Sept 26th, 27th, 28th Rubondo-Mahale, Tanzania

Route: Rubondo Island Camp – Tabora (Tabora Belmonte Hotel) – Ujiji (Livingstone Memorial Museum) – Kigome (Tumbili House, Jakobsen’s Beach) – Mahale NP Airstrip

KMs travelled on 26th September: 481 (all tarmac)
KMs travelled on 27th September: 422 (mostly tarmac except for long dirt diversions)
KMs travelled on 28th September: 192 (pretty much all dirt – the best!)

Total KMs: 2022

Times pulled over for speeding: 3 (in 50kph zones, of which there are many)

  • Talked my way out of it: one
  • Policeman trying it on: one (I wasn’t actually speeding)
  • Fines paid: one (TShs 30,000 – approx. $13)

Things broken in the car: Stereo (no music!!!!) and inverter

We left Rubondo knowing we had about 1,000 km to cover before we would get to our next planned stop, the Mahale Mountains. Mahale is a national park on Lake Tanganyika, which acts as the border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo and is another area renowned for its chimpanzees. We decided that, rather than rushing the whole journey, we would have 2 overnight stops in between – at Tabora in the centre of the country and the port of Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika.

All this meant spending another 15 or so hours on the road, which gave us ample time to make several observations about the road network and its users in Tanzania, with some comparisons to what we’re used to in Kenya:

  • Tanzanian roads are in very good shape. The tar roads and nice and wide, with proper shoulders and potholes are few and far between.
  • There has been lots of recent road construction, which has made our travels so much easier, but both Google and Maps need to catch up … especially Google, which tried to send us down some very random little bike footpaths instead of using the brand new highway.
  • Almost all Tanzanian road users are well-behaved and courteous. The exception is bus drivers who seem to have gone to the same ‘Driving School for Inconsiderate Idiots’ as their Kenyan counterparts.
  • The people who make the ‘50kph’ signs work faster than the ones who make the ‘end of 50kph’ signs – there were lots of villages where we saw we had to slow down but they then forgot to tell us when we could speed up again.
  • Most policemen are sleeping … not actually sleeping on the job but there are sleeping policemen (speed bumps) in every village.
  • Most (real) policemen are armed with speed guns …
  • Pretty much everyone in rural Tanzania owns a bicycle and it’s very common to see ladies cycling around, which we rarely see in Kenya.
  • There seem to be about 10 times as many school children in Tanzania as adults!
  • Tanzanians seem to prefer Ankole cattle over any other type … we were impressed on several occasions by the size of horns on display.
‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’

There weren’t many standout events on our drive, but The Livingstone Memorial Museum in Ujiji is worth a mention. Exactly what you’d expect of an old-fashioned, rural museum. It did have a certain charm and we learned a few things about the Scottish missionary doctor and the work he did during his travels across the continent… many of his treks make our current expedition look a little tame. We even found the spot where Henry Morton Stanley met Livingstone under a mango tree (now deceased) and uttered the famous line ‘Dr Livingstone, I Presume!’

Mahale Tanzania
Sebastian the zebra…..he likes carrots!

The Tabora Belmonte Hotel managed to rustle up a pretty decent pizza and some tasty curry for weary travellers, but we’ll probably not be rushing back there in a hurry. Our stay at Jakobsen beach was much more memorable, as we got to wash away the dust from the numerous detours in the clear waters of Lake Tanganyika, before meeting Sebastian, the resident zebra and his gang of vervet monkey buddies. Given more time, I could easily have seen us taking another day to just chill out here for a day, fishing, reading trying to keep monkeys out of the aptly named Tumbili (vervet monkey) cottage.

Our drive to the Mahale Mountains was probably the most fun so far as we finally got off the tarmac and enjoyed 180km of (mostly) good dirt roads that wound their way along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. We had to undertake another ferry crossing over the Malagarsi River, less than 100m wide, which was alarming when the ferry conductor seemed intent upon adding an enormous bus to the ferry which had our vehicle, a lorry and about 250 people who were already aboard. They eventually decided it wouldn’t fit but we still listed our way across the water only for the captain to botch the approach to the other side, then reverse for a second attempt whilst motorbikes and pedestrians were still trying to leap off. Utter mayhem but a complete success as no vehicle or person ended up in the water! The rest drive to the Mahale was scenically wonderful, with a mix of rolling forested hills, where it seemed we were on a roller-coaster rather than in a vehicle, and long sandy beaches with sleepy fishing villages.

We’ve now arrived at the Mahale airstrip where we’re leaving the car for a few days and will be leaping into a dhow (wooden boat) to cruise along the lakeshore to our camp and another final opportunity to trek after chimpanzees.


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Joe and Kian's African Adventure

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