It really did feel like another lifetime ago that we were sitting in Patrick’s lounge in Fiji listening to his stories about travelling from Tanzania to Asia and eventually New Zealand in a camper truck with his wife and 2 small children. It is the reason we were rolling into Tanzania right then and I had been thinking about Patrick for the last few weeks. He had made a life in Tanzania and talked fondly about the place. I know he had a lot of fun there and therefore so should we. I held on to that thought as we pulled up behind a truck at the border bridge and started the usual barter for local currency with several money changers that had approached us. This has been the same process since we left Morocco many months ago and we have had zero problems with any of them. In fact, some will even go in your favour to get the business (for what ever reason) We discussed rates and agreed on a figure and handed over the cash. About $50USD worth of Malawian cash. He fumbled through his pockets and then told me he was going to get change, and just walked away. It took about 60 seconds to realise what had just happened as the other people started to fade away as well and all of a sudden, we were alone. Well, a first time for everything and it had to happen in one of the places we were looking forward to visiting!
We moved to the border and waited, and waited. If we were on foot it would have been faster, maybe only an hour, but we had a car. It needed to be inspected, twice. I then had to wait for the customs people to process the temporary import permit for the Hilux, that included a notation in my passport that was supposed to have a special stamp on the way out... (I didn’t get it). I was directed to pay the $50USD import permit in local currency that we didn’t have, so I had to visit the bank. When I returned I was told I had to PAY it to the same bank I had just been to, so back I went again... Finally, we were ready to go. I head back to the car that was parked in the shade while I was running through the border circus parade only to find that we had once again been robbed by money changers! When I first went to the bank, I met a local money changer that had a shop just on the Tanzanian side of the gate. The guys with shops are usually a little more honest, albeit a little harder to get the best rate from, and we use these people from time to time when we don’t like the look of the guys that run up to the car. I had asked him to go and see Christine while I sorted the paperwork for the car, and he had performed an oldie but a goodie on Christine. We had 3 x $100US notes that we had held for quite a while. We were pretty familiar with them as every so often Christine counted the cash in the various accounts and currencies so we knew what we had… Christine handed him one note and he changed it for an OK rate, so she handed him another note and asked for some more. He made some small talk and then asked for the money. But I’ve given it to you! No, you have not… and so on and so on. He wasn’t a small guy and neither were his 7 friends crowding around the car window, so she was intimidated and not in a position to even argue. His defence was that he was a Christian and therefore honest... It was all over when I finished with Customs so we just roared off an amazing $300USD lighter after a shocking border experience so annoyed we forgot to get the insurance for the car… Welcome to Tanzania.
Other than what Patrick had told us about the place, the only other things we had heard were from other overlanders and most of that was about the traffic police. The Tanzania traffic police are the best funded in East Africa and are also considered the most corrupt. It took us 2 days to meet our first police officer and it lived up to the tales we had heard. Due to the corrupt officers taking cash, a new system had been put into place where the fine is paid by a transfer of money through mobile payment or at a bank, no cash is to be given on the road side. So, we along with 5 or 6 other vehicles were all pulled over and within a few minutes, it was just us and one other car that had Botswana plates, so another tourist. Turns out we were all speeding and somehow, we ALL missed seeing the sign with the new speed limit… I said OK, got me… and waited for the ticket. Well what a drama all that turned out to be. The fine wasn’t too much, but they just wanted it in cash… To cut a long (3 hour wait long) story short, we didn’t want to pay cash, mostly because we STILL didn’t have any due to being ripped off at the border…so after ages of trying to allow us to pay by transfer or at the bank later, we went all the way back to the last town and got cash and all the way back to the stop and I just paid them and drove off. It was a real ticket and they did give a real receipt so maybe the cash did find its way into the road sign repair fund after being counted in the treasury as income or maybe it was just lunch money for Officer Janice for the next month.
It was much later when I thought back on what had happened that day and realised the sequence of events. Of the row of vehicles pulled over, the first to move on were the 2 trucks. This is because the police know that the truck drivers know, it’s a cost of doing business and the price is set, maybe 5000s. ($2.25USD) and the sooner they can get on the way the better. Then it was the 2 locals. For the official 30,000s ($13.50USD) fine, a 10,000s bribe is the normal price for no paperwork and go. So, us and the Botswana registered car didn’t know this and if we had, would have been happy to only pay a third of the price for breaking the law, and turn a 3 hour stop into a 3-minute stop. We did of course remember this tactic and when we were eventually stopped and asked for the insurance we never ended up getting, we just slipped him 10,000s and everything was suddenly OK.
