In December-January 2014/2015 we were testing a route that goes from Dar es Salaam via Iringa to Ruaha National Park and further via Mbeya to Chitimba in Malawi. Through the route we posted updates on Facebook. Full story published now here. Join the journey!
First day – long but scenic drive to reach the Iringa town. Watching from the window how the edges of the city change into green trees and fields the feeling of being on a journey starts to really enter one’s mind. Towns and villages, people and their businesses, ladies selling vegetables and fruits, men on their bicycles and motorbikes transporting goods and people, having drinks and playing pool in small bars. We stock up the groceries and buy tomatoes, onions and a cabbage, and some roasted maize to eat in the car. It’s a season for pineapples and mangoes.
After Morogoro, when driving through the Mikumi National Park we see giraffes, elephants, zebras and baboons right next to the road. At the same time the car starts to have funny sounds and after stopping for lunch in Mikumi town we decide to find a mechanic to check it for safety reasons.
Fixing the car delays us a bit, but in a local restaurant we meet an old woman that makes our day. She is a woman with wisdom in her eyes and signs of physical labor in her body. She shows us her hands and says that “with these hands I have been working on the fields and now I deserve to have a drink.” And she sits down and orders a Fanta.
The climb towards Iringa is quite steep as we are surrounded by mountains. It is getting dark and the last kilometers we drive slowly to arrive safe and sound. But we hear the Ruaha River and see the stars falling close. It will be exciting to see the water and forest on our way back.
Day two – meeting with two men, our camp host Augustino and chief Mkwawa. The morning sun wakes us up before eight, and after breakfast Augustino, the owner of Ruaha Baobab Camp and our host for the next few days is already waiting for us. Together we drive to the Iringa market to buy vegetables, and a whole chicken from a small nearby supermarket.
The main attraction for the day is the local museum established to disseminate information about chief Mkwawa who fought against the Germans in the late 19th century. Augustino leads us to the museum where a local guide tells us the story of the great chief. The museum is the preserver of the scull of Mkwawa which was kept long in Germany.
Chief Mkwawa’s grandson Adam Sapi returned the scull to Tanzania and Iringa in 1950’s. Adam Sapi was the first Speaker of the National Assembly of the independent Tanzania. He has also been the longest sitting Speaker of the parliament holding the position until 1994 apart from the period of 1973–1975.
The route towards the Baobab Camp goes along a red sand road. We see cows and Maasai herder boys; the mountains seem to twist themselves around us while the passing villages and the surroundings create a feeling of timeless. There’s no rush. We chat and laugh. We also learn why the dogs are running after the cars barking and why the goats instead run away when they see cars;)
Day three – village tour, checking out a local farm and moments around the evening fire. Long and peaceful morning coffee feels heavenly after the travelling days. Close to the fire place we see dikdik quickly running away.
After the breakfast Augustino takes us for a walk in the surrounding bush. Inside the Baobab Camp there’s an elephant route, the elephants usually walk along the same path for generations. We taste the wild plums that taste a bit like marzipan. Farayi tells about the plants, trees and birds. We see for an example a paradise fly catcher, variable sun birds, a crested eagle, and a purple roller.
On the afternoon we drop by to Augustino’s friend’s farm where he keeps poultry and pigs. We also pass to greet the tour guide students that do their practical training period in the village. On the evening the chicken that was marinated on the morning is roasted on the fire. There’s time just to relax by the fire, tell stories and listen to the sounds of nature.
Day four – Ruaha National Park. At 7 am we are at the gate leading to the largest national park in Tanzania. During our 10 hour day we see several animals, especially elephants and giraffes. Most of the time we are alone in the bush, the burr of safari vehicles rarely brake the sounds of nature. Additionally alternating terrain and landscapes offer interesting viewing.
Day five – chilling in the camp site, preparing the farewell dinner. The last day in the Baobab Camp goes while reading and preparing the coming year for Inzwa guiding activities. In the afternoon we start preparing dinner which includes pumpkin and meat roasted on the fire, sauce made of tomatoes and capsicum, tomato-cucumber-onion salad, potatoes, and fruits for the desert.
Days six and seven – to Mbeya and crossing the border to Malawi. It’s dawn when we start driving towards Iringa. The village is still quiet. From Iringa the journey continues to Mbeya where we arrive at dark. Christmas has arrive as at the reception we are greeted by Rudolph the Reindeer, or in this case a plastic impala covered with Christmas lights:)
The border-crossing day starts by purchasing reflector stickers for the car required by the Malawian law. Closer to the border we stop to place them on the car, and also buy some roasted maize from the merry salesmen. Meandering road climbs into the mountains. There are possibly ten different shades of green.
Crossing the border takes its time, but we have prepared to wait. Very clever young vendor sells cold water in a very good price. Only a bit more than 120 kilometers left to our destination Chitimba, which is located by the Lake Malawi. On our way we shortly stop in Karonga. The celebration for Christmas Day is under its way: Afro-Pop is filling the air and everyone seems to be out in town:)
Day Eight – Lake Malawi and the mountain views. This morning consists of four ingredients: coffee, pancakes, syrup, and a direct view to Lake Malawi. If the view could speak it would tell us to take time, to enjoy the sun and to relax.
On the afternoon we drive along M1 towards the South. Very soon the road becomes steep and meandering. In less than half an hour we have climbed to a point where an amazing view spreads out over the shoreline and open water. According to the map we are about 600 meters above the sea level.
Day nine – hiking to the past. There it is, a sign that points to the narrow and rocky dirt road disappearing into the woods. It is possible to drive to Livingstonia, a small town established by the missionaries of the Scotland's Free Church in 1900th century, but we have decided to hike with Innocent, one of the local hiking guides.
The route is about 11 kilometers one way and we have already passed the easy part as climbing a steep shortcut along the mountainside. Many times we are bypassed by many locals from Livingstonia who are on their way to Chitimba or further. Pots, tools, sacks among other items are swaying above the heads. I turn to admire the lightness of steps and the speed of the locals when they find their way down along the steep paths.
The hike is physically quite challenging but definitely rewarding. The higher we get, the more impressive are the views. On our way we stop to admire a waterfall, the narrow and clear water spout rushing down against the green mountainside. The rest of the hike we walk along the road. We walk by a woman working on the field, and a small kiosk playing pop, and a man dancing.
When we arrive to Livingstonia, the sight is like straight from the past, from Scotland’s county side. It is quiet. The David Gordon Memorial Hospital, Technical College and the University, concentrating on teachers training, form the center of Livingstonia among the church built by the missionaries. The cafeteria serves tea, coffee and scones.
Day ten – Chilling by the beach. After the day's hike to Livingstonia our muscles are not excactly asking for more exercise. It is our last day before turning back towards Tanzania and Dar es Salaam, and we decide to have a well-deserved lazy day. In the afternoon we have a walk to the village and dropp in to a local restaurant. Many days has gone by since the last rice and beans portion on our plates, but this one is definately special. Made with pride and care.
Days eleven, twelve and thirteen – Back to Dar es Salaam. Sun has barely risen when the car is already packed. Time to turn around and head back to Tanzania. This time we are able to see the mountains in a daylight when following the road from Mbeya to Iringa. In Iringa we overnight in one of our favorite places, Neema's Guest House run by disabled people. Neema has also a lovely giftshop selling hand-made products. We reach the lights of Dar es Salaam's in the evening of the thirteenth traveling day. Tired but happy.