I have learned a few things this week:

1. My definition of full is not even close to Tanzanians’ definition of full. When you think no one else can fit in the bus, you bet Tanzanians can get another 10 people plus a load of bananas or boxes of liquor to fit.

2. A bus doesn’t need a functioning ventilation system when the windshield gets foggy on account of the rain. Just leave both front windows open, ignore the rain coming in and have one of the helpful passengers wipe the windshield again and again.

3. Tanzanians don’t really know the concept of personal space and are much closer physically, but also emotionally. That has advantages, but also some disadvantages.

On our way to Tukuyu for instance, the minibus had rows of two seats left and right and a seat in between to fold down and fill the row. Once all the seats including the foldable ones in the bus were filled, a few more people entered that stood in the front area close to the entrance. Ok, the bus was full now. When we stopped again and I saw some BIG African mamas wrapped in pretty kangas getting ready to enter he bus, I looked around in alarm. There was NO place for those big bums. But….I was wrong. One of the VERY big ladies came straight over to my already full row and somehow managed to squeeze between us. Then a banana stem was mounted on top of the luggage that had been placed on the front seats of the bus (our backpacks were somewhere at the bottom of the pile) and then ANOTHER big mama entered the bus. I got really worried now. And when she started shouting out of the window to someone and that someone poked a humongous basket full of green bananas through the window for the lady to take, I was in shock. The nice thing about the whole thing was, that no one else seemed to care. As that last big woman definitely was not able to find a seat, a man in the front row took her huge banana basket on his lap. Something unthinkable in Germany!

Or on this other bus ride, when a woman’s chicken got loose and was running around in panic, a fellow passenger helped the lady tie the feet of the chicken back together and put it in a plastic bag ­čś» for her. People don’t mind taking another person’s child on their lap, while the mother is taking a nap during the long bus ride…Tanzanians are just so much closer to their fellow citizens. On the negative side this also means that you could end up having someone’s big but in your face for an entire bus ride, can be knocked over by an elbow while someone is trying to enter the bus or that you are hit on your head by a suitcase that is being carried above the passengers. Consideration of others and their space is not one of Tanzania’ s strong sides.


This past week started in Mbeya. Mbeya was only a stop-over on our way to Tukuyu. We booked into a hotel that was called “one of the better-value budget choices” in Lonely Planet. Already when we got to the reception desk, we started wondering if we had made the right choice. The “receptionist” was a young woman casually dressed in sports wear and a worn, red knit-hat, slouching lazily at her desk. She looked at us as though we were disturbing her and picking her nose agreed to give us a room. Picking the nose, by the way, is something the people here do quite frequently and without any sign of shame.

The room was small and ugly and the bathroom told us that we could do without showering that night. I didn’t even start counting the holes in the filthy mosquito net. And unfortunately there was nowhere to hang up the net we had brought along (Thanks for the loan, Ralf!). We walked around town, not wanting to spend too much time in the room and got back when the rain started. Since a few days the season of so-called “short rains” is becoming more obvious and especially in the afternoon one has to expect strong showers. As the rain did not seem to be so “short” that night, we decided to give the hotel restaurant a shot. When we asked a member of the staff if the restaurant was open, as there was no one to be seen, he replied in a very friendly manner that we were most welcome and should enter. Inside we were greeted by a gloomy room with 6 tables, all of them covered in crumbs and other leftovers of the day (an empty Coke bottle on one table, a dirty fork on another, the omnipresent bread spread Blue band from who knows when…). Reluctantly we took a seat. The guy smiled at us expectantly. We smiled back and waited for him to give us a menu. When nothing of the like happened, we asked for it. We found out that a menu did not exist in this “restaurant”. Next we asked what he had to eat then. We expected to get the answer one always hears at smaller restaurants: Chips with chicken, rice with chicken, ugali (a Tanzanian thick cornmeal porridge) with chicken, chips with beef, rice with beef, ugali with….you get the picture. In this case the man said he had chips with fish and rice with fish. We waited for more to come. But that was all he had. We were hesitant to order fish, being in the middle of the southern highlands with no lake or any other water close by. When we asked if there was no chicken at all and moved to get up and leave the dreary place, he stopped us and told us he would get chicken. We looked at each other. What did he mean? He was going to go shopping now? We tried to refuse and tell him we would go somewhere else, but he insisted that we stay. So he disappeared and we sat at a dirty table, feeling angry at ourselves for not being more persistent. In a suprisingly short time though the kitchen cooked up a very tasty meal that we honestly had not expected.

