Off the beaten track trip report – June/July 2013

Lindsey and John write:
We live in Kampala, Uganda. Over June/July 2013 we drove to our previous home in Malawi via Tanzania, and thought the notes below may be of interest to your readers.

OUTWARD JOURNEY – June 21.

 

Kibondo – Sanjere Guest House.  OK rooms, nets and hot showers.   There are two buildings, the Sanjere and the New Sanjere Guest House.  We stayed in the New – TS20,000.

Kigoma – Jacobsen’s Beach, camping.  Lovely camp site.

Note – new TANAPA rates came in force from July 1, offering East African residents/ex-pats reduced rates.

We visited Ujiji and enjoyed the lecture by the caretaker, exactly as you described, except his opening gambit was: “which country are you from?  UK?  Do you know Michael Palin?  I know Michael Palin.  He sent me a copy of his book.”  We found the museum and the caretaker both charming and informative, though the mango trees seem to be three generations descendants of the original.

Driving from Kigoma via Uvinza to Sitalike, the road is now undergoing a major Chinese improvement.  Some parts were still 4 x 4 only but soon it will be easily navigable.  We understood this was to help open up the agricultural produce of this western part of Tanzania to markets across the country.

Katavi National Park.  The TANAPA staff only offered camping next to the staff houses – no remote campsites at all.  And they were not at all interested in being helpful.  In fact, we found them unwelcoming, in contrast to the staff at Riverside Camp, right beside the entrance just after Sitalike town.  The camp is on a lovely setting, with hippo and a vast range of birds watching the campers.  The staff provided buckets of hot water, as the showers could only run cold.  TS15,000 per person per night.

You comment on the tsetse flies was an understatement. Our daily drives into the park became almost unbearable so we cut out stay short.

We saw no big cat but did see the many pods of hippo and a huge herd of buffalo way in the distance.  More disturbingly, we also saw a local woman not in TANAPA uniform and way from any posts/housing wandering on the riverside, obviously out looking/inspecting something.  She was not disturbed by being watched.

Lakeshore Lodge and Campsite, Kipili.

If there is anywhere close to paradise, this must be it.  On the entrance wall, the South African hosts Chris and Louise Horsfall have painted ‘come as guests leave as friends’.  That is exactly their philosophy.   We camped and were delighted that the campsite was finished to the same high quality as all the other accommodation.  The sinks were under a huge, shading mango tree.   The 100% home cooked food was excellent and good value.  Louise has taught the locally employed chefs, bringing employment and income to the local village.

We dived in Lake Tanganyika and just enjoyed the atmosphere.  People were also using here as a base to travel to Gombe (on the Liemba). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

From here we planned to visit Kalambo Falls from the Tanzanian side but our gps and our map belied the reality.  We followed some roads which ended in the middle of villages, not at Kasanga, and we hit the border post at 5.55pm on a Sunday evening completely by mistake.   It seemed completely deserted as the sky darkened.  Then three men emerged.  They were the immigration and customs officials of Tanzania and immigration for Zambia.  So, with a few friendly admonishments, they completed our paperwork and we were on our way, in fact with huge cheers from a large group of children who had just emerged from a community church (we think).   We were the first car for three days.

However, here, yet again the Chinese funded roadworks were very apparent and the border road was undergoing major improvements… not so on the Zambian side, which was one of the worst on our trip!

 

RETURN – MALAWI to UGANDA July 25/29

We’ve stayed a few times in the Lake Hill Lodge in Singida (approaching from the south turn right at the roundabout crossroads, then first? left) and find it excellent value for the rooms and the food.

This time we wanted to see if the ferry to Port Bell, Kampala, had restarted so we drove to Mwanza.  Here we made a big mistake.  We found there were no boats direct to Kampala so we eschewed the option of Bukoba and decided to drive.  We caught the ferry to Kamanga.  Oh boy, the roads on the other side were HORRENDOUS in their hard ruts.  In fact the most direct route from Kamanga to Sengerema was blocked with a drift bridge down about two-thirds of the way down!

