Utengule near Mbeya to Songea near the border with Mozambique
Hours in car: 8 hrs 45 mins; 508 klms
There is a problem with mirror-smooth tar roads. One is inclined to nip along too quickly.
So quickly, in fact, that one quite misses the 50 Kph speed limit signs. And flashes by the policeman with the upheld palm indicating, as one reflects on hindsight, that one should stop.
There is also a problem with reliable mobile phone signals.
Husband couldn’t flash by the second policeman, in the next village, he didn’t just outstretch an arm; he stood stock still in the middle of the road.
‘I am going to fine you 60 000 shillings’. he told Husband sternly.
60 000?! Repeated Husband in outrage.
Yes, said the policeman: ‘for three offences: for speeding, for failing to read the road signs and FOR IGNORING THE LAST POLICEMAN WHO ASKED YOU TO STOP’ (and he shook his cell phone in Husband’s face just so Husband knew how he knew).
The relative cheapness of the penalty – barely twenty five quid – wasn’t the surprise. What was, was the fact it was enforced in full. With a receipt.
We went a bit more slowly after that. Which meant we saw the Go Slow signs and waved cheerfully, from a sedate less than 30 mph, at policemen who – because they were visible as opposed to speed-blurred – looked less delighted at our law abiding driving and more peeved that we hadn’t registered a fine inducing speed on their detectors.
The road here winds through Rift Valley lowlands and Africa spills all around: the Kipengere Mountains sour to the right, the Porotos in the East, the Chunya escarpment to the West, so that the Usanga Flats are an arena cupped by magnificent heights. This area was notorious in the 1930s for the man-eating lions that feasted on villagers; in 15 years they picked off more than 1,500 until hunter George Rushby finally dispensed with the menace in 1947.
We’ve done this road before; two years ago. Mission today was to establish that the unspoiled Kimani Falls remained as unspoiled. We trailed off-road for ten miles and came upon them precisely as we remembered them. Pristine. Undiscovered. Almost. And yes, quite, quite unspoiled. We tripped down the hot path. The water here is vodka-clear-and-cold. There was little for it but to peel off our clothes and dive in.
Invigorating, observed Husband. He was right. The clamber back up to the top was less so.
And onwards and upwards, towards bleak, treeless,windwhipped Makambako where the dust dances and a mean wind bites fiercely.
But the desolation of Makambako is quickly replaced by the carpeted green that falls as you rise to Njombe – there is tea here and thousands and thousands of hectares of Australian Wattle; planted in the late forties the bark of the tree is used in the production of tannin. Here the greens are plenty – the lime green of the flattopped tea, the forest green of the wattle plantations – and the air is brittle.
From this high, high point as you spin south and downwards it’s tantalizing to imagine you can see south into Mozambique or east across to the waters of Lake Malawi, such is your geography and your elevation. The hills rock and swell and ebb and flow and rise and fall so that your land views morph as oceanblue vistas, far, far and wide and blue. And lonely.
Corners are tight. Drops leave your tummy in your chest and you listen to Meatloaf and eat an apple and wonder if you’ve ever been able to see as far before.
And then the sun twiddles its dimmer switch and the road is tiger-striped with long, saffron shadows.
And the moon hangs high like a let-go balloon and you know you’re nearly there.