If you had to ask me, “What is the most frustrating part of your journey?” Without hesitation, I’d say “ waiting.” Waiting for a diagnosis, parts or a time slot.
Yesterday while filling our water tanks, something untoward happened. Water pressure, fatigue, or wear and tear to our pipes caused a wet room flood to overflow into our living quarters. Today I’m using the wait to catch up with my backlog in admin and blogging. A mind shift is called for and a distraction from the arduous boredom of cooling my heels.
Workmen are crawling about everywhere. When someone in the know tackles a job, things happen quickly. A cupboard has been stripped, and a diagnosis has been made. An inlet water pipe jumped off a connection in the bathroom cupboard.
I’ll return to my story while the pros fix our water woes.
On a blisteringly hot, cloudless day, we entered Tanzania. We slipped through the Malawi border patrol without a hitch, just a quick stamp in the passport, and we were on our way to the imposing new border control building on the Tanzanian side.
Once again, Butch used the runner he’d been advised to employ. Thank goodness. Our command of Swahili was limited to “Habari”, “Karibu”, and “Asante sana.” I have added akuna matata to my vocabulary since.
We all trooped into the immigration hall armed with files, forms, and passports. We prepared ourselves to wait. Our runner left me propped up against a wall and disappeared up a flight of stairs with my passport. I started panicking after twenty minutes. Ten minutes later, we were rewarded with a three-month visitor’s visa. Phew.
That was the easy part. Getting the truck through with all its paperwork, road taxes and insurance took at least two hours. If memory serves, the whole process took an incredible three hours in the midday sun. Not suitable for the Englishman.
Soon nothing mattered, and our tribulations were immediately forgotten as soon as we were back on the road again. Tanzania immediately had us spellbound. The roads were good, the scenery glorious, and we were driving on the edge of the Rift Valley.
East African Rift System, also called Afro-Arabian Rift Valley, is one of the most extensive rifts on Earth’s surface, extending from Jordan in southwestern Asia southward through eastern Africa to Mozambique. The system is some 4,000 miles (6,400 km) long and averages 30–40 miles (48–64 km) wide.
It represents a perfect environment to understand the evolution of humankind; for the critical paleoanthropological discoveries in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. The African rift valleys are indeed considered the “cradle of humankind”.
The two major rift valley systems of the East African Rift are the Gregory Rift and the Western Rift. Volcanoes dot these rift valleys, Ol Doinyo Lengai and Mount Kilimanjaro (a dormant stratovolcano); Lake Tanganyika is the world’s second-deepest and second-biggest (by volume of freshwater).
At long last, I could put my minimal school Geography knowledge to the test.
Colourful villages were dotted along the way, and the markets were bustling with shoppers from around the districts. We stopped to draw cash at the ATM filling our purses and wallets with the new currency. Tanzanian Shillings.
1000 TZS = R7.36 or $0.35. We were as confused as you are. Here things can go into the millions very soon.
Our journey continued onto the plateau, and soon we encountered road works, potholes, dongas and gravel, mud or clay. The going was painstakingly slow. We only arrived at our destination well after dark. Nothing could persuade the guys with the Jack Hammer to give it a break, they were adamant to get the job done. Who could blame them?
“Utengule Coffee Lodge offers guests an oasis of calm on the slopes of the mighty Mbeya range in Southern Tanzania, with spectacular views across the East African Rift Valley.” That is what the advertisement said. We would have to cool our heels until the following day to witness the spectacle as promised. We were exhausted.
I could hear Butch think, “This is more like it! At heart I'm colonial, you know I was born in Northern Rhodesia.” He’d been excited to capture the colonial era once we set foot in Tanzania, and here he had it.
He parked the Honey Badger on what looked like a Polo field adjacent to the tennis courts, and without further ado, we made our way up the sweeping garden staircase to the lodge with its deep, dark, cool wrap-around veranda under a tin roof.
Candles flickered on tables set for dinner, antique silver on mantelpieces refected a rich heritage and paraffin lanterns lit the way to the large set of heavy, engraved, ancient Arabic wooden front doors. Inside the lazy blades of the ceiling fans moved the air ever so slightly.
Coffee beans, freshly roasted, tantalises the buds before the assault of floor polish, wood oil and candle wax permeates the air and invites guests to meet at the long bar counter for pre-prandial gin and tonics (or Sherry) to ease the mind before dinner.
I could envision ladies in crimplene beaded evening gowns, gloves and beehives sipping Sherry while puffing on a Kent and gentlemen taking drags of their Camels. Smoke and chatter fill the air.
Before we reached the bar, our friends John and Lana scraped back their chairs, and we were happily reunited after many months following their journey from Cape Town. At last, we could catch up and hear about their travel tales. We couldn't wait to tuck into our big ,fat, juicy steaks.
