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June 17, 2013 / samwilson60

Mbeya and the surrounding Southern Highlands

After a pretty rubbish dinner on night one (chicken-bone curry and incinerated steak), we were determined to do better the next day. But before we let our stomachs get the better of us, we set out in search of insurance. We were rapidly learning that communication in Tanzania would be a challenge (much less English spoken than elsewhere) but after visiting a few independent insurance agents we pieced together the responses we’d got and worked out we had to go to the state agency to get the cover we wanted (valid for the whole region, not just Tanzania). We eventually found the right place and were greeted with great warmth and reasonable efficiency. Actually it took an age but the guy did have a lot of forms to fill in and he broke up each one with a language lesson. We left with a massive sticker for our windscreen, hopefully the last insurance policy we’d need on this trip and a full A4 Swahili crib sheet.

We spent the rest of the day looking for a second warning triangle (the best we were offered was a broken one from someone’s boot) and chasing the mobile music man (he was a little too mobile for us), but in the process we stumbled over the food street and had our first taste of chipsi mayai (chip omelette pronounced  “chips in my eye” – love it!).

The next day we had a much nicer, easier drive out of Mbeya. We did a grand total of 80km, all on tar, with nowhere near as many speed bumps and still no troublesome police. We failed to find any food except bright yellow bread but we did finally get our second warning triangle. Checkpoints? Bring ’em on!

We found the riverside campsite we’d been aiming for (a field by a river) and decided this would be the perfect place to spend the afternoon and night. The only problem was, once again, the complete lack of staff. We’d almost decided we’d have to push on (it seemed a bit risky to set up camp not knowing who might turn up asking for what in return) when a very unhealthy bicycle came hurtling down the hill. The young guy on board was so enthusiastic and welcoming, and the price was pretty reasonable, there was no way we were moving on. Instead we spent the afternoon washing ourselves and our clothes using the river, followed by Rummy and another dip further up said river, finishing with a fire with our host on the bank. He even cooked us an exploding cassava, which tasted surprisingly like sweet chestnut. We had great fun trying to explain that one!

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From the river we had a comparatively long day to a farm south of Iringa – another great find. The place was enormous, and shady, so while Sam spent the afternoon tinkering on the truck, Cat set off to explore the tobacco barns, lakes and surrounding hills. After all the exertions we’d both worked up an appetite and, after days of eating up the dregs of the food drawer, we were overjoyed with what must have been the most extravagant meal of the trip so far. Three courses, a tonne of beef, fresh veggies cooked to perfection, a selection of deserts and a very nice bottle of wine, all in the most beautiful (if slightly confusing) restaurant barn. Wow.

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We were just 40km away from Iringa and in need of the internet yet again (trying to organise shipping for mid-August and still dealing with the Swiss claims office). The lady at the farm had told us about a lovely café with wi-fi so we planned to spend the next day there, knowing there was another riverside campsite just the other side. After a few laps of town we found the café. They temporarily had no internet but their food did look good, so we stopped off for breakfast before trawling the other internet cafes. Iringa was a lovely town but one of the few we’ve come across that we actually felt was going backwards connectivity-wise. All the internet cafes had closed down and the only place to get online was the post office, where we were forced to use their aged desktop computers. It did the job but we limited ourselves to the bare minimum, and after an equally frustrating attempt at phoning Switzerland (eventually having to borrow a sim card from a guy at the café, who got it back with more credit on than he’d ever seen), we decided we’d had enough of Iringa and ran away to our next riverside campsite.

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Slightly more developed than the field by the river, we soon realised we’d be sharing this place with an inordinate number of other travellers. As always it was interesting swapping stories – it felt like a real crossroads, with everyone going in different directions at different stages in their journeys. This made for a nice evening but by morning we’d agreed it was time to go wild.

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