(62) Trundling through Tanzania
Sunday 16th July
It felt like ages since we’d been on a loaded bike and the thought of heading away from the lake didn’t make us feel too spritely either. We packed most of our stuff and went to pay our dinner bill. Chris and some of the guests were off scuba diving and asked if we wanted to join them. We were so tempted but being off the bike for almost 2 weeks we really needed to get going. We finally headed off around 11.30 and followed the track which felt much stonier and sandier on loaded bikes. As we started the descent Sharon said her brakes didn’t sound right and on closer inspection realised one of the brake pads was missing. We searched our bags and found the spare set and fitted them before arriving in the village. We stopped for a drink and left just after 12.
The stony track leading out of paradise
The village of Kapili
The going was good but it was getting hotter as it slowly rose into the mid 40’s. We passed a couple of small towns early on which gave us the false impression that the road was well populated. By 1.30 we’d ridden 11 miles and were shattered so decided to sit in the shade for lunch. It consisted of peanut butter on bread with a couple of oranges which were kindly donated by the Swiss family. We headed on and the road gently climbed. It varied between being rutted and covered in small stones neither of which invokes speedy progress. We started to feel pretty tired by the time the steep hills started. It was a struggle to get up them particularly as some were covered in deep sand. We made steady progress but the villages on our map just didn’t materialise. We were starting to get worried about the amount of water we had on us despite leaving Kapili with 8 litres, we were drinking a lot because of the heat. There was no-one on the road and only a handful of vehicles passed us. We flagged down a lorry and he didn’t have any on him which was quite typical.
Along the road
As we rode on Tim said he wondered when Louise would pass us – she was Chris’s wife and had been into the town of Namanyere where we were hoping to stay the night. Just then, she came around the corner and spotting, us she stopped and asked if we needed anything. We asked if she had any water to which she happily handed us a litre and reassured us that the town was just 5kms away. With renewed strength we continued on but the town never came. The sun was starting to set and we were worried that we had somehow missed it. It turned out to be 20 kms (13 miles) from where we had seen Louise which seemed a long way further on when we were tired and it was a dirt road. We finally arrived in the centre of town at 8pm and called in at a lit up building. It turned out to be the police station and they gave us the usual Tanzanian welcome. Tim spoke to the chief who said no problem and we soon had the tent up and dinner on the go on a patch of grass outside the station. We had an audience of police officers who were interested in how we cooked and quizzed us on how much our stove was and how much our tent was and how much are bikes were and so on. With dinner soon ready they said thank you and left us to eat, wash up and head for bed for a good night’s sleep.
Monday 17th June
With the tent being so close to the toilets we would see the odd silhouette passing by as the sun rose. We both slept really deeply but still felt tired. It was around 7am by the time we had got up and packed away. By this time the policemen and women were doing their early morning drill which made good entertainment whilst we drank a cuppa.
Our camp at the police station
The morning drill
We needed to buy bread for breakfast so headed into town and soon spotted a small café selling chicken soup and pancakes. It was delicious but not that filling so we picked up some fruit and headed out of town. The road was easier than the day before but after putting in a lot of effort on the tough track our speed dropped to a crawl. Every hill seemed like a mountain making it tougher each time we slid into deep sand. We stopped for a short break in a small town and rode on about a mile. We were still hungry and thirsty so we pulled up under a tree to take another break. We ate a packet of biscuits but with the next town only 6 miles away we soon continued on.
Struggling on the dirt road
Although it was hard work, there was stunning scenery
Tim was really struggling and it was all he could do to push the pedals round. We finally spotted the town and a place to have a drink. We immediately got the sense that the town felt unsafe and realised that many people were drunk. We didn’t hang around long as we were drawing a lot of attention and so we rode out of town and found another tree to eat our lunch. Sharon cooked a good meal of pasta and vegetables while Tim rested to try and get some strength back.
With a good meal inside us we coped with the sandy and rocky road much better and found a well to collect water before starting to look for a good camp spot. We hoped to make it to the town of Sumbawanga but with the road hard work and us being so tired we gave in. The scenery was amazing and as the sun got lower the colours got more vivid.
We spotted a quarry to our left and tucked ourselves away and cooked dinner. It was quite amazing that the temperature had reached 43 degrees during the day and had dropped to 12 degrees by 6pm and was still dropping as we cooked. We wrapped ourselves up in our jackets and hats in an attempt to keep warm. We ate our tea looking forward to climbing into our tent as it felt like our home.
