11 December 2010
Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili, Tanzania
Woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and decided to take a kayak trip to one of the islands for some snorkelling. With more than 260 species fresh water fish in the lake, we saw a rainbow variety of fish with visibility surprisingly good - up to 10 meters. The water has a lovely temperature as well so perfect for swimming. Along the way we came across fishermen and we heard from our guide Gasper that many of the islands are inhabited. Although life cannot be easy here, the lifestyle can only be envied. We got back by about 1pm and just lazed on the comfy sofas overlooking the beach and the lake and contemplating what hard work it is to drive from Cape to Cairo!!! Not. The owners, Chris and Louise, have built the lodge with all the love and attention and although we did not stay in the units, they are spectacular - while lying in bed one opens the doors and windows and the water is right outside in front of you. This must be one of the many highlights of this trip.
Our camp is set right under a massive mango tree. At night the fruit bats go crazy and every now and then a loud thud announces a mango which fell to the ground. One fell on my tent and off course while sleeping it can be quite interesting to feel this semi brick falling on the tent! We are eating mangoes as if there is no tomorrow but at less than US$0.50 for more than 10 mangoes, we can afford it! And under the mango tree they are for free.
Don't think it is possible to describe the beautiful landscapes and forests and often wish everyone could experience it.
12 December 2010
Total Distance: 5920 km
Distance covered today: 262 km
Start: Lake Shore Lodge, Kipili, Tanzania
Finish: Riverside Camp, Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Sadly the trip must continue and don't think we will get a combination of such simple luxury, comfortable campsite, wonderful views and great hosts for some time. But, we know there is still plenty to experience. And the road was the first to be experienced. Plenty of buses and trucks are stuck in the mud and often very little space for us to manoeuvre pass. As we dropped down the escarpment to Katavi National Park, I was grateful going down and not up as the black cotton soil is as slippery like oil and although it is fun most of the times to slip and slide along and make it through challenging bits, it is hairy when the edges of the mountains are not far away from the edge of the road. But all in all great fun. The Landie is now a permanent brown and the mud is adding another 500kg to the overall weight. Well, maybe only 400kg. Don't let the facts destroy a good story.
The views onto the flat plains below are breath taking and the vegetation is equally worth mentioning. Lush big trees grow in endless forests. Katavi National Park is the Lost Son. It is the 3rd biggest park in Tanzania yet, because it is so hard to reach, few people come here. In fact, we spoke to a lodge manager in the park whom we met at Lakeshore Lodge and he informed us that tonight there are only 4 tourists in the WHOLE park. Which means we are half the population of tourists! The animals are maybe not as abundant as other parks but because it is now so green and water being accessible all around the bush, animals are scattered. We still saw elephant, giraffe, antelopes, zebra and buffalo. We were told during the dry months single herd of buffalo can be up to 1000 animals. Although the park is very densely forested it has two major clearings or plains. These are really beautiful and we saw most animals around these plains. Small ponds of no more than 20 metres would hold more than 30 hippo and they are parked nose to tail without a gap for water to go through. I think the African taxi drivers must have all been hippos in their previous lives the way they can pack people into a small space.
The park fees are harsh but we don't mind paying to witness this unspoilt nature and to share 4500 sq km with only 2 other guests, is worth millions. We had lunch under an umbrella shaped tree overlooking the plains and there is just no one around.
We are camping along the river which is packed with hippo and we have fun and games keeping them out of camp and 2 males were fighting not more than 10 metres from us. Not keen in joining them and hopefully they don't come and fight next to the tents.
13 December 2010
Total Distance: 6273km
Distance covered today: 352 km
Start: Riverside Camp, Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Finish: Jacobsens Camp, Kigoma, Tanzania
This morning we woke up and a mere 15meters from our tents, is the river and when I say it is packed with hippo, I mean jam. I stopped counting at 200 and the camp owner recons there are just over 300 hippo in that small river pond! Never have seen so many hippos together in my life.
We left Sitalike at 8am and a quick drive took us to a relatively large town of Mpanda. From here we were told it should take us only 3 hours to Kigoma. Well, the guy who told us was slightly out because 8 hours later we drove into Kigoma. A total distance of 352km took us 8 hours of hard driving and this was the main road. The scenery was beautiful all the way through forests, however the road was rough and the rains from the last few days did not make it any better. From Mpanda to a salt mining town of Uvinza, which is a distance of 190km, the only vehicle we came across was one small motorbike. Barely any people and certainly no traffic whatsoever. Must be the loneliest road we have been on up until now. At one stage we thought we took the old road and maybe there is a brand new highway. Alas, it was not the case. We hit the tar road some 25km outside Kigoma and what a relief. Have not seen proper tar for 4 days now and after rock and rolling all over the place, it feels rather strange. We drove to a town called Ujiji just 6km south of Kigoma where Stanley met Livingstone and uttered the famous 'Dr Livingstone, I pressume'. Only to read later that apparently the Burundis recon they met in Burundi! Afterwards drove to our camp called Jacobsen's Beach. And what a pretty location. The Landie is literally 5 meters from the water and there is a tiny beach with tiny waves breaking constantly and it is as if we are camping next to the ocean. We went down with a drink in the hand and watch the sun set on the other side of Lake Tanganyika and yet another beautiful day in Africa has come to an end.
