbo’s role is chief toast maker which is done on the barbeque) we went to see the view that we had driven 260kms, in the dark, to see. It was certainly worth the effort – we were about a kilometre above the plains below, with some clouds floating below us – mind-blowing. We set off on our way to the coast – stopping at a market to buy more bananas (not sure we’ve ever eaten so many bananas). I narrowly avoided getting a black eye from a local woman when Polls persuaded me to try and take a photo of the local scene. On the road again the landscape began to change. I had been surprised by, on arrival in Tanzania, its greenness. Naive, maybe, but I was expecting the dusty plains of the savannah. Instead, in many areas it is green and jungly with glorious rich terracotta coloured earth. As we travelled towards the coast the landscape changed – it became flatter and with endless palm trees. We also drove through vast sisal plantations – we never managed to quite work out how rope was made from plants which look slightly like giant pineapples – answers on a postcard please.

We arrived at our beach side campsite, about 17km north of Pangani. It was probably the best hotel I’d ever stayed in for the budget breaking US$4 a night. With all the kit, camping is a dream! Not sure that Lou entirely agrees – in an attempt to escape the heat she thought she’d sleep outside however one bug too many and the crying of a bush baby and she was soon back in the safety of our tent.
The important date in our calendar was the next England match. It was the only reason we were keeping track of the days of the week. Kate had sent out some face paints and an England flag so that we could really get into the patriotic spirit. We got all dressed up and painted (much to the disapproval of the retired Englishman running the campsite who had made it clear he was more of a “rugger” fan) only to discover that they were showing the USA match. Some attempts were made to find an alternative venue in the village but to no success so we had to watch the USA game in our England colours – slightly embarrassing.

After two blissful days on the beach we set off again in the direction of Dar es Salaam which is not, to my surprise, the capital of Tanzania. Good trivia knowledge – the capital is actually Dodoma which is slap bang in the middle of the country. A little something which is worth mentioning here – on our brief trip with Jimbo & Polls Lou and I listened in on various conversations with other overlanders. Once in camp, more often than not, people come over to chat about the route that Jimbo & Polls are doing, their experiences and adventures. Lou and I felt like imposters sitting there as it was assumed that we were on the adventure too – something that I wasn’t quick to dissuade our visitors of as it’s far more exciting than admitting that you’re a lawyer with only 2 weeks out of the office. One of the usual questions is whether they have had any trouble with the police or at borders. Others often have stories to tell of fines paid or routes blocked by uncompromising officials. Not Jimbo and Polls. The reason for this, Lou and I were sure, was because Jimbo and Polls greet whoever they meet with smiles, laughter and perhaps a bit of chat about the World Cup. Within about 30 seconds the locals are also smiling and laughing. It was admirable how they never once lost their cool and were always polite and no doubt the reason that they have had so little trouble. I’m pretty sure that I would find it difficult to be so smiley all the time when asked, yet again, for a pen or sweet.
Our drive to Dar nearly came to a premature end when Jimbo, being a little rash, ignored a petrol station as the needle was heading towards empty. First question from me, when the next petrol station didn’t appear, “Obviously you have some jerry cans?”. “Ah, no” came the answer. Spot the ex army officer?! So we stopped in a village on the road. Within about a minute Jimbo had found someone with some fuel and a crowd of about 20 eager locals had gathered. One gets the feeling that if you stopped in the middle of an African town and asked for anything someone would have it, or know of someone who did. Price negotiation completed with the trademark smile and banter and we were on our way again. (with slight trepidation, praying that it was diesel and not petrol).
Polls had managed to organise for us to stay with an old school friend’s family in Dar. Sadly Mbwana was not there but we were made to feel so welcome by his brother, sister and mother. We were treated to a veritable feast of Tanzanian cuisine and looked after so well. Thank you Mama Alliy.
Next day to Zanzibar. This was the start of a real holiday for Jimbo and Polls, leaving their 4×4 home behind. Lou and I were very sad to say goodbye to PAX too – we’d had such a fun time. We had felt very honoured to be part of the adventure, albeit for a tiny part. Thank you Jimbo & Polls for having us to stay!

Our Zanzibar experience was split into three parts: Party time in the North, Stone Town shopping and cultural exploration and East coast relaxation. All were great fun in their own way. We watched the US v Ghana game in Kendwa after which there was a full moon party. Africa as a continent had really got behind this little country so you can imagine the celebrations when they beat the world’s super power! The atmosphere was amazing, and pogoing  with a Maasi on the dance floor is a particularly vivid memory. It was also my birthday that night and was pleased to be breaking it in at a full moon party – more 19 than 29 but who cares!

Not a bad way to spend a b day

After the North we headed back to Stone Town where the girls hit the shops and I hit Africa House, the old British Club for some sundowners. Stone Town is an incredibly atmospheric maze of Arabian houses and alleyways which made for great rambling throughout the day and night with only the Muezzin breaking the silence. We continued our wanderings into the evening and ended up at the night market where we feasted on BBQ fish and seafood, followed by chocolate ‘pizzas’.