The following morning we all slept in. Later in the day, we joined up and went for a walk exploring the coffee plantations. We filled our store cupboards with fresh coffee beans produced and roasted on the farm. I'd missed the cattle with the longest horns, I was adamant I'd not miss Lana and the Maasai herdsman.
An effort is rewarded, we say, and so it was that we joined the crowd on the veranda after our walk. Walking onto the stoep was like walking into a café in Cape Town. There was a table of young girls speaking Italian, Butch picked up a man speaking Russian (they’re still welcome in Cape Town, too, the Russians, especially in Simon’s Town.), and the company of overlanders from Kuwait were poring over maps at another table. Wherever we go, there are always German and Dutch voices. They travel the world, are adventurous and love Africa.
With a view of the Rift Valley before us Butch and I spent the afternoon under our awning escaping the heat, enjoying the views and occasionally dipping our eyes into our books until the sun set the skies alight.
At dinner that evening, we met up with our friends from the Netherlands, Minke and Joost, whom we’d met briefly in Tete. All the seats at our table were taken, and our hearts were happy. We all dipped into our first curries. The national dish with tourists I do believe.
Trusted guidelines, recommendations and contacts to use in the future are a comfort knowing they’re dependable.
We aimed to head to the east coast and then to wend our way up the coast to Dar es Salaam where we’d spend a few days before going to Zanzibar.
Driving through towns does not allow one much more than a glimpse of the outer limits and the through pass is often not a true reflection of the progress being made but, the little we saw did indicate that there was development, modern buildings were mushrooming amongst smaller, older structures giving us the impression that the economy was showing signs of progress.
The next morning we all set off in different directions. Butch and I were on our own again and decided to spend a night or two at The Olde Farmhouse – Kisolanza Farm.The landscape was rural farming country.
Farmers were on the roads with a most peculiar vehicle we'd never seen before but reminded us of the strange selfmade multi functional contraptions farmers used in India the Dugar. We'd negotiate around and behind these tractorbikes very gingerly. A farmer makes a plan they say. This demonstrated an innovative, creative society we'd not seen before.
Once again I soaked in the landscape enjoying the passing parade and observing a miniscule glimpse of rural life. To pass the time I did pick up my crochet hook again.
Set in the crisp, temperate climate at a high altitude of Tanzania’s scenic Southern Highlands, Kisolanza has been the home of the Ghaui family, who settled in East Africa over 100 years ago. Originally planted with tobacco, it is still a fully working farm with cattle, sheep, and various crops.
The Cape to Cairo road that weaves the length of Africa “passes directly through our home”, says Nicky, the youngest of the Ghaui siblings, who set up “The Old Farm House” to make the most of this ideal stopover spot for travellers - a perfect pause between Zanzibar and Malawi.
The Old Farm House has grown to include a range of accommodations from luxurious cottages to bush camping, an exceptional restaurant and bar, a farm shop, and a spa, providing a haven that caters for all the creature comforts a guest could desire, such as hot showers, delicious food, a warm, clean bed, and the welcoming feeling of a “home away from home.”
Soon after we arrived at our campsite, we heard the roar of another truck. Lana and John decided to join us for another two nights. We couldn’t be more delighted, a celebration was called for.
That evening we joined the Chaui family in the restaurant, where we enjoyed a first-class home-cooked three-course meal. Although the meal was scrumptious and the company grand, we still had much to discuss. The restaurant had me enthralled. Set up in an ancient ruin—a muurasie.
Left with only minor alterations and minimal restorations, the crumbling clay walls are bare and stripped of paint or paper. The only sign of windows or doors is the weathered rough wooden lintels. There is a new tin roof with plain, golden trusses. This building oozes personality, history and warmth in all its signs of decay. The walls echo the large family chatting up a storm in the front room where they’ve been gathering for supper since Covid-19 started—a new family tradition born out of isolation.
Candlelight danced playfully on the golden walls as we tucked into our desserts. We were ready for bed.
The following day Butch and I, still in exercise mode, unhitched our bikes and went on an exploratory ride all over the farm. At the same time, Lana did her housekeeping, and John accompanied Nicky to oversee the dipping of her herd of cattle.
Quite exhausted, we ended our cycle on a down hill all the way to the Farm stall, where I delved into the freshly picked vegetables and fruit baskets.
We rewarded ourselves with a large pot of coffee and a delicious Chocolate Brownie for our cycling efforts. Crispy yet sticky and smooth, and served with a generous helping of clotted cream. It hit all the right spots. The freshly made Samoosas went home for a snack later. They were perfect—Crispy, spicy and generously filled.
Our larders and fridges were filled to the brim with farm-fresh produce. Butch went ferreting into the farm’s fresh meat supply, and soon the deep freezer was stocked with a small shoulder of lamb, a rack of ribs, two portions of mince and four small loin chops for later. Little did we know that would be the only lamb we’d have for many months… or years.
