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(61) Time out on Tanganyika

July 27, 2013

Tuesday 4th June

After a late start we ate breakfast and made our way into town. It was about 4 miles and nice to stretch our legs. It would have been nice if it was a bit closer or if there was somewhere we could pick up supplies nearer but all things considered it was a great place to relax. We arrived in town and checked our emails only to find that money had been taken out in Dar es Salam which is on the east coast 2 days before and we were on the west side of Tanzania. Our hearts sank and we thought how it could have happened? We had only used the card at banks. With a few panicked moments we realised we had taken money out of a cashpoint in Kasulu 2 days before from what was a permanent mobile truck that doubled up as the local bank and must be registered to Dar es Salam. With a sigh of relief we wondered around town picking up fruit and veg for the next few days along with some fresh fish from the lake. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant meeting a nice Dutch guy called Pieter who had been working in Africa for the last few years and was heading back to Holland in a few days. With pineapples in bar bags, potatoes in panniers, a bag of eggs in Tim’s mouth and with both hands needed to control the bike on soft sand tracks we made our way back to the lake and cooked an amazing sausage casserole and chips which was washed down with a few beers. It was a great end to a great day. 


Cooking chips in our camp kitchen

Wednesday 5th June

Tim said how nice it was to have a lay in. Sharon was up putting bread in the pan ready for toast and Hanae was on the beach enjoying the warm water. Tim was in a race to the South Pole with Ben Fogle and James Cracknall freezing his butt off. Well this was in his book but in practice he was enjoying a comfy 26 degrees on his Thermarest snuggled into his down sleeping bag. It was hard work getting up and walking bare foot to the secluded beach to eat his toast and homemade marmalade donated by Helen and Alistair. He then bravely lowered himself into the clear blue fresh water lake at the bitterly cold temperature of 25 degrees and pretended to be starving on a desert island until Sharon produced the macaroons as he dried off in the sun before finishing his race to the pole feeling all exhausted just reading about it.

It had been one of the first days for a long time that we had fully relaxed and enjoyed doing nothing. We were shortly joined by Pieter who we had met in town the day before and he spent the afternoon with us enjoying the peace and serenity. It was nice to sit around and relax not worrying how many miles we had to cover, what we were going to eat and where we were going to sleep. After a few dips in the sea and Tim’s legs starting to go red a sure sign of sun burn we headed up to have a shower ready to go out for dinner. Hanae was already packed and Sharon noticed she was about to leave. Sharon asked if she was going to which she replied yes.  We said goodbye and wished her well hoping we would see each other in town. Hanae has been a good friend. She set off leaving the two of us feeling sad and so we set about getting ready to leave for the Hilltop hotel for dinner. We followed the sand track along the coast spotting the hotel on the hillside ahead.


The coastline reminding us of home

It reminded us of the Devon coastline only made different by the palm trees and what appeared to be naked black men washing in the lake. We walked for 45 minutes to arrive at a locked gate with electric fencing along the top. We spotted the guards at the other end so we walked along the wall to be told we had to continue another 300 metres to get to the main gate. We walked in and followed the long drive to the hotel having worked up an enormous appetite only to be told they don’t serve food to non-guests. Fortunately we were almost halfway into town so we walked out along the drive and opted for a motorbike taxi to take us the rest of the way.  Most places had stopped serving food or had beef burgers not much bigger than a penny so we opted for omelette and chips followed by ice-cream from the Kigoma bakery across the road. Wanting a few beers we walked down to the bar spotting Pieter on the way. We invited him and his friend to join us. Pieter’s friend had been doing research on the lake and the effects of global warming.  

Lake Tanganyika has some pretty impressive statistics. It is the longest fresh water lake in the world measuring 673 km and is the second deepest in the world at 1,470 metres deep. It contains 13% of the world’s fresh water and its coast line is 1,828 km long. 12,000 years ago it would have run north and ended up in the Nile. Volcanic lava blocked the channel raising the level of the lake by 300 metres which forced it to drain into the Lukuga River and into The Congo. This out-flow is dependent on a high in-flow and with huge amounts of evaporation, the lake is practically endorheic. The temperature of the lake has recently risen by 1 degree from 25 degrees to 26 degrees. The bottom of the lake remains cooler than the top causing a thermocline which in turn is stopping nutrients rising to the surface. This reduces the amount of food available to fish which is lowering the fish stocks. The lake provides food for the local population as well as a livelihood so naturally researchers are getting concerned about the future.