We headed to Bagamoyo and an Airbnb we had picked out. It was a house with a fully walled compound just out of the main town, beach and market. I guess it was one of the nicest places in the area and the owner also hosted young European students that are completing studies with a 3 or 6-month internship at a local clinic, so we had some fun times with the other guests. Luxy had the run of the place but tended to stay close and usually napped in our room. It was a really nice place but a bit rough and had no air conditioning. We also had to find a shipping agent and decided we needed to be closer to the port and the business district and see some of the people face to face so we moved on to the capital of Dar es Salaam and our new ‘home’ at The Riverview Hotel.
We ended up staying at the Riverview Hotel for 5 long weeks and although we had some good times and met some really nice folk, like Rosie who was the manager and Mr Karlie who was a guest and an important local politician, it was also some of the worst times we had on the entire trip so far. Dar se Salaam is the capital of Tanzania and a large modern city. The Riverview was on the edge of the city, 30-minute drive to the port area and where the shipping agents all had offices. To stay any closer would have been double the price or more for the hotel. The entire shipping process was quite a nightmare to be honest. We were in a position to lose everything… The car cannot be replaced if it’s stolen or damaged any time between us leaving it with the agents and it arriving at the shippers’ depot. Once there, it will get the full ocean insurance. The process from start to finish, including the USA side was such a drama it is getting a blog of its own. I would have rather been faced with the stress of driving through Nigeria again than the stress of that shipping process.
Its also where we lost poor wee Luxy. She died in the Hotel the day we left the car at the port. It was sudden. 2 Days earlier she was fine and chasing her toys around the room as normal. She had a very quiet day the next day, but she was still eating. The very next morning, we took her straight to the vet who gave her something to try to lower the fever, but that night she died. Turns out she had an infection from the dental work we had done. It caused septicaemia and when it all happened there was nothing we could do. The meds the vet gave her would not have helped. It was absolutely heart wrenching. No words can describe how we felt to have had our little travel companion with us one day, and in fact all documented and ready to travel to the USA, and the next to be watching her fight for her life and die right there in front of us. Needless to say, it was very, very, tough, and still is.
We had booked several things to do once we had delivered the car but right on the spot we decided to leave to the USA and changed our flights and were gone in 3 days. So, it ended up that Tanzania, through no fault of anyone or anything in Tanzania or Tanzania itself, was absolutely terrible. We didn’t see any sights or attractions.
Luxy will always be remembered whenever we think of Africa and the most amazing, confronting, scary and rewarding things we have ever undertaken in our lives. It wasn’t just driving through Africa, it was the way we had approached and undertaken it, very unconventionally. We didn’t plan or research more than a few days ahead, it was our very first overland trip, we took only 10 days to get the car ready and we took along a stray kitten we found on our first full day on the continent. We shouldn’t have made it. But we did and one of the reasons was being able to turn around and pat our cat as she slept contentedly between the seats. Many times, we would have lengthy and frustrating police stops and drive off feeling angry only to feel it melt away after a soothing cuddle. I can remember trying to dodge potholes in Nigeria when we had 3 masked men on a motorbike right next to us and glancing back seeing her still sleeping and I actually joked with Christine that at least Luxy was relaxed. And the hours and hours of fun exploring the many campsites and countries we visited with her. She made a difference. She cemented herself forever in our memories as our real African wildcat.
So that was Africa. We hope you enjoyed it.
We entered Malawi knowing it was going to be our second to last country in Africa. The decision had been made now to leave and as with any decision like this, it was bitter sweet. Bitter that we were coming to the end of a pretty unique adventure and sweet that we would be moving on to the next adventure.
