(59) One year and in Tanzania
Sunday 26th May
We woke in the tent at the hotel after a restless night’s sleep. We were pleased to be in Tanzania and looked forward to what the country had to offer us. We got going and steadily climbed up the rest of the mountain.The stunning views started to open out as we neared the top and looked out over a vast landscape of bush land. We marvelled at how different it was to Rwanda just a few miles away. We soon realised we were in for a day of climbing and descending. It didn’t stop and by lunchtime we were ready for a break. We stopped at the side of the road for cheese triangle, tomato and onion sandwiches which perhaps sound tastier than they were! The bread which was pretty expensive from the previous town was dry and tasteless but also bright orange probably from the preservatives in it. We made a cuppa to wash it down along with some biscuits but were all tired and the food never seemed to fill us. With very little choice it was hard to find something enjoyable to eat making us loose our appetite and not giving us the amount of calories that we needed.
A day of climbing
We cleared up and tackled the next climb. It felt like the hills were getting slightly further apart with less climbing on each one but as we got tired they all seemed equally as hard. Judging by the map once we got past the main junction south of where we were, the hills would subside and give us a break for a bit. We asked a few people for distances to the next big town and each answer was different and way off what the map told us. The road started to deteriorate with 3ft potholes and some were as deep as 1 ft. They were scattered across the road making truck drivers weave from left to right and sometimes forcing us off the road.
We stopped for a coke and with the sun now getting low we pushed on and wished we had picked up water for cooking. There were hardly any settlements and no sign of a well. We passed many people carrying water a long way out to the villages so it seemed unfair to ask.
Looking for somewhere for water and to camp
We finally reached the small town of Lusahunga in the dark. We try and avoid arriving late but the people seemed friendly. We asked a group of men where the church was and asked to be pointed in the direction of it. One of the guys was persistent however in saying he would show us. We said we were ok and that we could find it as this often results in a request for money. After a few hundred metres he started asking Sharon for money for showing her despite Tim being already in front having been shown by a polite young boy.
We soon arrived at a pretty church and were greeted by a very happy family. We asked if we could stay and that we had all we needed apart from some water to cook. They welcomed us in like long lost family and watched with fascination as we cooked on our stove. Pastor Mathew was head of the family and they had 6 children, 2 of which had their own family and lived nearby. We were introduced to them all and they giggled as they each said their names. They soon got their charcoal stoves out and started to cook Ugali which none of us had seen being made before. They used a large wooden spoon that would be just as at home propelling us forward in a canoe than mixing the maize flour and water. They cooked loads of tiny fish called ‘daga’ to complement it. We tried a small bit but were pleased we had made sweet potato stew and rice. They showed us to the church where we could pitch the tent inside and we sat with them for a short while before heading out to wash in their outside tin shed. It was such a peaceful place with an amazing starry night and a full moon rising. We felt so blessed to have found such a nice place to spend the night with such a nice family.
Monday 27th May
We were woken by kids running past the church for school and no one saw us camped inside. We thought we would be found but managed to stay in bed until the orange glow of the sun lit up the church. We packed our things and were just about to put the kettle on when Pastor Mathew arrived and offered us tea and pancakes for breakfast. It was great timing and great to sit with his family again and relax.
Waking up in church
Us with Pastor Mathew and his family
We could have fallen back to sleep and there was an offer to stay another day to rest but even though we had time, there was something telling us we needed get to the lake before taking it easy. We waved our thanks before re-joining the road to the junction where we would head south west towards Lake Tanganyika.
Leaving the church after experiencing incredible hospitality
We picked up a few supplies and a really nice guy called Ferdinand from a cycle shop helped us get some water from a pump operated by a women charging by the litre. It was about 1p for 10 litres so we thought we could splash out and buy 20 litres.
We were now on the road to the lake and the first thing we noticed was it was a dirt track. We were informed it was in bad condition for the first 60 miles then it got better. We prepared ourselves for a bumpy ride.
