21 – Marabous in Mwanza

21 – Marabous in Mwanza

We went to the local church service in Olasiti on Sunday. The paintings inside were lovely – so colourful and eye-catching. The young and old attended, all dressed smartly. The choir was so uplifting and heart-warming. We weren’t sure of the church’s denomination when we entered, but we soon understood it was catholic. We obviously didn’t follow the sermon as it was in Swahili, but the prayers and practises were still familiar to us. It was worth going.

Olasiti Catholic Church

Since being in Tanzania we have enjoyed eating:

  • Dried fish. You eat basically the whole fish, bones and all (it’s a bit like crisps).
  • Peas, beans and chapatis. Chapatis are everywhere and really easy to eat on the go!
Chez Swahiba
  • Chips Mayai. An alternative to Ugali. Essentially a chip omelette. Often served with ketchup (which is pink and very liquid here). Again, sold everywhere – even through bus windows.
Chips Mayai (photo by Dave Houldershaw)

Before delving deeper into Tanzania, we decided to head to Rwanda from Arusha. (We will let you look at your atlas/Google maps to understand why).

Tanzania is a humungous country – about two times bigger than France! To get to Rwanda, we would have to break up the journey in Mwanza. Mwanza, the second biggest city in Tanzania, is on the shores of Lake Victoria, about a twelve-hour bus ride away from Arusha. To ensure we arrived before night fall, our bus driver drove super speedily and used his horn more than his breaks. The (rare) stops were like Formula1 pit stops, only, instead of swapping tyres, we swapped passengers. After about seven hours, the bus finally stopped long enough for us to get off: we legged it to the toilets (the long-drop-no-water-no-toilet-paper-hold-your-nose type). We emerged a couple of minutes later, only to find the bus (and its passengers) were no longer there! Without hesitating, we both hopped on the back of two pikipikis (motorbike taxis) and sped away, determined to catch up with the bus (and our bags). Thank goodness we managed it. Phew! That was the only toilet stop on that journey. Even if there were another, I don’t think we would have gone! Haha

View from our hotel (Royal Residents’ Hotel)

The speediness paid off; we arrived in Mwanza in the afternoon. Both of us were happy to go for a chilled lake-shore dinner and leave exploring the town for the next day. On Hotel Tilapia’s terrace, we enjoyed sipping on Kilimanjaro beers as the sun set. In the distance, fishermen rowed their day’s catch to the boulder-lined shore.

Hotel Tilapia’s terrace 🍺🍺

We weren’t the only spectators; dozens of (ugly!) Marabou storks roamed the rooves waiting for a clumsy fisherman to let slip a fish.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Marabou Storks

Other than fish, Indian food is also on the menu in Mwanza. Mwanza is known for its Indian Influence. Many shops and restaurants are run by Indians or Pakistanis. Some have been there for several generations. It was funny listening to a restaurant manager, of Pakistani origin, explaining that “us Tanzanians are very different to our Kenyan neighbours” whilst serving Tandoori Chicken.

We were grateful for our chilled 24 hours in Mwanza because the second part of our mammoth journey began at the crack of dawn the next day. We saved ourselves an hour in bed and met the bus at 5am at the port where we were going to catch the ferry across Lake Victoria.

The sunrise, Mwanza’s alarm clock, was beautiful. Again, Marabou storks watched with us from the rooftops. Dozens of boats set sail to go fishing for the day and the first ferry arrived, bringing with it a load of cargo trucks, workers and school kids. Numerous birds awakened and flew across the calm waters in search of their breakfast. Seeing the town wake up highlighted the importance of the lake. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and the source of life in Mwanza.

🌅 Beautiful, hey?

Our ferry ride was peaceful. The lake, its shore and islands were picturesque under the red sky.

Now for the longest journey of our trip so far (and it’s not like we haven’t had a lot of long journeys!) First the bus, then a taxi to the border, then the visa malarkey: wait in a queue for an exit stamp, go to the next queue to request a Rwandan visa, go to another queue to pay for the visa, go back to the original queue to collect the visa. You can’t be in a rush in Africa, especially when crossing a border!

As has been the case for all the visas we have purchased so far, we had to pay in US dollars (cash). Arnaud had plunged his fingers into his belt (it has a secret compartment to hide money), seen a 100 dollar note and handed it to the immigration officer. The guy froze and looked at us as if to say, “so you think you’re clever?”. The 100-dollar note was in fact a 100 Ethiopian Birr note (worth about three Euros). Oops. “Sorry Sir”, “no, it wasn’t intentional”, “yes we do have real US dollars”. As you can imagine, border posts are not really a place to mess about!

After our passports had been stamped and our bags searched, we boarded a minibus for Kigali. We were lucky in that we didn’t have to wait long before it left. We were unlucky in that the bus stopped in all the villages in Rwanda (information non verified, but it can’t be far from the truth!).

The “Matunda Express” is not at all express! 🐌

Our luck continued to dwindle when the bus broke down, forcing us to wait for a replacement bus. In the end, despite having left before sunrise, we only arrived at our hotel in Kigali around 10pm! In case you thought we had any good luck remaining, we didn’t: a German tourist yanked on Arnaud’s bag when trying to remove it from the bus – he tore the hip belt clean off the bag. We were well and truly ready for this journey to end!

You know when there’s a problem with the bus when people bend down and peer under it!!

Though the bus journey was not much fun, it did give us a first glimpse of Rwanda. The “country of a thousand hills” lives up to its name. The landscapes were magnificent, like nothing we had seen so far. Gone were the vast expanses of barren land in Tanzania. A mishmash of green and terracotta hills covered the land.

We spent our first night in Kigali at Peace and Grace Hotel. It was a Friday night and a live concert was playing in the bar. We dumped our (broken) bags in the hotel room, then sat and watched for a while, enjoying a cold beer, spinach, beans and rice whilst soaking up the lively atmosphere. The concert went on all night, the audience probably boogied all night too! We didn’t join them, we boogied in our dreams as we charged our batteries ready for exploring Kigali!

6 Replies to “21 – Marabous in Mwanza”

  1. Wow! I will need to read several more times to digest all this, thank you.
    First thoughts – I love that you went to Church and it felt familiar because you recognised the rituals and practices – fantastic! I have experienced this too in several countries when I didn’t know the language. Folks who think rituals and practice are unless or devoid of meaning have never experienced this sense if familiarity and belonging and connection with what is profoundly important to us through a medium that transcends boundaries of age, language, culture or intellect. This, I think, is true spirituality. It helps to be in a totally unfamiliar environment to experience this and recognise what is familiar. And the power of the magnificent paintings and drawings for any who cannot follow the written/spoken word – ineffable! The reformers missed a trick I think when they eschewed elaborate art works.
    If I were a marabou stork – I think I would want to live on the shore if Lake Victoria. It looks incredibly magnificent.

  2. Love the ‘tas vol lekkers’ – baie lekker!
    Thank goodness you had the presence of mind to grab 2 mototaxis (thank goodness they were there) to go after the bus (and your bags) – well done on that quick thinking!
    I hope you will be able to get the hip belt on Arnaud’s belt mended – what a nuisance. Our experience of Africa (especially north of the S.A. border) is that they are really good at making do and mending. I do hope you can find somebody who will mend it for you.
    Glad you have seen so much variety of landscape and birds and wildlife. Thanks for the updates – we all love them 🙂 xxx

    1. Haha yes, the bag is from Amsterdam. It fools a lot of people into thinking we are Dutch! Haha. New update coming soon 🙂 Thanks for reading xx

  3. I think you guys should produce a version of Top Trumps based on African transport you’ve travelled on! 😬👍

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