26 August 2011
After driving on a long and dusty road to one of the quieter Tanzanian border we were surprised to see very well dressed (and very tall) Tanzanian custom officials that were even more surprisingly very well organised. The border fees were the highest of all the countries so far as we all required a 30 day visa and it was also the most thorough vehicle search we had since we started. Once we had opened almost every ammo box, we were on our way to a place called Sumbawanga.
If at all possible, the Tanzanian people were even friendlier than the Zambians. We quickly learned that an excited exclamation of ‘Jambo’ is the Swahili greeting and in return they would shout ‘Mzunga’ roughly translated as European/white man. We got to Sumbawanga late in the afternoon and found that the campsite we were hoping to stay at were more of a hotel with a parking lot than a campsite. Tan Lil had go to toilet badly and to her disgust only found Muslim toilet..After driving around to other possible options for camping, we settled on the parking lot with the bonus of using communal showers and toilets (normal one’s) on the first floor of the Moravian Church centre. The people were exceedingly friendly and the parking lot made for a comfortable place to sleep that night.
The next day after waiting some time for the banks to open to exchange money, we visited the local market as the days of leisurely strolling into the local Shoprite had now gotten to an end. What a fascinating place to buy just about anything..from fruits and vegetables to rice and chick peas, peanuts and corn stacked in buckets. There was also an array of fish; dry fish, picked fish, fresh fish (although nothing really smelled fresh..).
All stocked up we now had the choice between two parks, both offering something that we all were very excited to do…Chimpanzee tracking. Both Mahale National Park and Gombe Stream Park lies next to Lake Tanyanika but whilst Gombe Stream is rather small park only really known for the tracking, Mahale lies on within the Mahale mountain range and was described as something truly spectacular to see. Unfortunately according to our Bradt Tanzania book both parks cannot be reached by vehicle. The only realistic way to get to either park is via various lake transport options. Another problem was that we only had an estimate of the park fees for each of the parks dating back to 2010…and even these rates were rather expensive…
We finally decided that although the Chimps would be harder to track due to the larger area, but the rainforest lying at the foot of the mountain range and the beautiful scenery seemed to outweigh the chance that we might not get to see a Chimp. Although none of our GPS’s (nor the Bradt guide) showed any roads leading to Mahale we had a map showing a road to a village called Lugosa that was 15km from park headquaters. The road was around 320km and me and Tan Lil braced ourselves for another 3-4 day Kariba lake road! It turned out not too bad and it was rather fun to be completely dependent on the locals (and the little Swahili we could speak) to drive towards a place we didn’t know if we could get to. The area was different from anything we had seen before with large bamboo forests and bushveld-looking forest alternating as we moved along. The closer we got to where the village was supposed to be, the more tropical the vegetation got and soon we were driving through banana trees and Lala palms. The road soon became a foot path and we had no idea if we would ever reach our destination.
At one of the numerous villages we drove through we met Fabio Vicente who gave us the first glimpse of actually reaching Lugosa and being able to get to Mahale Park. He gave us the name of someone called Richardi that had a boat and does the transfers to Mahale. Another four hours and 15km we finally got to Lugosa, but what we thought was the end of our journey that day was only the beginning. It turns out Richardi was a very well known man living at approximately the other end of the world. To get to this man, we had to drive through endless little alleyways with a giant crowd of kids screaming ‘Mzungu’ at the top of their voices and trying to grab onto the spare tyres on the back of the cruisers. After what seemed like forever in the scorching heat, we finally met Mr. Richardi, as he would like to be called, and started discussing our possible transfer to Mahale. Unfortunately the rate Mr Richardi was willing to charge was 2000% more than the estimate the Bradt guide gave us. After showing the book Mr. Richardi commented that it was now 2011, not 2010! Although his rate was high we understood the fuel cost for his boat and cursed the Bradt book for the inaccurate info. Slightly disappointed, we set up camp at the end of the beach that night with a crowd of little kids watching our every move. Before setting up camp we went to the closest house to where we wanted to stay and asked the owner permission (as accustomed in Tanzania). There we found the lovely Lilian who was working in Lugosa and had some connections with Mahale Nat. Park. Although a little too late, we finally had some accurate information on Mahale. She told us about boat transfers by the park itself but this was equally unaffordable and we made peace that Mahale was not going to happen. After two days recuperating we decided to that Gombe stream park would be a better alternative and made our way to Kigoma where we are now.