A passing group of school children
Back on dirt road
We headed on and tried to look at the views but this proved impossible as we tried to dodge the potholes. Hanae fell off and donned her rain jacket for protection despite the temperature being now at 47 degrees. We were all starting to suffer in the heat so we stopped for a cup of tea and a warm pancake to keep our spirits up. We reluctantly rode on into the heat for another hour before spotting a timber canopy where we could sit in the shade. We made toast and honey for lunch and polished off a whole loaf.
We pushed on but Tim soon pulled over with a puncture which didn’t help our suffering moods. He soon had it fixed and gave the bulging tyre to a passing kid who seemed over the moon to receive his new toy.
Enjoying his new toy
Riding in intense heat
We rode on trying to get to the town of Kibondo to pick up food for tea and stopped for a chip omelette. It was so tasty and was great timing as we were really hungry. We rode on into the dark trying to spot a good place to camp when we gave in and asked a guy if there was anywhere safe to stay. He said nowhere on the road was safe as there were many attacks by the Burundi people on locals. He said that if we continued we risked getting ambushed. He told us he was a soldier but wasn’t in uniform and called another man to his side. They stood away from us and spoke in whispers which made us feel nervous about what they were discussing. He turned to us and told us we could stay at a nearby army barracks and put our tents on the veranda. He led us down a dark track into some woodland. It wasn’t ideal but as it was dark we didn’t have much choice. We arrived at a large, concrete building that was sat in darkness. The veranda stank of bat poo and it was an eerie building. Sharon had a peek inside and there was no furniture. We felt that we had to surrender ourselves to trust in these people as there wasn’t really another option and we were all tired and needed a good night’s sleep – we just hoped we would have one.
Tuesday 28th May
After a night of being told of ambushes and robbers needless to say we didn’t fall into a deep sleep and were woken at 5.30 am by a stern voice saying ‘morning Mr.Timothy’. Sharon’s immediate response was to ask what time it was and when she found it she groaned. Our host told us we must pack up and leave as we might raise suspicions. It was all a bit strange but to be honest we just wanted to get out of there. We did think it was a bit over the top but being at the closest point to the Burundi border we didn’t argue and were soon wheeling our bikes down the track in almost complete darkness apart from the first signs if daylight on its way.
We joined the track to a few surprised faces. The track was in a fairly good state so we continued on down the tree lined corridor. As the sun rose the red glow through the green trees was amazing. We pulled off the road and sat to have breakfast. Hanae looked shattered but neither of us were full of beans. We were soon back riding again but the traffic was getting busier and they all seemed to want to drive on the loose gravel at mac 4 and they would inevitably throw up huge clouds of fine dust and small stones. Combine this with the rising temperature of nearly 40 degrees and we started to look like earth monsters from the dust sticking to us like glue.
We reached the town of Kibondo by lunch time and stopped to pick up fuel and a pineapple each and then rode on to find a supermarket.
Enjoying a juicy pineapple
We spotted chips and at 100 shillings (about 5 pence) we knew they had the price wrong. When we questioned it, it became 1,000 (which was what we normally paid) then it suddenly doubled to 2,000. We looked at him and said we weren’t paying double and went to ride off when the owner stopped us and said it was 1,000 – is nothing ever simple? We ended up staying for 3 hours enjoying chips, rice and greens. We mentioned we needed sweet potato and the owner sent off one of her staff to buy it for us. We thought we’d get about 1kg for 1,000 shillings (about 45 pence) but he returned with nearly 5 kg! We spread the load as Tim was also carrying 10 litres of water.
We said thanks to the owner and climbed the short hill and left the town. We still had about 100 miles of dirt track to ride and wandered what state we would be in when we arrived at the end. We would brace ourselves every time a bus whizzed past and literally would take a deep breath as it passed us showering us in dust and small stones. We wouldn’t be able to see for about 15 seconds so would slow down hoping there were no goats etc in the way!
We had realised with the increase in distance showing on the map over the same stretch of road it would only mean one thing ‘hills’. We climbed and fell short, steep climbs until the road went down a long decent. Wanting to stop early, we started looking for a good place to camp. After a short distance we saw a good place on the left. We checked it out and it looked ok but a bit close to the road. We sat with around 2 hours of light still left so tiringly had to duck when someone passed on the road. It was annoying trying not to be seen as we couldn’t relax. It was soon apparent we had chosen badly when someone stopped and called to us. We stayed quiet and they disappeared.