Tuesday 18th June
We woke in our perfect camp spot and were grateful that we hadn’t been spotted at all. We ate biscuits and drank coffee while the tent dried.
Our camp for the night
It had been cold during the night dropping to around 6 degrees and we were grateful for the warmth of the sun as it rose. We rode a few miles into town and found that the café there sold andazee (doughnuts). We ate 3 each and treated ourselves to another cup of tea.
Our bikes outside of the café
Stunning wall art at the café
We continued on and as we did so the road improved and there started to be signs that it was under construction. We were grateful for the improved track even though there was still no sign of any tarmac but at least the miles started to pass by more quickly.
The scenery remained stunning
We pulled over for an early lunch of rice and soup that the Dutch guys from Kapili had given us. We headed on and had only 9 miles to go before the town of Sumbawanga. As we rode into town we spotted a Chinese road camp on our left. We called in and asked if we could camp there for the night. Unfortunately the answer was no; they insinuated that it would not be safe there but we couldn’t understand why. We headed on into town and discovered a supermarket that sold ice-creams! We got chatting to a South African couple who told us about a Catholic mission in the town that had cheap rooms. We followed their vehicles – it turned out that there were 8 of them in 4 vehicles which made quite a convoy.
After about 5 minutes we arrived in a stunning court yard. Although the rooms weren’t expensive (about £4 for both of us) we asked if we could camp in the court yard. After some discussion Tim managed to secure us the classroom for £2. We set up camp overlooking a blackboard and soon discovered they had a restaurant. The assistant manager Emmanuel came to see us and offered us our money back and even a room for free as they had found out what we were doing.
Tim and Emmanuel
We decided to stay in the classroom as we were settled but were so grateful for their offer. We ate in the restaurant as the food was not only very reasonable in price and we wanted to support their mission. The food turned out to be amazing and probably the best meal we’d had in Tanzania (apart from Helen and Alistair’s home cooking!) We met some medical students from Finland who invited us to see some live music but it was £5 entrance fee each so we kindly declined. We headed to bed after doing some internet stuff with our internet dongle but with the connection cutting out, we lost quite a lot of work which was really frustrating. We finally called it a day and headed to bed tired.
Wednesday 19th June
We woke with the light coming through the classroom window and got up to pack. We were both tired and everything seemed to take ages. We said our thanks and commented on how good the food had been – very important for 2 hungry cyclists! The South Africans had already left but not before giving us a couple of invitations to stay with them if we passed by. We headed out of town after picking up some more supplies.
The road out of town was dreadful with most of it being a diversion as the new road was being built. It was the same slow pace that made us feel both frustrated at what felt closer to a snail’s pace than a cyclist’s.
A slow road
We passed several over-landers and a couple of them waved to us. The road split again and we spotted an old cattle track that looked better than the diversion we were on. We found a shaded spot to stop and cook lunch. While Sharon cooked, Tim did an amazing repair job on Sharon’s panniers along with a couple of other little maintenance jobs. A few farmers past us with their goats and the women were all curious about how we cooked. A small group of children stared at us for ages before plucking up the courage to bring us some nuts. They ran off giggling as we shouted our thanks.
Passing a village
The road under construction
The light was starting to fade and we stopped for a coke before looking for somewhere to camp. We knew there was a road camp soon and we were planning on asking if we could stay. As we were drinking our cold cokes we heard a British voice say ‘what on earth are you two doing out here’. David was a Scotsman and was the resident engineer at the road camp. Before even having chance to ask he kindly invited us to stay at his house inside the camp. We rode the 2 miles to the camp in great spirits and it wasn’t long before we were in his office drinking coffee and being introduced to the other engineers who were from Ireland and England. They were a great bunch and we were quickly invited to dinner at Gareth’s house before being shown to David’s house – we had the guest room which was about 4 times the size of our tent and after a nice hot shower we headed over to Gareth’s (he was from Devon!) then headed to the bar where we settled in for the night courtesy of David.
