Karonga to Mbeya
Karonga to Kasumulu 58km
It was a hot and sticky night in Karonga. We got a room with A/C, but it just blew hot air all night, it was cooler outside. The breakfast we ordered the night before wasn't made, and so we set off quite late.
With a tailwind and a flat, good quality road, we span along nicely, until at about 30km in I punctured. Some boys from across the road brought a bowl of water to fix the tube, and offered us rice to eat. One of the boys was from Chinsapo, a place in Lilongwe not too far from where we lived. He was running a stationery business in Lilongwe, but visiting home in Karonga.
Within 20 minutes or so, we were back on our way, and hit the border at Songwe by 10.30. it was already very hot. We went through immigration with little fuss, just in time to beat a truck full of overlanders…a lucky break!
We had the odd experiences of adding an hour on our watches for 400 metres of travel across the timeline. We cycled off up the hill, where our poor luck continued.
We were cheated by money changers, with a slick and well-practised routine. It wasn't as if we were unaware of the scams, but the shell game was simply too fast. In only a couple of hundred metres, I sussed it and we turned back, but they were long gone. I felt fortunate to be able to earn my money in an honest way, rather than scamming. It looks like no fun!
Only a few metres later we were taken by another scam. We bought SIM cards for our phones, and in some sleight of hand, SIM cards were shuffled, and by the time we had left Kasumulu, our SIMS had been emptied of credit. It was another expensive mistake.
We found the campsite we were looking for, and it appeared to be shut. We eventually found the owner, and he told us we were welcome to stay, but no running water, electricity, or food. We set off back on our bikes to Kasumulu and adfter much searching found some stale bread, eggs, and some coke. Most of the eggs made it back, and we cooked, filtered some dirty water, and slept.
Kasumulu to Tukuyu 43km
We got up in the dark, had breakfast by headtorch, and waited for dawn. Of course the sun comes up an hour later in Tanzania. At first light, we headed out to Tukuyu.
We knew this leg had a reputation, but it was quite brutal. It started off hilly, and then just got more and more hilly. We spent most of the day in our lowest gears and spent long periods at 4kph. We were frequently overtaken by kids rushing home from school.
We arrived at Tukuyu, a lively and bustling hill town, and rolled exhausted into our accommodation.
We went out to buy food at the market and we were reminded of hill bazaars in Nepal. We enjoyed it very much and settled down for an early night as we listened to the Liverpool match on the radio.
There was a wedding somewhere outside and it had the loudest music I have ever felt. Unlike Malawi, where weddings finish at 5 o'clock or thereabouts, Tanzanians take their celebrations more seriously. It was 11 o'clock before they went home.
We were really chuffed to be able to sleep in a cool room without mosquito nets. Small luxuries!
Tukuyu to Mbeya 65km
It was with some trepidation that we set out for the final pull up on to the Tanzanian plateau. The scenery had completely changed to mountainous greenery and tea plantations, and it was a pleasantly chilly morning.
Luckily, although it was still very hilly, none of the hills were as brutal as the day before. It was cool (ish), and we slogged it out until we finally made the top of the range of hills. We were rewarded with a lovely 10km descent onto the TanZam highway.
The last few kms along the TanZam to Mbeya were a shock. It was like a video game. Everybody was speeding along, swerving and jockeying for position across all of the road; which was in terrible condition. It was nerve racking, but eventually we found our billet for the night – a place we knew from our last visit to Mbeya, 5 years ago.
We settled in up three flights of stairs with bikes and luggage, and went to find something to eat. There is no such thing as vegetarian food here, so a bizarre combination of potatoes, eggs, and rape filled the hole.
There was a television, and for the first time in years, we sat down and binge watched three movies.
We felt like we had arrived in Tanzania.
We decided to stay put for the day and try to stop the SIM card scammer from accessing our phones. We like Mbeya too.
I also needed to replace the brakes on my bike, and fix some other broken bits. A few hours work. We went to the bank, bought provisions for the next leg of the journey, and got our clothes clean.
The afternoon was spent with serious planning, as the next few days requires some care to navigate hilly sections, National Parks, and avoid animals that could eat us.
In some ways this was a much tougher day than on the bikes. All set though!