Any long journey ends up being divided in sections. After reaching the southern limit of Tanzania on the Indian Ocean, our next aim is to rejoin the Great Rift Valley. On a map it is a long straightish line heading into the setting sun, a dull crossing you might wonder. Well, prepare to think again!

Leaving our luxurious room at Luwa Evergreen Hotel—thank you!—in Mtwara, where the last post was published from, it’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that we contemplate exiting the suffocating coastal heat and its south seasonal wind. West of here is the rural Makonde Plateau that rises to 900 metres above sea level and we are ready for it! Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Bicycles at work are omnipresent in Tanzania. On the wide and paved road out of Mtwara, riders balance 3, 4, 5 or 6 bags of wood charcoal—depending on their experience and skills, I guess—on the rear wheel. It’s a joyous parade of men speeding downhill to deliver the cooking fuel to the urban area. “Baiskeli, yes!”, we shout raising our thumbs. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Grass straws on baiskeli. This elevator of a road, with lightweight traffic and wide shoulders, lulls the rider into a serene and introspective state only disrupted by hunger pangs! Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

In exchange for 2,000 shillings (0.75 usd) we receive a delicious lunch of rice (wali), beans (maharage), spinach (mchicha) and goat soup (supu) at a roadside mama lishe. These women entrepreneur operate basic “restaurants” in almost every village, just spot the silver pots on charcoal fires, the chinese thermos and plastic tubs. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

About 55 kilometres after Mtwara, a blue BMW car with hazard lights blinking is stopped in the opposite lane from where I ride. Its driver is circling around the vehicule seemingly inspecting for damages. “Are you ok?”, I ask. I receive a thumbs up but his face remains serious. A short distance later my front wheel drops from the pavement onto a mixture of dirt and sand. Washboards and potholes are better negociated on a mountain bike then in a sedan car. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

The unofficial national dish of Tanzania: chipsi mayai! The street food is a heavy potato fries omelette served in large towns and remote villages, and always prepared by young men. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Enjoying a chipsi mayai for lunch in this part of the Makonde Plateau our presence garners some attention. Children are still on a month-long break from school and we provide a sort of entertainment. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

I see an East Asian looking man in the passenger seat of a Land Cruiser passing us by on the dusty road and I think to myself “could this mean road construction?” Chinese companies have been in Africa for 25 years developping telecommunications systems, investing in petrol and mines and building roads—we’ve cycled on chinese built roads since Sudan! The answer does not take long to come as excavators, graders, bulldozers, loading trucks and road rollers smoke, grind, squeal by us all afternoon!

That night in Tandahimba, as we are living the dream of sitting at the Galaxy Pub, freshly showered, our thighs marinating in Voltaren, our calves in aloes vera gel, drinking a cold Kilimanjaro lager waiting for a grilled half chicken and two plates of fries while watching a Euro 2024 game, we receive an Instagram direct message. It is a 4 seconds video, filmed from a vehicle, of our bikes parked at the chipsi mayai stand earlier that day and it is captioned “Spotted in Nanyamba” with a smiley emoji! How? How do you know our names? What kind of witchcraft is this? Apparently we have written online enough about cycling in Tanzania that a simple Google search can lead a stranger to this blog and to our Instagram! How communications have changed since post cards, fax machines, pay phones, collect calls, poste restante and wire transfers! Yes, we’re old, we know…

In Newala, at the southwestern end of the Makonde Plateau, some physical remnants of the German colonization of Tanganyika (1885 to 1918). Evidently, the old boma is not on any tourist map and not a shilling will be spent—rightly so—upkeeping it! Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

From the plateau rim, views over the Ruvuma River and Mozambique. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

After a steep drop from the Makonde Plateau more road works. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

A new landscape of rock hills is calling ahead! Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

The south-west corner of Tanzania holds numerous cashew nut farms, large and small. The evergreen cashew tree is grown for its shell-encased seed that develops at the end of the cashew apples. The cash crop has been cultivated here since the 1950s. We’ve been riding on the “cashew trail”. Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Stunning inselbergs dot the arid plains after the bustling town of Masasi. We are back on National Road T6! Mtwara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Close to the main coastal road running water seemed to be the norm, but on this remote bush highway it’s back to water hauling with your buddies! Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Fixing the second flat tire since Dar es Salaam. I find the puncture, Pierre does everything else! Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Arriving in the mining town of Tunduru—sapphires, rubies, alexandrite and tanzanite are mined here—one afternoon, after a rough night spent in a roadside brothel and too many plates of sandy rice, we decide to stay an extra night in the district capital and rest and recuperate. Town life is exciting. Pierre goes on a hunt for canned fish—a worldwide staple—and comes back empty-handed. Ripe avocadoes, papayas and watermelons are sold at the market. Tunduru Raha serves a chicken thigh with plantain, cabbage and potatoes with a fragrant broth that brings tears to my eyes. And drunk men brawl by the pool table!

