To the Rwandan border we go!

Back on the road we headed West, our next destination was crossing the Rwandan border at Rusomo. We knew it would take us at least a day and a half to get there so our aim again was to get as far as we could and then find somewhere to stay for the night, but first in our sights was the city of Mwanza a few hours away. We badly needed to do a proper grocery shop and stock up on things like water. Having left the campsite later than planned it was already hot and we’d missed the quiet traffic time. Regardless it was a pleasant journey with pretty scenery.

It was slightly frustrating we needed to get supplies as we could have otherwise skirted round the outskirts of the city. It turned out to be a pretty interesting place with houses on the hills set amongst the big round rocks that had been part of the landscape for quite some time. We’d googled a supermarket to head for so we didn’t have to mess around driving in city traffic. It turned out to be easy to find but where to park was the challenge. We did a couple of drive-bys while we figured it out.

Thankfully it turned out to be decent enough we could stock up on most of what we needed. It left us with just a few things we needed to hunt down but we had the critical things like pasta and water!

Leaving the city our route took us to a finger of Lake Victoria. A bridge is being built, due for completion in 2024. At 3.2km it will be the 4th longest bridge in Africa. It will cut the journey time down to 4 minutes. For now the route is still serviced by 2 vehicle ferries that take 35 minutes to cross the water.

The road was quiet leading up to the ferry terminal and the queue wasn’t huge when we arrived. In the mid-day heat we still had to wait quite a while as not that many vehicles fit and of course trucks and buses were also crossing as to avoid the ferry meant a huge detour. The ticket cost us NZ$5. Only drivers were supposed to stay with the vehicle with passengers getting out and waiting on a caged holding area before walking on foot to the ferry when the vehicle gets on. We debated it with the guy who took the payment at the barrier for us both to be able to stay with the vehicle. We weren’t keen on being split and the holding area looked like it was – a big cage. Also whichever of us had gone into it was going to get harassed the whole time by sellers and beggars. The barrier guy went off to the vehicle behind to ‘see what he could do’ while we debated if we had to be split which of us was going to go into the cage. We decided on Emma given she can speak some Swahili and can tell people to bugger off. In the end we were allowed to both stay with the vehicle, the barrier guy told us he hadn’t eaten since that morning looking for a bit of cash. We gave him 2,000 Shillings for his trouble (less then NZ$1.50) and he was happy with that. As we joined the queue we could see buses were allowed to keep their ‘assistants’ with them and solo adults with children were also allowed to have them stay with them.

It was a long wait in the full heat of the day, the cage blocking the slight breeze, but finally we were near the front and knew we’d get on the next ferry. The loading is very straightforward and they are well practiced in balancing the ferry with multiple queues already split by vehicle type/weight. 3 rows of vehicles fit but so tight you can’t get out of your vehicle. Hot, we realised we could enjoy the crossing by opening our front safari hatch, allowing us to stand up and enjoy the view and importantly the breeze. We also had a great view of the coffin (occupied) being carried by an open back jeep on the other side and on the front row.

The road was blissfully quiet when we disembarked, the advantage of being near the front and not having to wait for foot passengers to get in.

The next big place we passed through was the small city of Geita. Very different to other Tanzania it has gold mines and is noticeably more orderly and affluent. We looked up another supermarket to try and we mainly managed to fill out our missing supplies there.

Back on the road we determined that we’d be able to get as far as the town of Bwanga. The iOverlander app had an accomodation option ‘Pacha Lodge’ that was basic, cheap and sounded ok for a night. We found it easily enough with dusk rapidly approaching it was really our only option. A friendly excitable drunk guy showed Emma a room and assured us that it was a safe place to stay and our vehicle would be safe parked in front despite them having no secure parking area. He declared he would be the security for the night. It took a bit of jiggling the vehicle but we got it parked close to the door.

Then we had a few room issues. We know that some places on Tanzania have a policy of only a man and a woman can share a room, turned out this place did so the guy was trying to give us different rooms. After a bit of debating and lost in translation he got the agreement of the owner that we could share. We found it slightly ironic given the owner was a woman who over the course of the evening we watched getting more than quite friendly with 2 different guys. The next issue was as a purely functional thing we realised that all the room doors didn’t have door knobs so instead were closed from the outside by a bolt. Highly unlikely to happen but it meant that if someone wanted to, even just for a laugh or through being drunk, they could lock us in and like everywhere in Africa our windows had bars on them. This didn’t make us comfortable at all but we really had no other options at this point as it was going dark, so we assessed what we would do. The bottom panel was quite flimsy and we decided we could easily kick it out if we needed to. Just for reassurance we brought something in out of the vehicle we could whack it with!

Our room was small and hot. The bed had the all important mosquito net and the bedding looked clean but we used our camping sheets anyway. The ensuite squat toilet had a bucket full of water to wash with. Wasn’t overly pleasant washing with a toilet but it got the day’s sweat and dust off us.

Not wanting to sit in our room and we decided to make the most of it not yet having gone dark and sit at one of the tables outside. We were soon joined by a couple of guys as it turned out our accomodation also ran a small bar out of a side window. They were happy drunk and friendly as is typical of Tanzanians, and they spoke good English. As the evening wore on other guys joined us, not all drinking, just curious and wanting to engage. It was a great way to pass the time until bedtime. They couldn’t get their heads around the purpose of where we planned to go or that we only have very loose plans to go clockwise round the lake. It was a great reminder that to travel with no purpose is both a luxury and a privilege.

Before we went to bed a tall older guy arrived. He announced in Swahili that he was our guard, that he didn’t sleep or drink and would look after us and the vehicle and that he cost 2,000 Shillings (less than NZ$1.50). We said great, nice to meet you, here’s your money!

Thankfully the bar closed about 10pm and we slept pretty good but woke very early when we’d heated our room up. We waited for it get light enough to leave. The sun seemed to rise later than normal as we impatiently waited.

As we started to load our stuff into the vehicle our guard got his things together and left. We passed him as we were leaving the place, he clearly lived nearby as he was on his bike loaded with his water containers off to the well, as is the morning ritual of most Africans.

North West Tanzania is very pretty and feels quite different. Even the cattle are different, they change from hot weather cattle with the typical humps to a breed with the biggest horns we’ve ever seen.

As we got closer to the border, truck traffic got heavier. We decided to pull over and boil up a kettle for a coffee break about 50km away. We found the perfect spot off the main road near a village track and caused great bemusement for those who passed us on bikes, motorbikes and on foot. Everyone was super friendly when we spoke to them, even if one of the cattle herding kids tried his luck for some money. Tanzanian kids and adult beggars ask for money often do it slightly shyly just trying their luck and in Tanzanian culture people tell you what you want to hear (which is why you don’t ask them for directions if you get lost) so a short sharp ‘no’ in Swahili would usually do the trick as they’re not used to it.

There was no real border town as such as we got closer to the Rusomo crossing. Just an increasing number of truck pull offs and trucks broken down or being fixed or washed.

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