Oom Nick started feeling bad just before entering Tanzania and he started using Coartem as a precaution for malaria. He soon felt better but from Lugosa it took a turn for the worst and after arriving in Kigoma he went to the nearest doctor at a local hospital. He had a serious bacterial infection possible resulting from an infected spider bite on his ankle. We are now staying at a campsite with a lovely private beach area whilst he is getting antibiotic intravenously for the past three days. He is looking much better now but will unfortunately not be joining us on the trip to Gombe stream which we are leaving for tomorrow afternoon.
6 September 2011
We left for the chimp trekking on a Saturday afternoon. As I mentioned, the only way of getting to Gombe Stream is by boat. The most affordable of the various lake transport options is going on a watertaxi which travels between Kigoma port and a port in Burundi. I was very excited to go on a boat and rather liked the idea of using public transport to get there. Turns out the public transport was a little too rough for this comfortable South-African..…The wooden boat was about 39ft in length with around five 200mm wooden supports for the passengers to sit on. As there are over a hundred passengers on such a boat, all of us could not possibly sit on these supports. We were therefore sardined along the rim and others on the bottom of the boat squashed in with all kinds of supplies. Our boat was filled (an extensive ordeal that took about an hour) with a number of strange people transporting strange goods. It ranged from an angry Somalian looking woman that kept shouting at everyone for stepping on her precious soap to a small boy carrying his pet chicken in a plastic bag (for protection against the scorching heat I suppose???..I don’t think it survided the trip). And then there was the one million babies carelessly suckling on their mothers’ bare breasts. But I think for everyone else, the three ‘Muzungu’s’ (Swahili for European/white person) were the strangest sight of all. We got a nice spot on the rim of the boat and were still in high spirits when the boat finally departed.
Tan Lil was hoping that she wouldn’t get motion sickness from the boat and I was oblivious that I would be affected at all. I was however so wrong and just out of the port both Tan Lil and I turned a slight shade of green. I kept trying to focus on the dry land (which was never more than 500m away) but after a while that didn’t help anymore. It’s funny how at first your so very carefull not to step on gross items on the boat such half-eaten fishheads and oily buckets and then in your darkest hour you find yourself sitting knee-deep in these items whilst hugging the wooden seats for dear life trying to stabilise yourself. In the words of Marius quoting some other guy, first you feel like you are dying, then your afraid your going to die, then you know you’re going to die and then eventually you wish you would die..I think I can speak for both Tan Lil and I when I say that we both reached that last point. Lucky for Marius he knew exactly what to expect from such a boatride and only suffered some minor butt ache. We’re still unsure if it was 16km or 24km on the Lake, but I think we all agreed that it was far enough when we finally reached Gombe Stream National Park three hours after leaving the Kigoma port!
We made arrangement to go for the chimp tracking the following day with our guide Idi and went to bed that night with a roof over our heads (that wasn’t part of a tent) for the first in two months. The next morning we started out into the forest looking for our closest relative. The forest was beautiful and it was amazing to walk in such untouched wilderness. Idi was very knowledgeable about the plants and fruit the chimps eat and how this helps the tracker to locate the chimps every day (but on the other hand, he could’ve told us any nonsense..how would we know?). Each morning before sunrise a tracker goes into the forest to locate the chimps. Apparently when the primate wake they are very vocal allowing him to identify their position. Idi first took us to a lovely waterfall and after some walking the tracker informed him that the chimps were resting. This meant that it was a good time for observing them. In the dry season, the chimps spread out into small family groups to search for food during the day and it is therefore unlikely to see the whole community. We were lucky to get to see a family of four consisting of two adult females, a smaller chimp and a one-year old baby called Fifty. He is named ‘Fifty’ because he was born in the 50th reunion year of the initiative started in Gombe by the famous chimapanzee researcher Jane Goodall.
