A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Excellent Pancakes

From the middle of nowhere to Kibondo

sunny 38 °C

After we left the guys at the chimp camp the road continued to be stunning, and sandy.


Really, really beautiful....



Not long before we reached the market town of Uvinza the road was completely blocked by a logging lorry. The whole of the front half had sheared off the axle and the wheels lay several metres away from the rest of the vehicle. Some guys were busy cutting an alternative route through the surrounding bush as it was going to be some time before the lorry could be moved. We really wanted to get a picture but since it was a lorry full of logs in a nature reserve where logging is illegal, and since there were lots of men around with machetes we thought it best to carry on our way and wave inanely.


Downhill towards Uvinza.

The morning after we went through Uvinza was a Saturday. Once we got passed the mossies who were maliciously waiting for us outsied our tent from the evening before we got caught up in the early morning market run to Kasulu.


Everyone was laden with their produce on the way to the market.


The highlight of Kasulu for us was stopping in at a guest house to get some chai tea and chipattas and discovering that at this guest house the chipattas were actually bona fide delicious pancakes. Rob ate about ten!!

We passed a couple of refugee camps after Kasulu. The road runs parallel to the southern border of Burundi. The Tanzanian authorities are in the process of closing down the camps. There are several in this North Western corner of Tanzania and some of them have been there since the'70's. Since a lot of the occupants were born in the camps they must now make the choice between repatriation or claiming Tanzanian citizenship. In the latter case they will be re-located to far off South Eastern Tanzania just above Mozambique since the strong-holds of refugees close to the borders of their original countries contributes to the instability of the surrounding countries and the cross border flow is hard to monitor and control.

One day after a night under a very starry sky in the middle of the bush we came shortly upon a group of three or four armed soldiers on a bridge over a river in a seemingly very remote place. They were very friendly when we greeted them but were very resistant to questions about their posting. Being so close to the Burundi border we assume they were involved in monitoring the flow of people from there. From this point we saw the outline of steep hills in the far distance rising out of the flat bush. I tried to ignore them and banished from my mind the thought we would be huffing up them soon. However they wouldn't be ignored forever and eventually we found ourselves climbing steeply with a steadily growing crowd of children pacing us easily at a very leisurely walk!


But what goes up must come down and we did manage to outpace the very persistent (and very coy, curious) children in the end.

The storm clouds darkened overhead and mid-afternoon the rainy season dramatically announced it's late arrival on the dry dusty roads which turned to slime beneath our tyres. The thought that the end of our epic dirt-road stretch was only a day or two away made the cycling no easier. However the thought of the warm cosy bed we planned to sleep in that night in a guest house in the next town, Kibondo, kept us going. Which was good because there was a set of six or seven hills, each one bigger than the previous which seriously pushed me to contemplate stopping then and there and throwing the tent up in the pouring rain just 7km shy of our destination!!


Not all of the traffic managed to navigate the mud as deftly as us. I don't know how long the driver of this lorry would have waited before sleeping in a bed again if it wasn't for the very convenient JCB just out of the shot on it's way down to pull him out.

As we slipped and slid along in the mud dreaming of crisp white sheets and hot water Rob mused, given the chances of running water AND electricity were slim, which would be preferable; no water or no leccy? In his musings however he didn't anticipate the crisp white sheets would be grey and there would be neither water nor electricity!! On first impressions Kibondo was a big anti-climax – dust bowl turned mud bath!! But we were there, and we managed, and soon we were warm, dry and clean. We decided to take a rest day there and as with so many things our circumstances seemed brighter in the warm light of the morning sun. We wandered around the town popping into various shops re-stocking our supplies and then sheltered in our room from the hot midday sun eating copious amounts of fresh fruit and veg – watermelon, pineapple, bananas and avocado on fresh bread, and then we feasted again in the evening on tomato, onion and pepper sauce splashed liberally on ooodles of hot Italian spaghetti, from Italy, which bizarrely you can find in even the most remote parts of Africa – Italy's contribution to foreign aid perhaps!!??!!

Posted by robandpol 09:09 Archived in Tanzania Tagged bicycle Comments (5)

Chimpanzees and a long sandy road

Hippo campsite to the chimps in Tanzania

sunny 40 °C

Leaving behind the friendly hippos and cuddly lion cubs we pressed on. Our friends in their 4x4s zoomed passed leaving us pedalling in a cloud of dust. The first day took us to Mpanda a dusty little town with a wonderful atmosphere and a surprisingly good internet cafe which opened only a month ago. We had a bit of a panic when the first few shops we went in didn't have powdered milk and they informed us that the town had ran out. When we did then find a shop with some tins we got a bit carried away and bought enough to supply a small orphanage!

Leaving Mpanda in the morning we filled up all our available water containers as we knew there would be no sign of habitation for a long way (180km!). The road was beautiful. We drank plenty and passing a stream late afternoon re-filled for the nights camping. Directly after the stream the road began to climb. It zig-zagged sharply through the trees in an attempt to dull the ascent. As we panted up the track to the sound of 16 litres of water splashing rhythmically around us we heard the rumbling of a vehicle below. Looking down we watched a minibus taxi pause and a stream of colourful people file out laughing and shouting as they took a path into the trees. It was slightly odd to see such a disproportionate number of people emerge from the tiny taxi not least because there had been no sign of any houses in a long while. They marched purposefully along chatting all the while and the minibus grunted and pulled away. When the minibus reached the first “zig” we realised what was happening as it strained round the bend and laboured on up the hill. The passengers marched on straight up the hill cutting the bends and met the exhausted vehicle at the top where they piled back in. The door slammed and the muffled shouts and laughter were covered by the coughing of the engine. The taxi rushed away and we were left in the silence of the wood – still panting our way up the hill.


