Thursday, July 28

Unity Bridge: Mozambique to Tanzania

Brett: We weren’t looking forward to this part of the trip. The classic ferry across the Ruvuma River sunk a few years ago, so the options were to take a pontoon (3 row boats held together with narrow wooden planks that can apparently carry a vehicle) or the brand new Unity Bridge which requires a 350km detour inland. We took the bridge (as did everyone else we spoke to). Up early again (6am) – the road out of Pangani was longer and rougher than we remembered it coming in. We joined the main Tar N1 at Macomia, but the good tar lasts only a few km before it becomes badly potholed (which is often worse than a rough dirt road) and took about 3 hours for 120km. There is some good tar for 80km between Aldeia and Mueda which we reached at 1pm. We had planned to stay over at Mueda and fill up with food and petrol, but we had run out of Mtc, there was no atm and the bank wouldn’t let us draw money over the counter or change dollars. The town wasn’t great anyway, and we didn’t find any obvious accommodation.

We worked out that we could do the last 250km before the fuel needle would be on “E”nough and that we should make it to the border before it closed and decided to take a chance. The first half of the road was narrow and windy tracks but smooth and we made good time (even Mary suggested she should be a rally driver on her turn to drive). We reached the original border (in the middle of nowhere and 100km before the bridge) and climbed out to go through Immigration and Customs, but with some sign language, we figured out that the formalities had recently been moved to the bridge. We couldn’t figure out why there was still a closed (self service) boom or what the border guy might still do here. The second half of the road was recently graded and we took it quickly – this is the kind of dirt road I enjoy. Most of the bumps along the way were small, except one which we hit hard and launched the car, causing our collection of empty glass coke bottles (which we hand in when we buy new ones to avoid paying the deposits) to made a huge noise – fortunately they didn’t break.  There are also a couple patches of deep fine talcum dust, which are better hit with 4x4 engaged. We felt sorry for the locals cycling and walking along who would invariably wave at us before being engulfed in huge red dust clouds moments later – we weren’t even going that fast, it was just that kind of dust.

For Overlanders: We only remembered that Tanzania is in a different time zone (ahead by 1 hour) when we reached the border/bridge and effectively made it by 10 minutes. The Mozambique side was easy, only requiring a stamp in our passports and to fill in a departure form.  Mary charmed the guys at the Tanzanian side with the Swahili that she had been learning in the car. We needed visas here ($50 each) and there was a $5 processing fee to sign our Carnet. The COMESA (3rd party insurance) paid for itself at this border alone. The border took us 40 minutes in total, most of which was taken laboriously writing out receipts and looking for change – they charge for everything in USD and need exact change – they only accept bills since 2006 and don’t accept $1 bills. We had some Tanzanian Shillings, but they were out of date, so didn’t work. In the end the guy called his friend the moneychanger, got the latest USD: ZAR rate and charged us in Rands. The guys were very helpful and friendly.

Mary: We left the border in the dark along the dirt road (the bridge and about 1km either side is tar, but everything leading up to it from both sides is still dirt roads), which was in good condition. For the first 20km from the border, we saw no villages (until now, we have seen villages everywhere) and seriously considered free camping, even getting the spotlight out from the back and shining it around a bit, but we couldn’t see enough of the surroundings and couldn’t find a good spot. We pushed through to Masasi exhausted and checked in at Holiday Motel ($10 for a double room) which is a charming dive. They have nice sterile rooms for about $30 with aircon, but the real party is round the back, where the more grubby rooms look out over a lively beer garden. These have giant ants and no running water, but clean linen. Unfortunately the party didn’t end til midnight, when the music was turned off, but the drinkers stay for a good shout til about 3 am…

The town itself is very vibrant, and has a very different feel to anything we have seen so far. It felt very safe and relaxed – it reminded us of South America with street markets and tuk-tuks everywhere. We drew some cash and had a quick dinner at a cool little Restaurant (Al Jezeera) for $1 pp (rice, beans, kidney and cokes – absolutely delicious, although it was anybody’s guess what animal the kidneys came from) and then crashed into bed at 10pm. In the morning we explored the excellent market and stocked up on oranges, tomatoes, onions etc. We had some fried cassava with tomato salsa for breakfast, after avoiding the greasy, phallic looking soup being marketed to Brett as “helping make you many baby”. Nobody was harassing us, the prices were very good, and if they didn’t have change the vendors would invariably offer for us to keep the difference or would barter some of the previously bought items like oranges.

We stopped in Kilwa Masoko for a night at Kilwa Dreams ($10 pppn) which was ok, but the beach was a bit disappointing compared to Northern Moz. From sunset, we were swarmed by millions of tiny mosquitoes so we hid out in the tent behind the mozzie net. Brett went for a quick slash behind the car and as I was putting the last few things away the beam of my head torch swept over a spookily hidden and eerily silent Masai guard sitting in the shadows very close to where Brett had just peed. We hoped he would take the near miss as a compliment on his stealth...

There are some ruins out on an island off the coast but we decided to skip them and head straight for Dar the next morning.


  1. Hi guys,
    Hope everything is going well on your journey!
    Can't wait for your next update. This is my dream trip you guys are doing. I am planning to cross Africa down to SA on the east route, starting in Scotland (originally from SA), but wont happen for a few years still.

  2. hey Herman, thanks for feedback. it is odd that northern tanzania has more tourists than anywhere we have been on this trip but we cant find wifi (kindle is our only option right now). We will try to find an internet cafe in the next few days to upload the last few posts.

    good luck with your trip preparation and please keep us updated.


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