Break A Lake - Butch's Zambia Part 6 - Lake Tanganyika

Posted in Travel / The Honey Badger Diaries

Break A Lake - Butch's Zambia Part 6 - Lake Tanganyika

Butch’s meander “down memory lane” was complete. He’d explored, found, re-examined and reminisced about his childhood. He’d told all his stories, and his heart was full. He could put his longing to revisit his idyllic childhood to bed wrapped in a cotton wool cloud of fond memories. We were ready to move on.

The sun was out, and blue skies met the dusty, ochre dirt road stretching to far horizons. The road north beckoned. We would spend our last days in Zambia at the lakes, resting and catching the sun on our skin. We were looking forward to exploring the fishing villages on our bikes, and Butch was in the mood for fish—delicious freshwater fish straight from a fisherman’s nets.

This journey does not allow us to relax in our slacks, or is it the Honey Badger who demands attention?

No sooner had we hit the road, and a bad one, that we had to stop as the alarm on the tyre pressure monitoring system sounded. One of the rear tyres was warmer than the pre-set parameters. Butch raised the parameters and we could continue with his one eye fixed on the tyre temperature.

In Mapulungu, we stopped and camped at Nkupi Lodge on the southern extremity of Lake Tanganyika.

Although you might think every picture is so similar to the last, the landscape, like the colourful people, is always different. Each place has its own unique characteristic. Like the earth, the achitecture and even paint colours, or textile textures and colours, are always vibrant, and inimitable.



"Lake Tanganyika is the second largest lake, the longest freshwater lake in the world (660 km), and the second deepest (1,436 metres) after Lake Baikal in Russia. Comparatively narrow, varying in width from 16 to 72 km, it covers about 32,900 square km. It forms the border between Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), part of the boundary between Burundi and the DRC, and between Tanzania and Zambia. It occupies the southern end of the Western Rift Valley. The land rises steeply from its shores for most of its length. Its waters tend to be brackish. Though fed by several rivers, the lake is not the centre of an extensive drainage area. The largest rivers discharging into the lake are the Malagarasi, the Ruzizi, and the Kalambo, which has one of the highest waterfalls in the world (215 metres). Its outlet is the Lukuga River, which flows into the Lualaba River.

Lake Tanganyika is situated on the line dividing the floral regions of East and West Africa, and oil palms, characteristic of West Africa’s flora, grow along the lake’s shores. Rice and subsistence crops are grown along the shores, and fishing is of some significance. Hippopotami and crocodiles abound, and the bird life is varied.

Many tribes living on the lake’s eastern shores trace their origins to areas in the Congo River Basin.

The lake was first visited by Europeans in 1858 when the British explorers Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke reached Ujiji on the lake’s eastern shore in their quest for the source of the Nile River. In 1871, Henry Morton Stanley “found” David Livingstone at Ujiji.

Important ports along Lake Tanganyika are Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Kalemi in the DRC, Mpulungu in Zambia, and Ujiji and Kigoma in Tanzania.


The lake holds at least 250 cichlid fish species and undescribed species. Almost all (98%) of the Tanganyika cichlids are endemic to the lake, and it is thus a vital biological resource for the study of speciation in evolution. Some of the endemics do occur slightly into the upper Lukuga River, Lake Tanganyika’s outflow, but further spread into the Congo River basin is prevented by physics (Lukuga has fast-flowing sections with many rapids and waterfalls) and chemistry (Tanganyika’s water is alkaline, while the Congo’s generally is acidic). The cichlids of the African Great Lakes, including Tanganyika, represent the most diverse extent of adaptive radiation in vertebrates." (adapted for this Blog from Wikipedia)


NKUPI LODGE: Covid 19 and the death of her husband plunged Charity, the lodge’s owner, into unfamiliar territory when she had to take over managing her family and their business enterprises.

Her love of entertaining around a long table on the veranda, where guests gathered at night to dine, was where her passion for local cuisine and fish shone brightest.

We met other visitors who seemed to be there for the long haul. From all over the world, scientists were studying the cichlids,  adventurers were looking for new challenges, and Hennie, from Paarl, together with a partner, was in discussions to revive the tourist industry by introducing diving expeditions, fishing trips and island hopping.