Thursday 20th June
David invited us to stay for another night which would include a barbeque that evening which we gratefully accepted. We spent the day relaxing, washing clothes and watching films. In the evening, he cooked an amazing barbeque which included fillet steak and Sharon made a pepper sauce. The other engineers came over all bringing a dish which made for quite a feast. David arranged for us to stay at the next camp the following night which was about 50 miles further on so we went to bed relaxed and ready for another day on the bike.
Friday 21st June
We both slept really well and after such a great time we were pinching ourselves at where we were. We loaded the bikes and headed up to the office where we met David and the others to say goodbye.
Shaz with a great bunch of guys – John, Kieran, David, Tom and Gareth
We followed David to the gate to make sure there was no hold up (sometimes the guards will search you) and we waved goodbye and hoped we would meet again somewhere in the world. Re-joining the road this time was enjoyable as many of the sections were completed and our speed pretty much doubled.
A beautiful sight as the tarmac rolled ahead of us
We stopped in the village of Layla for a cup of tea and a snack and looked for some eggs for lunch – we couldn’t remember the word for egg in Swahili so Tim did his usual impression of a chicken laying an egg for a group of ladies at a market. This involved him flapping his arms and clucking whilst looking happily towards his behind. He then made a popping noise whilst pretending to take an egg in his hand. The ladies looked on blankly and a little shocked before pointing behind them. Tim headed off down a narrow alleyway thinking he was being directed to another part of the market. Just as he was about to disappear around the corner, a man approached and said to Sharon ‘is he looking for the toilet?’ Sharon replied laughing ‘no we actually need eggs’. He translated for the ladies and they all nearly fell off their chairs with fits of laughter. Tim reappeared looking amused. Needless to say, we wrote down the word for egg so there wouldn’t be any more confusion in the future – although it was worth it to see their response!
We rode a few miles out of town and found a good spot for lunch. We ate omelette with HP sauce that we had found in Sumbawanga – it was delicious and a great taste from home. After an afternoon of peddling we arrived at a camp but were told the one we wanted was 7km’s further on.
The road was a mixture of tarmac and good track
10 km’s later (just over 6 miles) we stopped for a drink and were told the camp was a further 15km’s. With no real idea of exactly where it was we started to worry we might have missed it. We stopped a guy in a truck who confirmed its position and after another half an hour we spotted it on the horizon.
Finally arriving at the camp
We called in at the gate only to be told John the resident engineer there had gone home. We started to worry we would be disturbing him but as soon as we were greeted by him and his wife Sarah we knew we were most welcome. They were so lovely and we sat down to a cup of tea and freshly made carrot cake made by Sarah – it was like arriving home. John was from Totnes in Devon our home county and it was great to chat to them. Sarah who was from the Philippines even cooked us a delicious beef stew. After a hot shower and a lovely evening we retired to our room bemused at meeting some more great people. We felt so fortunate.
Saturday 22nd June
After being hot in the night, Tim had set the air conditioning to 17 degrees only to wake up freezing! We got up at 7.30 to find that Sarah had cooked breakfast for us – she had even made us a packed lunch. She kept giving us food to take with us until the food bag was bursting. It was so kind of her.
Sharon, Sarah and John
We headed with Sarah to John’s office and managed to get a couple of things done on the internet before we left. It had been great to meet a fellow Devonian and they were so generous towards us. He contacted the next camp which was run by a Lebanese company to arrange for us to stay there. The guy in charge of Health and Safety was English and he would be our contact at the gate.
We got going on a great road for the first 15 miles and then joined the stretch being worked on by the next road construction company. The road had just started to be built which made the going tough once again and our speed immediately dropped. We could however ride on either the temporary road or the one being worked on depending on what stage it was at.
Tim on a dirt stretch
The road under construction
The wind had started to pick up which made the going tougher and we stopped to eat our packed lunch of rice, sausages and boiled eggs courtesy of Sarah. It was exactly what we needed. The locals looked on as we lit the stove and enjoyed a break.
As we rode into the afternoon, we were greeted by some Lebanese workers who had heard we were on our way. They seemed excited that they would have some visitors. We were looking forward to getting there but there was still 30 miles to go so we needed to get our heads down. After about an hour we decided to stop for an orange. We stretched out on the warm tarmac of the closed road and were surprised to see a car pull up to us. It was Azar and Aman from the camp and they were wondering what we were doing! They were so nice and told us the camp was just 15 miles ahead. We said goodbye and felt tired once back on our bikes. Every mile seemed tough but we finally reached the camp at sunset.