Filthy and trying to hide from the locals
The sun was finally setting when a vehicle slowly went past and stopped. We could see their faces and we started to feel nervous when they walked towards our camp spot and we noticed they were armed. We were relieved then they introduced themselves as anti-poaching rangers and expressed concern about our safety. They offered to escort us to the local village but we decided it was too late to move as it would take about 40 minutes to pack up and then we’d have to find somewhere else to sleep and we were all very tired. They gave us their number and said they would pray for us which was nice although a bit in unnerving and left. We decided to have bread and honey for tea so as not to light the stove which would draw attention to us and went to bed wondering whether we had made the right choice.
Wednesday 29th May
Apart from hearing something moving past the tent and off into the forest in the darkness, we slept well. Not one vehicle passed on the road after 9pm and it wasn’t until around 5.30am that we heard the first voices from passing mopeds and the odd bike. We were not spotted in our hideaway so we got up around 7am and cooked up a sweet potato stew as we had missed out on dinner the night before. It was a nice change from toast and honey and seemed to give us more energy.
Pleased to be still in possession of our things
Tim adjusted Hanae’s now non-existent brakes and once working noticed she had a puncture. All her rice sacks had to be untied and taken off before she could locate the spares required. Once fixed we got ready to leave when she realised she had put the front wheel on the wrong way and so had to remove all the rice bags from the front to be able to do it. We didn’t envy her for the hassle it was to do this so many times, all with bits of string and strips of rubber. We finally got going at 10am and enjoyed a short down hill until a short climb which continued for a while.
Hanae on one of the many climbs that day
We reached the top of a long climb and stopped to have a coke and wait for Hanae. She soon joined us and we were glad to see a series of buses go past in clouds of dust and not being covered by it. We rejoined the road with more steep descents and steep climbs. We climbed a short hill and with no sign of Hanae we stopped and waited. While we waited a guy came out and asked if we wanted to wait at his house in the shade. We readily accepted and sat with him and his family. It was twenty minutes before Hanae arrived and she had had another puncture. She came to join us and as she did so our host said his wife was making Ugali. We sat inside and enjoyed the freshly made food and beans. Tim commented on the thatched roof and the man said he was sorry it was just a poor man’s house. Tim replied saying that we have many mud houses with straw roofs in England to which he found it very hard to believe.
We set off and after 10 minutes with the salt from the Ugali making us thirsty, we stopped for a coke. We were now at the top of a long descent so set off down into the deep wide valley enjoying a good dirt track waving at the locals as we went past.
Tim at the top of the long descent
Sharon thought she was descending fast until Tim whizzed past her doing twice her speed. We enjoyed the descent as it seemed to go on for ages and then flattened out to a marsh land. We crossed a large river, passing over an old bridge. We continued to gently undulate but with the temperature still at 37 degrees we were beginning to tire.
We weren’t sure exactly where we were on the map but thought we were near a town as the road had become busy with people walking along carrying various things. After 30 minutes we arrived in a small town centre and bought a coke. As we left we asked if there was a church nearby. They pointed down a dirt track and a lady called for a guy to show us. He was on the church committee and seemed pleased to see us. As he led us down through an ever growing expanse of houses the kids multiplied into the hundreds. We arrived at the church and were brought out a bench to sit on. There were about 300 children surrounding us which was quite amusing. Tim picked up 3 stones to which a few backed away worried he might throw them but he was just going to juggle. They loved it but the juggling didn’t last long as the stones collided and fell on the ground. There seemed to be a long meeting between the committee and they told us they needed to contact the head of the village which we had heard was normal but put it down to Hanae’s face looking like someone had dipped it into a mud pie. It did make us laugh. After an hour or so we were shown to the pastor’s new house that was being built. It was perfect and even had mud floors so we could put the tent pegs in if needed.
Outside of the pastor’s new house
We asked them to show us where we were on the map and they pointed to the town of Nyaka Kangaga. We were pleased to have made such good progress. Over dinner we chatted about how it was good to be heading south. It had been interesting following the Nile up to Lake Tana in Ethiopia and to Lake Victoria in Uganda which reached down into Tanzania with rivers on the southern end stretching as far south as we were. We were close to Lake Tanganyika which is part of the west Rift Valley and this would travel all the way to Mombasa and out into the Indian Ocean. We fell asleep dreaming of hanging out at the lake.