It was very interesting and whilst listening we managed to reduce our tummy temperature with several cold beers and went in search of ice-cream to lower our temperature further as it was a balmy evening. We said goodbye and hopped onto the back of a motorbike and were driven back to our campsite for toast and marmalade and a good night’s sleep.

Thursday 6th – Tuesday 11th June

Not much changed from day to day other than the odd trip into the town to go to the internet cafe and to buy ice -cream. We enjoyed time off the bike, although it was hard work thinking about how many ice-creams we needed to buy. We decided to hire a laser sailing dingy for a day. We booked it for 8am but by the time it was set up it we weren’t on the water until midday. It was great to be on the lake and see it from a different view point although after capsizing a few times there were moments we wondered whether we would get back to dry land.


Tim looking as at home on a boat as he does a bike

The nights seemed more eventful – we had a geyet cat try to get into the fenced off kitchen area and it managed to fit through a surprisingly small gap to get inside. We wouldn’t have minded but our food was in there so we had to get out of bed and wedge a load of beer bottles in the gap to stop him – this of-course involved us having to buy more beer for more bottles.


The sneeky geyet cat

One night we were woken by footsteps outside the tent only to find a family of zebra were walking past. It was incredible. When they heard our movements, one gave the distress call to the others which was reminiscent of the wildlife films we had watched back home. It really was perfect timing being forced to wait in a relaxing quiet place, cooking fresh fish and drinking cold beer but we knew it was soon time to move on and catch the infamous ship – The Liemba.


Party on the beach

Wednesday 12th June

The day had finally arrived when we would sail on the Liemba. We had time to relax in the morning as it didn’t leave until 4pm. As we packed up the family of zebra walked past our tent again as if to say goodbye. They were so cool and it was amazing to just sit and watch them grazing.


Taken from our tent

We finally headed up the steep sand track and arrived in town to pick up supplies from the market.


Leaving paradise


Riding past the local wildlife

After stopping at the internet café we made our way to the port and met up with some of the guys we had met at the campsite. We were also pleased to see Hanae there and made our way on board the boat. It was so much more ordered than the Egyptian ferry we had been on to cross into Sudan many months earlier.

The Liemba is a 100 year old ship and there were something very intriguing about it. We were being filmed as we lugged our bikes and kit on board squeezing past large sacks of maize. The film crew were from France. They were twins who were making a documentary about the ship and were a great laugh. We would like to have chatted more but they were constantly running around filming the loading of passengers, chickens and large sacks.


The Liemba

As everyone made their way to their cabins, we started to wish we had booked one but we had saved $40 by booking 3rd class. We spoke briefly to the captain and he kindly agreed to let us sleep outside on the deck and we were so grateful after a quick visit to 3rd class which was in the belly of the boat. The guys from the campsite kindly let us keep our bags in their rooms so we could relax and wonder freely around the boat. The ship finally left at 7pm, 3 hours late.  

We treated ourselves to dinner in the restaurant but were disappointed to be served fish heads and rice which felt like we were getting left overs! With it getting dark, we watched the sun set and played card games until we all started to yawn. The guys headed off to their beds and we headed to the back of the boat with Hanae to set up camp. It wasn’t too bad except for a couple of drunken passengers who wanted to chat. We hoped for a good night’s sleep.

Thursday 13th June

After moving over to make room for more people on the deck we drifted off into a light sleep only to be woken time to time by the engine noise cutting and the anchor dropping at each drop off point along the lake.  It wasn’t until we heard a lot of shouting and commotion that we realised the ship didn’t pull into harbours as there weren’t any, but it would merely stop 500 metres off the shore and wait for small dug-out canoes to arrive to collect passengers and cargo. The Liemba would announce its arrival by sounding its loud horn. It seemed amazing the amount of people and cargo that would fit into such a craft. It had a crane to deliver the larger cargo onto the canoes. We went back to sleep as the anchor lifted and would only stir at each drop off. 

Just before sunrise we stopped once again and it appeared that we had either gone through a swarm of midges or sand flies as they were literally millions of them forcing us to duck down into our sleeping bags. It helped having our silk liners tucked inside our bags as an extra protective layer and we listened as they hit our bags sounding like someone was throwing fine sand onto a plastic sheet. We set off again and with the air moving it cleared the flies.




