Roland Routier

Joined October 2017Living in: Italy
  • Day465

    Food for thought

    February 4 in Tanzania ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    A 2016 study reported in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" discovered that fish stocks are inversely proportional to water temperature. So as the water in the lake has been getting warmer, fish levels have been decreasing. We no longer know why things are heating up - scientists had a pretty good theory but ScoMo and other politicians have set them right about that.

    Anglers going after Goliath tigerfish and Nile perch don't appear to have much effect on stocks; and nor do the traditional hook & line or gill net fishermen in their leaky canoes.

    Clearly commercial fishing, which in the 1950's started using the infamous artisanal lift nets and industrial purse seines, has had a pretty big impact. There are about 800 fishery sites and around 100,000 people involved. But the industry collapsed in the 80's so I am not sure how many fishermen are actually making a living, especially as there are an increasing number of juvenile fish being caught. The catch in 1995 was around 196,570 tons. This fisherman has hooked a piece of Tanganyika rock, or maybe its a stonefish.

    So here is the dilemma. Fish stocks declining as temperature rising. The only option is to reduce commercial fishing.
    But these fish provide 60% of the animal protein consumed in the region. And children are turning up at school malnourished even now.

    Go figure.
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  • Day464

    Low point of my trip

    February 3 in Tanzania ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    From being under the high point of Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro, I am now at Kipili beside the low point. The Great Rift Valley here is submerged by Lake Tanganyika, (named from Tanganika, "the great lake spreading out like a plain",) whose bottom in this southern basin lies 642 meters below sea level; a depth of 1470 m. About 18% of the world’s unfrozen surface freshwater is held in it.

    The area first came to the attention of Europeans when the famous Welsh actor, Richard Burton stumbled upon it with his fellow thespian, Richard Speke, whilst making "Mountains of the Moon". More recently, you might have seen a Monty Python version called "Pole to Pole" where a slightly stunned Michael Palin sails the length of the lake on the ferry, MV Liemba. Rumour has it that David Livingstone was also on location here, but I can find no mention of any film of that in IMDb.

    The scenery is as pleasant as you would expect; but doesn't reveal it's uniqueness, so here are some "fun facts" for the next Trivial Pursuits game in your local pub.
    ⦁ It is the longest fresh water lake in the world and the second deepest after lake Baikal in Russia.
    [depth = 1433 m / 4700 ft; length = 677 km / 420 miles; width = 50 km/ 31 miles]
    ⦁ its somewhere between 9 to 12 million years old, though some claim the bottom waters may be over 20 million
    ⦁ the Rift Valley here has formed three basins without any drainage: the contents either evaporates or overflows
    ⦁ the lake surface may have fluctuated up to 300 meters lower at than it is today: with the high evaporation rate it rarely overflowed into the 320 km Lukuga tributary of the Congo River and the sea. On average water remains in the lake for 440 years.
    ⦁ Tanzania’s second largest river, the 475 km Malagarasi River, is older than the lake. It used to flow directly into the Congo River from the East but now is captured by the lake.
    ⦁ Life has not yet been found in the bottom 1200 meters of the lake as it is too high in hydrogen sulphide or too low in oxygen. But I'm haven't found anybody who has looked.
    ⦁ Unusually, the water in the lower depths is only 3° C colder than the 25° C surface temperature. Nobody knows why.
    ⦁ Winds can stir things up a bit, even causing 6m waves during storms; which helps stop bilharzia snails spreading but doesn't mix the layers of water up very much.
    ⦁ The nutrient carried into the lake is negligible; fish rely on algae fed by nutrients rising from the bottom.
    ⦁ There are over 350 species of fish, 95 % endemic, (4 predatory and 2 types of sardine,) as well as indigenous snails, shrimps and crabs. The lake's incredible diversity makes it an important resource for the study of speciation in evolution.
    ⦁ The locals say that the crocodiles - freshies not salties luckily - and hippos generally don't cause a problem except perhaps at dawn and dusk.
    ⦁ All the usual invasive plants, such as lantana, duckweed and the toon tree, can be found choking the shoreline. Surely some, like the coffee senna, the castor oil plant and my favourite, the Nile Cabbage could be harvested?
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  • Day455

    Typical Insectgram post

    January 25 in Tanzania ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    Ah! Protein!

    If I understood correctly this is called kumbi-kumbi.

    Imagine cooking a bean in its skin; and then sloughing off the skin and drying it a little. That is what it tasted like. Nothing much at all.

  • Day454

    Speaking in tongues?

