Knud Henrik's diary 8 June 2006: Missungwi, Rubondo Island National Park, Geita and Kigoma

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Last updated 2007.11.21

Before we left Mwanza we had a few things to settle. The day before I managed to find a place where they could make prints from digital photos. I had ordered prints of some pictures from the place of Japhet's brother in law and this morning I picked them up. At a street "shop" I had ordered some hand-carved rubber stamps, one for Lea and one for Aske, with name and address and a little giraffe. I had one made for Theis when I lived here, and I found it appropriate to get some for Lea and Aske as well. I cannot imagine the effort (and expense - !) it would take to have something like that made in Denmark.

We packed all our things and rang Japhet on his mobile. Passed the post office to buy stamps and post the invitations for Theis' confirmation and then off for the most complicated task: to make arrangements for our visit to Rubondo Island National Park. From a guide book we bought in Denmark we had the advise to inquire about Rubondo at a specific booking office in Mwanza. However, it turned out that that was not the place to go. Instead we had to go to a office of the Department of Wild Animals, quite some distance from Mwanza in the wrong direction. The problem was that the only possible way of communication with the park authorities at Rubondo was by short-wave radio - there are still some places where mobile telephony has not yet proliferated. With the kind help from the people at this office we arranged to be picked up two days later by a boat from the park warden, more on this later.

Then we set off for Missungwi. When I lived in Missungwi the road out there was quite agonising. Driving the mere 45 km used to take anything between 50 minutes and two hours, usually closest to the latter. Now there is a fine tarmac road all the way. In just 40 minutes we reached Missungwi.

Way back in January I wrote my old boss in Missungwi, the principal Mr. K.K. Mfinanga, and informed him that we intended to pay a visit. Almost three months later we received a reply, telling that we were welcome and that we could stay in a guesthouse of an associated project, Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP).

The guesthouse appeared to be a very pleasant surprise. A very nice little house with three bedrooms, bathroom, toilet, sitting room, dining room and kitchen. To a certain extent the house resembled "my" old house, which was only a few hundred meters away. However, when I lived there, there was no electricity nor water. That is, over time I installed a wiring system, complete with switches and sockets, powered by a solar panel and running 12 volts. The water supply was based on rain water harvesting, with two large water tanks, supplied from gutters along the roof. Now, Missungwi has been connected to the nation-wide power grid, occasionally offering electric power. The water supply in the guest house was still based on rain water, but here piped into the house.

After having installed ourselves in the MRHP guest house we went up to the institute where I had been stationed, Community Development Technical Training Institute (CDTTI, or in Swahili: Chuo cha Maendeleo na Jamii). The institute looked very much the same, no major changes here. Mr. Mfinanga told us that major changes were right ahead, primarily concerning the shift from a two year study programme to a three year study programme. Also, the student intake had increased dramatically, forcing the tuition to be carried out in very big classes of up to 80 students at a time. Already in his reply letter Mr. Mfinanga had told us that the institute is now the proud owner of a computer and that plans exists for acquiring another one. Primarily, the computer was used for administrative purposes. We emphasised the importance of an internet connection as computerised information searching then could be of tremendous value to the teaching process.

My old house as well as the MRHP guesthouse is placed in an area with several official buildings and staff houses, usually called Bomani. The area slopes up towards a little hill, from which there is a view over the southernmost part of Lake Victoria. Now and then we used to go up there to enjoy the sunset. Next morning we went up this hill by foot. Already from a distance we realised a significant change: two high mobile telephony antennas had been erected right on the top of the hill. I had been told by the watchman at the guesthouse that an old acquaintance, Faustino, who used to do various odd jobs for me, he was now employed as watchman at the antennas. Once up there we actually found Faustino and had a good chat.

Already in Arusha I had tried to get the coordinates of Japhet's place with my GPS navigator. For some reason it never worked on, it seemed like the signals from the satellites were too weak. Now, at the top of Bomani Hill I managed to receive a good signal, so here are the coordinates: S 02° 49,923' E 033° 04,065', elevation 1261 m above sea level. Using MapQuest or Google Earth you can pinpoint the place.

On return to the guesthouse one of the teachers of the institute, Mr. Msumi, awaited us and we had a very good and lengthy discussion of all sorts of things. Once again we emphasised the importance of being connected to the internet and we also demonstrated the use of IT for staying in contact while travelling like we do by showing a local copy of our website.

Afterwards we went to the MRHP office next door to settle our bill and to check email, yes, in fact they have an internet connection and actually they are running a small café. The IT era has hit Missungwi. Unfortunately, we were not able to check email, the site accommodating our mailboxes appeared to be down.

Next morning early we left Missungwi. The trip of the day is probably the most complicated logistics of the whole journey. First we went to the village Kigongo to take the ferry across Mwanza Gulf, a fiord of Lake Victoria stretching some 50 km south. The ferry goes to the village Busisi from which we had a quite bumpy tour of 94 km to the district and mining centre Geita. From there we had an even more bumpy tour of 60 km up north to the village Nkome on the shore of Lake Victoria. There is a little yard here forming an entrance port to the Rubondo Island National Park. We boarded the boat that would take us to the island itself. The boat was an open canoe-like vessel made of fibre glass and propelled by an outboard motor. The ride was quite speedy but smooth. It appeared that the destination was on the far side of the island and the whole trip took about 80 minutes. The first part was rather pleasant and dry, but after having changed direction the wind came in from the side and the trip was not so dry anymore. In fact, I was soaking wet, when we finally arrived. On the way we passed a cove with some very huge crocodiles rushing into the water as we approached.