Thursday 30th May
We had slept well in the pastor’s new house and had felt lucky to have arrived in such a welcoming place.
Waking in the new build
With the sun starting to shine through the windows we got up and toasted the remainder of the bread followed by fresh pineapple. With busy chatter outside we loaded the bikes and went out to greet the people who had been so kind to us. We said thank you and made our way out of the village back onto the dirt track.
The road was quieter which we appreciated as we didn’t get covered in constant plumes of fine dust. We got our heads down and covered 18 miles before stopping for a coke which doesn’t sound far but on the track it felt more like 30 miles.
A quieter road
Making good progress – the trees that lined the road were covered in red dust
We were soon surrounded by 50 school kids and noticing one with a football Tim got up to play. The kids make their own balls out of lots of plastic bags tied with rope which we thought was very inventive. When Tim got up to play they scattered as if they were worried about being told off but soon realised it wasn’t the case and all enjoyed kicking it between each other.
After what felt like 90 minutes as Tim is not used to running around like a headless chicken, we re-joined the road and rode on for another hour before stopping in a small town for lunch. Again we were surrounded by kids but this time we were cooking and they almost blocked out the sunlight. We had to ask them to move back so we could see what we were chopping. We managed to cook sweet potato wrapped in pancakes which made a nice change from bread and jam or noodles.
We got going after waiting for a couple buses to pass at the usual 100 mph letting the dust settle and climbed the gentle slope to the top of a long hill. The view was great looking down across the valley and seeing various fires moving through the valley to make way for farm land.
A stunning dragonfly
Sunflowers along the way
We descended the hill passing trucks coming in the opposite direction entering a cloud of thick dust at 20 mph and as usual we were unable to see where we were going, hoping to get a glimpse of a clear road on the other side. We reached the valley floor and rode on until reaching the outskirts of the town of Kasulu.
Tim waited for Sharon in a small shop and as she appeared he called ‘hey muzongu, come here’ to which the shop owner found hilarious. The owner and her husband were lovely and we sat a chatted until Hanae arrived. We told them about sleeping at the church the previous evenings and they told us there was a church in town.
We said our thanks and rode into town stopping at a shop to buy supplies. A man spoke to Sharon and it turned out that he worked in the office for the church and said he would ring the Bishop. Within 30 minutes we were sat in the Bishop’s office being welcomed by him but feeling rather embarrassed about the state of our clothes. We were introduced to Alistair who was a ‘retired’ surgeon living with his wife Helen who was a priest – they were both from the UK. The Bishop had to go to a meeting but said he would come and visit us later. We sat and enjoyed a cupper with Alistair and he told us about his work across a small number of hospitals who supported a large number of patients across an even larger area. It made us realise how remote we were and it was hard to believe how far people would have had to travel to get medical help. It wasn’t long before Helen arrived and she was lovely.
We enjoyed a great evening eating a delicious meal, chatting and enjoying their company in clean, dust-free clothes (after a hot shower!) The shower was a genius system which involved mixing the fire-heated water to the right temperature, putting it in a bucket then taking it into the bathroom where there was a pulley system. It worked perfectly and we enjoyed our first hot shower for a long time. Sharon washed her hair 3 times before the water ran clear. We were invited to stay for a rest day to which we quickly accepted and suddenly felt very relaxed ready for a good night’s sleep and feeling so blessed to have met such a wonderful couple.
Friday 31st May
It was our wedding aniversary and how nice to wake up in a comfortable bed! We saw Alistair briefly before he headed out to perform a couple operations at the local clinic; Helen had already left for the start of another busy day. We had planned to go into town but we felt exhausted and we wanted to catch up with internet related tasks. By the time we had finished, Helen had come home shortly followed by Alistair. Helen offered to drive us into town and with the need to get some money out and the chance to look around the market we jumped at the chance.
