T is for Tanzania, which is the country we are in now, and it is also for Trucks , Tuk tuks, touts and turnarounds, but I will tell you about that a bit later. First let me update you on the last part of our journey in Malawi.
On Monday afternoon we made an appointment to meet with the district health officer in the Nkhata Bay area and Doctor Mike set up the appointment for 4pm. We wanted to see the hospital that we were donating an ultrasound system too. The hospital itself, being a regional hospital has 450 beds of which only half are used. It has an X-ray department with some Indian Siemens equipment of which only half works as they do not have money for repairs and their largest exam volume is chest x-ray and they did not order a wall stand, so all chest X-ray are done seated with the cassette placed behind the patient. To make things even better, they still use film and wet processing and have not had any 35×43 film for over a week. Upon asking doc Mike what he really needs, he said that educating the population on hygiene would have the biggest impact to the populations health. He gave an example of mozzi nets that are provided to the population and that some of them end up being fishing nets. It was fascinating and humbling to listen to the challenges that he faces in his region and with only 1 radiologist in the country working for the state you can imagine how they struggle. Well worth the time and I feel good that our donation is going to the right place and will make a difference.
Due to the timing of the meeting we had to stay around Nkhata Bay and we researched and visited camp sites but none could accommodate a vehicle with a roof top tent as the vehicle had to be parked high up on the cliff and you take your camping gear down to the waters edge and camp there. We do not have a portable tent so that option was out. Not to be despondent we decided to eat first and consider our options later. We found a Rastafarian bar on the cliff side with a nice view and had excellent grilled bream and a chat to Kalvin the Rastsa man who was looking for investors to invest in the expansion of his site. We had a detailed discussion and listened to his business plan that had more holes in it than stars in the sky but the view was cool, he was nice and the food was good.
We wanted to fill with fuel up but none of the garages accepted US$ so it was off to look for a bank to exchange money. 4 banks (and the only 4 in Nkhata bay) later and we still had US$. The 2 ATMS in the town were both broken, so it was back to the petrol station to convince them to accept US$. It turns out there is a western union office at the petrol station that could exchange some of what we needed and Stefan emptied her kitty of Malawian Kwacha and we ended up with around 80 liters of fuel after putting only 40lt in. (The car takes 170lt)
Now where to stay tonight was the question?. As we had to go North I said lets look north and if we have to travel 50km or so north after our meeting and set up a bit late then so be it. We selected a camp called Usisiya Eco lodge and it had good ratings. We called and Dani said she had place to camp for 2 with a roof top tent and offered to prepare a dinner which we duly accepted as we would be arriving late. We estimated 6:30 pm but how wrong we were about to be proven. On the map the route to get there is coloured blue (national road) up to Mzuzu and then we had to take the yellow coloured route to Usisiya Bay. Yellow means secondary road. During our meeting with the client I got a text from Dani saying that we must definitely use this route as the other route had lost 7 bridges in a recent storm and there was no way through. No problem, thumbs up we replied, and thought nothing of it. We went to Mzuzu, all good, then turned east towards the lake on the yellow road which after 1 km became dirt. It was pitch black dark as the moon was new and there are no lights around. It had rained heavily and the mud was thick and plentiful… a pigs paradise. The road was not too bad but gradually proceeded to get narrower until we were on a 2 spoor track. Stefan insisted that we were tracking correctly. We continued and then the mountain came and it was 4 wheel drive and 10 km an hour as we climbed up rocks and through massive wash aways. At around 8:30 pm we got a text from Dani asking if we were still coming! Crickey we should have been there long ago had it not been for this excursion. We went down the other side of the mountain which was also an absolute mess with rock slides blocking some of the road and massive wash aways. Arriving in the centre of a village we now had no idea where to go and it looked like we were driving on the foot paths that the locals had created to move from one house to the next. We ask some local guys for assistance and they walked in front of the car and guided us between the huts and the maize farm to the entrance of the campsite. Eventually. Stefan and I noted while driving that there were people on bicycles and pedestrians walking through the fields in the pitch black darkness and they knew where to go! For us it was like being blind and I was grateful that I had installed a 1000 lumen light bar onto the roof rack that turned the track in front of us into daylight.
We were tired and had had a long day and were grateful to be at the campsite with no damage to the car or ourselves. We could not see a thing and Dani led us to a beach hut and some lounge chairs and put 2 beers in our hands. Ahhhh all is good. She then proceeded to serve up a delectable meal of potato soup , a vegetarian stir fry with rice and some fried banana and honey. She ran out of beer and ours was colder so it was off to the car to get our stock and the discussion continued till late in the night about how she started the camp and the challenges she faces and the type of clients etc etc. At around midnight, as the whole place was empty, Dani offered us the chalet on the beach for the night. We accepted gratefully and stumbled into bed, sleeping fitfully and waking up to the sight of the sun rising over the lake and the first rays shining right into the chalet. Magic. This place really struck a cord with us and we found it exceptionally peaceful and relaxing. If you want a break go here. Amazing, but take a boat from Nkhata bay as the road is tough going.
