15: Tanzania


Friday 16 March

Tiwi Beach — Lunga Lunga — TANZANIA — Moa — Tanga (camp at Baobab Beach) [112 miles]

This border appears to be infrequently used. We had to explain to the officials how to complete our carnet. But we did get through without too much hassle. Although the $120 charge for vehicles (on top of road tolls) seems a little heavy. These charges must all be paid in hard currency.

There are five New Zealand girls stuck at the border. They have no Tanzanian money and there’s nowhere to change any (a rather unusual situation at an African border where the air is usually sibilant with the ‘psst!’ of itinerant, illegal money-changers). Few lorries pass this way, so they are waiting for a bus and hope to persuade the driver to take them without payment to the nearest major town where they can change some money and pay their fares. The chief customs officer says he will speak to the bus driver on their behalf.

During negotiations with the customs chief he asks for a lift to Tanga for his son, a request we know it would not be politic to refuse. So we only have space to squeeze in two of the girls and their packs. In Tanga we take them to a hotel so they can change money, and then to the bus station to wait for their friends. It’s getting dark so we ask around for a camp site. We are directed to several places, unsuccessfully. Finally someone suggests the Baobab Beach Hotel, a few miles out of town.

It’s a strange place — a deserted tourist hotel by the sea. The manager, Mr Singh, claims he is expecting us. He says that an overland truck driver called Betty told him we were coming. Betty doesn’t call often enough, he tells us. He lets us camp in the car park and gives us a key to one of the hotel rooms to wash in. The taps don’t work. The only water comes from a stand-pipe in the gardens.

Mr Singh is desperate for books in English. In common with most overlanders I carry a supply of paperbacks which I exchange when read at every opportunity. I give him three which he promises to replace in the morning at 9 o’clock.

It isn’t easy to get tent pegs into the gravelly ground of the car park. The tents sag somewhat, but are welcome. I find border crossing days tiring. Not many more to go now.

Saturday 17 March

Tanga — Segera — Makata — (wild camp) [116 miles]


I was first to get up and walked from our camp in the car park through the hotel grounds down to the beach. I stand in a small rocky cove watching two dhows bob fifty yards off. There are green trees growing in the water and hammer-headed cumulus clouds piled on the horizon. A fishing boat glides from the shore. Two men haul up the single sail against the dawn sky.

Hassle getting books back when Mr S didn’t turn up.

Into town to change money. This is a long, involved process. The staff at the bank seem to move in slow motion. I watch the manger’s secretary (so proclaims the sign on her desk) take ten minutes to interleave four sheets of well-used carbon between the first set of flimsy currency forms she has to fill in. This operation is complicated by a large fan directed at her desk-top, which threatens to tear the papers from her grasp. Each piece of furniture and every other movable object I can see in the bank is stamped with a 14-digit code number.

Outside the bank small boys carry tin-can shakers to advertise pea-nuts for sale. They carry them piled loose in straw baskets.

We leave Tanga through sisal plantations. I’ve had a stiff neck for a couple of days now — sleeping on damp pillows? We’re on a tarmac road, but there are lots of cracks and pot-holes.

Rain starts again shortly after mid-day. Torrential for a while, water running along the road. We stop and buy guavas. There are also bread-fruit, strange and swollen, for sale at the side of the road.

There are roadworks signs at the toll by the turn off for Dar. Further on men shovel earth from a lorry into pot-holes. A girl stands by waving a red flag. Another hundred yards down the road are men with surveying equipment.

We pass a six foot African rock python dead on the road.

We pick a camp site off the road, clearing a space in the long grass with Jason’s machete. There are lots of tsetse flies here. I get my first bite, right though my T-shirt, as I get out of the Land Rover, another while I’m washing.


At 7.30, after setting up camp and having a wash, I sit and relax with a drink. Brigid, Lesley and Richard will be on the ‘plane, starting their journey home. A large part of me wishes I were with them. But, having come so far, I feel I must complete the journey. Brigid and Lesley have promised to ring Sue as soon as they get to England, and to visit her. We’re all going out for a meal together when I get back. What a night that will be! The evening sky is clear so hopefully we’ll get no rain tonight.

Sunday 18 March

(wild camp) — Lugoba — Chalinze — Morogoro — Mikumi National Park — (wild camp) [191 miles]

We’re off by 8.30 a.m., soon passing about twenty-five children walking along the road, banging out a rhythm on tambourines and small drums.

A young woman wearing a bright red and yellow kanga walks with a leaking aluminium bucket on her head. On her left shoulder she holds a basin to catch the drips. There’s a surprising number of variations in the way the women in different regions wear the kanga.

We see tall, elegant Maasai women at the road-side, wearing beaded collars, ear-rings and copper bracelets. Near a river a naked Maasai moran, red plaited hair, stands motionless, watching us pass.