After a little more shopping to satiate the desire we headed to the South East of the island for two days of utter relaxation. We were the only ones staying at the Sun and Sea view resort and had almost the whole beach to ourselves. The last two days raced by and all to soon we were back in Stone Town and parting ways, Hetti and Lou back to the UK and us back to the mainland. Zanzibar doesn’t need a hard sell. It is a magnificent tropical island mixed with tremendous history with beached to party and beached to relax. A ‘must do’ for any visit to Tanzania.

It had been great to have Hetti and Lou with us. We were fully up to speed with UK gossip –  from the UK elections to Ashley and Cheryl Cole splitting up. We had fresh supplies including, most vitally, sun cream and Lapsang Suchong and we had thoroughly enjoyed their company and sharing our adventure with them.

East Coast Zanzibar perfection!

It wasn’t always as luxurious as I think they hoped but it certainly was an adventure and I hope they enjoyed their stay! After a rather hurried yet emotional goodbye in Stone town we rushed to the ferry port to catch the passenger ferry back to the mainland. It turned out to be a very rough crossing with lots of people being (very loudly) sick, some in the sick bags and unfortunately some not. Back on dry land we were but a short taxi ride away from Mama Alliy’s house. It was another incredibly hospitable welcome and we left the next morning absolutely stuffed with delicious food. Huge thanks to the whole family for their help and hospitality, not to mention being the guardians for PAX while we were on Zanzibar!

After saying our goodbyes we motored south through the notoriously clogged up Dar. Our target was Kilwa. Kilwa, a small islandoff the mainland was the earliest European settlement on the E African coast. Settled by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, it acted as a base for trading gold, diamonds, ivory, spices and slaves. We were staying on the mainland just of the island and could see the old battlements of the colonialists across the 2km stretch of aqua marine water. We stayed here for three days recouping from our Zanzibar holiday (I don’t know why but both of us felt like we needed it!). Here we also met two intrepid British overlanders who have been travelling the globe for 12 years and at over 70 (we guessed)!

Tanzania had been a fantastic country. From the game in the Serengeti and the austere beauty of Lake Natron to the beaches of Zanzibar and Stone Town steeped in history, this is a country with a little bit of the best of everything Africa has to offer. And it was an added bonus to be able to share the whole experience with friends.

Fully over from our mysterious fatigue we carried on towards the Mozambique border. This used to be a ‘car ferry’ which in fact was two dug out canoes attached to each other with an outboard motor on one – costing a cool $450 US, which would cross the Rio Rovuma, the river that separates the two countries. However as of last month a bridge now spans the 400m wide river courtesy of, you guessed it, the Chinese! They have been good enough to build a sparkling new bridge and about 1km of tarmac road either side, plus a very chic customs building on both banks but not the road to join the bridge to anywhere.We stayed the night at the customs post on the Mozambique side, the border is too isolated and new to have attracted the moneychangers and other ‘fixers’ usually associated with an African border, and we had a great view back over the Rio Rovuma to Tanzania.

Women wear beauty facemasks in Northern Mozambique

Mozambique is a fascinating country. Colonised by the Portugese since the 15th Century it has been wracked by war both civil and with its neighbours for much of the last 100 years. It is consistently in the bottom 10 poorest countries in the world and yet has everything that a country needs to flourish. It has natural resources in abundance it has great transport links with sea ports to the Indian Ocean which also serve as the goods gateway to several inland African nations (Zim, Botswana Zambia, Malawi etc. . ). It has some of the best tourist potential in the world with the best beaches and huge areas of untouched bush for safari. This potential has not been ignored and the South Africans (and the Chinese!) are investing heavily in infrastructure, agriculture and tourism, especially in the South of the country. Up here in the North we are still as remote as one can get. Travellers rarely make it up here as it’s too much of a hassle on public transport from Maputo, the capital, and few travel south from Tanzania (we were the 16th foreign vehicle to cross the bridge in 2 months). As a result it feels like the back of beyond. The reward for those who do come here are some of the best beaches imaginable with the whitest sand and bluest water. It is the Bounty advert for real!

Pangane paradise posers

We have been hopping down the coast in the North for three days now. Savouring the last of the beaches and sea before we head inland to start crossing the bottom of the continent. Next we head to Malawi, Zambia and Botswana, hitting the coast, the Atlantic this time, in Namibia, before our last move South to South Africa. It feels like we are nearly there, indeed South Africa is the Southerly neighbour to Mozambique but the scale of these countries is so large that we are still over 3,000km as the crow flies from Cape Town and probably 10,000km with the route we are planning. We are over 5 months in and have a little less than 4 months to go. Spirits are high, we are still healthy (certainly at our ‘boxing weights’ though) and are relishing the adventures before us through Southern Africa.


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