Monday, March 26, 2012

Kigoma, Tanzania

I had a week to wait in Kigoma before re-boarding the Liemba for the return voyage. The town was sleepy with remnants of past glory. The town was peppered with good, but tired, examples of German colonial architecture with the old train station being the crown jewel.

Like most of Tanzania, English was seldom spoken and it was necessary to pick up some words in Swahili. Unfortunately, the diet changed little from the boat, with the exception of pineapples being readily available and “chips myai” or a french fry omelet. Walking around one day I came across a restaurant that advertised Indian and Chinese food. I was ecstatic.

“Menu please.”

“No menu.”

“Well, what kind of Indian and Chinese food do you have?”

“Rice chicken, rice beef only” (Ugali, the mashed maize meal was always the alternative to rice. Ugali is the same as the previously mentioned, Nsima.)

Deflated, I was able to negotiate for rice and beans. So much for truth in advertising.

Later, Geert and I discovered the “fancy” Lake Tanganyika Hotel and enjoyed their more varied menu, though at much higher prices.

Geert remained in Kigoma while researching a story on a nearby refugee camp. We stayed at the same guesthouse in our respective $7 a night rooms, and were soon joined by Dom. Dom was a young Peace Corp volunteer who had just finished his two-year stint and was now making his way to South Africa on his Chinese made 150-cc motorcycle. We became somewhat of a trio.

The days could be long and activities few, however there were some things to do in the area:

One day, Dom and I split the cost of a water taxi with a couple of Dutch guys and went to Chombe River National Park. This is where Jane Goodall did all her research on Chimpanzees. The park is only accessible by water.

You are not guaranteed to see the chimps but we lucked out and found a group after an hour-long hike up the side of a mountain. It was hot and incredibly humid. The path soon disappeared and we were walking through thick vine draped jungle – real Tarzan type stuff. This was not all left to chance. Our guide was in radio contact with a spotter that stayed with the chimps. Research continues at the park and extensive notes are kept on all the resident chimps.

We heard “hooting” and the rustling of branches as we approached a group of man’s closest genetic relatives. The chimps could care less that we were there, being quite used to humans We stayed for about 30-minutes before looking for another group. It was a unique experience to say the least.

Another day trip was taking a 30-cent shared taxi ride to nearby Ujiji to visit the spot where Henry Stanley caught up with Dr. David Livingstone and uttered the now famous words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Not much to see, but I had just finished reading Stanley’s diary of his quest to find the AWOL explorer. His journey started in Zanzibar.

Lastly, born out of boredom I decided to launch Tommy Tanzania, my own line of African cruise wear. I spent a day patiently looking for the perfect kanga fabric from Nigeria. I then approached, David, one of the many “tailors” manning a sewing machine alongside the road. I had two shirts made, each one consisting of $6 of fabric and $6 in David’s handy work. Within 24-hours I had a two great fitting Hawaiian-style shirts. I gave David a little something extra for a job well done. I failed to take any photos of the shirts before sending them home (I have no room to carry them), but I promise you this – you will see me coming when I am wearing one. Until further notice, Tommy Tanzania has been put on hold.

Back on the Liemba, Dom and I shared my old cabin #1 and we watched as the chaos unfolded yet again. Another baby was born on the upper deck and the rice and beef/chicken was dished out for lunch and dinner. I got a better sense of the camaraderie between the regular passengers and crew and learned to embrace the madness just a little bit more.

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