We stop in Lugoba for fruit. A small boy wears an ‘I Shot JR’ T-shirt.

At Chalinze we turn west. Small boys carry trays on bent-back hands like waiters, selling samosa and packets of cashew nuts. A group of boys offer us toy cars skillfully fabricated from old tin cans.

We stop by three Maasai women and swap a handbag mirror for a bead bracelet. As we conclude the barter a moran arrives and immediately claims the mirror himself.

Jason and I buy beer at the Just Imagine Hotel, whose sign offers ‘Bar, Biting and Dancing’.

During our lunch break we treat a man with a gash on his arm. I remove another tick from my leg.

We’re able to find some decent wood now.

We stop by a tap in a village to fill our water containers. A plaque proclaims that it was built by the British in 1960. We’ll be able to have a proper wash tonight, after having to make do with two inches of water each last night. I stick my head under the dripping tap for a moment before returning to the Land Rover.

A smudge of smoke rises from huts grouped at the foot of green, crumpled hills on our left. There are steeper hills on our right. I count the threads of ten waterfalls shining among the shades of green.

Further along we pass a lake on our left. Birds flash bright red among the bushes along the shore. Dead trees rise from the water.

We run into heavy rain and have to divert around a collapsed bridge.

There are several zebras cross the road in front of us — our first glimpse of game larger than a rat in Tanzania. Suddenly there are many zebras and giraffes.

There are baboons on the road too, yellow baboons, slighter in build than the olive baboon we have become familiar with since eastern Zaire.

We spot two elephants among trees fifty yards from the road, then in quick succession: a small herd of wildebeest, groups of impala, a lone elephant, wart hogs, a zebra with young trotting behind, a group of seven elephants, including a baby. We stop and watch a lone bull elephant beneath a tree a few yards off the road. It turns towards us, ears spread wide, trunk raised, testing the air. We prepare to drive on, but after a few moments it returns to its browsing.

At the edge of a group of fifteen elephants two young bulls tussle, rehearsing a struggle they must undertake in earnest in the years to come. Not far away are two giraffes with a tiny baby, a perfect miniature.

Just outside Mikumi National Park a young herdsman runs to the road-side to wave, wearing nothing but a piece of sacking over one shoulder and a string of beads around his waist. His charges are eight scrawny boran cattle.

The road degenerates as we get further from the Park. It’s still raining on and off.

We camp for the night in a cleared area off the road next to a hut apparently occupied solely by five children. Some complicated looking piece of farm machinery lies rusting in the undergrowth.

Monday 19 March

(wild camp) — Mbuyuni — Iringa — Sao Hill — (wild camp) [171 miles]

A very damp, misty morning which clears as we breakfast to reveal a breathtaking panorama of hills behind our camp. I rinse through a few clothes, hoping to dry them at lunchtime.

Before continuing we leave some food and clothing, and the rest of the blankets originally intended for Kitwe, with last night’s neighbours, the five children in their isolated hut. A man we assumed to be their father had arrived late last night but had left again at first light — gone to hunt for food, tend his fields, or did he have a job in some distant town?

After hour’s drive (over not many miles) the road starts to improve a little. We cross a bridge, its side smashed away by an articulated trailer overturned precariously, partly overhanging the river. There’s little we can do, but I lean out of the Land Rover and greet the driver, who is resting in the shade of his leaning vehicle. He gives a cheery thumbs-up and waves us on.

There’s a fall of clear water by the road so we stop and refill our water containers. The road follows the side of a hill, rock face to our right, a steep drop with a muddy, fast-flowing river, with occasional stretches of rapids, to our left.

After a few miles of this we drop down into a valley, green rolling hills around us, bright yellow flowers beneath thorn trees and baobabs.

Three men walk along the road, each wearing a rough woven cloak caught at one shoulder and carrying a stick across both shoulders, wrists resting over the ends, Maasai style.

Bridge over the Great Ruasa river. By the bridge is the village of Mbuyuni. It has a small market selling nothing but onions. By the market is parked a enormous lorry pulling a trailer carrying heavy machinery. On each wing mirror hangs a fish, split and drying in the sun.

There are baobab trees wherever you look around this village of small straw-thatched mud huts. Three of the buildings have aluminium roofs — a duka, a small ‘hotel’, and a bar — the ‘Maasai Bar’.

Outside the village a Maasai, red-robed, leaning on his spear, watching over about fifty cattle, raises a hand in greeting as we pass. A group of men swinging hooked pangas cut down long grass at the road-side. There’s a strong herby smell.

At intervals along the road are straw-thatched shelters, mostly unattended, shading old oil cans filled with onions. At not quite as frequent intervals we come across branches laid across the road as a warning of broken down lorries. In each case the driver and his mate sit in their vehicle’s shade, waiting.

We pass trees with strange, giant pods hanging down from vines looped in their branches. Standing straight and incongruous at the side of a hut, is a single sunflower.

