Tanzaniahhh as we like to call it – our favorite country in East Africa. The people are friendly, the countryside is beautiful and sparsely populated, and there are even long stretches of (!) FLAT GROUND… After reading Singida, we stuck to dirt roads to get away from what little traffic there was, and aside from a run-in with some tse-tse flies (don’t take the road from Kwa Mtoro to Kondoa!) we never had any problems.
We were biking in Tanzania in March and April 2010, which should have been the long rainy season, though we were dry for most of the ride, and when the rain came it tended to be either a sort of long gray drizzle or a big thunderstorm in the afternoon. It was invariably hot though, and we had to take some serious anti-sunburn measures for this leg of the trip.
Route: We entered from Rwanda at Rusumu falls with no problems. The road was nicely paved from there through Kahama all the way to Singida. From Singida we took a dirt stretch to Kwa Mtoro and on to Kondoa (tse-tse flies!) and then crossed the Maasai Steppe to Handeni, Mkata, Msata, Bagamoyo, and Dar es Salaam.
Road: When the road is paved, it is usually pretty good – the trick in Tanzania is just that most roads aren’t paved; even in cities like Dar es Salaam, dirt roads abound, and dirt roads in Tanzania can be pretty brutal. Mostly the problem is sand, which can drift over roads and become almost a foot deep in places so there is no choice but to push. The locals will surely be there pushing alongside you though (personal car ownership is rare in most of Tanzania, and so road traffic is relatively light), so there is nothing for it but to just suck it up and smile when you hear “Pole za safari…” (“Sorry for your travels”) from everyone you pass.
Food: Wali na maharage (beans and rice) is all there is in many rural areas, so whether you’re a vegetarian or not, it’s a useful phrase to learn. It can be served with a small side of vegetables or with pili-pili sauce and be quite good actually – if you like rice you’ll have an easy time here: Tanzanians make good rice.
For breakfast, it is the same chapati (flat-bread) and mandazi (nonsweet doughnuts) as in the rest of the region, though Tanzanian mandazi seemed to us notably sweeter and lighter than in other countries. Maybe we had just gotten used to it all by then though.
The real pinnacle of Tanzanian cuisine is chipsi na mayai (french-fries and eggs), a sort of omelet with french fries that will certainly help you meet your daily calorie intake. Unfortunately, it’s only really available in cities. In rural areas, though most towns have some sort of cafe, they may only serve mandazi and chapati – even wali na maharage can be a stretch.
Sleeping: We succeeded in doing some bush camping in western Tanzania, but sometimes this was kind of pushing it – even in places that look uninhabited, there is always a house or a field and always someone who will come by your tent just as you are trying to hide. Still, Tanzanians are so relaxed around foreigners that even when we were seen and dozens of people probably knew where we were camping, we had no trouble, we were left in peace. Still, we always made sure to have the tent down early and to be on the road by sunrise.
Guesthouses are the more practical option in rural areas, and most decent-sized towns have them. The price is usally 3,000 shillings the night (1.5 euros) for a double, and while sometimes they can be surprisingly clean and airy and quiet, other times they are rat and cockroach infested hell-holes. In larger towns, there are often quite descent hotel rooms available, and we found ourselves regularly in rooms the size of our apartment in Brussels, including a TV, air conditioner, private bathroom, hot water, and a mousquito net for just 10,000 shillings (about six euros).
Things shouted at us along the road: “Karibu!” (Welcome!) should be the national slogan as far as we’re concerned. That was the most common phrase, combined with any one of the hundreds of ways Tanzanians seem to have of saying ‘hello’ (Jambo, Hujambo, Hatujambo, Mambo, Habari yako, Habari zenu, Habari gani, Habari za safari, Pole za safari, Shikamoo, Salamaa…). There wasn’t so much shouted in English actually – every bit of Kiswahili you can pick up before you go will stand you in good stead along the road.