14 December 2010
Total Distance: 6527km
Distance covered today: 254km
Start: Jacobsens Camp, Kigoma, Tanzania
Finish: Sunset Lodge, Bujumbura, Burundi
Last night we got a visit from the owner of Jacobsens, a Norwegian who is a retired UN worker, who fell in love with Kigoma and retired here and started this small guesthouse. He told us stories about the 'good old days' where he travelled from Windhoek in Namibia to Kigoma and this distance of 3585km took him 5 days. If he travelled from Kigoma to Dar Es Salaam (in the same country) and only a distance of 1539km took him also 5 days! That is how bad the roads in Tanzania used to be.
Anyway, he told us that is a) safe to travel nowadays through Burundi and b) the road is nearly all the way tarred and c) it will save a lot on travel distance. It only made sense to then go this way towards Rwanda. And my goodness, what a pleasant surprise we got. Burundi is not only a beautiful country with more hills than the northern part of Swaziland, it also has very friendly people. We left Kigoma at 8am but first visited the dock yard where the friendly manager allowed us to go on the famous Liemba Ferry. This boat was made in Germany, taken apart, shipped to Dar es Salaam and taken to Kigoma and put together piece by piece. Today it carries up to 600 people up and down the lake. A two night trip from Kigoma stopping at various villages along the coast to Zambia in First Class will set one back only US$66. What an experience this must be. Glad we could not only see, but also board this famous ship which was sunk during WW1 by the Germans themselves and re-surfaced later by an Englishman and restored to all its glory.
Just outside Kigoma we turned north and on a brand new tar road (2 weeks old) right up to the Burundi border. We initially drove right pass the Tanzanian exit border as there was no Stop sign, no indications, no soldiers. Only when we saw the Burundi flag did we realise we had to go back 1km. Again, all border procedure went painless and on the Burundi side the staff was very helpful and with my broken French and Swahili, we managed to get through in no more than 15 minutes. The visa was only US$20pp (3 day visa) but the actual vehicle documentation we had to do 16km further on in the first village. I must admit that the Tracks4Africa GPS system is out of this world. It shows every little detail like this on the satellite map and so far we found only 1 missing road on it since we left Cape Town. Never do we have to stop and ask and get lost and it saves a lot of time. I can highly recommend anyone venturing into Africa to get this GPS map. Even the major cities are mapped to a certain extend with most of the hotels, restaurants, etc.
We climbed from 800m at Kigoma within a few kilometres to 1800m and the landscape was as said, just breath-taking. The mountain chains laid one behind another like a shark's ragged teeth. What is more impressive is that the people cultivate the land on these slopes which are sometimes more than 60 degrees steep. The tar road in Burundi up to the capital of Bujumbura is slightly potholed but slowing down gives one the chance to look at the people and admiring the landscapes.
The country is completely agriculture based and there is an endless stream of people. We had in fact had to stop at a fancy resort on the beach to ask if we can use their toilets and make lunch in the car park. No problem to do this. I love Africa.
Continued and suddenly arrive without the normal masses of traffic into the capital. We were surprised not to see more high-rise buildings but the city is in fact very compact with few buildings more than 2 stories. We had to quickly learn to drive on the right side of the road since we left the border and it is tricky to keep remembering this. The people are still very poor and to see the people pushing up their super overloaded bicycles up this massive and endless hills is heart-breaking to see.
The first hotel we tried had no security for the vehicle so we tried another one which looked fantastic but so were the prices. But you won't believe it, when we told the receptionist it is outside our price range, he called another hotel and told one of his colleagues to take us to that one! Where will this happen in any other part of the world?!? Got to a fantastic guesthouse, run by a chartered accountant, Emmanuel. We have a whole flat for ourselves including 2 en-suites bedrooms, a living room, a massive kitchen and a veranda. He was very informative about the socio-economical problems of the country and a great insight to the country's problems and future. He could not assist us enough and the hospitality of the people is just incredible. Took the Landie for a bath as the mud was caking so much that we got afraid it would never come off again. Now she is all sparkling white again - until we hit the next muddy road very soon.
Tomorrow we are heading to Rwanda and will spend 2 nights at Nyungwe National Park where we hope to find wild roaming chimpanzees. The park has also plenty of other primates which we are hoping to see.