South to South: Day 6

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Insert battery water here.

18 October – Day 6 | Kasama to Mpulungu, board MV Liemba and overnight on Lake Tanganyika into Tanzania | 203km

We were told that the ferry would only depart at 18:00 today. With 200km to go, we were in no rush this morning. By 09:00 we had finished packing and DW went to collect something outside… and… he… did…not… come… back..? Our Dakar was dead. Starter? Battery? Dead. With massive effort, DW removed all the bags, the straps, the seat and climbed into the heart of the beast. Later, Calvin and his friends tried to give him a running start up and down the street. Unsuccessful. A quick call to SA revealed that the Dakar would only successfully run-start at 60km/hour. Finally, we managed to find a mechanic and boom! Success! The battery water was finished. And so we learned another little key lesson in biking. Plus 500ml battery water and we were moving again, but anxiety was growing… what if something went wrong again and we missed the ferry..? Only once we reached the portal town of Mpulungu, did we start to loosen up. We stopped for petrol, quite pleased with the good time we had finally made. To our great surprise, the petrol attendant told us that the Liemba had just left the port! Colaborating with this deep disappointment, was the realisation that we had left our precious duct tape somewhere next to the road and that the converter cable of our GPS melted on the bike’s hot engen… No way, the ferry! We couldn’t believe our misfortune. Deeply troubled, we continued on to the harbour anyway.

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Dakar ICU.

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Another attempt at reviving the beast.

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Lost in translation with the petrol attendant at Mpulungu.

To our delight, there she lay: the MV Liemba in all her historical glory! What a beautiful sight. And what a contrast of emotions! From despondence to elation. That petrol attendant… Lost in translation. Thank God. This was also our first glimpse of Lake Tanganyika. At 676 kms, it is the longest freshwater lake on earth. The port was an experience in itself. The huge gates were shut and masses of people were waiting outside. A guard ushered us through because we had a bike to load. Just inside the gate we met Dave. Dave was from Canada. Dave has been traveling for six years. On his bicycle. On his own. Dave said f@#k a lot. Like in really really a lot. Like in every sentence. I liked the idea of traveling by bicycle and we were really impressed with the way he had transformed his bike over the years to take on the long roads. We had a pleasant conversation. He gave us sim cards for Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania as well as many helpful tips. Our conversation was suddenly interrupted by the gates opening and masses of people literally running into the port! Fascinating! Old and young, barefoot and heals, male and female, everyone hiked their knees and made for the ferry.

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I wish I had captured a better picture of the entire ferry from a distance.

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I read that the German commander Gustav Zimmer sank this warship during WWI, 1916, to prevent it falling into Allied hands. At the time it was called the Graf von Gotzen. In 1924, it was raised again and renamed the MV Liemba. It turned 100 years old in 2013.

As we approached, guys were busy loading enormous bags with a crane. There was a happy, friendly buzz all around. Numerous bystanders took selfies with us. It seemed that the masses came for the excitement of the launch rather than as passengeres because only a few actually boarded in the end. An enormous crane was moving to and from the ferry’s deck, lifting massive bags of cargo. A group of guys came to help DW position the Dakar over a yellow net and the crane hoisted it onto the front deck. A spectacular sight. We booked a ‘first-class’ cabin. It turned out to be a tiny cabin just fitting a bunkbed, cupboard, chair, mirror and wash basin. We had a space to sleep and to lock our stuff during the day, we couldn’t have been happier.

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Heavy loads of cargo swinging over the crowds.

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Getting ready to hoist the beast. DW wanted to remain seated for this airlift, but his request was sadly not granted.

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Hoist!

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The busy harbour of Mpulungu.

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We made it! On board the MV Liemba, Lake Tanganyika.

At $100/pp (roughly R1000/pp), it was totally worth it. The cafeteria reminded me of the Tazara, yet bigger and with the cool breeze and gentle sway of the waves rather than the rusty metal gallop of the old train. Chicken or beef, rice or banana. On board, we experienced our co-passengers not impolite but also not exuberantly friendly or open. I suspected the language barrier played a large role, we did not experience English as being a widely used language. Exhausted, we retired early. Somewhere during the night I woke up to the noise of another harbour and men busily loading more cargo.

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Parking secured for the next three nights.

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Chicken or beef?

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The last two photographs capture the insanity of the exuberantly mad teethy grin contrasting the red-rimmed vague expressionless stare of exhaustion mixed with a twist of gratitude, a pinch of unbelief and a bucket full of relief. Three nights on the water started here, we had caught the ferry just in time, thank God!

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