The government in Malawi are currently asking the people to decide on a re-design to the national flag. It would be replaced  if successful to a white sun with rays in the centre of the flag and a swap over with the black and red stripes.

Just added a new cartoon under the gorilla update. Thanks Tony as ever. Tony has a new website at http://www.tonyhusband.co.uk/. Check it out!

17/04/2010Mbeya – (Utengule Coffee Lodge), Tukuyu, Songwe border crossing to Malawi, Karango, Chitimba (Chitimba campsite) – Fuel costs more in Malawi, so we filled up before we crossed the border. As we turned into Mbeya to head to the border, we got stopped by the police doing 60km/h in a 50km/h area. They tried to give us a 20,000 shilling fine. I instantly thought there is no way I paying that and got speaking to the officer who quickly passed me over to his boss who was sitting in his car around the corner. It was like playing ping-pong as I went back and forth between them both making up what the other one said to my advantage. I got away with 5000 shilling (£3) after I offered them the last Tanzanian note I had. The officer in the car took the note and said go! I think he got fed up with me persistently arguing with him, so he let me off.

At the border we joined the two hundred metre sprint to immigration with some boys chasing the Landcruiser to be the first to offer us currency exchange. The most agressive yet. and they are normally con-artists. I make sure I count and re-count what they give me after I have checked the exchange rate I saved on the laptop a few weeks ago! If one of them misses out, he tries to get us to exchange some dollars which gets us a better rate. Luckily no visas needed again. so we were away after I loaded the new gps map for Malawi onto the handheld.

Half decent roads in Malawi, so we were at Chitimba camp quickly. Another great spot by Lake Malawi. We were trying to get to a recommended camp called Kande Beach camp in Chintheche but didn’t want to overdo the driving today.

The rains have passed and we are back in the 30’c as soon as we dropped down to Lake Malawi.

16/04/2010Mbeya – (Utengule Coffee Lodge) – Lie-in after yesterday. Not quite. We got the Landcruiser to the Highland garage early to have the engine oil changed after we asked the manager at the lodge where they took theirs to get serviced. We also had them change a few filters and the back brake pads. Always slightly worrying when you have to lend them your own tools to do the job, but we watched them like hawks after previous experiences on this trip! They were good and we were done in a few hours.

We wanted to get back to enjoy the lodge and its tennis court. We got in a game with Archie, the assistant manager from Zimbabwe, who joined us with his wife and daughter. He wanted to learn the rules of tennis, so we went through a game with him. His daughter was the ball girl, but ended up running around finding the balls and keeping them to herself! The racket I’ve had packed away on top of the Landcruiser fianally got to see the light of day.

Bun got her coffee ice-cream which is made with the beans from the coffee farm. It was very good. It turned out to be a really nice place to stay, with large grounds and great views of the distant hills. Even if you camp, you can enjoy the swimming pool and the squash and tennis courts.

15/04/2010Route taken – Hippo camp/Katavi National Park, Sumbawanga, Tunduma, Mbeya (Utengule Coffee Lodge) – Monster drive today. Left the hippo camp at 9:30 and didn’t arrive in Mbeya till gone 9 at night. Bun woke early after all the hippo noises! We covered just over 200 miles, all off road, only stopping for lunch at Gloria’s Hotel in Sumbawanga that had been recommended to us by a helpfull women in the pharmacy where we had parked in town. Spotlessly clean,we knew the chicken, rice and sauce would be a winner. I slightly overdid it when I ordered African tea and a cake at the end!

Katavi National Park didn’t offer us any surprises. It’s a classic dry season park and very hard to see game after the rains. We did see some Impala, a small slender antelope that has black and white stripes runnig down it’s rump and tail. Our first sighting, even though it’s one of the most common antelope in Tanzanian parks. The road, if you could call it that, was better than the rest of the journey, so we made good time going through the park, stopping to take the odd photo.

The last two hours were covered in the dark until we hit the tarmac in Tunduma. It was lively and noisy after two days of being away from it. It is the main crossing from Tanzania to Zambia. We could have wild camped before then, but we wanted to get this route over and done with. Three days were enough! Realising that the Cairo to Cape is tarmaced almost all the way, we wanted to find the routes in east Africa that take us away from the main overland circuit for a few days. A bit like the Turkana route in Kenya.

We covered the last section of the Tam-Zam highway to Mbeya and arrived at the Utengule Coffee Lodge where we camped.

14/04/2010Route taken – Kigoma, Uvinza, Mpanda, Katavi National park (Katavi hippo garden hotel). Right, make sure everything is strapped down and we are ready to go.  A route not massively travelled on the overland route. It’s a good route south, following some isolated parts of Tanzania, possibly getting in two fantastic National parks if you have the time. One of them, Mahale National park has been described as one of the most beautiful parks in Africa and a great place to go chimpanzee trekking. You can only really get to it by ferry from Kigoma or by flying in. Our aim was to get through this route with our vehicle in one piece!

Two days were needed to get from Kigoma to Mbeya. We drove all day and at the end of it, felt like we still had it all to do the next day. The scenery was amazing. We only passed a few vehicles all day as we followed a track that was the main route that runs parallel to the lake. The lake was a distance off to our right and we didn’t see it again all day. There were potholes everywhere but luckily no rain. There are many rivers working their way into Lake Tanganyika which would have been awfull if it had rained heavily. Taking in turns to drive we made it to Mpanda and stopped at a shack for sweet tea. Bun found a half decent place to stay for the night which was just outside the main gate to the Katavi National Park. We knew we would be allowed to drive through the park the next day as the road runs right through it.

