Equipped with our brand new camera we headed towards Lake Tanganyika and the most remote part of our trip so far... the next 1000km would be on dirt/gravel/sand roads.
The road from Mbeya to Tanganyika saw yet another complete change in environment.. From lush tea and banana plantations to dry arid inhospitable terrain.
Our first day led us to a horrible border town called Tunduma (Tanzania/Zambia border). We had heard the town was unsafe but we could have guessed... money changers, guys in bars, everything decrepid and dusty, many guest houses but none that looked free from bed bugs.. we headed to the catholic mission for refuge. After some confusion we found 'Father Rocky' who did not allow us to put up our tent but warmly welcomed us into his own home where he had warm beds, delicious food and most importantly a HOT shower (our first for over a week)
Father Willi, Father Rocky and the 'Cooker'
The road to the lake was hard work and our suspension earned it's place on the trip. Mile after mile of gravel, sand, bone jarring corregations in the compacted mud, dust - inches deep in places and hiding the deep ruts beneath. As we lost height the temperature soared and water became more scarce.
As our thermometer hit 42.5 °C and we hit more hills and corregations the trucks haired passed us pumping blinding plumes of dust - forcing us to stop, close our eyes and hold our breath - words from Stanley's diary came flooding back.
“The torrid heat, the miasma exhaled from the soil, the giant cane-grass suffocating the wayfarer, the rabid fury of the native guarding every entry and exit, the unspeakable misery of life, the utter absence of every comfort, the bitterness which each day heaps upon the poor white man's head, and the little – too little – promise of success one feels on entering it.”
And we remembered that life wasn't that bad... yet.
We were drinking large volumes of water and it was difficult to come by at times. We stopped by a village and asked
“Where's the water pump?” Making a pumping action. The guy looked bewildered and pointed us to the only person in the area who spoke english -
“Do you want water or a pump?” he asked as a middle aged man came running up with a bike pump.
“Water” I answered pointing to our empty bottles.
“Ahh – come with me”
He kindly started filling the water bottles from a jug and I was horrified to see what was pouring into our bottles - Pale cloudy fluid.
“Is it water?” I asked, not wanting to seem too stupid
“Yes of course”
“Is it boiled?”
“Yes of course, and don't you want that bottle filled too?” pointing to the one now concealed behind my back.
“Umm.. yes.. that would be..... lovely”
But no obstacle to hardened african travellers!
One benefit of this route is that mzungus are a novelty and the local population are consequently friendly and respectful.
The children, instead of demanding pens, sweets, money or clothing simply stare with wonderment and giggle when they they see a Mzungu do something that they also do... like eating peanuts!
At one village a hundred wonderstruck kids stood over the road gawping at us sipping luke warm coke when they were nearly crushed by a steamroller coming one way and a lorry carrerring the other – fortunately one of the adults spotted the impending annihilation of an entire generation and cleared the road - just in the nick of time!
The next excitement occurred at another well deserved break – Pol was sitting on the verge and spotted 2 oxen toeing a sled full of firewood (note no wheels) wanting to take a memory of this timeless image she pulled out the camera.
But the cows took offense – had she asked permission for photography? When they were within a meter they surged towards her, flailing their horns. Images flashed into my mind of zulus I had seen in Mseleni who had been attacked similarly and came away with huge gashes – usually to the face. But pol was too fast and somehow managed to summersault backwards – away from the malicious beasts. Thwarted and annoyed by the screams of all the onlookers the cows careered off into the bush with the upturned sled bouncing behind and the herder yelling and shaking his long stick. We continued on – but slightly slower as pol had pulled her hamstring in all the excitement.
Is that a crazy tan line or simply grime?
With our food supplies dwindling we resorted to chewing on sugar cane – which was surprisingly good!
The bikes taking a well earned break!
Many things are different to back home – hotels are usually far less glamorous, but quite a bit cheaper!
We eventually arrived at Sumbawangwa in the dark. We had covered 230km of very bad road under a very hot sun in 2 days. Feeling very pleased with ourselves we washed off about half a kilo of dust and grime and proceeded to the restaurant for food. The beef curry was well worth the long wait. We wolfed it down – but it proved too much for Pol - she turned ashen white and queezy – as she sat on the floor with head between knees – I paid the bill and we limped up to our room. WE WERE EXHAUSTED! After a rejuvinating cup of sweet cocoa we collapsed into bed.