At the end of our last installment, we had just experienced our first checkpoint bribe, as we traveled from Itigi to Mbeya. As we drove south we went from red-dirt lowlands to alpine terrain and passed through the highest point in Tanzania served by trunk roads – though obviously not the highest point in Tanzania overall.
The route took us up and over the mountains. It was very pretty and green; some call this area “The Scotland of Africa.” Along the way we saw a huge road-building crew from China – from what I have heard, China is building a lot of infrastructure in Africa – this route could definitely use an improved road.
Not too far after the high point the view opened out onto the valley and we saw Mbeya spread before us. Even from a distance we could see that it was the largest city we had seen since Kampala. It was a dizzying but exhilarating descent down to the valley floor and into town.
Mbeya sits at the confluence of the trade routes from Zambia and Malawi, so there’s a lot of bustle. We stopped in town only long enough to check Lonely Planet (Mbeya is large enough to be listed in Lonely Planet, unlike Itigi or Biharumalo) and secure our lodging for the night – the Utengule Coffee Lodge, which is situated on a working coffee plantation. With its large rooms, swimming pool and full meal service it was a step up from the Upendo. It was nice to have a sit-down dinner and a drink. And breakfast.
After a pleasant evening in the dining room, we turned in early (again). We wanted to have some time to enjoy our journey so we agreed we would leave later the next day – our primary goal was to get through the Malawi border crossing before it closed. We had agreed that if we had to spend a night or two in the truck we would just suck it up and deal with it, but neither of us wanted to.
Per my new Africa schedule, I was up with the sun. K joined me for breakfast and a nice conversation with the manager of the place, who had driven to Blantyre many times and was able to give us some advice about travel times and things to see along the way.
After that I used the rest of my morning to explore the coffee plantation.
On the way back to the lodge I met up with a group of schoolgirls who were very cute, but were very eager to practice their English phrases “Give us the money” and “give us the camera.” I declined to do either, so they had to settle for a friendly wave.
Around midday we packed up and hit the road for points south. Stay tuned for tales of a Malawi border crossing and pictures of Tanzania’s land bridge.