Jambo! We made it to Tanzania
Once more we were astounded by the change, as we crossed the imaginary line into Tanzania. Gone are the gentle sounds of the donkeys, the cow bells and the squeaking from un-oiled bicycles, everything on this side of the border seems to have an engine and it’s loud, fast and chaotic! Driving up into the southern highlands, the peaks were enveloped in thick cloud and at certain points the fog was so thick we could barely see the car of Rui and Jean in front. But as we began the descent into the valley below, we came out of the clouds and in front of us opened up the most beautiful green and luscious landscape filled with banana, coffee, cotton and tea plantations. It was absolutely stunning, the colours suddenly so much more vibrant than the previous countries. Our first stop was at a Coffee plantation, Utengule Lodge just outside Mbeya. Unfortunately it sounds a lot better than it was, as the lodge was not really interested in campers when its main clientele were business people arriving by helicopter to stay in its exclusive chalets. It was fine for one night though and the next day we headed in Mbeya to stock up on supplies and find sim cards etc. We had also awoken to a flat tyre, so needed to visit a garage to get it fixed. Considering we only wanted to get a few things, it took 4hours!! Fortunately the tyre didn’t have a puncture, just some dirt on the bead so once cleaned up and re-inflated we were good to go. We were glad to be out of Mbeya, but the drive up towards Dar Es Salaam was one of the craziest drives yet. We’d heard about the appalling Tanzanian bus drivers but seeing really was believing. The buses thrash along the roads, well over the speed limit, overtaking on blind corners, up hills and sometimes overtaking an already overtaking car so that there are 3, sometimes 4 vehicles across a 2 lane road. We also witnessed the legendary ‘sling shot’ overtaking manoeuvre where the first car pulls out to overtake and other cars pull out behind it, in the blind faith that the first guy has properly checked the road ahead or if he hasn’t, to use him as a shield. It is no surprise that car accidents kill more people than malaria in this part of the world!
We also encountered the corrupt Tanzanian police a number of times, but if you’re able to laugh off their bullsh*t and treat it as a game, it can actually be quite fun. The first rule when stopped is to ask a question first. The distraction technique is incredibly effective as long as you can keep the questions firing at them first. We find pulling out the Swahili phrase book also throws their attention while they try and understand the gobble-de-gook you’re trying to say. The second rule, is that if they do insist that you were speeding and need to pay a fine, pull out an empty ‘stunt wallet’ and show that you have no cash. The officers realising that they are not going to get any money will then persist with requests for soda, cigarettes or biscuits, when we replied NO, they finally gave up and let us go. This has happened 3 times now and each time we have successfully gotten away without paying a fine or a bribe. Every village has a 50km/hr speed limit and the police are everywhere – never mind the suicidal bus drivers or the overloaded lorries, let’s just focus on the Muzungos!!!
Fortunately there is a fantastic little oasis on this crazy road, called Kisolanza, or the old farm house where we could camp and recover from the driving ordeal. We enjoyed a fantastic couple of ‘down days’ at the farm with Rui and Jean, as well as bumping into other overlanders Arno & Elize who we’d also be following. Nicki, the current owner, runs a very tight ship and we enjoyed one of the most fantastic meals at the farm restaurant which uses all its home grown produce from the farm and we indulged in fresh vegetables, meat and freshly baked bread and cakes. The quality of the meat has been getting more and more dubious so it was great to be able to enjoy some properly reared beef. We made sure to stock up on meat and vegetables before we left!
We said goodbye to Rui & Jean as they were heading onto Dar Es Salam and Zanzibar and we were heading north. Unfortunately, the additional time and money we’ve spent further south means we now need to be a little more disciplined and get a move on if we’re to be home by Christmas. Sadly we can’t see everything! So we headed to the coast just above Dar, to an amazing beach lodge called Peponi, just south of Tanga. It was amazing to reach the eastern coast, knowing that we’d now driven the width of the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. The weather is incredibly hot and humid on this side, very much like Queensland but the water is a sweltering 27 °C! Taking a dip in the sea, was like being in a warm bath! We set up camp on the beach and had a couple of relaxing days watching the fisherman, swimming in the sea and seeing some of the most spectacular sunrises over the ocean.
From there it was north to Moshi which sits at the foot of Kilimanjaro to meet up with Taleah and Wynand who were travelling down to Cape Town from London. We arrived the day before them so decided to go to nearby Lake Chala, a deep crater lake which at 3,000m in some parts is one of the deepest in Africa. It was a blazing hot day and during our walk down to the lake we met a guide who was bringing some students to the lake for the first time. He asked us if we wanted to also see the nearby Meteorite crater which was only 10minutes walk away so we agreed. Never believe a Tanzanian when they say 10minutes! The short stroll turned into an hour and a half of Africa bush walking up the riverbeds and across the plains – we were still in our flip flops and with no water or sunscreen we felt very ill-prepared for our jaunt through the prickly and snake filled bush! Rich blew a flip-flop half way along, so the walk took even longer, while he had to try and fashion together a strap with his belt to hold his flip-flop on! We made it to the crater and from there could see the base of Kilimanjaro – at 5800m, it’s the highest freestanding mountain in Africa, but sadly she never revealed more than her bottom to us as the rest of the mountain remained covered in cloud. As we walked back, the clouds had begun to build and we could see a storm rolling in across the plains. We made a dash for it back to the car, hoping to leave before the rain started. We were too late. The heavens opened and once more the dusty top layer on the clay packed road became a slippery muddy mess. Rich struggled to keep the car on the road, sliding off into the side gullies a couple of times – we became very close to getting stranded once again as a very steep muddy hill became impossible to get up. Bizarrely enough, we also happened to right outside a school again, it felt like groundhog day and we began to think that we would be camping in a school again. But with some skilful driving, Rich managed to use the side gullies to help ricochet us up the slippery slope. My knuckles were white from hanging on, but it was such a relief to make it back onto the tarmac!
Wet and muddy we headed into Moshi, the driving rain continued and we were so thankful when we arrived at the Honey Badger camp to be told that the campsite was full and we’d need to take a room! Hot showers, flushing toilet and a big bed – luxury! We had a very boozy night with our new buddies (batterc2cpoint.wordpress.com) both excitedly swapping stories about the ‘otherside’. We were particularly keen to hear about their adventures shipping into Israel and driving down through Egypt, as they’d driven through at the height of the chaos. Fortunately it sounds as though there is an easy route through as long as you avoid the main towns and cities and they whizzed through in 3 days. It could be a plan! With plenty of notes and recommendations we said our goodbyes the next day and headed off in opposite directions – it was time to hit the Serengeti!