I found it difficult to adjust to being back from the other side of the world in Tabora. Life is so much easier here by comparison. As much as I’d like to talk story about my journey this summer 2011 I tend not to because it’s hard for people to relate to, bucket baths for example! This is one of my stories..
Tabora to Kigoma & back.
I was able to arrange a free ride in a single engine 6 seater Cessna based in Kigoma. It had been chartered by some guys I know who work for ATTT tobacco co. to inspect some of their projects & was returning with empty seats. I was joined by Marlene a German student whom I met at the Orion Tabora Hotel when we all had dinner together one evening.
Since the flight offer was not confirmed we decided to get a ride with one of ATTT’s vehicles going to Mwanza located on the shores of Lake Victoria, a 7 hr drive on a dirt road from Tabora. The plan was to take a bus on a paved road from Mwanza to Kigoma. The next day I got up at 5:30am since there was no power (a daily occurrence) at the Wilca Hotel where I stayed & washed & dressed by torch light. I had to wake up the security guard to open the gate, he was sleeping on the floor behind a couch in the open air foyer of the hotel.
On the journey to Mwanza local people were seen digging close to the road apparently looking for diamonds! Mwanza is a clean & orderly town frequented by NGO’s (non governmental agencies) it has a small airport which is a base for UN relief Aid planes.
We ate breakfast at the Tilapia Hotel a popular place for expats & a frequent getaway for the ATTT guys. We then dropped off a Forestry company consultant at the airport for his flight back to South Africa. We were debating what to do, & after a couple of ‘phone calls to my friend Chris (ATTT) to inquire if there was still a chance of a free ride on the ‘plane, we decided to gamble & aborted the bus plan!. So off we went back to Tabora, later I joked about it being a long ride to take for breakfast, 14 hr round trip!!
As we were eating lunch at my friend Marks’ house (also with ATTT co.) the call we were waiting for came in from Chris giving the go ahead for the flight to Kigoma. My backpack was already packed, I traveled light with just a couple of changes of clothing. We called for a taxi & got to the airport ready to go on time!
Marlene had never taken a small plane ride before so it was thrilling for her. From my perspective as thrilling as it was (‘though not a first) it was really distressing to see so many roads, paths, & burning of trees to make charcoal, the smoke haze was 3 miles high. From the air the only areas free from smoke were the national parks.
I later learned from my friend Boni Haule whose job it is to hunt down poachers, that cutting trees down is also taking place in the parks. Tree burning is a hot topic of debate currently in the Tanzanian parliament. Between that the cattle & goats, the country will turn into desert in the next decade or so if it´s not stopped.
We stayed at the Kigoma Hilltop Hotel for 6 days which overlooks Lake Tanganyika, it was being refurbished so there was hardly anyone there. I swam in the swimming pool everyday, sat on a chaise lounge looking out over the Lake enjoying the afternoon breeze & watching the local fisherman sail by in their dhows. There were 3 zebras on the property which wandered around eating the grass, & a troop of vervet monkeys came to check us out when we sat on the deck outside the room.
The hotel offers a boat charter to Gombe which is a 2 hr ride from Kigoma $400.00 for 2 of us it which was out of our budget range. The receptionist saved the day & put us in contact with a local business man who is friends with the manager at Gombe National Park. He rented a local fishing boat to us with an outboard motor & two crew for $250.00.
We left from the Kigoma harbour early when it was still calm. Hugging the coastline we saw a few small fishing villages with lovely white sand beaches & the water was crystal clear. Great potential here for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, even kite surfing in the afternoons when the wind picks up & offers some chop.
We passed several larger boats ferrying passengers up & down the lake from Burundi dropping people at some of the fishing villages. I wondered how many of them were illegal since the borders with Burundi as with many neighbouring African countries, are so porous.
Our guide for the tracking the chimps was Issaya Paul (he’s on Facebook). It was quite a challenging hike up & down some ravines, I got tangled in vines from time to time! The weather was overcast & humid due to rain squalls over the lake miles away. We were to discover the outcome of this later when we left Gombe national park.
A second guide also tracking the chimps was in contact with Issaya via a walkie talkie letting him know where they were headed. 45 mins into the hike we were advised to step to the side of the path & allow a mother chimp with a baby on her back to pass by. We were within a couple of feet of them!
The 2nd guide continued tracking & we joined him to watch a chimp family feed in the trees, one of the youngsters was named Tabora! When they came down out of the trees we followed them at the required distance of 10 metres. They joined up with two large mature males who were engrossed in trying to figure out what to do with a cap they had found! They kept sucking it while several youngsters waited until they became bored & took their turn! This kept them entertained for at least an hour!
We sat with them while they relaxed & groomed one another. The largest male lay on his back with one leg resting across the other one which was raised at the knee. He looked almost human in repose! His arms were as big as a large human leg! We were advised to avoid staring into their eyes for any length of time as it’s considered a threat. If any of the males started a charge, we were to hug a tree so they would know we were friendly\, tree huggers would love that!
