Here is the second photo instalment of my recent short cycle tour through Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. I’m back at work in Mwanza now, but planning an adventurous cycle tour in central Africa at the end of this year.
Crossing from Rwanda into Burundi at the border post of Kayanza. The road was well paved, as were all the roads I cycled on in Burundi.
The first sign I passed in Burundi was an enormous billboard promoting a mobile phone company. Most people here live in homes without electricity, but mobile phone towers provide telephone coverage. The same is true throughout much of sub-saharan Africa.
The Akanyaru River divides Rwanda from Burundi, ensuring a descent towards and an inevitable climb away from the border. In such a rural location this enormous billboard seemed ridiculously out of place, although I’m sure everyone was happy to have mobile reception.
My first night in Burundi was spent camping beside a Police Station. When packing for this tour I was in two minds about whether bringing a tent was necessary, but having it proved valuable on two occasions. Darkness comes quickly in Africa, so rather than listen to local advice that a guest house wasn’t far away (a wildly inaccurate claim) I decided to stop in the first village. As expected there was an audience until Dave and I retired to our tents and said goodnight. In the morning we were up at sunrise and on the road soon after. My MSR Hubba Hubba tent is still going strong after 400+ nights of use. It’s a much more suitable tent in warm weather than the Hillberg that Dave uses.
I never tire of stopping to appreciate the artistry and character found within some of the local Chinese and Indian bikes in Africa.
Like Rwanda, Burundi has one of Africa’s highest population densities. There is almost always someone on the roadside. On day 2 in the country I passed a village bursting with colour and activity as a group of women were selling sweet potatoes.
A group of young boys looked towards me nervously as I stopped to take a photo of the bananas and drums being sold at the roadside.
Burundian cyclists are a fearless bunch. At any opportunity to save some energy and time they can be found clinging onto the backs of trucks heading into and out of Bujumbura. The main road out of Burundi’s capital ascends from 700m in altitude to over 2200m. Trucks often tow 4 cyclists or more, all of whom ride side-saddle, nonchalantly whizzing past at speeds of over 50km/h.
As if holding on to speeding trucks wasn’t dangerous enough, there were also instances of cyclists clinging onto minibuses and cars.
The descent towards Bujumbura is the most scenic and exhilarating I have experienced when entering an African capital.
A number of cyclists carry passengers at over speeds of 60km/hr towards Bujumbura, a descent of around 30km.
A clean bank note is a rare note in Burundi. Burundian Francs are some of the grubbiest notes issued in Africa.
South from Bujumbura a flat road follows the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Beer billboards are as common as those promoting mobile networks.
Primus is Burundi’s most popular and cheapest bottled beer, but Dave and I agreed that Amstel was far superior.
Lake Tanganyika is Africa’s longest and deepest lake, dropping to a depth of 1.5km. With waves crashing onto sandy beaches it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is over 1000km away from the sea.
I’m always amazed at the loads that are frequently transported by bicycle in Africa.
Local restaurants are relatively easy to find in Burundi. Palm oil is frequently used in cooking beans and plantain and fresh milk is a popular drink at any time of the day.
Perhaps the best meal I had in Burundi was a very simple plate of fish and chips ($4) in the lakeside town of Nyanza Lac (the fish – Sangala was the local name, had probably been caught a few hours earlier). The influence of a Belgian history in Burundi is apparent from the fact that mayonnaise is always available.
Away from Lake Tanganyika a steep climb awaits (14-15%) ascending from an altitude of 700m to about 1600m.
A number of Burundians are able to speak Swahili, so I was able to converse in basic conversation with many people at the roadside.
Tinted glasses seem to be popular in Burundi. When I asked a few people I was told that the lack of vitamins in the diet meant many people had bad eyesight and required glasses. Why tinted glasses I’m not sure.
Most of Burundi’s roads are surprisingly paved and blissfully free of traffic. There are also some screamingly steep descents. I clocked 76km/h on one road and Dave hit 84km/h on his fully loaded bike.
There remains uncertainty as to where exactly the River Nile begins its course (some say Rwanda others Burundi). I doubt there is much information available at either. A broken sign post pointing up a dirt track showed the source to be 26km away from here.
The condition of saddles probably explains why many people choose to ride their bicycle by sitting on the rear rack, particularly when descending hills.
Rambo once was, and still is, a popular figure in Africa.
The wall of a Guest House I stayed in one evening was painted with some interesting artwork.
Burundi doesn’t see many foreigners, particularly those travelling by bicycle. I found the people welcoming, curious and less demanding than other African countries where calls for money and gifts accompany many interactions.
African bicycles usually come in just one size, but that doesn’t stop those not big enough trying to ride.
Brick kilns are a popular sight on the roadside in Burundi.
And how else are most bricks transported from the kiln to town?
It was pineapple season when I cycled through Burundi. One pineapple like these pictured cost around (£0.20). Fortunately I had sufficient space to carry at least a few whenever I stopped.
My Surly front rack has always been great for transporting fruit.
The scenery in Burundi never bored.
Like many African borders a river separates Burundi with Tanzania. The border town of Kobero is in the background here. In total I spent just over 1 week in Burundi.
Back in north western Tanzania it wasn’t long before the sight of plantain being carried by bicycle greeted me again.
For the second time on the tour we needed to camp when the sun disappeared and local knowledge proved wildly inaccurate about distances to the next town with a Guest House. I didn’t pack my stove so relied on Dave’s multi-fuel to cook up some basic meals.
Meat soup is a popular breakfast in Tanzania, but as Dave’s expression shows, a bowl of offal is not really that appetising.
Rural roads in Tanzania are mostly free of traffic, but there are some long distances between towns and the cycling can at times be dull. The blue tray strapped to the back of my camping bag is a Primus tray – a small souvenir from Burundi.
The rock-strewn landscape around Mwanza makes for some good photo backdrops.
A confident young boy approached me with a head balanced full of bananas. I bought a bunch before he happily posed for the camera.
A short ferry journey across a southern inlet of Lake Victoria brought us back to Mwanza district.
Onboard and nearing the end of the tour.
Approaching Mwanza and what for the time-being is ‘home’. I’m fortunate to have this view on a daily basis as I cycle to work and back alongside the shores of Lake Victoria. Unfortunately there is too much traffic to make it a relaxing ride, and this is the only real scenic stretch. Mwanza is Tanzania’s second largest urban centre, so the tranquil scene pictured here is a little misleading. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant enough place to be in Africa for a few years. I’m happy to be out on the bike daily – planning another tour and attempting to get back to writing the Big Africa Cycle book.