We stopped by a truck with a window in the middle and a built-in cashpoint at the rear which seemed very strange – it operated as the local bank. We spent the next hour looking around the town which had a very intimate market that didn’t leave much room for shoppers let alone stalls. Sharon, Hanae and Helen went shopping for material. There was plenty of it, in a range of stunning colours and patterns.
We headed back and soon a delicious beef stew was on the table. How we missed home cooking and they both made us feel so at home. Helen disappeared and came back from the kitchen with a cake, complete with 5 candles to celebrate our wedding anniversary – what a wonderful surprise! We tried to think of a way they could travel with us and provide cakes along the way but we decided to just savour the moment. They also gave us 2 presents – one was a packet of homemade flap jacks and the other a jar of homemade marmalade. We were in heaven. We spent the rest of the evening watching the Downtown Abby Christmas special much to Sharon’s delight. What an amazing day.
Our anniversary cake
Saturday 1st June
A year ago we were waking up in a hotel near Heathrow airport in London with our best friends Katie and Andrew, ready to embark on a 3 year cycle ride. It is hard to believe we were now waking up as guests in a British couple’s home in Tanzania 60 miles from Lake Tanganyika. We enjoyed fried eggs for breakfast and were sad to say goodbye but we needed to get going. Helen and Alistair had a busy schedule and we were so grateful for them to have let us to stay.
Alistair trying out Dolly
The dusty town of Kasulu
We had enjoyed our stay so much and it was amazing timing and good fortune to find such a great couple who were not only great company but could cook great cakes. We couldn’t wait to get to the top of the hill to sample the next batch that we’d been given the day before. With a short steep descent to the turn off we turned sharp right and onto a mammoth climb and went up by 400 metres in just under 4 miles on a dusty stony track – needless to say it was tough going. Our back wheels would spin in the sand and Sharon fell off at one point – only the second time on the whole trip! The reward for our work soon became worth it with amazing views of Kasulu and the surrounding hills.
Views of Kasulu behind us as we climbed
Down but not out!
The dust was pretty relentless
The road levelled off and wanting to enjoy the moment we pulled over for a cupper and Helen’s delicious homemade flapjack. It was perfect but we were annoyed we hadn’t brought Helen with us to restock the now empty flapjack bag ; ) We were passed by 2 guys carrying about 10 folded mattresses each on their bikes and with the wind behind them it was hilarious.
Tim chatting to’ the mattresses’
We shortly re-joined the road enjoying the amazing scenery and happy we had stuck at it as these moments made it all worth-while. We rode for an hour and stopped before the next big hill in an empty newly built brick house looking out across the valley to the hills of Burundi. Being still full from the flapjacks we cooked a little pasta and re-joined the road for the last part of the descent to start the next climb.
Leaving our shaded lunch spot
It was ok to start with but ahead of us the road reared up like the steep slope of a rhino’s horn. It was so steep and tough going especially with 7 litres of water in the water bag – our back wheels were slipping in the dust and stones.
A pretty house on the hill
A tough road
After about an hour of steady climbing with ever improving views we reached the top and where the road split for the Burundi border a mile and a half away. We stopped for a coke and some chips but there seemed to be a lot of people around so we finished our food and got going. It was also a border town so we didn’t want to hang around too long.
As we rounded the crest we got our first glimpse of beautiful Lake Tanganyika with the sun starting to get low. The mountains dropped away with steep sides, all with dark walls heading into the darkness of the valleys. It was so dramatic and beautiful and well worth the slog up the steep climbs. We descended through banana plantations and through village after village with busy roads full of people heading to and from their homes. Tim noticed a big gap in the hills which showed off more of the lake and with the sun setting and with no sign of a good camp, a church appeared so we stopped and looked for the pastor. Within 20 minutes we were putting our tent up and getting ready to cook after being warmly welcomed once again into a Tanzanian church.
The church by the lake
While we were cooking with a small crowd of children around us, the pastor arrived and asked if one of us could go to meet the church secretary. Tim volunteered and walked with the pastor and a couple young lads who spoke English, a mile or so into town to state our case. It all went well and he even found a great food market on the way which we would pass in the morning. Everyone was more than happy to have us stay and once Tim returned they ushered the last of the crowd out of the church to allow us to eat. We stood outside to clean our teeth under an amazing starry night watching the glow bugs fly around with their flashing green bottoms. It had been a hard but rewarding day and with being pretty much a third of the way around the world we were on target and were looking forward to a break at the lake.
