Matt and Rachel's African travel blog
A few days before Christmas, we crossed from the north of Malawi into the south of Tanzania. (Now you can see how far we are behind at blogging!) It turned out that this timing caused us a few administrative/logistical problems, and in case you were starting to think that our travel was sounding a bit like a holiday, we’ll now give you a brief taste of some of the bureaucratic and administrative joys of travelling, particularly on a self-organised trip in Africa.
For example, when you enter Tanzania with a foreign vehicle, you have to pay a road tax. For anti-corruption and/or internal control reasons, you make the actual payment at a branch of a commercial bank, rather than at the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA) itself.
So the idea is that you first go to the TRA office at the border, where they prepare an invoice for the road tax, with the appropriate reference numbers etc. It took about 15 minutes to find the right person in the office, and then it took him around 30 minutes of sporadic typing on his computer to prepare the invoice.
From there, one of us (Matt) had to go to a bank branch and wait in line behind the many customers making deposits on the last trading day before Christmas. Rachel waited with the paperwork/passports, which the TRA officer still had.
At the bank it took about 45 minutes of waiting while the one operational teller served all the customers, and at least three other staff members occasionally wandered through looking like they wanted to go home. The security guard (armed with an AK-47) was extremely friendly and efficient though, making sure all customers had seats and were positioned according to where they were in the informal queue.
Once at the front of the queue, the teller processed the payment quickly, and printed/stamped three copies of the deposit receipt: one for the bank, one for the TRA, and one for us.
Back at the TRA, where Rachel had been growing increasingly concerned about the continued absence of her husband, the officer input the details of the payment that we had just made, stamped a few more bits of paper, and finally we were on our way.
It only took five people and 90 minutes, but the TRA did get their USD$5 road tax!
We would continue with explaining the nearly two hours it took to purchase, register, cut to size, and configure a Tanzanian SIM card, or the five-day process of purchasing compulsory third party vehicle insurance, but you might stop reading, if you haven’t already!
Suffice it to say, we were pretty drained by the time we arrived at our accommodation just outside of Mbeya, on the slopes of Tanzania’s southern highlands.
The place we stayed at was set in an award-winning coffee farm, so we took the opportunity to take a walk through and check out the not-yet-ripe coffee berries.
Of course, in the interests of research, we also sampled their coffee menu extensively over our two-day stay, tasting three different forms (espresso, cappuccino and iced coffee), all of which were excellent. (Sorry Daniel, we don’t have a photo of this iced coffee either!)
We left early on Christmas morning for the long drive to Lake Shore Lodge, set (as you might have guessed) on the shores of a lake: Lake Tanganyika.
(A few bonus facts for those who are interested… Lake Tanganyika is the second largest and deepest lake in the world and contains around 16% of the world’s fresh water. It also has a very long residence/turnover time, as well as only one outlet, ultimately the Congo River, so many of those who rely on the lake are concerned about the increasing levels of oil, gas and mineral exploration, and the risk of an environmental disaster.)
The lodge, built from the ground up by a South African couple, manages the difficult task of combining lovely high-end accommodation with a great campsite for those of us with smaller budgets.
Thanks to the American people (via the publicly-funded US Aid organisation), most of the route from Mbeya was a beautiful new tar road, and it was almost empty because of Christmas so we arrived in time to join the other guests for a sunset cruise, including margaritas made by the owners’ visiting twelve-year-old nephew/bartender/card-shark.
Following the cruise, we also joined the excellent communal Christmas dinner with the other guests and the owners’ families visiting from South Africa. The setting, the food, the company (and the wine!) combined to make it a very memorable Christmas, and this was one of the places that we were saddest to leave.