That did not make up for next morning’s breakfast though, which was served in the same dirty room (all left items at the identical place of the evening before) and consisted of two slices of dry untoasted toast, two fried eggs and coffee without any milk. ­čśĽ

Our bus ride that day to Tukuyu was quite uneventful. As usual someone from the bus company tried to make us pay extra for the transport of our backpacks and as usual I made it very clear that I know for a fact that luggage is free of charge and that I would not pay. And also the reaction was as always: A sheepish laugh, followed by walking off.


Tukuyu is a small mountain town surrounded by lush vegetation and banana trees wherever you look.

Banana fields Tukuyu

Banana vendors Tukuyu

The plan was to enjoy the mountain breeze, the clean air and to make a half-day hike before continuing our journey to Matema beach. Knowing that there would be no ATMs after this stop, we needed to get enough cash for the upcoming days, including our return trip back to “civilization”. Unfortunately the cash machine died on me after I had already punched in my PIN and had selected the desired amount of cash. The very assuring “Initializing platform” was all it displayed suddenly. As we were worried that the money might have been booked off my account without the machine having dispensed any cash, we went inside the bank for assistance. Here again German mentality clashed with Tansanian. The man in the bank was naturally extremely friendly, kept his humour and tried to make small talk while assuring us that all is good and we needn’t worry. Again and again I attempted to make him understand that I appreciated his words, but I prefered something in writing that I could show my bank if necessary. His laughter and smiles put us a bit on edge, as we did not feel he was taking the situation seriously enough. At some point he decided to have the “ATM supervisor” talk to us, who told us the same story, that we didn’t have to worry, all would be good. After a lot of discussion and us becoming more aggravated as this was going nowhere, we found out that there was actually a form for these cases….but sadly only in Kiswahili. Again discussions began as to why he couldn’t find the English form in his mess on the desk and drawers and what to do instead. In the end I persuaded the bank man to type up a translation of the Kiswahili form in English on a paper with an official letter head. All of that took about one hour. When I asked the still smiling guy for his name, he gave me his name and private email adress “so that we can chat”…..I was close to exploding into his face and hurried out of the bank.

After that unpleasant encounter we desperately needed some tea. Since Zanzibar Masala tea was our happy-food. And we had our dose whenever possible or whenever needed… ­čśë

Masala Tea

In the evening, after wandering around the small town with the nice vibe, we came across a small “square” at the end of a dead-end street, with local outdoor bars on each side. We ordered a beer and got into talking with a friendly middle-aged man. So far away from touristy towns, not many people spoke English. Even at hotels it was difficult at times to communicate. So, it was quite nice having a proper conversation for a change. He told us his name was Israel and scolded us when we sent the waitress back with the warm beer she had brought us, for not mentioning from the beginning that we had wanted a┬á cold beer…something that was hard for us to remember….I mean who would not want a cold beer, right? But it seems, as so few people in Tanzania have or had fridges, they have gotten accustomed to their room-temperature beer and actually prefer it like that even when cold beer is available.

Tukuyu Bar Corner

Tukuyu Bar Corner

After sitting and talking for a while, Israel invited us to another beer and we decided to try the local bar food for dinner. It was nice having our new friend to explain to us what food they had on offer as normally when we would go to basic, local places without menu or anyone who spoke English, we ended up ordering what we could point to and probably missed out on many great things that were not visible. We decided to have a bowl of supu, a local broth made from bony or gristly peaces of meat or chicken with intestines in it and some mishkaki, beef meat on skewers with fries.

The next day we met with our guide from Rungwe tea & tours at 9 o’clock to go on our hike. We had been given the choice to hire a car with a driver to get to our starting point or to go by public transport, which is what we chose. We went to the bus station and caught a bus that took us through the prettiest, greenest landscape with bananas all around us, until we reached a cross-road to the Ngozi crater.

Banana vendors

Banana vendors

From there on we walked 7 km along an enjoyable dirt road and then started a steep climb up a verdant, overgrown hill.

Hiking Tukuyu Ngozi Crater Lake

Hiking Tukuyu Ngozi Crater Lake

During the hike our guide gave us some insights to the district. We learned for example that the area around Tukuyu is so fertile because of the volcanic soil and that pretty much everything grows around there, especially bananas. We were told that bananas were very important to the community and that you virtually could not marry if you did not have at least one banana tree in your yard. ­čśë And being the wettest place in Tanzania with 9 months of rain per year is of course also a reason for Tukuyu being that green.

Our guide introduced us to some mysterious legends being passed on about the crater lake, such as it having moved from one part of the country to another after devouring some village people. No need to say that the locals don’t swim in the lake.

The little hike was absolutely beautiful, despite being extremely strenuous. And we were rewarded with a stunning view over the crater at the top of the hill, where we had a small picknick. As on all our tours in Tanzania, we were the only people around.

