Africa: Ruanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia
Motorbike travel in Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia
The first thing that struck us was the fact that not a single piece of trash could be found on the ground! Apparently Rwanda is the tidiest country in Africa – the strict president implemented the rules which are obeyed by everyone – surroundings are kept clean and tidy. And one day every month is dedicated to cleaning up even more – businesses are forbidden from opening before lunch as everyone must be busy cleaning and tidying!
The roads on the western side of Rwanda and especially along the magnificent Lake Kivu are newly rebuilt by the Chinese investors and they are every motorcyclist’s dream – smooth, curvy, extremely scenic and with almost no traffic! We had a blast riding them for three consecutive days – awesome new roads with barely a straight section on them! Meanwhile most of Rwandan people in the villages and small towns cannot afford having a car, therefore they either walk or ride bicycles. Motorcycles can be seen there too, as in every African country. But the difference between Rwandan motorcyclists and those in other countries is that in Rwanda every single one of them wears helmet (on their head, not on the handlebar or an elbow like Ugandans do) and would only carry a single passenger, which would always wear a helmet too!
Having in mind a very violent past of this country, when the whole population of a tiny, but beautiful country split into two groups, which ended by one of the most terrible massacres in African history, when a million people got killed in only three months’ time in 1994, it’s incredible how peaceful and well-structured life in Rwanda is now. People are friendly, warm-hearted and optimistic. And the future here really seems promising.
After the smooth Rwandan roads, Tanzania offered us a quick come-back to reality. We were still in Africa, after all. Tanzanian roads had plenty of potholes, corrugations and other signs of long years of use and abuse. Especially by giant overloaded trucks which were plenty on the roads. We had our second flat tire just after entering Tanzania – the first one was way back in Peru, and now in more than 30 degrees heat we had to change the tube of the front wheel on our F800GSA. Well, at least it was a front wheel, not the rear and we had a spare tube with us.
We spent a few days in Mwaza – a big bustling city on the coast of Lake Victoria (still the same Lake Victoria that we were riding around since Uganda). We camped in the local yachtclub, which didn’t seem to have any yachts, but it sure had a lovely flat lawn on the coast with a nice shade from beautiful palm trees… very relaxing.
After this sunbathing experience, followed boring flat ride towards the touristiest area of Tanzania – where all the iconic world-famous national parks and Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest peak of Africa – are located. After being spoiled by fantastic roads in Rwanda, where the scenery is always delighting and the distances are always short, long flat stretches of Tanzania was nothing short of pure boredom for us. And having in mind that infamous Tanzanian police never skips a chance to fine the travelers and tourists for speeding, we promised ourselves that we will not be caught speeding and stayed strictly under the speed limit in the villages, towns or highways. This made the ride even longer… So only by the end of the third day we finally reached the areas, where some wildlife or colorful Massai people came to our sight and made the ride more exciting.
We wanted to get a glance of the snowy Kilimanjaro peak and that’s all. After having woken up before the dawn to greet the mountain good morning before it gets covered by thick layer of clouds right after the sunrise, we explored the small town of Moshi which is a starting point to most of the expeditions up the mountain and headed back South. This time the road from Babati all the way down to Dodoma was absolute opposite of the road we took a few days before. This one was newly built, smooth, curvy and scenic! An probably due to the fact that not long ago it was a bumpy gravel road over the mountains, most of the drivers are not used to choosing it for their journey, so we could enjoy it all almost only to ourselves! What a bliss!
Finally, after a few more days of dodging busses and mad local drivers on the main roads of Tanzania, we reached the border of Malawi – a country that is called The Warm Heart of Africa. We are sure it’s called that way not only the people there were exceptionally friendly and cheerful, but also because of unbearably hot temperatures at low altitudes by the Lake Malawi…
The absolute highlight of our Malawian adventure was an innocent 12 kilometer stretch of getting… up the vertical wall. From Chitimba village to the small but very charming colonial town Livingstonia. It took us about an hour to climb it jumping over the giant boulders on steep hairpin turns with terrifying drop on the side of narrow track, including the time to stop and breathe in the suffocating heat of the day and lift Asta’s dropped bike twice. Our effort paid back with the unforgettable scenery from up above as we camped in the legendary camping site which was visited even by Charley Boorman during the filming of the famous series “Long Way Down” back in 2007.
After getting back down from Livingstonia (on a different road now) we cooled ourselves down by dipping in Lake Malawi… on a horse. No, not an “iron horse” – a real one on four hooves. We stopped at a cozy British-style “Kande Horse” stable on the coast and couldn’t resist an offer to ride a horse on the lakeshore and swim on the horseback. The experience was as good as it sounded!
Finally, after stopping to check out the capital city Lilongwe, we left Malawi and its wonderful people and headed for Zambia as we had a friend living there and were hoping to finally find a way to get our visas for Namibia and South Africa sorted. Those two were the only countries on our African route, which did not allow us to enter without a visa, obtained in advance and South Africa proved to be a real challenge as according to their rules, the embassy or high commission would only accept an application from local residents, but not from tourists like ourselves.
They did send us off in Uganda and in Malawi, explaining that we should apply for South African visa in our home country and there could be no exceptions made. The problem was that there is no representation in our home country (the nearest is in Sweden, which handles the applications sent by mail from Lithuania) and that we haven’t been to Europe for over a year to be able to apply there… Long story short, we were betting on our luck in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia this time.But before reaching our friend in Lusaka, we turned towards South Luangwa National Park in the North of the country. The detour was well worth it as in the morning our campground was visited by an Elephant female with a small baby elephant by her side. It was a fantastic experience being able to see them in the wild from very close. By that time, company of hippos and crocodiles was no longer so exciting as we had them near our river or lake side camping spots very often, but this was the first wild elephant that we got to see!
After turning back South towards Lusaka, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the road! It was a newly paved beautiful road with generous speed limits and barely any traffic in most places, so it didn’t take long till we reached the capital, where only a few days after arriving, Linas felt headache and fever. It seemed suspicious, especially with all the possible bacteria and viruses that threatens one in Africa. But his condition soon got better and we decided that it was a minor concussion after he has landed on his head while attempting a jump on a powerful enduro bike in Lusaka’s motocross track the day before… But when his condition worsened severely the next day, we did an instant blood test for malaria and the result showed positive. So the following week was spent in between the local hospital and a bed in our temporary home in Zambia treating severe case of malaria which he probably caught in Malawi.
Luckily, at the same time South African and Namibian high commissions finally accepted our visa applications and by the time Linas finally got well again, successfully avoiding complications, our visas were ready and we were good to go!After three weeks in Lusaka we had one more place to visit in Zambia – the famous Victoria Falls! So we headed to a town called Livingstone from which we went on a VERY wet waterfall viewing experience. Apparently right after the rainy season, the falls are more about actually experiencing all their might by getting soaked to the last string, rather than viewing them. But we surely enjoyed it!