The local brew is Killimanjaro. Irresistable with it's cheerful label. Glass is recycled here, all soda and beer bottles are refunded and used again. In Tanzania single use plastic is seldom used.
All packaging is either paper or a recycled bag. That is something to be proud of and an example to South Africa. Forest Gump's Mum said "life is like a box of chocolates". Tanzania is as colourful as a basket of fresh farm fruit and vegetables.
Unfortunately, I had to decline Nicky’s invitation to stay for the annual Kisolanza Touch Rugby Derby, which was to be held over the weekend. This event brings farmers, rugby players and families from all over Tanzania together for a party of note!
The chef kindly let me have the last loaf of his freshly baked bread before we set off on the next leg of our expedition. This token of selfless kindness and generosity was just one of the many we’ve experienced since.
When we were all seated at the fire, Lana trotted out of her camper bearing four bamboo boats steaming in the dusk. I could only see a lemon’s yellow rind peeping beyond the bowl’s edge.
Butch and I gasped when we saw the creamy-coloured AbaGold spooned seductively over a portion of rice and creamed Abalone from Hermanus. In my wildest dreams, I’d never have guessed. I think I cried. With my eyes closed, I savoured every morsel. I could’ve licked my bowl.
John and Lana, you bowled us over. Thank you for sharing your precious Perlemoen with us. A hundred points for brilliant originality heightened our journey and raised the bar three notches.
With our noses set in an easterly direction, we set off the following day. John and Lana would take the Tanzam Highway. The road through mountainous areas starts in Dar es Salaam and passes through coastal regions and Morogoro, Iringa, Njombe, Mbeya and Songwe.
After a long day on the road, we rolled into Songea in southwestern Tanzania. The city is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Songea. Between 1905 and 1907, Songea was a centre of African resistance during the Maji Maji Rebellion in German East Africa.
Songea was a great Ngoni warrior, hanged in 1906 during German repression of the Maji Maji rebellion. Songea surrendered and was spared the death sentence. However, he demanded to be hanged along with the other Ngoni leaders. The Germans complied.
After WW2, the area was marked for agricultural development, which failed and was linked to a disastrous groundnut scheme. During Mozambique’s war of liberation, the Songea area was a restricted zone and occasionally suffered aerial attacks by Portuguese forces.
Songeas remoteness made it vulnerable to ivory poaching, and communications remained unreliable until 1985 when a new British-funded road was opened linking it northwards to the road and rail hub of Makambako.
We trundled into Songea in search of a camping spot. Stall owners and street food vendors were setting up their stalls along the tree-lined boulevards. The only camping spot we could find, a hotel adjacent to a closed-off stretch of road being set up for a night market, was unsuitable for our big rig. The gate, once opened, could only accommodate a small Land Cruiser at most. It was getting late, and we had to scoot and find alternate accommodations.
Sadly, the only suitable spot was a filling station, where the guard permitted us to stop for the night nestled next to two twenty-wheelers. Although we felt as safe as houses, we were disappointed knowing we were missing out on incredible street food, music and a party. Hakuna Matata. Manyana Manyana.
Cassava, millet, sorghum and maise, which have only recently gained popularity, are all essential food crops, but the most important cash crop in the area is cashew nuts. Groundnuts and sesame are two lesser crops.
Tanzanian cashew nut production is primarily for export. Domestically, only a tiny portion of the yield is consumed. The Mtwara Region is recognised as the country’s leading cashew nut grower. We always have a stock of cashews in the drawer, our staple snack with peanuts sold all along the roads.
On either side of the road, extensive natural forests and plantations corduroyed hills and valleys. Distances are great, and we would not make it to a town for the night. We decided to take a secondary road and did a wild camp.
Soon after our stop, word got around that we’d set up camp. The local chief and his sidekicks visited us. They were delighted to have us stay and would ensure we were safe.
While I prepared our supper, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Butch couldn’t resist offering them the grand tour of the truck, which they thoroughly enjoyed and set them up for a fireside meeting later that evening, we were sure.
Our heads turned when we reached the coast. After only one night at a neglected, run-down campsite and resort, we turned north and went up the coast towards Dar es Salaam.
My first impressions of Tanzanians were:
Vibrant, welcoming, generous, enquiring, proud, considerate, affable, accommodating, and supportive. Community-conscious societies who live an integrated life with nature, family and friends. Every home has a garden (floral or vegetable), jewel coloured flowers in abundance and nurseries line the streets. There are a gazillion Toyotas.
Someone wise told me, “A family’s fortune is measured by his children and cattle.”
My favourite Kiswahili proverbs:
If you love a pumpkin, also love its flower
The gratitude of a donkey is a kick
Don’t set sail using somebody else’s star