    January 24 in Tanzania ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Here is the rotund Brother Gasper Toke, who, surprisingly in view of his name, does not carry a nominal Government Health Warning, (Surgeon General advises ...) He is hosting me in his camp at Kipili.

    The first thing he wanted me to do was to drive with him down to one of the local towns, Namanyere, where his buddy the parish priest was organising a workshop for young parishioners. I was to tell them about my travels and experiences, no doubt as an antidote to a day of earnest solemnising. So I told them to stop believing in Father Xmas and that people would help them if they helped themselves.

    Then Toke, as he is known by the multitudes, translated into Kiswahili. He spoke for 3 times as long as I had and managed to get them laughing and joining in every 3 minutes. I still have no real idea what he wanted me to say; or if he translated what he wanted me to say rather than what I did say; or even what the whole workshop was about. But they seemed to have fun.
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  • Day451

    Kipili at last

    January 21 in Tanzania ⋅ 🌧 20 °C

    Then on to the very local bus with a couple of young chicks for the hour long journey to Kipili. Well thats how long the first guy said it would take. The second said 2 hours and Bro Gasper texted me to say 3. It took 4 and didn't go to Kipili but stopped 8 km short as the road up to town was a spur off the highway. Luckily I had WhatsApp access so could let Bro Gasper know. He came down in their LandCruiser and carted me and 2 other muzungus who were visiting the opposition (Lutheran missionaries,) back to the village.
    And here I am beside the waters of Lake Tanganyika .. .. ..
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  • Day451

    Mvimba monastery school

    January 21 in Tanzania ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    Well, after my relaxing morning I discovered that Bro Gasper was not there, but another bus ride away in Kipili. I also found that Bro Clement was in fact the headmaster of a school of 700, including a hundred orphans who boarded. Before catching the bus at 11:30 he gave me a tour of his school.
    I didn't ask about the Chinese writing on the wall adjacent to the playing fields, except to discover it was the translation of the Latin beside it, but I am intrigued and will investigate.
    The government is trying hard to encourage people to switch from cooking fuels, from charcoal to gas. These three bean cookers caught my eye as the gas conversion (look at the window) reminded me of the bunsen burners in school biology labs.
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  • Day450


    January 20 in Tanzania ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Next morning after a decent breakfast of eggs, bread and honey I was escorted by the Brothers to the bus station for another short ride to my destination, Sumbawanga. This is the home of the Benedictine Monastery and where I would be catching up to Bro Gasper Toke, my host.

    I caught the 10 o'clock local bus which cruised along gently at 50 kph whilst I was soothed by some traditional style, modern Tanzanian songs played on a pretty decent sound system. I could not figure out the duration of the trip beforehand, but made sure I was running on empty just in case. Fortunately, as this turned out to be 8 hours travelling with only one "comfort" stop in the bush.

    Once more I was rescued from the ever helpful touts at the bus stop by another member of OSB, Bro Clements who drove me to another diocesan hostel for the night. 8 euros + 2.20 for chicken and rice and banana + 1.80 for a couple of Serengeti beers. Best of all, there was hot water and a shower that worked all by itself. So for the first time since leaving Europe I went to bed feeling pampered and clean, so much so that I repeated the experience the following morning.
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  • Day449

    South by South West

    January 19 in Tanzania ⋅ ☁️ 24 °C

    My internal alarm clock was as reliable as ever, waking me at 4 a.m. to catch a tuk-tuk at 5. I sat for 45 minutes watching the rain and wondering whether the pre-booked driver was reliable and would get me to the bus station on time. He was: to the minute.

    Now Johni and Bahati, my room mates, had both lectured me sternly about the dangers of being out during the dark and the prevalence of thieves and other miscreants infesting the bus station. They insisted that they would get up when I left and give the driver explicit instructions with dire threats about seeing me and my luggage on to the bus itself. They were sleeping peacefully as I crept out.

    In the event we arrived immediately in front of the Arusha Express bus as it reversed into its allotted parking space, so as soon as the door was opened I could leap aboard with my stuff. One or two tried to get my bag - to put it underneath or on the roof or who knows where, but the tuk-tuk driver Mroso Bajaji successfully fended them off.

    My choice of seat was behind the driver, but the bus layout plan had not shown the engine air intake and filter between us. It proved to be the same height as my bag on the floor, so after admiring the steam-punk instrument panel, I settled down comfortably to doze with ample legroom to stretch out. Alas, ample African buttocks had compressed the ancient foam cushion, eventually reminding me of the route my sciatic nerve takes from around my knee to just above my coccyx.

