Saturday, 30 March 2013

MV Liemba

     What's your once-in-a-lifetime experience? The final pieces of untouched Africa are soon to be lost to shopping centers and autobahns, courtesy of the Chinese. But for the many villages along the world's longest Lake Tanganyika (670 km and  1400 m deep) the MV Liemba has been the lifeline for the past 100 years. Built in 1913 as a German warship, it is the oldest passenger ship in regular service in the world.
       The trip to the lake where I would eventually board the Liemba was not easy, and I have had some tough riding experiences, so trust me when I say not easy! The motorcycle engine lights stayed on, and every 10th of a km, the bike shut down. With 100 km to travel on bad roads to catch the ship in just two days, it did not look good. Waiting for a truck to take me and the motorcycle to the lake was hot and disappointing. After several hours in the sun, I solved the problem of the bike shutting down by disconnecting the battery cables and tricking the motorcycle computer into thinking I did something good! It's just like when we have inplugged our computers and plugged them in again to reboot. When I hooked up the battery cables, my problem was solved.
       The motorcycle was loaded onto the ship by crane at 7:30 pm and soon after the MV Liemba departed for Kigoma. Nineteen stops at villages along the way took about 48 hours. There were stunning views along the lake with Zambia to the south, Tanzania to the East, The Democratic Republic Congo ( DRC ) to the West and Burundi to the north.
My 1st class cabin was $95.00, but I spent very little time there, never wanting to miss the action on and around the ship. Day and night, small and large boats from shore were rowing out from villages to meet the ship. Villagers dropped off or collected passengers, business men took rice, flour, dried fish, solar panels, just about anything ... to the DRC. Traders also brought goods onto the ship to do business with the ship's passengers as they continued to their next stop along the lake.
Note - the DRC is in the background.

Coming aboard...dried fish, palm oil, flour etc.

Loading Rice  - destination DRC.

Taking part in the German documentary...
The cameramen cannot be seen but are to my left.

        Now considered a passenger ship, it's really a working vessel. I did get my two minutes of fame and will have to learn some German. In celebration of the ship's 100 years, a documentary is being made and the film crew were happy to see me and the BMW. They followed me around the ship with cameras and interviewed me a lot. It was probably not as big a film production as C.S. Forester's 1935 novel, "The African Queen" and subsequent film version also done on the MV Liemba, but it was fun.
       My voyage ended in Kigoma where I continued north along the lake to the capital of Burundi " Buj" or Bujumbura, where Stanley first met Dr Livingstone. Fear seems to keep travelers away from the small land-locked country of Burundi, so for me it was a feeling of West Africa all over again. The  francaphone country welcomed  me with smiles and probably a million people along roads shouting and waving hello. Riding Burundi's hillsides was like being in a parade. Stopping for a cool drink brought nothing short of several hundred people to look at the motorcycle, greet me, and ask questions. Small children sat and just stared, while some braver ones waited for the chance to touch the skin of the mzongoo (white man).
        It's a paradise for those willing to get a motorcycle into Burundi and enjoy the twisties. By comparison, only Rwanda's "Land of 1000 Hills" can compete for such a motorcycle ride. YES I am having a great time !! Love Garth :)


  1. Garth: what a great post!. You are talking history and reality at the same time. So cool to know a movie star, and also a guy who knows how to reboot a F800. By your smile, it is clear that you are in great spirits. Thanks for finding the time to post. Be Safe!!

  2. Hi Anton
    What a surprize! Searching for the documentary on the Liembe and I come across your blog!
    Tried e-mailing and contacting you but to no avail. How are you doing and where are you now?