Butch and I had more straightforward ambitions. We wanted to sleep late, read our books, listen to the chatter of birds or our song lists on Spotify, go for long exploratory rides on our bikes, and, at sunset, wander down to the shore to see the sunset on the water. 

Seeing young people always cheers us up, and meeting the delightful couple, nurses from another city currently working in Mpulungu, lifted my spirits. I haven’t seen anyone play Ducks and Drakes for ages and thought they’d mastered the art.

I’ve combed my address book looking for their WhatsApp no, unfortunately when I lost my phone their periodic messages to me were lost and with it some lovely photographs. That’s life and loss.

We explored the colourful market searching for a plastic ice container but declined when the quoted price was outlandishly high.

At Mpulungu, Zambia’s only international port, is the terminal for the ferry MV Liemba across the lake to Tanzania.

Although we had been told differently, I have since learned that this lake is unsuitable for swimming; it is infested with crocodiles and bilharzia (but who knows?)


Hugging the lake, we took the dirt road north through lakeside villages with beautiful, melodious, easy-to-say but hard-to-remember names Mbala, Katete, Sopa, Mkali, Matai, Msanzi, and Kipili.

Subsistence farmers, large puffy broccoli-like umbrella trees and vegetable stalls stitched people together in one long chain. 

We crossed paths with the first of the traditional long-horn Watusi cattle and met Maasai herdsmen wearing brightly beaded traditional garb. These sights are all irresistible to photograph.

How those beasts balance their horns on tiny heads remains a mystery.

Road works were in process, and it was a trial to navigate as we dodged the usual conglomeration of vehicles and animals and enormous engineering equipment and road-building vehicles. But we were impressed that upgrades were being made this far north.


When our passports were stamped upon our exit, Butch happily shook Zambia’s dust from his K-Way sandals. But, his anxiety about our border crossing was a thin stream of fear trickling through my peace of mind as we neared the border post in Tanzania.

Was the Honey Badger going to be impounded on sight because we didn’t have the $7,000 cash we’d been quoted when we left Tanzania two months ago? And had the “donation fee” to the official and our border runner cleared us? These were the questions keeping us awake at night.

The small border post loomed. Slinking up to the gate with the Honey Badger’s tail between her legs, we squared our shoulders, took a deep breath, glanced at each other and marched up to the immigration counter. The first hurdle was a piece of cake. Within seconds, the official stamped our passports.

Stepping gracefully over sticks and stones, we reached the customs building. We were invited to take a seat. Putting on my friendliest face, I was adamant I’d make the most of the pleasantries before we got to business.

Long and short of it. Our Honey Badger was absolutely fine. Our anxieties were unfounded, and after a pleasant forty-five minutes of chatting up a storm, we were on our way. As luck would have it, their computers were offline, and our documents couldn’t be processed and printed. We would receive our papers later via WhatsApp sparked new anxieties. 

(The promised documents would determine whether we had a good roadblock experience or not. The worry worm was wriggling its way into our subconscious.) 

We were on our way with promises to keep in contact. Our home was their home should they visit South Africa. Nyumba yetu ni nyumba yako.

Both officials found it baffling that so many Mzungus spent hard-earned holidays in Africa and admitted they’d go to Doha or Dubai for their vacays instead.

Four hours later, as promised, we had our documents. "Oh ye of little faith" a voice in my brain whispered.


We pulled in at Lakeshore Lodge as the sky turned pink, violet and magenta.

I think the look of bewilderment on our faces persuaded the owner, Louise, to allow us to stay and share a campsite with a group of overlanders. She told us they were a full house with no space for a mouse. The campsites are spacious, and the Spanish visitors didn’t mind our intrusion.

A first in all our time on the road. It just goes to show that if you offer guests what they’re looking for a well-maintained destination, excellent food, and exciting excursions. You’ll have bums in beds.

Our stay at Lakeshore Lodge was the highlight of our time spent on Lake Tanganyika. To top it all Louise knows our acqaintance Richmond McKentyre and friend Ian Tozer, from Hermanus, who sailed the African Great Lakes a few years ago and to prove it showed us a photograph of his yacht anchored off the shore near the lodge. 

