Tanganyika – Katavi National Park.
05.10.2009 35 °C
We left Lake Tanganyika fully refreshed and in high spirits, thanks to Chris, Lou, Hoghart, Shareika and all the staff.
We headed off towards Katavi National Park, the 3rd biggest in Tanzania, known for having the highest density of mammals of all the country's parks. Unlike the Serengetti with 2 million visitors per year, Katavi is so remote that it only receives about 200 tourists.
Despite the vast amounts of animals Chris assured us that they seldom see animals by the 'main road' and “if you run into trouble you can always hitch a lift with a passing vehicle”
As we drew closer to the park we stopped seeing villages and people, stopped seeing bicycle tracks on the road and started being pestered by Tsetses. The odd bite rapidly turned into a terrifying swarm of flies buzzing around us. As previously mentioned tsetses are nasty – very nasty. Each bite is like a needle prick, they pay little attention to DEET, are able to bite through clothes and have no problem keeping up with bicycles even when peddling frantically! In fact any movement, such as trying to swat them off your face, attracts them.
The words - “if you run into trouble you can always hitch a lift” were hollow comfort as the only vehicle we saw all day was a broken down lorry whose very talkative (and lonely) driver had been waiting on the road for 7 days.
Eventually we could bare it no more. We dashed off the side of the road and threw up the tent. Pol dived inside while I quickly donned another pair of shorts, then trousers, then a second tee shirt, fleece and finally a tee shirt over my head so I could unpack the bags.
Rob wearing literally all his clothes for protection against the flesh-eating flies.
Recovering in the tent sitting in an ever increasing puddle of sweat killing the rogue flies who had got in with us we assessed the situation; it was still 3 hours til sunset, the tree we had chosen for shade had scarce foliage and the temperature was 37 °C
Feeling sorry for ourselves and appraising the situation sitting in the tent (that's blood from a single squished fly on pol's shirt!)
Killing tsetses is a messy business!
As night fell we found to our great relief that the flies went away.. we discussed our options:
1.Cycle in the dark to avoid tsetses – too risky because of lions, leopards, eles and buffalo.
2.Pitch our tent on the road and wait for a vehicle – that would be admitting defeat, and like the lorry driver we met, we could be waiting a very long time!!
3.Start cycling at first light, wear lots of clothes and hopefully we will be able to get out of the park before we melt!
We chose option 3 and drifted into a fitful sleep.
Twice in the night we were woken by a large animal moving through the bush next to the tent and once by elephants breaking trees, (although we were technically out of the park there was no way for the animals to know as there is no boundary fence – Tanzanian parks are simply areas of wilderness where people are not allowed to hunt the wildlife and harvest the wood)
We started the next day nervous but optimistic – as long as we cycle really fast and don't run into elephants, lion or buffalo we'll be fine. However within 2 minutes of leaving the tent we saw fresh ele prints in the road. Within 20 minutes it was light and we each had a swarm of tsetses buzzing around us, at 40 minutes it was starting to get hot! We still had 50 km to go and it was not looking good.
As we got deeper into the park we started seeing literally hundreds of fresh animal prints on the road; buffalo, giraffe, various different buck, genet, cervil, but most worrying were the many many elephant tracks.
As we had experienced in Botswana elephants take an instant dislike to cylists – bikes are unfamiliar objects, move fast and almost silently and somehow seem to pose a threat worth defending the heard from! But unlike Botswana where the roads were tar, if we did get charged here, there would be no way we could outpace an ele on a dirt road.
We prayed and sang allowed as we cycled. It was good to have something to focus on other than the persistent swarm of tsetses or the ever increasing number of elephant tracks in the dust. We also reasoned that our singing would give the animals some warning of our approach so that they wouldn't be startled. Even with the singing we saw several giraffe and a few different varieties of antelope.
Just as I thought I could take no more of the bites and stress of an immanent elephant encounter our prayers were answered. We heard a sound.... it was a vehicle. Skidding to a halt we put the bikes broadside across the road. There was no way this guy was going to get past us without taking us with him!
It was a huge 4x4, fully equipped for the African bush driven by Earnest and Gay from Jo'burg.
“Hi guys, can we help?”
“We're being eaten alive by tsetse's and there are elephant spore everywhere.. can we get a lift?!”
“Yes, sure.....” then a pause for thought.... “But we can't fit you and the bikes in”
confusion filled my mind.... I had seldom seen a bigger 4x4 and it only had 2 passengers!... but we had been given this response before, once in Swaziland, and twice when avoiding elephants in Botswana – every time we had successfully persuaded the driver and fitted us and our kit in.
“We'll tie the bikes on the roof” I said.
“It's a soft top, you'll break it” my heart sank and a horrible sick feeling filled my stomach – so close to salvation – yet so far. Earnest must have seen the look of dismay and fear on our faces.
“Don't worry,” he said “we'll make a plan!” - gotta love South Africans!
Within 10 minutes the bikes were strapped onto the back of the truck and Pol and I hopped in the boot, Pol sitting by a tiny window, myself on the portaloo. We couldn't have been more happy and relieved.
Earnest and Gay were leading a small convoy of 4x4s on their way to Ethiopia. They seemed intrigued by our trip and invited us to join them for dinner. We accepted enthusiastically and were treated to G&T on ice from cut crystal followed by red wine and fillet steak, roast potatoes, peas and butternut then carrot cake, peaches, cream and coffee - all brought from SA. (each 4x4 had a big freezer full of the finest South African produce!). Very different to our usual diet of tomatoes, onions, beans and rice.
After dinner we crashed into bed in a little campsite 20meters from a pool filled with about 30 fat hippos.
The hippo pool 20 meters from our tent.
Despite being exhausted we had another restless night.. the hippos were very noisy and very close. At one point Pol heard a noise, looking out of the tent door she was a huge shape towering above her. It was a Giraffe 3 meters away munching on the acacia next to our tent!!
The following morning we headed back into the park but this time in the safety of a Land Cruiser, with a ranger, a rifle and 3 swiss guys.
The park really did live up to it's reputation. Full of game including many lion, (we saw 3 adult females and 5 cubs)
Wide open spaces.
and one that fell victim to the lions.
Not what you want to bump into on a bike.....-
.....especially when there's cubs around!
Hundreds of fat hippo filling every little piece of water in the park
However we couldn't hang around game viewing.. We still have plenty more miles of bad dirt roads to cover before we get to Rwanda.