The Gombe forest is notoriously thick and we had to bundu bash our way to within approximately 5m of the chimps. Mommy was lying on her back trying to rest, while auntie was gently playing with Fifty and the other small chimp. It seemed as if she was trying to convince Fifty to also lay down for a rest. This was however a futile task as Fifty had seen the three ‘Muzungu’ staring at them with open mouths and made a game out of swinging on a branch as close to us as Mommy allowed. He was unbelievably cute, if we could we would have just grabbed him and brought him with us. Unfortunately Fifty is so much like his evolved relatives that he didn’t sit still for one second and that made it pretty much impossible to take a photo of him that wasn’t blurred…a proper camera would’ve also helped.. (We managed to take a nice video but it would simply be to difficult to upload it…sorry).
Our friendly guide Idi told us on our walk back to camp that there was a Gombe Stream boat that was leaving for Kigoma the next morning and that we could hitch a ride with them. We were all delighted as the boat would not make any passenger stops on the way to Kigoma and would likely not be so crowded. Indeed the ride back took only two hours I am unsure if it was the boat or the fact that the lake was relatively calm early morning compared to late afternoon, but both Tan Lil and I made it back without any hick-ups (literally and figuratively).
The next morning we finally said goodbye to Kigoma and also Tanzania(for now) as we made our way north to the Rwandan border. Two days of terrible red dusty road brought us to Rusoma falls at the border. This is the site where journalists reported one or two bloated bodies could be seen tumbling down the falls per minute during the genocide that took place in Rwanda in the 1990s’. I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like under the surface..Rwanda has all the usual formalities with one exception.. no plastic bags were allowed. Lucky for us they didn’t check either of the vehicles and we entered with all our bags intact. Rwanda exceeded every expectation any of us had of this small country. At first glance we were somewhere in the hills of the Natal countryside between banana plantations. A big difference was that each of the hills had patches of vegetable and fruits planted right up to the top with absolutely everyone working. The African country with the highest concentration of people per square kilometer had utilized every single inch for cultivation. It was the cleanest country we had been in (including South-Africa). And verybody who had a house had some kind of garden complete with a recently mowed lawn. The views from the mountain passes which Rwanda consist of was some of the greenest, most beautiful landscapes one could ever imagine.
The capital of Rwanda, Kigali, was every bit a modern metropolis as a big city in SA but was ten times as clean and well maintained. Every type of industry you could possible require could be found in some high-rise building (with a beautifully maintained garden in front). After stopping for lunch at a local pizzeria, we drove past the Hotel Des Mille Collines, also known as Hotel Rwanda from the movie. None of us really remember what happened there except that some people hid there during the genocide, but it was important to make sure that we had a good picture of a hotel that was once used in a movie…
In the northwest corner of Rwanda lies the location for another Hollywood classic, Gorillas in the mist. The Parque des Volcanes is where Diane Fossey (aka Sigourney Weaver) lived with a community of Gorillas while trying to save them from being poached and traded by the locals. In her honour, they erected a Diane Fossey memorial within the park which you can hike to when gorilla tracking. We were however less interested in the Diane Fossey story than seeing no less than eight volcanoes (two of which is still active!) forming the borders between Uganda, Rwandaand the DRC. We would have loved to have gone gorilla tracking but the whopping U$500 was a bit too much for our unemployed status. That night we slept at the park headquaters at an altitude of 2200m at the foot of the oldest volcano called Sabinyo (translating to ‘old man’s teeth’ owing to its jagged rim). The active volcanoes are located more to the border betweenRwandaand DRC…I guess even the volcanoes feels the unrest there!