Not long after the road flattened out at the top of the hill it took us over a beautiful river of crystal clear water. With not a soul in sight it was the most perfect spot to camp and we spent a beautiful evening by the river.


The irony of camping next to a river after lugging 17 litres of water around all day was not lost on us.

We packed up quickly in the morning. Too quickly in fact as we had 15 minutes to kill before it was actually light enough to pick out our way along the track. The sand thickened and the cycling was tough but the road was beautiful. As the morning went on we refined our “cycling in sand” skills and before long we got the hang of it and were actually pretty good.


We had an added incentive for pushing along that morning. We were headed for “Alex and Fiona's camp” where we would be staying that night. Alex and Fiona are out in the bush in the middle of nowhere researching chimpanzee behaviour. Our directions were “well, about 80 miles after Mpanda there's a track that goes off to the right. If you reach the telkom tower you've missed it and you'll need to turn back”!

About mid morning we met a group of guys and a digger doing some work on the track. We stopped to chat and asked them if they knew of an american umZungu who lives in the bush. “Ah yes, yes, umZungu working with gorillas. Not far. Maybe 5km. Telkom tower too far.” This was music to our ears!! The sun was scorching and the idea of breaking in 5km was positively uplifting. So we set off with renewed vigour. But soon 5km became ten and ten, fifteen. Many kms later after ascending several hundred metres we saw what we thought could be the track on our right but it was so unused we could easily have missed it. However since there had been no other tracks to the right and there was nothing but bush for miles all around we took the chance and veered off down the hill.


We teared down the hill appreciative of the shade,


and managed to stop ourselves in time to navigate across the gaps in a couple of bridges along the way.

And eventually we rounded a rocky outcrop to see 4 or 5 thatched shelters and assumed we must have arrived! The camp was empty apart from a man named Ndai whom we later discovered was the chef. He was very welcoming but what with our 5 words of Swahili and his total lack of English our interaction was brief. We hadn't arrived 5 minutes however when Alex and Jane (his mum just over from the States) came back from their morning hike. They couldn't have welcomed us more warmly. We had a quick tour of the camp including a wander down to the stream where laundry and bathing is done and learnt the toilet etiquette – drop the barrier as you pass it on your way to the long drop. Barrier down = occupied, barrier up = vacant.


The kitchen and pantry. Alex with his mum Jane and Shadrack one of the chimp research assistants.

The camp couldn't be more well-organised and ran. There are 5 permanent occupants; Alex and his wife Fiona who are leading the research, Shadrack and Busoti who assist them and Ndai who keeps everyone well fed. There is also a new pHD student who arrived a couple of weeks before we were there. She had gone off deep(er) into the bush to find another group of chimps to study. Being her first trip out she couldn't judge how long her supplies would last and so she planned to return whenever they ran out. This was a source of slight concern for the guys back at the camp who were wondering after 16 days when would be an appropriate time to start worrying................ She didn't return whilst we were there!


Our tent pitched happily under the “guest shelter” at the camp.

After a much needed bathe in the river, a laundry session and the organisation of our tent we headed off into the bush to see how Fiona was getting on measuring the chimpanzee nests.


Hard at work studying chimp nests.

Alex's work is concerned with the communication of the chimpanzees. He has microphones placed at various points throughout the area and the camp is at a high point where the mics can communicate with the receiver in the “office”.


The view from “upstairs” - the office sits at the top of a rocky outcrop. What an awesome spot!!

The guys at the camp have no vehicle. About once a month one of them will hike about 6km to the “main road” to hitch to Uvinza, a small market town 70km away, where they stock up on their supplies. We didn't fancy anyones chances of getting a lift on that road since we had seen barely anything else on it but Alex very matter-of-factedly said “there's usually a vehicle goes past every day or so and they always stop when they see an umZungu.”

We were lucky. Alex had been to pick up his mum Jane and they had returned the day before we arrived laden with fresh supplies. We feasted on pineapples and bananas and there was plenty of rice, beans and matoke (green bananas).

The next day Alex invited us to join him on a search for the chimps.


We set off into the bush with Alex, Jane and Busoti.

We went down a valley and up a valley and then at the top we heard the chimpanzees. We followed their cries and eventually we found them and managed to get a really good look.....


Oh, no, that's just Rob changing the battery in one of the microphones!!

These chimps are completely wild. When we found them we had to be careful not to stare too much and after a while we had to groom one another to assure the chimps we were harmless.


Basuti, Jane and Alex looking non-threatening – and also hiding from the swarm of “sweat bees” that had found us. Tiny, innocent,even cute, - looking flies they seek out any moisture on you and consequently congregate around your eyes, up your nose and in your earholes!!! Very irritating.

After a good session watching the chimps playing and eating about 40metres in front of us the group moved on. We shortly followed.


Tracking chimps through the undergrowth.

We had the most amazing time and really enjoyed hanging out with the guys there. Jane was an absolute legend. Inspite of claiming several times that she wasn't very adventurous and was even quite nervous here she was in the most remote place we had been in. Not only that but she hiked vigorously up and down the very steep hills of the valley that left Rob and I completely exhausted by the end of the day.

All good things come to an end and the next day we headed on our way.


An early fairwel to the chimp guys!!

Posted by robandpol 10:40 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

We're Famous! (well in South Wales anyway!)

rain 30 °C

Hi people.

Just spotted this article about us online - is quite fun - check it out.


Posted by robandpol 11:02 Archived in Rwanda Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

Tsetse Terror and Lazy Lions

Tanganyika – Katavi National Park.

sunny 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.


Heathy zebras


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.

Posted by robandpol 11:32 Archived in Tanzania Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

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