When we got to the hippo camp, we were excited to see a family of hippos bathing in the river opposite where we camped. In true hippo fashion they didn’t play games and submerged themselves in the water most of the time, only to open their mouths every now and again. The camp made a fire after dark, we guessed to keep the hippos from bothering us in the night. End of a long day so we got a early night after there was a swarm of flies near where we camped. Before we knew it there were hundreds of them all swarming to the light attatched to the tree. They all instatly dropped dead after a while! Another natural occurance I couldn’t explain. In the morning there were the remains of eggs left attached to the Landcruiser next to the bodies of the flies

12/04/2010 & 13/04/2010Route taken – Ngara, Nyakanazi, Kakonko, Kibondo, Kasulu, Kigoma. We got away from the guest house early. Not one to hang around at. Still a little unsure whether to go via Lake Tanganyika or to go the easy and longer route to Southern Tanzania via Tabora. It wasn’t untill we got to Kakonka, along the Kigoma road, that we stopped and asked a policeman at a road block which was the best route to take. He reassured us that the Lake Tanganyika route was safe but the road was in a terrible state. I was with them for a while chatting and making sure there was enough fuel stops along the first stretch as we were running low. We had heard through Dave the Canadaian, of one other group going this way. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but information had been hard to come by about this route.

We got some snacks at a cafe in Kibondo and enough fuel to get us to Kigoma. Bun drove this stretch which took us most of the day to cover. We passed a giant Coca-Cola truck heading to Kigoma which took some passing on the bumpy road as it was so long. It often takes a while seeing through the dust it churns up in front of you, to know when to make the right move! When we got to Kigoma we were rewarded with a great spot by the lake at Jakobsen’s beach and guest house. We were given a spot by the lake and had a swim before it got dark.

Kigoma is only 4kms from the historic port of Ujiji, famous for the meeting between David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley. It took two years for Stanley to greet Livingstone with the words “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” when they met at the port in Ujiji. We ventured down over to Ujiji the day after we arrived in Kigoma to have a look but only came away with an ice lolly from a man on a bicycle who was producing them from the cool box on the back of his bike. We sampled it, then decided against it, only to gave it to a kid who was more than happy to finish it of!

On Tuesday we took it easy and made sure we had what we needed for the two days we expected to be on the Tanganyika route. Apart from Ujiji, there isn’t much to see in Kigoma aside from German built railway station, which we passed several times zipping round the roundabout at the bottom of town.

Kigoma is pretty isolated. It has a busy port on the east side of the lake. During the 90’s when there was trouble in Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda it became a main base for the UN and aid organisations involved in a number of refugee camps in the area. The refugees retuned home but the white Landcruisers belonging to all these organisations remained. We did see numerous signs to refugee camps on our way into Kigoma.

We finished the day with another swim and a BBQ after we had bought some charcoal from a woman on the main road before we turn off to the camp. I didn’t want to disturb her as she was washing her son in a large tray of water. He looked cramped inside that tray as he was being washed in front of everyone passing. No privacy in Africa! Bun got told off for taking photos of the drying fish on the roadside as I was buying charcoal! The tiny fish carpet the ground, creating shiny patches of silver as they dry in the sun.

11/04/2010 – Route taken – Kigali, Ntarama, Nyamata, Kibongo, Rusomo (border crossing), Ngara. We left Kigali wanting to see the two genocide memorials of Nyamata and Ntarama. Both memorials are 25km’s or so south of Kigali. We saw both churches. The numbers of people killed at both churches was incredibly high. The church at Ntarama had not been touched since the bodies were removed after the massacre. The capacity here was normally 2000 people. We were told that 11,000 to 14,000 Tutsis were inside taking refuge. Only ten people survived this massacre. The clothes from the dead were left behind and displayed on benches surrounding the altar which ironically was used to display the weapons used by the Interahamwe. Blunt machetes and wooden hammers were the normal weapons used. Outside there were three mass graves where skulls and bones were displayed on shelfs. At the first church Nyamata, once inside you could see how the Interahamwe (milita group, who were responsible for the killings) bombarded their way in using grenades to gain entry to get at the tutsis who were hiding there. The last small building we saw was formerly used as a Sunday school. In here children and babies were hiding. Against the mud walls were blood stains where the milita had thrown babies against the wall.

After we made our way to the Tanzanian border at Rusomo after the memorials. It was early enough for us to cross and find somewhere to camp for the night once we re-entered Tanzania.

There was a route to Kibungo from the last church we saw at Nyamata. We got the border in good time and was greeted by some olive baboons who proceeded to fight each other. We left them to it and went to immigration. They were still lingering around and checking us out when we came out. There eyes slightly shaded by their immaculate fringes that gives them a menacing look. There is a bridge over the river at Rusomo falls that links Rwanda and Tanzania. We had watched the hills flatten out as we gradually left Rwanda. No more switchbacks! Rwanda hit us hard and fast. We were only there seven days but it left us with a strong impression.

On the Tanzanian side of the border after we had stopped on the bridge and got a photo of the falls as they rushed underneath the bridge. Rusomo is where the bodies form Rwanda ended up during the genocide. The boides were dumped by the Interahamwe upstream in their attempt to send the Tutsis back to Ethiopia, where they believed they were from.

We paid for a transit visa. We knew it would be lucky if we got through on our existing visas as Rwanda is outside of the East African Community. We said we were gonig to Malawi as quickly as we could, so they gave us fourteen days to enter and leave the country. I was fine with that and knew we only needed five days at the most. We paid $30 each instead of the normal viasa price of $50.

As it was after six, we had to ask one of the men at immigration to get the customs official from his home closeby. We had him stamp the carnet and we were off. It was dark by this time and we made the 25km journey to the nearest town, Ngara and camped in carpark of a guesthouse we found on the edge of town.