We should have retraced our route to catch the ferry to Busisi, as those roads are tarred.

Anyway, we made it to Geita very late at night, found some very expensive but only moderately equipped guest houses but got lucky with Kilimanjaro Motel and annex apartment , Plot 25, General Tyre Street, GGM Road (0282 520463/0784 364876).

Just north of Muleba we’ve also stayed at Paradise Lodge, on the main road, (0282 224077) which again offered good quality basic accommodation (nets and hot showers and a good breakfast).

 

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Kigoma to Rwanda via Bujumbura

The best route out of Kigoma to Rwanda (Kigali) is via Bujumbura, there are all the way through minibuses at the bus station at Kigoma. The road to the border at Munirra is perfectly tarmacced and takes about 1hr 20 minutes. It costs $20 for a visa to enter Burundi, then there is a rough graded road for 23 Km and one arrives at a small village where the minibuses are swapped, also one can change money at the jungle here! The minibus now RHD continues to Bujumbura and takes 4 hours.
Entering Rwanda for a Brit – there is no visa and no charge. Every other nationality that I observed was turned back at the border and told to go back to Bujumbura and get a visa for Rwanda.

Guy

Transport around Kigoma and Lake Tanganyika

The trouble with the MV Leimba on Lake Tankanyika is that it runs to its own schedule which nobody knows except the Captain. So if you want to pick it up from Kasanga you have to go there which is a 5/6 hour bus journey from Sumbawanga leaving at miday and arriving at dusk. So where to stay if one discovers that the boat is not running…. there is a nice lodge called Leimba lodge, about 5 kms before Kasanga, run by Mrs McGoo (something like that) and her son Franky at 20,000 Tzshs per night. Then unfortunately if one wants to go to Kigoma there is no alternative but to go back to Sumbawanga (6 hours) and on to Mpanda which is around 7 hours however the Chinese are currently constructing a new road which should be ready in a year or so. Mpanda is a one horse town and the bus to Kigoma only goes twice a week; I arrived Monday afternoon and the next bus was Thursday. There is an internet cafe and 5 churches and the Super City Hotel at 12,000 Tzshs per night.

Guy

Kigoma & Gombe Stream

We flew to Kigoma. Precision Air does not currently have any flights. I was told in Kigoma that they are waiting for the runway to be fully paved in October before flights resume. They also said the president promised to make the airport international in the future. Air Tanzania was our only non-charter option. The flights were very full. Advance booking is required. They fly daily and on some days stop in Tabora, other days are direct. Buying a return fare is significantly cheaper than buying a two one-way fares.
– We were told the Liemba can run weekly or by-weekly, depending on the month.
– Apparently the train from Kigoma is only leaving once a week (on Sundays).
– To privately charter a boat from Kigoma to Gombe cost us $300 (return) – not the 80k TZS (one-way) indicated in the book. This was confirmed by other travelers. Given that a one way trip consumed about 30L of fuel the $300 price is realistic. The boats can hold about 10 people and are covered. They can be hired through the Mkuzi Hotel located in the Kibirizi port.
– Gombe has new accommodations that were built in 2006. There are about 5 rooms, each with a double-bed. They are quite nice by hostel standards. There’s additional accommodation in the rest-house and at the Park HQ… but these are secondary. Meals can be easily arranged but are pricey. $15/dinner or lunch. $10 for breakfast. Water, beer and soda can also be purchased at the park. The park does have a proper passenger boat. I couldn’t get a clear answer as to what it’s used for. I did hear separately that in the future, they are supposed to get their own boat to ferry tourists to and from the park. I tried to find out if that was the use of the boat I saw but I couldn’t get a clear answer. The per party cost for chimp tracking is $10. There are very few people in the park (never more than one other group of people). A generator is turned on from the evening to the morning, so it’s possible to charge batteries, etc… The research station offers free wifi if you’re close enough to the building.
– The Hilltop Hotel’s restaurant only had a fixed menu.

Jesse Lehrman