Day 29 – 30: Kipili to Utengule to Kisolanza


477 km from Lakeshore Lodge to Utengule Coffee Lodge, Mbalizi

303 km from Utengule to Kisolanza Old Farm House, Iringa

7 829 km trip to date

The long trip towards Ruaha National Park started with us going back to Sumbawanga and then south towards Tunduma, turning east to Mbalizi to overnight, and then east again to Kisolanza to overnight before we travelled to Ruaha National Park. The drive through the Miombo woodlands and up the escarpment towards Sumbawanga was beautiful again and we foud Sumbawanga as lively and brightly coloured as before. From there onwards on the perfect tarred road the going was slow again due to the many villages with speed humps and limits of 50km/h.

Bajaji – 3-wheeled taxis in Sumbawanga

Chris, our host at Lakeshore, told us that there is no upper speed limit in Tanzania for normal passenger cars if no limit is stated when we complained about the frequency of the 50 and 80 km/h limits. We soon noticed that every time a 50km/h limit is cancelled, there is not necessarily a new speed limit stated. We asked the first traffic officer we passed to explain to us how the speed limits work. He told us that we drive whatever the limit is, and if there is no limit, we can go as fast as we want. Even if it is 300 km/h. The only problem is that the 50 limit is so frequent and for such a long distance before and after each village that we could barely reach 100 km/h before getting to the next 50. And the speed humps make you slow down to 30-35 within the 50 zone. So in the end we again had been on the road for 9 hours from Kipili to Mbalizi (477 km).

In Tunduma town we had the first shock of seeing a larger Tanzanian town. It is a madhouse. Tunduma is the border post on the Great North Road from Lusaka to Dar-es-Salaam (Zam-Dar road). We have never seen so many heavy trucks in our life. Not hundreds, but thousands! Every side street, every open space, every fuel station parking, even open spaces for kilometers along the road were crammed with heavy trucks. Some of them were obviously visiting clearing agents along the road. One cannot imagine how they manouver in and out of where they are. We were speechless and laughing in the end. It is unbelievable.

We camped at the Utengule Coffee Lodge outside Mbalizi. It is a working coffee producing farm selling boutique coffee beans in their little shop. Nice restaurant with outragous prices (USD35 for a steak). We arrived during a heavy rain storm and asked about other available accommodation – USD110 per night for a basic 2-person chalet – and we decided that the rooftop tent will be good enough even in the rain. The campsites are not really campsites, but a narrow open space along the tennis court and on the adjacent heli pad with a very basic toilet and shower in the corner of this area. No braai facilities. Safe, as they locked the gates at night. There are no other camping options in the area, so the overlanders frequently use these campsites.

The next morning we tackled the Zam-Dar road again for another 300 km. Mbeya is the next large town. It took us an hour to get through Mbeya and the road runs along the town, not through the town center! Another madhouse. In the end we just laughed and shook our heads in disbelief. Everybody just cross the streets when and how they choose to, including pedestrians, bajaji (3-wheeled taxis), motorbikes, bicycles, cars, buses and trucks. If they see half a gap, they take it, and you have to slow down to avoid an accident. And everybody does it like that. But surprisingly no accidents occured and no hooters were heard. Also no shouting or signs of irritation.

Chris at Lakeshore Lodge also explained to us the road signals made by the drivers. A flashing of lights is a sign that he takes the way of right and proceeds without waiting. The first one to flash lights is the one who decides that he goes ahead. We experienced this on the Zam-Dar road from Mbeya to Kisolanza with an oncoming bus overtaking the trucks, flashing his lights when he could not get back in line on time and we had to get off the road. Chris also told us to be weary when going uphill, as the oncoming traffic drive at full speed coming downhill.

More than 1 000 km into Tanzania, we could already sense the difference in lifestyle and attitude between the locals of Zambia and Tanzania. It is comparable to travelling from Austria or Switzerland into Italy. Every country has its own beauty, and also its own character and vibe. Perfect neatness in Zambia vs careless littering in Tanzania. Calmness and composure (Zam) vs loudness and restless movement (TZN). Heartily spontaneous greetings (Zam) vs expressionless stares (TZN). But when you talk to the Tanzanians, they are friendly. Chris explained that is the Swahili culture causing this behaviour. You are the guest and if you greet heartily first, they will respond with the same gesture, but we have not experienced it quite so simple. Sometimes they would return our smiles and waves, and sometimes they would just ignore it. We also came across people who could not understand  English at all.

The houses and villages also represent rustic cosy traditional (Zam) vs more western with lots of ruins, half-built and left as is (TZN). it also seems that there is more money on the streets in TZN than in Zam. Thousands more motorbikes in Tanzania and lots of flashy 3-storey hotels in Mbeya with reflective glass windows and neon bright paint on the ornate steel gates.

Rural village houses – every second one a ruin
Brewing rain storm over Mbeya

And then we received our second speeding fine for the trip. We were stuck behind a truck at 30 km/h in a 50 zone. We overtook the truck and the next moment a traffic officer jumped out of a car parked parallel next to the road. There were four of them in the car, one with the traffic camera in his hand. Tsh30 000 (R180) for 56 km/h in a 50 zone. And they were quite agressive. Not friendly at all. The buses and trucks sped by at high speed, but they were ignored. At least we received a proper receipt.

We camped overnight at Kisolanza Old Farm House camping grounds and for the second time in one day a heavy rainstorm started. All the rain storms we have experienced so far on the trip are almost cloud bursts (Zam as well as TZN). The camping grounds have a few thatch shelters with electricity and we just sat under the shelter for two hours to wait for the rain to subside. They have a lovely restaurant and we ordered enough freshly baked bread and bread rolls for the next few days.  Louise from Lakeshore Lodge told us that there are no contry wide chain stores selling groceries or bread in Tanzania and you have to search the small shops along the road to find bread and everything else you may need.

Where we are now…

Next: to Ruaha National Park


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