Motorbike trip – Tanzania to South Africa

1 Tanzania

When I got back to Tanzania my dad told me he was going on a motorbike trip from Tanzania to South Africa…and he invited me to go with him! Of course I said YES and I’m so glad I did because it was such an adventure. We started out in Tanga, on the northern Tanzanian coast, and gradually made our way west and south into Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa. We did around 5500 km, stayed in some nice places, stayed in some godawful places, had one minor accident and on one of our last days I got shot at (!).

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The first of many tea stops

We set off around midday – Morogoro was our first destination. I was fresh and new and stayed on the bike for about 3 hours before having to get off because my bum was sore. This was probably a record for the whole trip – I had to get off every 60-70 mins to stretch because my ass was literally in pain. That aside, it was wonderful driving through Tanzania. It’s interesting how quickly it changes from being obviously Muslim around the coastal areas to being markedly Christian inland. One of the first things I saw on arrival in Morogoro was a small gathering of nuns praying over some crops they had just planted. We stayed at a friend’s house for the first night, she cooked us a roast chicken supper which was magnificent. My first day of biking had left me tired and hungry. That night I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to a step, apparently my Dad tripped on the step and fell onto my mattress and I didn’t even bat an eyelid.

Entering Morogoro:

Leaving rainy Morogoro

We left Morogoro at sparrows (despite having to turn around once to retrieve a forgotten phone and tooth brush) and continued our journey southwards to Mbeya.

We went through Makumi, a national park, and saw plenty of game – buffalo, zebra, impala, wildebeest, eland, hartebeest, warthogs and even some vultures on a dead animal. After that we went down to the Ruaha basin.

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The landscape near Makumi national park

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There were hundreds of baobabs in the valley, with onion farms and people selling their crops on the road side.

People also sold handmade baskets and charcoal. Unfortunately a majority of people in Tanzania rely on charcoal for their daily cooking and water sanitation needs. The result has been extreme deforestation and desertification, compounded by overgrazing by masai cattle. Not evident in these pictures but very obvious in other parts of the country. 

Getting out of the Ruaha valley we climbed up a winding road with only two lanes and loads of slow-moving trucks, quite a few broken-down vehicles on the side of the road. We then got onto the Iringa plateau and the fuel started running low but – no problem – said my Dad, we should last another 50 km. No. We were stranded in between some little villages about 15 km from Iringa. Luckily Tanzania is full of Chinese bikes (pikipiki in Swahili) so people fill water bottles up and sell fuel out of them from their homes. A lady came past (on the back of a pikipiki) and sold us some fuel. Everyone was really helpful; I think we had over 50 spectators at one point.

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Filling the bike up

The Swahili word for kebab is mishkaki – travelling with more than 2 people on a bike (a common thing) is called mishkaki style. The second pic is from here.

We eventually got to Mbeya, after dodging numerous electrical storms. We found the old Mbeya hotel to stay. It was full of cyclists going from Cairo to Cape Town which was really interesting (they’d come from Egypt into Sudan, then flew to Uganda – usually the cycle through Ethiopia but with the state of emergency situation they had to skip it this year, then into Kenya and Tanzania).

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Mbeya

2 Malawi

Early the next morning we headed south towards Malawi, through the tea plantations to the border. Crossing into Malawi was easy, despite having to pay a hefty visa fee of $75.

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We followed the lake shore down to the Livingston mountains and onto Mzuzu where we found some Malawian currency. We headed east back down to the lake to a resort town called Inkhata bay. It was very backpacker-ish – really nice vibe but a bit tatty. We needed to stay somewhere that we could see the bike easily so we settled into a hotel on the roadside with a very active bar. We went to sleep with the loud sound of Malawian tunes in our ears, followed by a huge rain storm.

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After a delicious Malawian breakfast, we travelled south towards Monkey bay, which is one of Malawi’s most acclaimed attractions. Unfortunately for us, we missed it. It had been raining and the road was extremely muddy and covered with puddles so we decided to look for a hotel closer to the tar road, still in Monkey Bay but not the main part. It was at this point that we entered Venice Beach – a camp site which sat right on the beach. I had a quick look around while my Dad waited on the bike then reported to him that yes, it was fine and we should stay there. What a mistake. I thought it was bad but not the worst place I’ve ever stayed in…my Dad was miserable about it! This feels like a prison! It smells like bat shit in here! The door doesn’t close! There’s no electricity! Etc. Etc. I admit it was bad but it was only one night. After we had dropped our stuff off in the room – which didn’t close – we trekked to the veranda area, all our valuables in tow. The hotel was full because the president lives nearby and was having some kind of rally. We saw evidence of this in that there were a few cars with flags and pictures of the president on the sides but I have no idea where the people were. They certainly didn’t sleep or eat at Venice beach. We were literally the only two people there. There wasn’t a proper restaurant but I ordered chips, which someone went to collect from the village, and my dad ordered chicken, which they killed near where we were sitting. The showers were in a long room with hundreds of shower heads in wooden enclaves There was no electricity so it was pretty precarious trying to find our way in and out.