Fortunately the chimps are used to humans so we were not in any danger of attack, which is just as well they are renowned for their strength, they can rip off a face with their fangs. So we were alert to their every move! The dominant male & boss of all the chimps at Gombe is Ferdinand. He is smaller than the older males with jet black fur, but to be the boss he is obviously strong & fierce.
A student from The Jane Goodall Institute was also there taking notes for research, all of the data is now kept at Duke University.
By 2:30pm I was ready to head back to Kigoma a storm had come in & the wind created a large beach chop which made it tricky to get back in the boat! The swell rolled in at 4ft as we headed out, to avoid the nasty smell of fuel fumes Marlene & I sat in the front. After a couple of waves soaked me I moved to the back of the boat to sit in the sun in an attempt to dry off regardless of the fumes! Poor Marlene turned green & was sick she opted to stay in the front & remain wet!
Needless to say the trip back was unpleasant, getting off the boat at the shoreline in the harbour was also challenging! To make it easier for us to disembark the boat was pulled into the shallows with ropes . Swinging wildly we came dangerously close to ramming other boats already parked there causing lots of shouting & gesturing!
I sat on the grubby beach feeling tired & slightly nauseous wiping my feet dry with my socks, pleased with the adventure. Ducks waddled past, a small boy played in the sand watching me curiously while his father stood nearby cleaning a fish.
When we got back to the hotel we were told we were very lucky to have seen the chimps. Some people go there several times or stay at the camps in Gombe & don’t see any at all.
I really liked Kigoma, a small clean town, & mellow friendly people. Having access to water & food takes the edge off the hard day to day business of survival. There weren’t many tourists as Kigoma is at the North East corner of Tanzania which makes it a long journey from Dar-es-salaam where the international flights fly in to. However now the Kigoma Hotel is the ticket agent for Precision Air which began scheduled flights in August to Kigoma from Dar-es-salaam via Mwanza which I suspect will bring in a lot of new business.. I hope it doesn’t ruin the area as it has in many other places.
Traveling back to Tabora was a complete contrast to the comfortable private flight to Kigoma. It was a torturous, smelly, dirty, dusty, hot 12 hr grind by bus, a third rate one at that. Dirt road all the way & frequent stops to pack people in butt to belly for extra money which was shared between the touts (conductors, but more like cattle herders!) & the driver. I can’t drink anything or eat on these buses as there is usually only one stop to use a semi civilized long drop latrine. After that it’s behind bushes at the side of the road. I preferred not to expose myself!
I sat in the very front next to a man who worked at the Kigoma Dept. Of Adult Education which later proved to be very helpful. These seats are the most dangerous, the buses have no seat belts so one would get hurled through the windscreen in a collision. The other passengers have the seats in front to buffer them, but very little leg room.
Marlene sat across from me behind the driver & his entourage of 6 touts (conductors). Next to her was one of the undercover policeman with an AK 47semi automatic rifle. The other policeman sat behind me, & later as the bus filled up would not have been able to protect us if he had to! These cops always ride the bus routes to Tabora due to it’s remote location & bad roads there have been incidences of armed bandit attacks.
The bus became more & more packed, a lot of standing room only passengers were mothers with babies on their backs & toddlers at each hand. Some of the children cried with fright when they saw two white people, obviously a first time experience! The small children had to sit on the floor in between the adults legs. One toddler was left sitting on the floor in front of my feet at which point I had reached my limit of allowing these children to be placed at such risk. The man from the Kigoma Dept of Adult Education sitting next to me was also becoming concerned & I asked him to intervene.
He shouted at the touts & the driver accusing them of treating the children like cattle threatening to report them to the authorities. Pandemonium followed as the driver & touts argued back, I jumped up getting into the fray, yelling in Swahili that I would also report them to the Tabora District Commissioner who was a friend of mine! I caught a whiff of alcohol on one of the touts which further fueled my concerns, & accused him of drinking. Marlene looked totally bemused at all this because she didn’t understand Swahili but could tell it was serious!
Shortly after that the tout with the alcohol breath & the mothers with babies were dropped off. The passenger load thinned out a little & there was no more trouble from the driver or the remaining touts. In fact the head tout was very solicitous & asked me a couple of times if I was comfortable & said that I could now relax! Later a friend suggested that perhaps the mothers of the babies were not so happy because this was the only mode of transportation they could afford. A ticket for a reserved seat cost 25,000sh roughly $20.00 one way, a lot more than they make in a year.
Finally back at the Wilca Hotel, dirty & exhausted a hot water bucket bath felt positively luxurious!
*Total kilometers traveled by bus all over Tanzania 3.828 km = 2.37860 miles
Kigoma-Tabora 672k, Tabora-Morogoro 885k, Morogoro-Arusha 624k, Arusha-Morogoro 624k.