“Just as in the previous little village people in Milo were incredibly surprised to see me there, especially on a heavily loaded touring bicycle. One little girl started crying and ran away when I greeted her. I am sure she has never seen a Mzungu before in her young life.”
In Makambako I turned south towards Lake Nyassa, as it is known in Tanzania, although more commonly referred to on maps as Lake Malawi. It is the is the 3rd largest lake on the African continent – it is over 560 km long and 700 m deep. Its southern point marks the beginning of the great African Rift Valley that runs all the way north into Ethiopia. More than that the lake is renowned for its crystal clear water and about a thousand of species of colourful cichlid fish that attracts snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. It is shared by Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique and, as I was to find out along the way, its use and country borders is heavily disputed by these three nations.
My aim was to cross Lake Malawi to get to Nkhata Bay, Malawi. I knew for sure that there was a ferry that runs east-west between Mbamba Bay, Tanzania, and Nkhata Bay. But people assured me there are ships that run north-south along the Tanzanian shoreline as well and that I could hop on one from Manda to get to Mbamba Bay, possibly even directly to Nkhata Bay.
To get to Manda I descended into the rift valley on a gravel road that existed on my paper map, but only the first 50 km or so was indicated on Google Maps and it did not exist at all on my outdated Tracks4Africa GPS map. To me this spelled adventure.
At first it was just tough because I was climbing on a gravel road all the way to 2312 m above sea level, the highest point I have been on this trip so far and where I made my camp for the night. As tough as it was, it was also spectacularly beautiful. In addition to the stunning views across the highlands I was cycling first through the massively large Lupindu Tea Estate and later some villages surrounded by small-scale tea plantations. I’d been waiting to cycle through some of tea plantations Tanzania is famous for ever since I entered the country.
The second day on this lesser travelled road quickly became a lot more difficult. I rapidly descended 1000 m down an extremely poor gravel road, scattered with rocks, large dongas (ditches) and sandy patches. There were several burnt out wrecks along the way and I saw no vehicles coming up or going down apart from one or two ‘pikipikis’ (local motorcycles). The valley below was sparse of villages and people and the hilly road that crossed it remained in terrible condition. Eventually I came across a friendly little village where I was able to get a solid meal of “wali” (rice) and “njombe” (beef), a new supply of water and where the surprised but friendly villagers assured me I can carry on and make it all the way to Milo before sundown.
Listening to the villagers I forgot about the Tanzanian factor, X + 0.5X, which should be applied to everything Tanzanians say relating to time or distance. As the day came towards an end I started chasing the sunset through some dense forests in the lower valleys and over increasingly steep hills. I made it to Milo just before dark.
Just as in the previous village people in Milo were incredibly surprised to see me there, especially on a heavily loaded touring bicycle. One little girl started crying and ran away when I greeted her. I am sure she has never seen a Mzungu before in her young life. [The video below was taken near Ludewa, a town rather than a village where the locals are more used to seeing the odd foreigner.]
From Milo the road became ever more difficult to navigate. The inclines became steeper, the ditches deeper and for a while it went from a two wheel track to just a trail. For the first time I had to get off my bicycle and push it uphill with tremendous effort. No wonder the road does not exist anymore on Google Maps. There is almost no way a 4×4 vehicle without an experienced driver can make it through there. Villagers kept on assuring me using gestures that indicated small settlements where the road turns that I was heading towards Ludewa, a town rather than a village that connects back to the main road but which did not exist on my map.
Two broken spokes and several flat tyres later I made it. But this time my welcoming party was a young “immigration official” whom wanted me to “pay” for my visa because I had been traveling through Tanzania for more than one month. What he was really looking for was a bribe. Being perfectly within my rights I took my passport out of his hand and told him that if he has a problem with me being there we should go see either his superior officer or the police. He let me go without any additional words.
To be continued …
p.s. Although I am having an incredibly adventurous journey my purpose is to promote AntibioticAction, an initiative to raise awareness on the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, and to promote scientific efforts relating to antimicrobial surveillance on the African continent. My journey is made possible with support from Global Academy Jobs, an online portal for connecting academic institutions worldwide with the best talent. Follow the links to visit their websites for more information.