We spot bundles of wood for sale at the side of the road. We stop and a sort of reverse haggling ensues. We offer thirty shillings. The young woman shakes her head. How much then? “Twenty shillings.”

Quite a number of the huts we’re passing now have groups of tall sunflowers beside them.

We stop for lunch by a brick kiln and chat to the young man in charge. He tells us he and his father make 100 000 bricks per firing. They spend three months getting the clay and moulding the bricks, two days firing them, then they’re left a week to cool. They need five lorry-loads of wood for the firing. The bricks are piled up and the fire lit beneath them.

We turn right onto another road and climb towards Iringa. A river meanders in wide loops on the plains below, like a text-book illustration of an advanced stage in the formation of ox-bow lakes.

In Iringa itself there is some delay while we try to change money to buy fuel. A small boy wanders past wearing a necklace of bottletops. There are bright kangas for sale, spread and pinned up outside shops. It’s 4.45 by the time we’re on the road again.

The next small village seems to specialise in pottery. Road-side stalls have pots for sale, many decorated in broad waves of bright red and green. Spencer buys a brightly-coloured vase for about 30p.

We’re on a good road again. We make good time before it becomes necessary to look for a camp. We turn off the road onto a track leading into a pine forest and set up camp some way off the road. A very quiet night, except for the wind susurrating in the pines, like a distant sea.

Tuesday 20 March

(wild camp) — Makambako — Mbeya (Baptist Mission) [174 miles]

We continue along a good road with few pot-holes. It’s a cool morning and we run into rain again after about an hour. Yesterday morning’s washing is still wet. A man cycles slowly up the road, holding a pink umbrella over his head.

We stop for lunch by a cattle watering-hole. Our sandwiches are eaten to the soft clunk of bells around the necks of many of the cows — pine trees and cows with bells on? We could be in northern Europe. The weather seems to have certain similarities too.


As usual, a group of children gather as soon as we stop. One small boy holds a musical instrument — a curved stick about four feet long with a taut wire running end to end, like a bow. A gourd is attached to the lower end, as a sound-box. I invite him to play. He seems a little shy at first but his friends encourage him and he is soon lost in his music, grinning broadly. He has a strip of metal around one finger of his left hand, which presses against the wire, varying the tension. He holds a metal striker in his right hand, tapping the wire. With the young musician’s agreement, I record his music.

We continue on a worsening road surface, ‘slaloming’ from time to time around pot-holes. We’re driving towards heavy black clouds capping the mountains. Lightning flashes ahead and thunder reverberates around the hills.

There’s a strange light, the landscape seems to glow against a purple sky. Rain hits suddenly, a cloud emptying itself into the valley on our right. Light catches it, bright and heavy like a waterfall.

When we get to Mbeya mid-afternoon there’s no rain. It’s caught in the hills around the town. Here we meet an American Baptist missionary who invites us to camp on the mission lawn. We accept gratefully. I describe to him the instrument we recorded at lunch time. He says it’s called a ‘zeeze’ (pronounced ‘zee-zee’).

Jason and I spend the rest of the afternoon having a beer or two in the bar of the Rift Valley Hotel, supplemented by a couple of rather tasty ‘potato chops’ from the snack bar next door. Janet has got a message through to Mobil in Zimbabwe and is waiting for them to call. No luck.

That evening, after setting up camp in the mission, we have a most enjoyable meal at an Indian restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Our excuse is that it wouldn’t be polite to build a fire on our host’s lawn.

Wednesday 21 March

Mbeya — Tukuyu — MALAWI — Karonga (Enikani Guest House) [127 miles]

The clinic attached to the mission has a list of medical equipment they are short of. We are able to help them with a few items from our own stocks. We also leave some baby clothes. Before we continue one of the men at the mission warns us about the border we are heading for. Apparently it has the reputation of being the worst in Tanzania, always on the lookout for bribes.

We call at the Rift Valley Hotel again to see if there are any messages. Nothing. We backtrack along the road and take a right turn towards Tukuyu. The road is lined with shambas. There are onions and carrots for sale, fields of maize, and cattle and goats grazing.

The fairly good tarmac road quickly degenerates. We lurch along at around 10 mph for most of the morning. We pass a banana lorry stuck axle deep in a muddy pot-hole. There’s a range of mountains in green and purple folds in front of us. Jason and I spend our last few Tanzanian shillings on a couple of meat samosas in Tubeya.

In a plantation women with baskets on their backs pick tea, just like the pictures on the packets. The road is now better in some parts, but we’re still making rather slow progress. We stop for lunch by a tea estate, then spend the rest of our Tanzanian money on fuel in Tukuyu.

We get through the Tanzanian border without too much delay, despite the dire warnings in Mbeya (and currency exchange forms which don’t seem to balance quite as they should).


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