These pics are of the lake:

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Around half an hour after we’d left Venice Beach we saw a signpost for a ‘luxury hotel and spa’ – which of course my Dad turned into straight away. We got there and it was like a parallel universe. Think green grass that rolled onto the lake’s edge, swimming pools, white table cloths, silverware, full English breakfasts. We sat down to have the most amazing breakfast ever. On our way out I spoke to the hotel manager who was a really interesting guy, a Malawian, he had won a scholarship to study hospitality in Switzerland and had worked all over the world and finally came back to Malawi a couple of years ago.

Lake-Malawi-Borders-Map

Interestingly there is a dispute between Tanzania and Malawi over the national boundaries on the lake. Lake Malawi spills into three countries – Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. In the case of Mozambique/Malawi the border falls at the centre line of the lake whereas the Tanzania/Malawi border falls along the shoreline – so Tanzania has no claim to the lake, which is what they’re currently refuting. Tanzania calls the lake ‘Lake Nyasa’ and Malawi calls it ‘Lake Malawi’.

From Monkey Bay we went to the old capital city of Blantyre. A beautiful place at the foot of some majestic looking mountains. Considering our ‘night in hell’ (not my words) at Venice beach the previous day we stayed in a very nice hotel.

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Typical Malawian roadside village
3 Mozambique
This was a takeaway shop which is where we ate the first of many cheese and egg burgers in Mozambique. They were d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s.

Not far from Blantyre we entered Mozambique, which I was excited about because I’d never been there before. The visa process was a palaver – they wanted us to return to Blantyre to get one, despite the embassy having told us we could get one at the border post. After a lot of chatting they finally agreed to do the visa there, but we had to wait for the guy who could do it to come back from lunch (it was 10.30 a.m.). We sat around for quite a while and eventually he came around the corner jangling his keys and did the visa. This delayed us and we stayed the night in a town called Tete, the main crossing on the Zambezi river. From there we drove southwards, passing the turnoff to Zimbabwe. We paralleled the Zimbabwe border down to Chimoyo, passing through some beautiful agricultural lands dispersed with huge rock mountains. We also crossed the Mazoe and Luenya rivers. We were close to a town called Mtoko in Zimbabwe, where my Dad grew up – he went to school in Mutare, close by. The Luenya river goes through the farm he grew up on.

We stopped and stayed for the night at an unremarkable town called Inchope where we turned south towards Maputo and South Africa. We continued on to Vilanculos which was very cool. We stayed in a family owned lodge on the beach called Dolphin Dhow – I really liked it. We ate a massive plate of prawns and chips, cooked for us by the chef outside on the veranda. There were no other guests but I can imagine it gets pretty busy during peak season. We went for a walk on the beach which was nice, my dad was seemingly only interested in the types of anchors they use in Mozambique and the way the boats were tied in relation to the wind direction. We then went to a beach bar which had the most adorable little puppy running around, it broke my heart to leave it behind. There were also some suspect looking men who were definitely out for a good time trying to charm the bar maids. One of them stood on the wall and started rolling his shirt up flexing his muscles while his mate took pictures. It was at that moment that a wave came up from behind and completely drenched him top to toe.

We left Vilanculos and proceeded to Inhambane, which is where we had a minor accident. The roads were very sandy and the bike fell over in deep sand – nothing too serious but it did cause a few problems with a sore foot over the next few days. The bike basically fell onto us and my Dad’s foot got trapped under the pannier. We ended up staying in XaiXai, a weird government-type resort. It was near the beach but not really on the beach. After that we crossed the Limpopo river to Bilene, where we stayed in an amazing self-catering place overlooking a huge lagoon. I pretty much swam from the moment we arrived to the moment we left.

4 South Africa

Our trip was, sadly drawing to a close as we edged closer and closer to the South African border. We went into Mpumalanga and stayed in a town called Nelspruit. It all felt very different to what we’d been used to for the last few weeks. Nelspruit is the land of shopping malls – literally one.after.the.other.non.stop. We then went to a little town called Piet Retief, along the way there were signs saying to not stop for safety reasons. It’s funny that South Africans are often too scared to go to the rest of Africa considering the conditions they live in – constantly being told to lock the door, activate the alarm, drive through red traffic lights at night for fear of hijacking, etc. We stayed with my Dad’s cousin and his wife in Ladysmith for a few days and then, sadly, the trip was over!

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First stop in South Africa, near the Mozambique border. There are women sitting outside who will change Mozambican money to Rands.

Not for my Dad though, he was off to meet my Mum and they were going on a cruise to celebrate their 30th Wedding anniversary. I took a bus to Margate to see my Grandmother and later to the airport, which is when I got shot at. They were having bus strikes in South Africa at the time but the bus I was in was the only company that had chosen to run. Because of that – the strikers decided to shoot at it. We had to wait at Pietermaritzburg police station for a police escort before continuing to the airport (it was a night bus). People were picked up and dropped off in isolated places like empty parking lots and petrol stations and they used backroads rather than the usual route. At one stage (about 3 AM) we stopped at what looked like a disused petrol station for around 30 minutes. Two small black cars drove up, the driver spoke to them in Zulu, they drove off and we continued.

And now I’m back in London. And it’s raining 🙂

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