Organised chaos at sunrise

We were about 100 miles south of Kigoma and were passing the Makari Mountains National Park. It looked stunning with the sun rising over the peaks as it climbed. It was still early but with the many stops the boat was never quiet. We would listen to the negotiations between the passengers and the villagers on the dug-out canoes who were selling mainly pineapples and chickens.


The stunning Makari National Park


The local dug-out canoes coming to the Liemba

We had breakfast and sat with the guys we had met in Kigoma. We enjoyed a piece of cake as it was Marlin’s 20th birthday. She and her friend Alexa were German volunteers in Tanzania and were taking a short holiday before returning to Germany. Over breakfast, we chatted about how we would get our bikes and kit off the boat when we would arrive at Kapili – our destination. We found out that there were no harbours on the lake and so we became concerned how the bikes would get onto a canoe without them sinking to the bottom of the lake. We watched as each time the boat dropped anchor and a huge amount of people, their belongings, rice, washing soap, chickens and pineapples would fill the canoes which would normally have 2 guys inside; one helping the passengers and the other bailing water out that had seeped in through the gaps. We watched in wonder how we were going to get our bikes and 10 bags off the ship especially with our bikes now under 7 other local bikes.

We spent the day hanging out with Hanae and the guys from the campsite – Roel and Lean from the Netherlands, Nyambura from Kenya and Emily from the US – playing scrabble, drinking beer and watching movies. However the best thing about the journey was the boat – it was hard to describe – with floor boards missing, the food not too edible, a mixture of Congolese and Boyzone blaring (they even played the Titanic theme tune during dinner) and the constant chaos there was something timeless and romantic about it. It even had gates to keep the different classes separate which seemed reminiscent of the Titanic. It didn’t help with the thought of the lake being over a mile deep and being on a boat that was 100 years old which had been already sunk once – however with the temperature being 26 degrees it would have been a less traumatic rescue than from the North Atlantic Ocean. 

The Liemba was built in 1913 in Germany and was originally called Graf von Goetzen.  It was delivered to Lake Tanganyika by train from Dar es Salaam to control the lake during the early part of the First World War.  It originally had a 105 mm auto cannon and two 37mm revolver guns. During the war in 1916, the boat was sunk to prevent it being captured by the British and used against the Germans. Instead of blowing a hole in the side – which was obviously the quicker option, they covered all of the exhaust holes and the engine in a thick layer of grease then the boat was filled with sand to take it gently to the bottom of the water. Whether it was love for the boat or the thought of bringing another one by train we’ll never know. However after meeting the very enthusiastic captain we decided it was for the love of the boat. It was raised in 1924 and re-commissioned as the Liemba in 1927.  In 1997 the UN used it to transport 75,000 refugees who fled Zaire (now DRC) during the first Congo war. It made a total of 22 trips between Kigoma and Uvira during this 5 month operation. If you think you’ve already heard of it, Michael Palin went on the Liemba during his Pole to Pole series.

The day went on with stop after stop and we watched the slow emptying of the boat. We were due to arrive in Kapili at 2am so were in for a long night. We got chatting to a Swiss couple who had let us use their shower that morning. They were getting off at Kapili and they kindly passed on the number for their hotel who had a boat and were coming to collect them. They said they had room for the night for 2 smelly cycle tourists but our bikes wouldn’t get on their boat as it had a roof – we would need to use a canoe.

We enjoyed the evening and Cowburt got to meet the captain and even drove the boat for a while! We would be sad to get off so soon – its final destination was Zambia – but we didn’t want to miss out on any more of Tanzania. It was getting late and we watched as the stars came out and we spotted small fires burning in the distance. We said goodbye to our new friends as they were heading to bed and settled down wrapped in our sleeping bags next to our bikes on the front of the boat and snoozed while we waited for our stop. Hanae kindly slept next to us to help us with the impending disembarkation. 