Our problem continues though because now we were much further south than we had planned so we needed to catch up distance and we still had to deal with the Tanzanian border. So the only way north was to get back to the “blue road” which meant 4×4 across the mountain again. We tackled it with great spirit after being well rested even though things were a bit foggy from the previous nights indulgence. (we never over indulge). While travelling up the mountain the locals had all come out to the road and were working with spades and hoes to try and restore the damage that the storm had done. They need the road for supplies so it was in their interest to get it sorted. Great to see a community working together to tackle a task. It went on like this for kilometers. We also had, in front of us, a motor bike taxi that had a passenger and it was rather amusing to watch him negotiate the mud and water puddles while ensuring his passenger still had a good ride and did not get mud on his shoes.
Once on the “blue route” it was easy going up to Karonga where we filled up properly as that petrol station accepted US$ . We bought a couple of pies and that was lunch. By 2:30 pm we hit the border and the Malawian side, although confusing, was easy going with a stamp in your passport and the carnet stamped and off you go. There was a wildlife officer cruising the parking lot and he wanted to search our car which we gladly allowed him to and there was no issue . It was now 14:50 and we went into the Tanzanian side. There were many touts wanting to sell simcards and forex and insurance. One guy was pleasant and I chatted to him as we walked from counter to counter and he pointed out what needed to be done. His end game was the insurance that you have to buy for the car and he wanted that deal, so he facilitated our whole process. I needed copies of my passport which he organised and a copy of my drivers licence which I had lost and only had digitally. No problem it was all done and my carnet was stamped, Stefan had his visa and through we went. The insurance for the car is a multi country insurance and cost 100US$. I paid at the going rate knowing that he would make money on the black market. Job done and it was 17:30.
The landscape was covered with tea fields as far as the eye could see and when not tea then banana plantations. Every small village we went through you could buy bananas, with them being sold in their natural state as a bunch off the tree, or as individual pieces from the woman that were carrying a bowl of 30 or so on their heads. Despite being so close to the equator it was a chilly 17 degrees as we were at an altitude of around 2000m. The quality of the roads was fair, apart from the 2 spoor in some places, with most potholes repaired. But my goodness so many trucks …
By 6:00 pm it was dark, and the road was busy with trucks and trucks and tuk-tuks and the towns that we drove through it seemed like people were celebrating the end of the world. Trucks parked where ever, half in the street, people milling every, goats, cows and chickens thrown into the mix all the while loud blaring music from multiple shops filling the air. Again, tired with nowhere planned to stay, we decided that instead of pushing through to Chimala, and then looking for a place we would stop at Mbeya (a larger city) and find something there. But nothing. No camping, so we found a hotel that looked like a Christmas tree as it had so many lights on it and asked if we could camp in their parking lot. The manager agreed and said it would be safe as his armed guards would watch out for the car. They were armed with shotguns. In return we had a meal in their restaurant accompanied by the usual liquid refreshments. By 9:30pm we were done, and in the car park we set up our tent and climbed into bed 10 minutes later.
Across the way and over some open ground where some shacks and one of them happened to be a disco that blared disco music at distortion levels till 5 am. I slept, as I was tired, but by 4 am could not get back to sleep and Stefan and I decided to pack up and start driving as we had to cover 500km today to get to a town called Mikumi, where we do have a planned stop.
By 5am we were back on the road. Originally, we thought to stay in Mbeya till around 8am so that we could get supplies from the supermarket, before proceeding. Due to our inability to sleep with the racket going on we said we would get an early start and buy provisions along the way. The road was unbelievable as the Chinese had built it with good markings and wide shoulders. The Chinese may have cheap goods, but this road was amazing. We stopped after an hour of driving, as the sun was coming up, and made some tea and coffee alongside the road. We bought boiled eggs from a street vendor and that was breakfast. A little later we bought beans and carrots and then after around 250km we stopped in a small village to swop driving. I saw a gas bottle shop and tried to understand if they could fill our gas tank and as suspected they could not. I took photos of the fittings as this is a common issue in Africa. South African bottles have their own unique thread. Brilliant Cadac. Next door to the gas bottle shop was the beer bottle shop and in a flash there was a case of beer in the car with half of it in our fridge. The first guy we met at the gas shop could speak English which we found to be a rarity here. He duly accompanied us to each shop so that we could get what we needed. Swahili is the official language and most of the people we tried to interact with had very low English knowledge and this led to a lot of gesticulation to be able to be understood. After beer, we needed meat and went to the local butcher and purchased a chunk of beef. Really – that’s what it was. A chunk. It was hacked off the carcass that was hanging from the ceiling. Forget about filet or rump or sirloin or any of your fancy cuts. You need meat? here take this chunk. We will cut it properly tonight and see how it tastes.
The road has now changed back to their normal road after having the Chinese bliss road and it winds down the side of a mountain with stunning views and vegetation that reminds me a little of the lowveld in South Africa.
The road was like a 2 spoor road but out of tar! As so many heavily laden trucks had pushed 2 ruts into the road. Once again, we saw 4 separate big trucks accidents on these steep passes as it seems they lose control of their vehicles.
The turnaround I mentioned in the start refers to our trip and the original plan. You may remember I posted some facts on the status of Sudan and said we would monitor the situation before deciding on how to proceed. The situation in Sudan is still very risky and, being up for adventure, that adventure is just a little too much for me. So our goal now is to reach the equator together, just above Nairobi, and around Mount Kenya and from there Stefan will fly back to Germany and I will turn around and take another route home. There is a high potential that my wife Martina will fly in on the same day and join me for the trip back. It will be a long drive.
We have just arrived in Tan-Swiss lodge, had a shower, made a fire and opened a brown bottle with liquid heaven in it. Further updates to follow soon.