Or: The Road To Malawi.
Posted by Ken Thomas at June 17, 2010 08:31 PM GMT
I'm now in Kabale, on the edge of Lake Bunyonyi. Haven't visited the lake yet, probably tomorrow. It's about two miles away.
The thing is, the internet is quite reliable here, unlike in Kampala. But instead, the water went off last night and only came back on late this afternoon.
But never mind, the internet is what I need. It must be channelled through that cafe round the corner, 'Mend The Broken Internet'. That reminded me of a little restaurant I found in New Zealand once, called 'Two Chairs Missing'. Brilliant name for a restaurant I thought.
Anyway, while it's working, I need the internet to research the route ahead, as the lack of overland travellers here is causing a serious lack of information.
On the way to Kabale yesterday I was beginning to wonder about Rwanda, as the guidebooks advise travellers to check the latest situation there before heading to the border in case there has been some sudden change in the country's situation.
And there, just round the bend, taking a break in a layby, was a big British tour truck full of gap-year students, facing in the opposite direction. It was returning from a Nairobi-Kampala-Kigali-southern Rwanda-back to Kampala-Nairobi loop route. "All clear ahead," reported the driver. "Rwanda's a great place, roads much better than Uganda. No problem!"
So that's all right then.
Today I'd spent a long time on the internet, just thinking that my eyes had had enough of the screen, when an English couple arrived looking for a room. The welcome they received was the usual African affair, lots of friendly greetings wanting to know where they were from, where going, how, when, what for. So I learned that they were from Bukoba in Tanzania, on the western shore of Lake Victoria, had a friend from France staying so had decided to take a trip to see Uganda, and had just crossed into the country from the south.
A source of information at last!
They confirmed that the roads south were fine and it was easy to travel around the southern side of Lake Victoria. But they couldn't tell me specifically about the road west to Lake Tanganyika.
"But the rains have stopped, the buses go regularly to Kigoma, so it must be OK."
So that's all right then.
Back on the internet I concentrated my search on the southern end of lake Tanganyika, the ferry port of Kasanga and the road to Mbeya to pick up the main Lake Malawi road. I've found nothing there, only that 'vehicles' go from Kasanga to Sumbawanga in the dry season, six hours, and Sumbawanga is only about a fifth of the way to Mbeya. (And in the opposite direction. This is all remote mountain country and the roads do huge zigzags around them).
For foot passengers on the ferry, the main port is at Mpulungu a few hours (by ferry) from Kasanga, from where there's a better road to Sumbawanga. It's Mpulungu that people have mentioned when they've told me that 'friends' have told them that the ferry ride down Lake Tanganyika is very much worth doing. Even the guide books recommend it (for travellers on foot).
But what is usually omitted is that at Mpulungu, there's no harbour. The ferry moors in a bay and passengers are rowed ashore. No word of any motorbikes being carried on the rowing boats. Travellers with websites report that getting their luggage onto the rowing boats is 'a bit of a chore'.
The proper harbour is at Kasanga, but with no road to speak of.
At this point I decided that enough is enough and went across the road for tea at the cafe.
Then another teacher appeared.
I returned to the hostal to find an Irish traveller just arrived, asking for the quickest way to Dar es Salaam. He'd spent too long in north-western Uganda and had only twelve days to get there by public transport for his flight home. He knew this part of Africa and really, already knew the quickest way to Dar, just wanted confirmation.
"Bus to Bukoba, ferry to Mwanza, Central Line train to Dodoma, bus to Dar es Salaam." So I think he was sorted. I nearly asked him if he needed to change at Mile End or Liverpool Street but thought better of it when he asked where I was headed.
So I told him my plans, making God laugh in the process.
"There's no route!" he said straight away. "That doesn't sound at all feasible."
"But the road from Kigali to Dodoma is fairly direct by African standards. Go that way, then south to Malawi. Or if the Singida road is OK, go south from there and save a few miles."
So that's all right then.
But what about Lake Tanganyika?
He vaguely knew the port of Kigoma and had heard that the ferry makes a good trip. I said I'd try going there even though the ferry ride is probably now out of the question.
"Why's that?" he asked.
So I explained.
The ferry is the "MV Liemba," which was built in 1913 in Germany as a gun ship and named "Graf von Gotzen."
The Germans transported it in pieces on the Central Line railway (that line again!) from Dar es Salaam to Lake Tanganyika to defend the lake against the British in the First World War. It wasn't entirely successful, as with Belgian help the British managed to surround the German stronghold at Kigoma, resulting in a stalemate.
Here, history diverges somewhat.
Humphrey Bogart, the captain of "The African Queen," tells us (or tells Katherine Hepburn) that if the Graf von Gotzen could be sunk, (he called it "The Luisa") the Allies would immediately capture Kigoma and peace would break out. So off he sets on his adventure.
The history books tell us that the captain of the Graf von Gotzen realised that it was only a matter of time before the British got their hands on his boat, so he scuttled it. This was done by the engineers who had reassembled it after its journey on the Central Line. Being engineers they entirely covered its engines with tons of grease and sunk it slowly by filling it with sand.
This enabled the British, eight years later, to remove the sand, refloat it, start the engines and run it as a passenger and freight ship up and down the lake. Which it has done ever since with just a short break in 1970 to change the steam engines to diesel.
So a fairly intriguing story and reason number one to visit Kigoma.
Reason two is that one of the oldest market villages in Africa is Ujiji, a little south of Kigoma. It's also where H.M.Stanley found Dr. Livingstone (or reportedly so), with suitable monument and coffee shop.
The story of Stanley finding Livingstone in the darkest depths of unexplored Africa is about the only thing I ever found interesting in History lessons at school.
So Kigoma and Ujiji it is then. And just a look at the ferry.
And finally, Tea, Milk and Tailoring. You'll always find those whenever you find that other thing that the Brits exported to all the colonies, which in many of them has since been refined into a fine art-form.
Bureaucracy. The African version is alive and well.
Can you ever imagine a true bureaucrat without his tea, milk jug, and nice tailored suit?
The following 'Public Notice' in yesterday's Uganda newspaper is maybe the reverse of bureaucracy, shaming people into paying their debts. But I couldn't resist putting it in here. A full double-page spread.
The sub-heading: "The persons listed below have sent cheques to the Ugandan Tax Authority which have bounced. They should report to the tax office, 2nd floor .......... within 5 days or will be immediately prosecuted."
The extensive list includes private individuals, companies, and government departments.
These amongst them:
The Population Secretariat. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 456,300 Ush
Dairy Development Authority. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 145,071 Ush
National Water and Sewerage. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 981,564 Ush
Sereko Court Bailiffs. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 200,000 Ush
The list goes on and on. The Ministry of Education is in there, Town Councils, charities and others similar.
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