Ngosy Crater Lake

Hiking Tukuyu Ngozi Crater Lake

At the end of our hike, we went back to the cross-road to wait for the bus to take us into town. When a bus came and stopped, we looked at our guide in puzzlement as he told us to get in. Get in where?? The bus was jam packed. All seats were taken and even all standing areas were full. We got in nevertheless and stood on our toes of one foot, leaning against whoever was standing close. When the bus stopped again a few minutes later to let more people in, my understanding of “full” was expanded another time.


The next day we took a bus to Kyela where we had to catch an onward bus to the tiny fishing village Matema. The bus to Kyela was pretty empty and we had a comfortable ride in the back row, our feet resting on big synthetic bags. After a while I realized there was a raw lamb’s leg or a leg of some other animal peeking out of one of the bags. And when we stopped to unload the meat, a puddle of blood remained beneath our feet. ­čśĽ

Since being away from the big towns and the touristy areas more children (and sometimes also grown men) called “Mzungo” upon seeing us: the Tanzanian way of addressing a white foreigner. I know it is not meant in an offensive way, but it does make you feel weird being called like that. I would not want to imagine someone in Germany calling a black tourist on the street “Hey, black foreigner” in this day and age…

On the next stretch of the ride from Kyela we sat at the front of the minibus next to the driver, while our backpacks were squashed in the back between boxes and more boxes of Konyagi, a local clear liquor similar to gin. The street was a mix of dirt road and gravel road.

Kyely dirt road

Kyela bridge

We needed three and a half hours for 45 km, which was not only because of the road conditions, but also because we made about 100 stops on the way to load and unload people (and Konyagi) and because the bus was in pretty bad shape.

Konyagi boxes

Mini bus to Matema Beach

The driver had difficulties opening his door whenever he wanted to get in or out of the bus, which happened quite often, as his sidekick couldn’t get the sliding back door of the bus to open on his own. Once he even unhinged the door and the passengers had to climb to the front of the bus to get out. About ten km before arriving at Matema beach, we stopped at something like a garage or used tire shop, where our bus driver borrowed a hand pump and pumped up our right front tire manually…

Tire shop Matema

When we saw our luggage after arriving in Matema, we were once again thankful for our friends advising us to get pack-sacks to protect our backpacks before we left home. (Thanks to Sabine & Daniel!!)

Packs├Ącke - Pack sack Deuter

After walking the one kilometer from the bus stop to Matema Lake Shore Resort, we knew we had found our personal little paradise. Matema sits at the northern end of Lake Nyasa, also known as Lake Malawi, which is over 550 km long and up to 75 km wide. It’s like looking over the sea here with real waves and a proper, sandy beach. And where Matema beach is, the green Livingston mountains give the lake an especially serene feel. (Thanks Michael, for recommending this beautiful spot!)

Lake Nyasa - Matema Beach

We were the only guests in the resort, built by a Swiss mission and enjoyed the tranquility of our little oasis.

Swiss built bungalow Matema

For the first time in weeks I was not woken by cocks crowing, muezzins calling, dogs barking or loud hotel staff shouting. I slept like a baby. We decided to stay a night longer than originally planned and were simply content.

Matema Beach

At Matema Beach

Most of the days we just relaxed and soaked up the beautiful view. One day we took a dug-out canoe and went snorkeling in the lake.

Dugout canoe Matema

Snorkeling Lake Nyasa

Another day we walked the 2km into the village along the beach and walked back on a wonderful lush dirt road.

Fish Net Matema Beach

Matema village

Matema village hair salon

The only thing a bit stodgy was the food variety at our resort. Just when we started tiring of the limited selection, we met a Scottish engineer, Eddy and his Chinese colleague Mr. Xia who had booked into our resort that day for the weekend. They invited us to join them at their fish BBQ. They had asked the staff at the resort to get some fresh fish and to prepare it for dinner that night. It was a fantastic meal in very friendly and amusing company.

Matema Beach encounters

Fish BBQ Matema Beach

Fish BBQ Matema Beach

Fish BBQ Matema Beach

Matema Beach Sunset

The following evening we sat around again with our new found friends and enjoyed their company. And not only that: as they were heading back to Mbeya the same day as us, they offered to take us with them in their 4×4. ­čśÇ

The next day around lunch time paradise was over. A German motorcycle group of 18 people burst into our peace shouting and acting as if they owned the place. Only a few minutes after their arrival we saw the first guys walking around showing off their naked beer bellies and others entering the outdoor restaurant in only a t-shirt and speedos. When some of them rode their motorbikes up and down the beach, we were happy to know this was our last day at Matema beach.