Tim helped the canoes tie to the Liemba at various stops (above) whilst Sharon and Hanae slept and he kept an eye on where we were with the GPS. Just as he was thinking the captain should be sounding his horn by now, his horn blew making him jump! He had the panniers already to take off the side but found out the hotel boat could take us – they thought we had motor bikes not push bikes – and they were at the back of the boat. With the help of Hanae we pushed through the crowds with our bikes and kit and somehow managed to get it all safely onto the hotel boat. We were surrounded by the dark lake waters looking more like a hard surface than the deep depths that it was. We were soon sat aboard a smart vessel and moved away from the glowing lights of a hundred year old ship into the darkness of the lake under a starry sky. We reached the shore after about 5 minutes and were shown to our camp spot, pitched the tent and passed out – it was 3am.    

Friday 14th June

After waking from a deep sleep we crawled out of our tent to have breakfast. We sat at our bench making toast and tea and discussed the road ahead. We really wanted to relax and enjoy the bit of paradise that we had landed in before riding into the bush but at $24 per night we just couldn’t afford it. Tim went down to settle our bill and chatted to Chris the owner. He was a great bloke and Tim commented we wanted to stay for longer as it was so stunning but we were on a tight budget. Without hesitating Chris said if we wanted to we could stay for free and handed Tim his change. He was stunned but Chris continued to say we could stay for free as long as we liked.


Making breakfast

Tim returned and announced the good news to Sharon. He looked down and realised Chris had given him all of his money back. It was so kind and made a massive difference to our stay. We made lunch and went down to the water front to take a dip. It was great sitting on the swing bench looking out over the lake. We went in to the lounge area for a beer  – it was a stunning space and a great place to relax.


Paradise in Kapili

We got chatting to an Australian guy who was a reconnaissance pilot for an oil company. He had been on a walking safari the day before and had been charged by a water buffalo. It had picked him out as someone worth charging and as he ducked behind a tree it caught him in the back. The bruise was incredible and he was lucky not to have sustained more injuries. We made our way back to camp and got dinner on the go. With the mozzies getting bad we finished our food and retreated to the comfort of our dome and once again passed out.

Saturday 15th June

We decided to stay one more day and spent the day reading and swimming. We also needed some more supplies so we got on our bikes and headed up the stony, sandy track into town. Tim saw a snake which we later found out was a deadly Black mamba. It filled the whole of the road and moved too quickly for a photo. The village of Kapili was small with just a couple of kiosk shops but we managed to get enough food to keep us going – Sharon even found a new nose stud – proof that these small shops really do sell a lot of random things!

We headed back and decided to eat in the restaurant. We met a lovely Dutch couple  – Manon and Jort who were travelling in a very cool truck and they shared their wine and cheese with us. We would love to have spent the evening with them but we had already booked our dinner.


Meeting new friends

We had a 3 course meal and headed out on Chris’s boat to meet the Liemba on its return journey back to Kigoma. Chris was dropping off a lovely English lady we had met who was heading to Dar es Salaam. It was interesting seeing it again and the usual chaos ensued – we even knocked into the ship as we got cut up by one of the canoes arriving with passengers.  We headed back to the bar and heard a strange noise. Chris took us outside and we saw ripples on the surface of the lake followed by some snorting – as Sharon was next to us we realised it must be hippos! They were moving along under the water. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see them but we heard them coming up for air every 30 seconds or so. We headed to bed knowing we had a long day ahead of us the following day. The road was under construction for a few hundred miles so it was going to be an interesting journey.

Thanks for reading. Sorry for the delay in posting this, which has been due to intermittent internet. We’ve actually lost quite a lot of work along the way as a result – hopefully service should now resume to normal : )  




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tina permalink
    July 27, 2013 12:58 pm

    Thank you. Perfectly timed for a lunch time read in the sunny garden and visit your world in Africa. The pictures add to it. Hope you are both well and recovered from your accident. You certainly laid on an exciting time for Andrew. Take care both of you. Much love Tina xx

  2. Sara permalink
    July 27, 2013 5:27 pm

    What wildlife you are seeing, not sure about the snake but the zebra so close is amazing. Glad you had a good time on the lake and all those facts to digest, quite the geography lesson. It is finally raining here and the temperature is going down to normal. Just back from Paris where I saw the final stage of le Tour, lots of fun and atmosphere. Good for Froome and unlucky for Cav. House sitters booked for my trip to S.America so ready to go now. Lots of love Sara xxx

  3. Mum and Dad Pitts permalink
    July 27, 2013 7:22 pm

    Zebras, Hippos . How can they compare with two amazing cycle tourists!!! Love you both
    Love from Mum and Dad XXX

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