Leaving Lake Tanganyika – not on bikes

“Kigoma is perfect, it just has two problems- getting there and getting away”
We cycled about a week to Kigoma to take the Mc Liemba, a German 1st world war ship which goes all the way to the southern tip of the lake, to the border with Zambia. The ship was carried on people’s heads at the beginning of the 20th century from the coast all the way to Lake Tanganyika – 1200 km! Today it’s supposed to sail every other week with some tourists and freight, which sounded like a perfect plan for us to take a rest from cycling. Through some phone calls a few days before we had made sure the ship is , but first thing we are told when arriving in Kigoma; the ship was cancelled for this week. Our optimism makes us think we can go the following week, but it soon turns out; the captain is waiting for harvest to finish, which can take until the following month! I am trying hard to proof stereotypes of Africa wrong, but I guess this is something that would be difficult to find elsewhere..
We are not the only ones whose plans are disturbed by this captain indecisiveness. A German 91-year old man from Berlin, Harald and his Zimbabwean/German wife, Loveness, also came all the way to Kigoma to take the ship – a life dream of his basically. And it’s already his 2nd time he is trying to get the Mc Liemba – last time it was cancelled the night before as well. Too be honest his wife was incredibly relieved not having to sit on an old ship for 5 days – no one dared to tell her, that she will probably have to come back again after all… She surely wasn’t amused about Harald’s alternative ideas; taking the 48-hour-train to Dar Es Salam – to at least to do something adventures.. Good stuff with 91..
Kigoma is a bit like World’s End; as our Norwegian host Ottava, who has lived there for 20 years is putting it: “Kigoma is perfect, it just has two problems- getting there and getting away”. To the west of Kigoma, on the opposite side of the Lake is Kongo, which we can’t get Visas for (and def not hardcore enough^^), North is Burundi – also can’t get Visas and the wrong direction, South is a shit road, incredible heat and no villages for about 4 days of cycling – not a cool option, well and going to the East there is the road we came on, or the train to Dar Es Salam. Well, we made our decision rather quickly- the train 500 km and 24h it is.
This central train line was majorly built by the Germans colonizers (then called Mittellandbahn), when Tanzania was part of German East Africa and finished just before 2nd WW in 1914 – most likely to bring extracted resources to the ports for shipment. The train stations we saw in Kigoma, Tabora and Itigi are still the same building from then .It’s weird; I’ve been to Latin America, where you can see the influence of former Spanish and Portuguese colonization in most towns by the chequered pattern of the streets. I’ve lived in Uganda, where you can see the influence of the British protectorate every day by the children’s school uniforms and left-side driving and of course the language. But German influence in other parts of the world? That’s somehow very weird.


The bikes are easily dropped off after being weighed with an ancient but still properly functioning weighing scale – 7000 Tsh (3 EUR) per bike plus some Shillings for someone to “carry our bikes” to the wagon – could of course be done by us, but we get the advice that we better pay – otherwise, “the bikes might be there later, or they might not be” 🙂 but at least without prior internet registration and you-cannot-put-a-bike-on-THIS type-of-train, as the German Bahn company loves to do it. And let’s face it; it usually is the one where you can’t take the bike on!

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First the train is supposed leave at 4, but already in the morning we find out it leaves at 8, which is easy to find out –without digital-real-time-online-updates as there is a chalk notice board and also when you ask people they know where the train currently is – in real time, because they are simply calling someone on the train.
We go for 2nd class, 6 beds in a compartment and woman only– doesn’t sound too bad. And it isn’t; we get clean and nicely folded bed sheets, the train leaves at 8 o’clock sharp (2 o’clock Swahili time – Swahili time starts at 6 o’clock our time…) and there is even a restaurant wagon. So the basics are the same as in any other European train. The differences? Well; 1) the toilets –straight onto the rail, 2) 3rd class is without windows 3) smoothness and speed of movement – I can only lay on my back, lying on the side would make me fall out of bed due to the shaking, even though the speed feels only like 20km/h – and it must be, because for a distance of 600 km- just like from Berlin to Munich- we take 24h – partly due to scheduled two hour breaks at main stations.

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ETrain ride from Kigoma to Itigi (red cross)

Right after waking up we are stopping for two hours in Tabora – it’s amazing timing, there is fresh chai amaziwa (Milk tea), Chapati and eggs – what else do you need? 🙂 Also the rest of the day passes by quite fast; some people come by to chat and on the entire way we can watch the vendors that are waiting for the train, which passes by every three days – even if it only stops for a few seconds, they are able to sell groundnuts, tomatoes, pumpkin etc., but also alive chicken and beautiful wooden crafts such as combs, stools and cooking spoons. We go for the practical, but super amazing fresh honey!
And then we arrive in Itigi, the start of the middle of nowhere:)

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