We were soon seduced by the diverse group of guests, the scrumptious dishes served at lunch and dinner and couldn't resist being part of the conversations around the dining  table and the television which was especially set up for the rugby World Cup and the semi-final which South Africa won by one point.


Our early bike rides took us to the ruins on the top of a rocky hill which intrigued me, and the following day, I made a pilgrimage to the skeletal remains of a church, monastery and outbuildings.

The story goes that the church belonged to a monastery run by the White Fathers Missionaries from France. In 1894, the first fathers started building a dwelling for themselves, another for the sisters, and a beautiful church on a hill above the lake.

In 1898, they reported that 15-20 boats from the islands came every Sunday to attend service. Until 1940, this was a thriving community until the missionaries abandoned the church, their parishioners and the work they’d started.

Graffiti decorates the remaining walls, and exposed bricks, pillars, and rotting architraves now litter the floors. At the same time, weeds strangle the charcoaled beams, reclaiming the intrusion of well-meaning missionaries with personal agendas.

A sadness engulfs me because this scene epitomises the efforts of many missionaries and NGOs who, often for personal reasons, embark on these missions to “save” spiritually impoverished local people but fail miserably. After all, their intentions seem more about their spiritual journey than the converts’.

Promises are made and never kept, and projects are started enthusiastically. Still, once a three-month or year stint is over, the backpack is hitched, their shoulders squared with spiritual pride and satisfaction, and the do-gooder leaves a trusting community disappointed and disillusioned. Their mission, often driven by guilt to save those “unable to save themselves,” is accomplished once the African dust is shaken from their flip-flops.

The vegetable gardens and fruit trees are left to wither and dry, boats are turned around, and sails are set back to the islands where life proceeds as it’s been done for centuries.

“Let me claim that Africa and I kept company for a while and then parted ways as if we were both party to relations with a failed outcome. Or say I was afflicted with Africa like a bout of a rare disease from which I have not managed a full recovery.” Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible.


The dry, arid and desert-like landscape is the stark reality of an ancient, unchanged life where water, a mere few meters away and the lifeblood to farmers and communities but, with antiquated farming methods, remains unexplored and impossible to garner to the benefit of man, beast or crops.

Water is collected in large 20 litre yellow plastic canisters and carried for miles every day to homes. Communal wells are accessible where there are natural springs, and commonly, villages are built around the availability of fresh water.

Crops are planted during the wet season and harvested shortly after the dry season begins. Droughts or floods can determine whether a community has food. Every year, the question of “feast or famine” must arise.

It was good to be back in Tanzania. 



We were in transit through the Katavi National Park and didn’t linger camping two nights at Sitalike, where we did some housekeeping. 

I delved into the bottom black grocery box to produce a bag of Arborio rice for Aranchini for supper.

We had packed up and set off when the heavens opened for a refreshing summer showers. I hoped farmers had read the signs and soon their seeds would shoot up, producing seedlings for summer crops of maise, soya, sorghum, and wheat.

The going was slow as we negotiated wet dirt roads and roadworks. We went up into the mountains and miombo woodlands.


The Mishamo district, where we travelled, had all the perfect conditions conducive to the growth of edible magical mushrooms: Termitomyces titanicus, found throughout Zambia, Tanzania and East Africa.

The Titanicus is especially sought after, and they are the world’s largest edible mushrooms, with caps that can measure up to or more than 90cm across. After a thunderstorm and rain, mushroom gathering is very popular and a way of life.

Termitomyces mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with termites. The mushroom grows on the termites’ faecal matter and breaks down plant material as food for them, and the termites thrive on decayed mushroom tissue.

We have since learned that the savoury, smoky-tasting titanicus is delicious, with a meaty texture.

And there in the forest we spotted two youngsters harvesting mushrooms. After some persuasion we bought their mushrooms and couldn’t wait to prepare them that evening.

Unfortunately, we lost our confidence in our pickings and asked our friends, who gathered mushrooms in the pine forests around Table Mountain, for assistance.

Everyone dissuaded us from eating them. I could see the headline “Retired Couple Snuffed It After Eating Poisonous Mushrooms In Tanzania.” Our children would be furious. Our supper was leftover Arancini and Cream of Tomato Cuppa Soup.

