After two weeks in Zambia, ending with watching the sunrise over beautiful Lake Tanganyika (see previous post), Mathieu and I crossed the border into Tanzania!
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Tanzania, officially the United Republic of Tanzania, was a former British colony until gaining independence in 1961. The name “Tanzania” was created from the names of the two states that unified to create the country: Tanganyika and Zanzibar: “Tan” + “Zan” with “ia” added to form Tanzania. The official languages of this large country, about the size of Texas, are Swahili and English but more than 100 indigenous languages are spoken, making Tanzania the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa.
After a quiet first night under plenty of stars at a bush camp in the middle of some ag fields, we drove south to the highland district to visit Lake Ngozi. Along the way, we passed through lush green hills and valleys, every inch covered with small plots of corn, potatoes, beans, banana, etc…and acres of coffee and tea. At the trailhead to the lake, we hiked up a steep trail through the thick forest to overlook Africa’s second largest crater lake. The most common myth about the Lake Ngozi crater is of a group of German soldiers who hide treasure in the lake then had a spell put on the lake to protect it from thieves, either by the release of poisonous gasses or by a 12-headed snake, depending on which version you prefer . While the sky was a bit hazy (from dust and smoke) on the day of our hike, we saw blue monkeys while hiking through the thick forest and the views over the dark blue lake and the huge crater were beautiful. And we had the crater lake entirely to ourselves!
While in the highlands, we also did a day-hike to the peak of Mount Rungwe (9,780ft; 2,981m). Being in a Nature Forest Reserve, we were required to have a local guide. While we typically prefer to hike unguided, we had a great day with Donald, learning about the fauna and flora of the reserve and efforts to protect it, the local culture, and sharing funny stories. After driving through a small farming community and their endless rows of tea, we parked at the trailhead and started our hike up the inactive volcano. We were surrounded by wild banana, wild fig and other native trees covered in vines, tall tree ferns, and many other types of jungle vegetation. We hoped to see the rare kipunji monkey, discovered in 2003 and only found on Mt. Rungwe and one other area in southern Tanzania. We didn’t but we did see and hear several troops of black and white colobus monkeys along the way. At the peak, we looked out over the hills and valleys of the region. While it wasn’t the most beautiful peak view we’d seen, mostly due to the hazy sky and the dry vegetation, it was cool to be at the top of the “highest point in the southern highlands of Tanzania” and it was a fun day with Donald.
After a few days in the highlands, we drove west to Lake Tanganyika. We’d first visited this lake in Zambia, one of the four countries sharing Africa’s longest lake. You may recall that Lake Tanganyika was one of the primary inspirations for my name, so it was cool to visit it again in another country. We camped at a small mission in the tiny lakeside village of Kipili. We swam, relaxed and hung out with the local kids. Mathieu had an especially good time terrorizing the kids with his drone. Hearing their laughter and screams of joy as they were chased by the drone was priceless.
We then returned inland and continued north through Katavi National Park. Since the national road goes through the park, we got a free safari. At one river crossing, we saw a bunch of hippos (my favorite!), a tree full of huge yellow-billed storks, and giant kingfishers. Along the road, we saw zebra, various antelope species and Masai giraffe, a subspecies found in Tanzania and southern Kenya and distinguished by its jagged spots. We ended the day at a forest bush camp, watching the bright red sun go down. It was an especially wonderful day (did I mention I love hippos!).
The next day, we drove through more small villages, crossed the wide Malagarasi River, and arrived to the bustling lakeside city of Kigoma. After a quick re-supply, we visited Lake Tanganyika again, driving through a small fishing village on the way to the shoreline. As Mathieu flew the drone over the lake, we were surrounded by local kids who had a great time watching the real-time video on his phone. It was a nice final visit to this lovely lake.
Over the next few days, we continued north through the western side of the country. The area is less traveled by tourists and we could tell. People were friendly but curious and openly stared at us for long periods of time (I lost the staring contest every time). When we stopped along the road (to get something out of the back or for a quick stretch), we were immediately surrounded by people, just watching our every move; it took some getting used to. While driving through one of many small villages along our route, we stopped to watch a celebration. Sitting in our parked truck, we watched a group of women singing and dancing. After about 30 seconds, members of the large crowd gathered around the performers started to turn and watch us instead. One-by-one, people popped up from their seats to look at us, then some, mostly kids, slowly moved closer. Everyone staring at us smiled and those close to us greeted us with “habari” (hello). Since we hadn’t intended to disrupt the celebration, we didn’t stay long. We waved, said bye bye (also used in Swahili) and continued the road.
Further north, we drove along the Burundi border. We didn’t plan to visit Burundi so stopped at a viewpoint looking into this neighboring country. As usual, within minutes, we were surrounded by local kids who watched as we shared a beer and stared out across the huge valley. After hanging out and enjoying the view with our local entourage, we continued the road, driving through many more small villages and past more ag fields, getting quick, roadside glimpses into people’s lives. We spent our last night in Tanzania bush camping at an old quarry along the road. It wasn’t the nicest campsite but we enjoyed a quiet night under the stars, toasting a beer and recounting our time in Tanzania.
The next morning we continued north to the Rwandan border. The national roads we’d been traveling on for the previous days had been a mix of pavement and dirt, all in good condition. But that all changed. The road became horrendous, pocked with crater-sized potholes, many of which were obscured by a thick layer of fine dust. And since this was the national road to the border, we shared it with tons of huge trucks. We knew from comments on the Overlanding Africa Facebook group that the road would be bad. People called it “horrible” and “the worst in all of Africa” but it was even worst than we imagined. It was so bad, it was almost comical at times. The last 125 mi (200 km) to the border took forever but we kept our spirits up with laughter and a lot of music. It’s all part of the journey, right?
Despite the horrendous road on our last day in the country, we really enjoyed our two weeks in western Tanzania and look forward to exploring the eastern side of the country in the near future (stay tuned).
*NOTE: We had no troubles with Wily, making Tanzania the second country where we didn’t have to visit a mechanic. Yeah!
I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty of the landscapes and people of western Tanzania. Enjoy!