The road in various states of repair
We were met at the gate by David and were shown to the guest block. We had the place to ourselves and once again felt grateful for the hospitality. We had a quick shower and went to the canteen to be greeted by a spread of Lebanese food. There was chicken sausages, hummus, T-bone steak, salad and chips. It was amazing. We sat with a few workers before David, his wife and Azar arrived to join us. We had a lovely evening and headed back to David’s place for a beer before heading to bed.
Sunday 23rd June
We woke a few times with an invisible mozzie buzzing in our ears. We eventually got to sleep and woke at 6.45 to the sound of the alarm. We packed our things and headed over to the mess hut to have breakfast. They had cornflakes which was a nice surprise making a great change to toast. We joined David in his office checking the route ahead out. With a couple of options we opted for the harder but more scenic route passing through Mbeya and over a pass. We said our thanks to David and got on the road a bit despondent there would be no more camps. We had been spoilt and missed the company before even leaving the gates. We had had so much fun we just hoped we would see them all again somewhere else.
Tim and David
The road was good all the way to Tunduma which is right on the border of Zambia. We turned left heading north east away from Zambia knowing it would wait for another day. We were off to Malawi.
Trucks queuing for the Zambian border
We descended a short hill stopping for a coke before tackling the first of many climbs. The first few were ok and at a nice gradient but the trucks didn’t leave us any choice but to run us off the road. This combined with climbing into a headwind started to take its toll. We spotted a chip seller so stopped and ate chips with the rest of the sausages and eggs Sarah had given us. Along with HP sauce it was delicious.
We continued to climb broken only by the odd descent and Sharon was finding it tough but after a couple more coke stops and a few packets of chocolate biscuits we started to make progress. The map showed a scenic route but up till this point there wasn’t much to shout about and what there was was drowned out by the incessant trucks forcing us off the road. Finally after one last summit the ground dropped away to reveal a large deep valley with craggy peaks lifting out of the valley floor and in the distance and to our right a large cloud bank hiding a much higher range of mountains. We soon realised it was the range we would be climbing the next day.
The view started to open up
With the light fading fast we descended the mountain passing the many trucks slowly creeping up the hill the other way and we started to look for a good spot to camp.
Looking for somewhere to camp as the sun set
With so many villages around and people on the road it was going to be tricky. We stopped a couple times but went on until we were right in the valley floor next to the river. We stopped by a side rode but as a few people passed us they stopped and just stared at us, so we rode on to the river where there was just one in sight and rode down a side track a few hundred metres spotting a secluded spot by some trees out of sight of the road. We pitched the tent and got the dinner on and waited for a full moon to rise which would be the closest to the earth for 20 years. We were grateful to be in country where there would be no cloud!
Monday 24th June
We woke in our quiet camp spot away from the view of the road. The only noise was the birds singing away, they were so familiar and comforting now.
Our camp spot
We dried the tent and got on the road knowing we just had about 20 miles to the town of Mbeya. It was flat to start with but along with it there was a fierce headwind. Add to this trucks that give you no room whatsoever and it wasn’t the most relaxing start to the day.
We stopped at the side of the road for a quick biscuit break before continuing on passing some grass burning on the side of the road. We had often experienced power cuts in Africa and now we know one of the reasons why…
This post was still on fire when we passed it
A lady was selling vegetables less than fifty metres away and just below the live power lines but she didn’t seem bothered about it.
Bricks being made
The stunning view en route to Mbeya
Suddenly ahead of us was a mammoth climb and a sign saying welcome to Mbeya along the railway bridge that crossed over the road. We started the climb which took about 20 minutes and stopped at a petrol station looking for ice-cream. There wasn’t any but chicken and chips was on the menu and we decided to stop for an early lunch. We were disappointed when they told us the chicken was finished and we rode on to the town. We soon found somewhere else to eat that served beef much to our delight. We were soon sat down eating chips and beef supplemented with HP sauce from our food bag.
We headed on and enjoyed riding through the town lined with stalls selling various items like socks, pineapples and watches. We stopped again when we saw a supermarket as Sharon hadn’t had her ice-cream fix yet. The supermarket was actually full of hair products but the manager pointed out a mobile ice-cream cart much to our delight. He also pointed out on our map that we had missed the short cut to Tunduma the next big town before the Malawi border. We decided to continue on as he told us the road we’d missed was 6 miles back the way we’d come and it was a dirt track.
No wonder we missed the turn off!
The climb ahead of us
We headed off back into the wind and made good progress. We were soon greeted by a long climb that went on forever. We stopped near the top for an orange break and enjoyed the view. The road climbed further until we were over 2,000 metres. We stopped on a brow to buy veg – carrots and cabbage which seemed to be the main crops and a nice lady even gave us five free carrots.
Cabbages are big business here
We continued to climb finally reaching the top at 2300 metres stopping at the top for a beer and cup of tea (altitude does funny things to us). With the temperature starting to drop we continued along the ridge in to the clouds. The temperature dropped to 12 degrees and as it was 35 degrees lower down we were starting to feel the cold.
Riding into the clouds, the temperature began to drop
We descended a couple of hundred metres picking up water in a small town. As we left the outskirts we passed a small farm and pulled in to ask if we could camp in front of the house. They happily welcomed us and while Tim played football with the kids Sharon cooked tea. We giggled once in the tent that they must think ‘those muzungos are a bit mad’.
Tuesday 25th June
We woke at 7 am hearing the sound of the family in their house cleaning their stove and sweeping. It felt cold and damp in the tent and probably the coldest we had been since Turkey. We were at 2100 metres and checking the temperature on our computer it was 4 degrees. We emptied the tent and put the kettle on. The views around us were stunning with the mist lifting off the ground and an old Land Rover on the drive next to the farm house, it made us think of our winter holidays in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
A super spot
Although it was winter here we were still only 9 degrees south of the Equator making us wonder how cold the Andes in South America would be. As we sat and made toast the little girl who was watching us from the doorway would wave every time we looked over and we would wave back. It seemed to take ages for the tent to dry but once the sun was strong enough we could turn it around and pack the panniers. Being so high was great and only meant one thing a nice long downhill. Before we left we gave them a small bag of tea bags to say thanks and they looked at them curiously.
Wrapped up in our thermals, rain jacket and hat we descended for what seemed ages only broken by the odd short climb. We stopped for a coke and andazzie before continuing past a sign saying ‘danger zone over’ referring to the downhill, then the road levelled off. We thought that would be the end of the down hills but they just kept coming. As we rounded one hill, we could suddenly see an expanse of water in the distance and realised with a rush of excitement that it was Lake Malawi!
Easy going with good views
With the going easy we took our time as we were now close to the Malawi border and didn’t want to get there at the end of the day. However with the going so easy even with a few stops for tea and biscuits we found ourselves only a few miles from the border and it was only 3.30 pm. It was too early to camp and we knew we didn’t need a visa which should mean a quick crossing, so we decided to cross.
Drinking tea in a tea plantation whilst making the decision to cross into Malawi
After only an hour for changing the little money we had and getting stamped out of Tanzania and into Malawi, we still had time to cover some miles to get away from the border.
The usual queue of trucks we would see at a border crossing
In Malawi – country number 19!
As soon as we headed off, we were disappointed to hear constant shouts for money however we put this down to it being a border town and rode on. We gave the kids 10/10 for their waves, shouts and screams but ignored the many demands for money and sweets.
A usual sight for us now but still impressive!
Our first view of the Malawian landscape
With the sun setting we had to find a place to camp but with people everywhere we finally asked for a church and were lead down a dirt track to a church which was next to a school. We met a few teachers who said we could camp in one of the classrooms but the down side was the school started at 6.30am! We were of-course grateful for somewhere safe to sleep and we were happy.
We reminisced about Tanzania and thought back to when we crossed from Rwanda and how we didn’t know what to expect when we first arrived there. We had entered in the west and stayed following the west of the country. It was just too big to cover both sides which gave us an excuse to come back. We didn’t have one stone thrown at us and even in what we found out later to be dodgy areas, the people were lovely. We stayed in many churches and met many happy and curious faces many of which would have been missed if we hadn’t been on a bike. It made a great change to go on the Liemba and stay at two great campsites and what really was a treat was meeting Helen and Alistair our fellow folk from the UK who made us feel so welcome. All of this made Tanzania feel so special. Now to country number 19 Malawi!!
Thanks for reading!