Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our journey out of camp

Well, we are now out of camp and back in civilization. I thought you might be interested in our journey.

During the heavy rains of April and May the Mahale airstrip closes down for its annual maintenance. Therefore, the only way out of camp at the end of the season is to navigate our small dhow boat ‘Wolfie’ to Kigoma which is the closest town with an airstrip. Kigoma is around 200 km north along the remote eastern shore of the longest lake in the World.

At 7.45am after checking the camp one last time Wolfie departed. We won’t be back for 5 weeks so it was kind of sad watching Greystoke slip out of sight. The lake was nice and calm but we could see huge storm clouds gathering in the North and guess which way the wind was coming! After 1 hour plain sailing the storm was upon us. At this time of the year the weather on Lake Tanganyika can be very unpredictable; being such a large body of water it creates its own environment. Within 5 minutes the lake went from tranquil and relaxing to 3 foot white capped waves, strong winds and heavy rain. One minute we could see the Congo 50 km across the lake then we couldn’t see 20 meters in front of the boat. Luckily we were heading straight into the waves which helped ease the rocking but did mean the bow was thumping into each new wave and slowing our passage considerably. Our canvas roof was virtually useless as rain and spray blew vertically soaking everything and everyone.

Musa was driving with great skill accelerating where he could and easing the boat over the larger waves, his hand constantly adjusting the throttle. I could see the wooden hull flexing under the pressure of each wave. These dhows are built in the traditional way with cotton soaked in oil firmly chiseled between each plank to keep the boat ‘water tight’. The hull is extremely strong and had no problem dealing with the repeated punishment of the storm. While Kiri was tucked up on the seat, I was called into action with the bucket and started to bail out the rain water and spray which was falling into the boat. Like a kid in the back seat of long car journey, Kiri who was rapped in towel and blanket, due to the cold, would pop up her head every now and then to ask ‘are we there yet’.

Five hours later we finally came through! The stormed passed as suddenly as it had started and out came the sun, what a relief.

Instead of hugging the coast line we took a direct route up the middle. We could now see 70 or more kilometers and the view was breathtaking. Lake Tanganyika is 680km long but on average 50km wide and as we traveled up the lake we could see the massive escarpments on both sides as they disappeared into the distance, it seemed like the lake went on forever.

Unfortunately our progress had been so slow due to the storm that the normal 9 hour Mahale – Kigoma safari took us 12 hours.

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