The following morning, we found our beautiful mushrooms being consumed by hundreds of thousands of little white wriggling maggots. Just as well we didn’t indulge. 


We pressed on to Kigoma the following day and spent the night at the Jacobsen Lodge and Campground. Set on the lake’s steep banks, we enjoyed our sundowners admiring the views and a train of small dug-out fishing canoes going out for the night’s fishing.

The resident Zebras and well-behaved Vervet monkeys were a pleasant surprise, too.

The following day, we decided to move closer to Kigoma city, where we shopped for local delicacies and Butch would be able to connect to WiFi so that he could watch the RWC Final.

While Butch caught up with some admin and to enquire about a new campsite I went off on a quick recce of the Railway Station to satisfy my curiosity before setting off to find our campsite recommended by friends who’d stayed there the previous year.

The Honey Badger looked serene parked on the lawns a few feet from the lake’s shore, where we stayed for four nights of wild camping.

Our days were sublime. On our bikes, we explored the fishing harbour and village.

The next day, we walked to the  fishing harbour and onwards to a protected spit of land and Kitwe Forest.

A rusty signboard knocked into the hardened soil reminds us that  The Jane Goodall Institute and US AID are sponsors of the Kitwe Forest. “A historical background of Kitwe Forest,” it says.
Kitwe Point Forest Conservation, with an uninterupted view of the fishing village and bay is the only urban  forest in Kigoma,  is managed by the Jane Goodall Institute, under Roots & Shoots. The 87 hectares of secondary forest is located on the beach of Lake Tanganyika and is covered by miombo vegetation visited by birds and mammals.

There's still a small nursery nestled under the trees along the shoreline managed by a wizened sailor who's passionate about the preservation of the forest.


That walk's picnic consisted of delicious, sweet, crispy popcorn balls made by one of the local ladies at the Katonga Fish Market. 

Later, to cool down after our walk back, we would dive into the ice cream seller’s cart and buy two bright red sweet ice lollies, which we sucked on while watching local fishermen work on their colourful fishing boats pulled out on the shore. We wiped sticky strawberry-red cool-aid dripping from our chins before returning to our campsite.

Butch’s wish to braai a Nile Perch was realised when our host arrived with a handsome fresh fish. To wash the delicious fish down, a crate of Beer accompanied the catch.

Our peaceful days were spent listening to the gentle lap of waves on the sandy shore while children played soccer and dipped and dived into the blue, warm waters. Sunsets were perfect and promised more clear blue sky sunny days.




En route to Rwanda we wild camped off the main road on the grounds of an old quarry. Young shepherds herded their goats past us as the sun set, giving us a wide berth. Boda-Boda slipped past us, ferrying workers home after a long day in the fields, and friendly elderly couples waved as they made their way home.

An early supper saw us off to bed before 20h30 in the hope that we’d have a head start the following day. Being on the road first thing in the morning enabled us to witness the soft stone-fruit colours of dawn. That was reward enough for the early start.


The overriding characteristics of everyone we’ve met or dealt with in all the African countries we’ve been to are that people are patient, kind, tolerant and soft-spoken. There’s a universal philosophy that the earth belongs to every living being equally. Even a chicken and her chicks are free to roam. Children are nurtured, taught rather than disciplined and are guided, from a young age, to be free thinkers and are encouraged to be independent and to take on responsibilities way beyond their years. The elderly are respected and honoured in a community, and most people are joyful, easily amused, respectful and proud of who they are and of their accomplishments. 

The word "collective" comes to mind - "A collective is a group of entities that share or are motivated by at least one common issue or interest, or work together to achieve a common objective. Collectives can differ from cooperatives in that they are not necessarily focused upon an economic benefit or saving, but can be that as well." Wikipedia

In Africa, there is no rush. Poli-Poli.

Boda-Boda (Border to border) is a motorbike used to taxi passengers or goods of various shapes and sizes to and from borders.


Please Note: All our campsites are listed on iOverlander. Each spot is reviewed by campers and you can add your comments too. You will be able to see whether your vehicle will "fit" and what amenities are available. Some critics are harsh, but that's their experience and might not be yours.  It's easy, safe and reliable. Just download the App, register and off you go. 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain