“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move”. -Robert Louis Stevenson.
• Mikumi to Mbeya, Utengule Coffee Lodge.
• Distance covered 529km, taking 10hr.
As was to be the case with most of this homeward leg we were off to an early start before 7H00. This drive between Mikumi and Iringa, entering the central Tanzanian Highlands is one of the nicest drives of our entire trip, especially considering it is on a busy main route. One passes through the long Valley of the Baobabs, which surely must have the densest population of these iconic African trees anywhere on the continent. They had been more spectacular on our route north in June, when they had no leaves and stood out more starkly. With the arrival of the rains the green surroundings were in marked contrast to what had greeted our eyes 8 months earlier. This route had been covered in my post in June and really there is not much to add. The truck traffic was again heavy but well behaved and as before the road is in good condition. It is amazing to consider that virtually the entire direct route from Cape to Cairo is now good tar except for the bad section north of the Kenyan border into Ethiopia from Moyale. It could be covered in a saloon car quite comfortably. The challenges remain when going off the main route on the roads less travelled all over Southern, Eastern and Northern Africa. Even these are becoming increasingly tame as African infrastructure improves, if thinking of such a trip do it soon before the dark continent becomes a neon strip! We drove past Kisiolanza Farm Campsite which we had enjoyed so much going north. Our stopovers and conversely the distances of our daily legs were governed by suitable stopovers and distances. Kisiolanza was too close to Tan Swiss, being reached before midday. We reached Utengule at the very suitable time of 16H45. However one forgets how busy and chaotic the substantial city of Mbeya is and the drive into and through this major center was somewhat chaotic in the heavy traffic.
I had entertained the idea of taking a detour to the northern part of Lake Nyasa (Malawi), where it lies in Tanzania, near Matema as Anne had never visited the lake. The Blue Canoe Camp (formerly Crocodile Camp) here had been taken over by a German and was apparently running very well. However Utengule is on the opposite side of Mbeya, 20km or so directly on the route to the Tunduma border post. I could not stomach retaking the route through Mbeya and surrounds with the time consuming traffic, before tackling the road to the lake of a few hundred km. At this stage of our travels we just did not have the stamina left to take this considerable detour just to visit the lake for a few nights. We should probably have done this when still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on the northward leg.
Utengule Lodge was no great shakes at a second look. We had enjoyed our first stay here but by now had a far more extensive perspective of what was available in East Africa. Camping here is on the lawn of the helicopter landing pad and has no character at all. The ablutions are in good condition but in fact are for the squash court. The lasagne supper we had here was expensive and very mediocre. Much more could be made of this stopover with very little extra effort. Camping is not cheap at about US$15 each, one of the more expensive of the entire trip. Once again our good luck with the rain was to continue, there had been extensive rain earlier in the vicinity. In fact during the entire trip the weather had been kind to us and on no occasion had we been drenched at all, something that could easily have happened when camping. No rain interrupted our schedule at any time.