Friday, October 03, 2008

Transit through Tanzania and Burundi

The whole internet thing is giving me such a headache these days. If we aren't in some village with no internet, we roll into town just as the power cuts out or there is no network connection. It's not that I'm trying to avoid you guys....
From Marangu, we convinced Kees to take us to Burundi and Rwanda which meant a very long transit through the middle of Tanzania on routes rarely taken by tourists. We enjoyed the ride and the scenery but we only made about 250km a day and it wasn't until the 5th day that we got to Burundi. The road in some places had been improved but for a lot of the time was dirt and slow.
I have one overriding complaint about Tanzania. They have the worst signage and most ridiculous road system ever. As the navigator I was continually embarrassed by getting us turned around all the time because the main highway would be a wide dirt road, enter a village not on my map, not deviate at all nor shrink in size, and a little while later we'd discover that we were now on what was listed as a little dirt track on my map heading the wrong direction. Somewhere in the little village was a turn off onto a narrow lane, unsignposted, that would've kept us going in the right direction. And this seemed to happen continuously, for days on end. In fact, the maps we were using weren't even accurate so I was really in trouble. Anyway, it makes for some sort of an adventure because we bush camped every other day, and drove through some very isolated villages out in the middle of nowhere. Forget the touristy Maasai village stuff, we ran into a bunch of guys heading out with their spears to do whatever manly thing they do and Kees got them to start a chant and dance for us on the side of the road, until the chief got all mad about something and ran them off. We took tons of pictures, which we now refer to as "soul stealing" and had to pick up a few villagers to guide us through the really tricky parts when we were "locationally challenged". Still, it's nice to see some of the more remote areas of an otherwise overly touristy country. I can understand why people often complain about Tanzania because when we were in touristy towns it was a lot of hassle, but if you get out a little further.....
There was never a doubt that I was going to Burundi. We just tricked Bre and Ben into going first to make sure it was safe. Bre may have covered most of what there is to say but I'll just reinforce a few points. Nobody goes to Burundi as it is still thought of as dangerous, having still been unstable and with fighting only a few years ago. I think the fact that there really isn't anything to do there is going to keep tourists away for a while too. I loved it though. We got our 3 day transit visa at the border and without any hassle entered a small but beautiful country.
The first village was pretty poor and dirty looking but we found the people to be smiling and welcoming right from the start. Being back to speaking French was no fun but I think driving on the right again was even harder! Lots of hills and terracing, but they are a lot more haphazard about it than in Asia. Tons of mud brick being made everywhere and every building is made from it. We descended from the hills to Lake Tanganyika, the longest and second deepest lake in the world, and followed along it until we reached the capital, Bujumbura, at the northern tip where we ended up staying the night camped on the beach just north of town at a hotel/bar.
A few things about Burundi have really surprised me. There were a lot of military and police around but I was expecting us to get stopped a lot more often. The country has reminded me more of Asia than anywhere else in Africa so far. It's all the terracing, the very lush, tropical look and the fact that everyone seemed so busy. Everyone seemed to be working rather than sitting on the side of the road. People making mud bricks, lots of bicycles carrying various goods around (mostly bananas), etc. and it is so nice to have locals genuinely excited to see us again. Compared to Tanzania, the Burundians are much happier and friendlier looking and in all honesty, seem to have more going on upstairs too.
It is the beginning of the rainy season inland here so we had our first thunderstorm and showers just after arriving in Bujumbura and setting up camp. No worries, they don't last long. The worst part was that the clouds obscured the view of the DRC across the lake. Buj itself wasn't as destroyed looking as I was expecting though there were lots of UN trucks around and plenty of aid vehicles throughout the country. I think with the industriousness the locals display and the rebuilding already in the works will have the country in good shape very quickly. Certainly faster than others I've seen.
Today left Buj heading north to enter Rwanda. We had to climb over 1000m into the hills and away from the lake and that took most of the 100km to the border it seemed. The drive itself was worth the trip to Burundi because of all the bikes. It is obviously banana season right now and the bananas are all transported from the plantations in the hills down to the capital by guys on bicycles. They overload the bikes and then ride down the road like maniacs. Some carry other things but the worst part is that they have to come all the way back up the hill too. Most were pushing their bikes up the hill but some of the more daring will grab onto the back of trucks and get pulled up. We had 4 on the back our truck for a long time and we saw a few trucks with 5. Seems like a rough way to make a living but it sure adds to the character of the country. We also picked up some really cheap fruit. 20 big bananas for less than $1, 10 huge avocados for less than $2 and a bunch of other really random tropical fruit for pennies as well.
We are now in Butare in southern Rwanda.


At 9:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ammon,
Don't sweat the internet, I figured you guys were somewhere in outer darkness. I am somehow not suprised that the country just fresh from war is welcoming. Sometimes doing without makes you appreciate what you had.
I think the world is starting to get a dose of that lesson. Not sure if you are keeping up on world news, but banks are failing everywhere, and several countries are teetering on the brink of bankruptsy, the sub prime lending practices have come back to haunt us and now it is the little guy getting screwed, while the top dogs glut on last time. Here in Alberta the management took 26 million dallars in bonuses, despite the fact the bank missed targets by over 90%. AIG who were bailed out for 82 billion dollars took the big boys for a party which cost 250,000. Pretty disgusting.
Oh yeah, tell your Mom Calgary is getting a temple!! Whooohooo!!!

Anyways, I hope you guys are okay amid all this, I figure you are better prepared than anyone I know.

Blair McMullen says to say Hi.

Love and Bear Hugs to you all
The Bear

At 9:13 PM , Blogger Jim Moore said...

When will you ever see Canada again? I am still following your trek. Which continent is next? You are a special family and you look very healthy. I am happily retired in north Idaho. Love to all of you folks, "Grampa" Jim Moore


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