Cozy night watching the Euro 2024 quarter finals at the pub. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.
At Tunduru Raha expert chapati making at the crack of dawn. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

With the Tanzanian Nyerere National Park to the north and the Niassa Reserve of Mozambique just south of us a couple of Wildlife Corridors have been created. Mostly this would help elephants who need a huge territory to feed and reproduce themselves but we saw gangs of baboons enjoying the peaceful sector also. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

With no human intrusion tolerated, the farmland gives way to the natural forest, for a breathtaking minute. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Time to inform ourselves on how to behave to stay safe during an elephant encounter. If you are far enough be quiet and let them go by and if you are too close just run! Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Looking at Google map it is clear we need to spend the night in Kilimasera, a small settlement between two wildlife corridors, if we want access to water and a safe place to camp away from elephants, hyenas or lions. The first young men we meet in Kilimasera call for Joseph to open a classroom at the elementary school for us. Technically the classroom is open since the door hinges don’t allow for it to close, but you know what I mean. We have our camping gear and lots of food, all we need is a few litres of water to cook our diner. “Water will come”, says Joseph. Almost two hours later, the soccer game next door is finished, people have gone home and the evening is descending on Kilimasera…and we are waiting. Possessed by thirst Pierre heads to the village kiosk in hope of finding a warm lager…where he finds Joseph! The teacher is drinking beer and asks for a couple more from Pierre. “Water will come!”, he reiterates.

The next morning water has not come! Luckily we had filtered water to cook dinner and breakfast, but now we have none. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.
The ballad of the Tanzanian Lodges! To ease into a long African journey, when you don’t feel quite bold enough yet to camp behind gaz stations or under cell towers, not secure enough to free camp amongst the wild beasts of the continent, if you feel lazy about charging your electronics with your brand new solar panel and would rather plug into a wall socket or if you haven’t become a road cockroach that showers just every five days yet, there is the Tanzanian Lodge for you! It comes in all shapes and sizes, and starts at 10,000 shillings (3.75 usd)! Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Through the second Wildlife Corridor, National Road T6 is following a 1,000 metre high ridge. It’s 9:00 in the morning and a heavenly 17 degrees Celsius. Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Ruvuma Region is rich in coal and exports most of it to African countries, Asia and, since the invasion of Ukraine, to some European nations keen to step away from Russian natural gas. Most of the coal is shipped from the port in Mtwara which means hundreds of coal carrying trucks have been our road buddies on road T6. Looking forward to shake off these loud and smelly roadmates in Songea! Ruvuma Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

On the day we ride into Songea, a metropolis compared to the sleepy towns we’ve crossed coming 1,400 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, food is elusive and we are fueled only by fruits, soda and fried dough, plus the road keeps dipping to valleys and climbing to hilltops, our bike computers indicate we have climbed 1,000 metres since morning. The entrance into town turns a rough day into one to forget with slippery pavement, deep concrete ditches and the same coal trucks coming in hot. The third flat tire of this trip happens as we are about to finish a steep climb to the main intersection. Luckily, its a slow leak. We pump, we go. Hotels are too expensive or full, we go around for an hour looking for one. We find a spot on the outskirt of town, we move in, remove our sweaty shorts, put our pants on, walk back out, stop the first motorbike that comes by and hop on. Soon we are being served a cold Kilimanjaro by Erika.

“A beer for you, a beer for me?”, she asks.

“You want a beer”, Pierre verifies.

“Yes, a Serengeti Lemon”, she affirms

“Alright dada. Let’s celebrate!”, I approve.

Erika comes back with her beer, she uncaps it, sits down at our table and our three bottles clink together. Cheers!

Tanzania's South Coast: ready or not! (Mtwara, Tanzania - KM 21,625)

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