We crossed the border (the easiest and friendliest border BY FAR – nothing to even comment on!) and slowly travelled north towards Mzuzu, which was a busy city with all the facilities we needed to restock. The roads were in OK condition compared to some and the travelling was not too bad and apart for trucks, the traffic was very light with hardly any cars at all. We found an overland friendly hotel and checked in. Overland friendly means a place that will let you camp in the carpark and use the hotel facilities. In this case, we camped on the grass by the alfresco area and firepit. An amazing place in the town and interesting for Luxy as she had to share her territory with the hotel animals including 4 dogs, 3 cats and 6 Guinea pigs. The pet crazy owners loved Luxy and made several visits to say hello to her (oh, and to us if she wasn’t there!). While we were there, I started to look into the reason why the carpet in the front was always damp. I turned out to be the air conditioning condenser drain that Christine had accidentally kicked off with her feet. Although the fix was very easy, just replacing the hose and securing it with a cable tie, the carpet was another story. I ended up removing the front seats, console and everything else that was bolted down and lifting the carpet up so it could drain and dry. Well, it took 2 days to dry, even with the nice temperatures as it was much wetter than I expected. I also found a number of ‘lost’ things that fell between the seats, and lots of popcorn.
We had heard a lot about Malawi from other overlanders (and Christine’s old boss) and we were pretty keen to visit one of the lake front resort style places that the country was famous for (in overland circles) so headed to the middle (north to south) of the lake and looked for a place to stay. Using the iOverlander app, and a recommendation from some French cycle tourers, we decided to try an unusual looking place called Kachere Kastle. It was indeed a castle looking place that had been built entirely by the British expat couple owners over 7 years. It was amazing and a one-night stay turned into 4 days of relaxing and unwinding in an amazing lake front location. The decision was made easy for us by Luxy who just loved the place too. It had a big empty lot right over the fence by our campsite and when she wasn’t running around the grassed campground climbing trees, she was exploring and hunting in the empty lot. For the entire stay we were the only guests. We only left when we run out of food!
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the southern part of Africa but you wouldn’t know that by talking and interacting with the people. They are absolutely wonderful people and we had lots of fun the entire time we were there. One thing however stood out to us and it’s what I call the charcoal economy. People living in poverty still need to eat and these people can not just go to the shop and buy ready-to-eat food. It is usually raw ingredients and will always need to be prepared and cooked. None of the small villages have power (and every second Sunday the power company cuts the power to the entire country for the day…) and very few can afford cooking gas, so the only option is charcoal, which is actually a great way to cook, unless you want to preserve the forest. This was very evident as soon as we arrived in the country. It looked like farmland but when you looked a little closer, it was just barren land due to deforestation, primarily for cooking fuel. For some people, the only income they can make is collecting wood and making charcoal. They get the wood and lay it in a trench and light it on fire. Its then covered with soil and the wood burns with low oxygen making charcoal. We could see that the authorities have attempted to limit the collection of wood by making laws that you could only carry what you could stack on the rear carrier of your bicycle. Oh wow! These guys were absolute masters in stacking wood on the carrier of their bikes. It would be propped and balanced and some we saw were over 7ft high, but always and only on the rear carrier of the bike. (Sadly, I didn’t get a good clear photo of this and had to get a photo from the internet - thanks to Pinterest for the images I used). The government in Malawi has recently struck a deal with a multi-national oil company who are drilling (right in the middle of the lake) for oil which could very well see the country have a ready supply of cooking gas for future generations and I really hope they will also benefit in other ways from this potential wealth but until then, a family relies on charcoal to survive, therefore, the charcoal economy.
Our last stop was a small and pretty run-down campground towards the top of the lake. It wasn’t very nice and the camping was on soft sand that got into everything. We were relaxing in the evening sitting by the car and noticed Luxy weaving her way towards us looking a little unusual and quite unsure of her footing and direction. I went over and scoped her up and straight away we could see she had her eyes closed and was in quite some distress. She couldn’t tell us what was going on but we figured she had something in her eyes so we put her in the tent and carefully wiped her face with a damp towel. She settled down after 20 minutes or so but we checked on her right through the night. The next morning, we spoke to the camp owner who told us they have quite a few Mozambique spitting cobras in the area and she had probably tried to make friends with one, unsuccessfully. That morning, she ate as usual and by mid-morning she was chasing bugs again all be it with squinting eyes and by the afternoon she was back to her normal self as if nothing had happened, so she was very lucky and may have seen it coming and avoided the worst of the venom. Small dogs are often hit with venom from these snakes and the results can be mixed with some not surviving and some having no bad effects at all. She fell in the middle and we were glad that this encounter would have been a good lesson for her to not play with any more snakes!
The next day, we headed to the border and our last country in Africa. We were feeling a bit sad about the trip coming to an end, until we reached the border gate to Tanzania and it all come flooding back…
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!