In the guide book we had brought from Denmark Rubondo Island National Park was described as one of Tanzania's best kept secrets. The secrecy of the place was indeed true. We stayed in a little hut, quite comfortable. We even had the luxury of electricity during the evening (from a generator, that is). Nearby was a large building forming a dinning room and with a cooking place with some gas burner rings (calling it a kitchen would be an exaggeration). The camp is a clasp of completely untouched nature and some modern amenities. The whole place is very quite and offers a perfect environment for relaxation, the tranquillity only smattered by the occasional "laughter" of the hippos enjoying the coolness of the lake water just next to the camp. Here are the coordinates of the camp: S 02° 17,824' E 031° 51,290'.

Next morning, 4 June, we had a guide taking as for a little walk of some three hours. As this national park isn't really developed as a tourist destination yet and as we left the car at Nkome we were left to go on safari by foot. We had a very nice walk, seeing quite a number of imprints from elephants and hippos and we also had a few sightings of the sitatunga, a very shy, bambi-like deer, none very close nor clear, unfortunately. The afternoon was spent at the camp and the beach. We dared not go swimming in the lake due to the risk of bilharzias - and croc's!

5 June was the day of departure, but first we had another little walk in the opposite direction. At a little distance from our camp there is what is called a tented camp. "Tented camp" means a kind of hotel where the guests are accommodated in large, stationary tents, often pitched under a shading roof. These tented camps are often among the most luxurious and expensive offers, this one not being an exception; the dinning, lounge and bar areas were indeed luxurious and made an even bigger clasp to the unspoiled nature. Two American ladies were staying at this tented camp, they had arrived the preceding day by plane. In the morning they had been on safari by boat and while cruising they had caught a nile perch of no less than 69 kg. We had a little of it for our lunch, very nice.

Early afternoon we departed from Rubondo and set "sails" (that is, the outboard motor) to go back to Nkome on the mainland. On the way back we passed by several small islets and coves and saw a lot of crocodilles as well as a huge number of birds, among them a few African Fish Eagles.

Back at Nkome we packed the car and rushed of to Geita. Originally, it was the plan to continue straight on to Kasulu, not far from Kigoma. But already the day before we had decided to stay over at Geita. We already knew that the road from Nkome to Geita would become quite tiresome. We managed to find a nice little hotel and also an internet café, they seem to pop up everywhere. We had not prepared ourselves for more uploads so we just checked for emails.

6 June was a travel day of the more exhausting kind. We left Geita at 9:30 in the morning and went all the way to Kigoma, some 585 km. Now, 585 km may not sound of much but then consider that most of it is on gravel roads and some of it on very, very rough gravel roads. We discussed whether to stay over at Kasule, about 100 km before Kigoma, but we left the decision to Japhet and he felt like going straight to Kigoma. It was about 9 o'clock in the evening before we finally reached Kigoma and we had severe difficulties finding a place to stay. We ended up at a hotel, Zanzibar Lodge, which didn't offer the faintest touch of Zanzibar. The rooms were fair but amenities were really filthy. Water flush toilets without water is about the worst you can get. The second worst thing about the place was the noise from all the heavy trucks on the main road right in front of the hotel and as our rooms were facing the road we had not much sleep that night.

Next morning with the come of daylight we had a much better chance of finding a nice place to stay. We drove around and had a look of a mid-level hotel but again noise was a major concern, this time from the power generator just opposite. We decided to go camping. According to the guide book there should be a privately owned camp site, Jakobsen's Guesthouse and Camp Site, some 5 km southwest of town. We didn't expect much but went to have a look. The camp site turned out to be a nice place but with just the most basic facilities. Unfortunately, the site was already crowded by a large youth group on some kind of missionary visit. Testing our luck we went to have a look at the guesthouse, then. And instantly we fell in love. The place is owned by a Norwegian family and is so very Nordic in style and quality. The guesthouse is in a horseshoe form and comprises four bedrooms, two small kitchens, two dinning and sitting rooms and two bathrooms, all very well equipped. Coordinates: S 04° 54,618' E 029° 36,034'.

Just a few hundred meters downhill is the lake shore. There are two coves with really nice sand beaches and the water here is allegedly bilharzias free.  We spent the whole afternoon swimming and playing and relaxing in the cinnamon-coloured sand. Just what we needed after the too long drive the day before and after the horrific night at Zanzibar Lodge.

There is a generator at the guesthouse but we decided to make do without electricity, using kerosene lamps for lighting and gas for cooking. We had done some shopping in town and for the first time we aimed at a more traditional Danish meal: boiled potatoes, brown sauce and fried meatballs (kogte kartofler, brun sovs og frikadeller). The meat should have been pork, but only beef and goat meat was available. Mincing the meat turned out to be a very awesome task as the hand driven mincer was really poor. However, in the end we had a very nice meal Danish style (almost).

So much for today. Check back.