Sunday 2nd June
The wind picked up in the night making the church roof creek and grown making us think there was someone trying to get in. We were in a great spot and as the sun came up it produced an orange arched glow on the opposite wall. We woke early knowing how early people start going to church. We made a cupper and ate the remainder of last night’s tea as the pastor arrived. He was such a nice guy and we made him a coffee while we packed up. A few kids arrived early in their Sunday best and we wandered if they would have been so prompt if we weren’t there.
We were tired as we left and climbed a slight hill before descending. We had one more tough climb before the nice descent towards Kigoma. As the road levelled out we looked left to see two white people sat on the side of the road. We stopped and met Emile who was from Canada and Susuki from Japan. It was great to chat and put the kettle on in the process. Hanae hadn’t spoken Japanese for months! They had been hitching around Africa and were really enjoying it. Susuki was off to Ethiopia and remembering we had some Ethiopian currency left we arranged a good rate making us both happy.
Hanging out with Emile and Susuki
At the top of the final descent into Kigmona
We waved goodbye and soon arrived in Kigoma. We took a right turn towards the town and the lake revealed itself in full – it looked really inviting. We stopped for a coke as a large procession came down the road. We later found out they were welcoming their new Bishop.
Welcoming the new Bishop
We found a restaurant to grab a snack and went in search of supplies. With ice-cream and Dairy milk chocolate now tucked nicely away in our bellies we bought more supplies for later and finished our tasks off with a cold beer. We made our way out of town stopping in at the harbour to enquire about the ferry south. We needed to decide a route south and this was one option. The other option was a sand road along the edge of the lake but we had been told it didn’t exist in places and some of the bridges had been washed away in previous floods. There was another road 100 km’s inland but we’d been advised not to ride it from the risk of bandit attacks and it was mainly a sand road which is a nightmare on a bike – it was approximately 250 miles long and had few settlements al. We found out the next ferry was in 10 days time so we headed to a resort called Jakobson’s beach which had been highly recommended by Helen and Alistair – we needed to spend some time deciding what to do.
We rode the 3.5 miles out of town and arrived at a nice small place in the middle of nowhere. We were led down to the camp spot and an amazing secluded beach. It was stunning and was just what we needed to rest. We met a few people who were staying who gave us a cold beer each and pitched the tent whilst fending off the vervet monkeys from pinching our bread. We could now relax – and what a place to do it!
A great place to relax
Sunday 3rd June
We woke with the birds singing and the sound of water breaking gently on the beach and this sound only changed with the sound of water splashing in a bowl as Sharon joyfully stood washing Tim’s pants – oh how happy she was (really???) Tim wished he had more pairs for her but as she needed time out as well, we sat eating toast and jam and a few fried eggs and reminisced about our year on the road and how many times Sharon had washed Tim’s pants. How we smiled at each other.
Sharon finished the washing while Tim worked on the blog and then we relaxed on the beach ready for a beer. We had decided the previous evening that we would catch the boat to Kapili 2 days south. The boat we were going on was called the Liemba and we heard that Micheal Palin had travelled on it in his series Pole to Pole so that sealed our decision. Along with the fact that the direct road had been flooded recently and the bridges had been washed out. Most of the road was sand and it just seemed like the right decision to get on the boat.
Our time with Hanae had been great fun and reassuring for all of us in Kenya but she was due to leave us soon. Hanae was off to Zambia on the ferry and had decided to stay in town as it was cheaper. We arranged to meet up but it was still sad to see her push her bike up the hill. We enjoyed the rest of the day dipping in and out of the sea knowing we couldn’t go anywhere for the next week until the ferry left and we sat and drank beer enjoying the good food we had cooked. It was our 1 year anniversary since we started from Nordkapp the following day With our 1 year upon us and our wedding anniversary a few days earlier it was perfect timing to be here next to the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
The resident zebra
Making chips for dinner in the camp kitchen
Views from our resting place
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post – the next one will be a one year special edition by a guest writer…