    The driver was obviously experienced and confident, throwing the 60 seater bus, (we cannot call it a coach, for they are reserve for the Dar es Salaam trip, "Royal class",) with verve and aplomb. Inferior motor bikes and tuk-tuks displayed their reverence for the king of the highway by moving onto the verge so that the bus could overtake without slowing down. All this I saw through the swirling rain and road spray, wiped into streaks by the tired wiper blades.

    Along the way we stopped at seemingly random places to collect country folk, people squeezing inside and bags of beans / maize on top, momentum being so grudgingly lost that the bus was away again whilst the conductor was still on the ground. It reminded me of jumping onto the back of one of the pre-occupational health and safety, quintessential, red, London, double-decker buses.

    The free flow of traffic on Tanzanian highways is impeded by two peculiarities: sleeping policemen and sleeping policemen.

    The first type are found buried across the road on the access to built-up areas, like mini town walls, or straddling vulnerable infrastructure like bridges. Initially this meant slowing down to 30 kph or so to negotiate the obstacle and then blowing a substantial diesel smoke trail as the bus commander gunned the engine. After a few hours the strategy changed in order to lose the minimum amount of velocity. This maneuver required driving on the on-coming side of the road and veering diagonally across the bump before flicking the charabanc inline. Particularly useful when passing trucks and cars, but I was glad not to be at the back of the bus.

    The second type are found comfortably waiting under trees on camp chairs with picnic items around them. They are to road users what fishermen are to fish, although in this case there is no alternative but to take the bait. It was sufficient to collect an autograph on the bus log and I guess the driver with the most signatures at the end of the month got a prize.

    Another delay though less frequent, (only 4 or 5 in 1000 km,) was caused by driving over single axle weigh bridges. 7,200 kgs front and 9,800 kgs rear if you are interested.

    Vehicles of character and a certain age frequently vociferate and this one had two squawks signifying disapproval. A loud banshee wail fading to an asthmatic wheeze as a speaker collapsed was caused I presume by an 80 kph bus speed limit. I wondered at first whether it was some sort of dead-man warning but since it provoked no reaction, I assumed that it wasn't. Or maybe it was and he was.

    Once on the undulating road in the hills South of Arusha, a second cry of protest could be heard on the descent when the engine braking system was electronically activated. It might have been the sound of a thousand horses blowing foam after a good gallop, or it might have been the engine breaking apart, but the driver kept it going until the very bottom of the trough whereupon he needed to grind down a gear to negotiate the upward slope. Who needs inertia?

    The schedule was so tight that rest stops were infrequent. We stopped once in a bus station where hawkers plied their wares through the windows of the bus; mainly peanuts, bananas and lolly water. I did notice the occasional fried something wrapped in the Guardian (Tanzanian version) but was not tempted. I brought some things with me to eat but never felt hungry.

    Once we stopped in the middle of nowhere for the passengers to relieve themselves in the bushes. The driver nipped out quick and was back almost before the people had alighted: I wasted no time and returned to the sound of the engine being revved up. Oh what fun to see folk flushed out of the foliage like pheasants frightened by a gun dog.

    The road down into Mbeya narrowed and the edges became ragged but we were due to arrive at 2300 hours and by golly we would. And we did.

    By this time I was happy to get out and even happier to be met by Brother Michael, from the Benedictine monastery which will be my next workaway. He did not waste any time but whisked me away to a diocesan hostel where I could spend the night for about 10 euros, including 3 meals.
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  • Day445

    Stone me

    January 15 in Tanzania ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    In Merelani, (Northern Tanzania, underneath Kilimanjaro,) whilst the women fetched water and did other household chores, Masaai warriors played the ancient game of strategy called Enkeshui, more commonly known as Mancala. They filled the cups with rough lumps of rock such as can be seen in the photos.

    Mancala is perhaps the oldest game in existence. A little evidence suggests it was played 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria, (modern Iraq); more evidence that it was played 3,600 years ago in ancient Sudan, (upper Nile); compelling evidence that ancient Egyptians played before 1400 BCE. Whatever.

    In 1967 a Masai tribesman showed one Manuel d'Souza, a man with an eye on the main chance. Thinking he had found saphires he quickly registered four mining claims. Well, the bad news from the crystal gazers was that it was only blue zoite: the good news was that it was found nowhere else on earth and polished up nicely.
    If deBeers could create an artificially high price for common diamonds, Tiffany & Co decided to do it with zoite. The first thing they did was rename it Tanzanite. Then they found it sells itself as it is attractive and rare.

    This shy stone does not like to be photographed and hides its particular beauty behind a blue veil. It suffers from pleochroism, a disease usually associated with politicians who show different colours when viewed from different directions. The colours revealed inside the gem as it is rotated are red-violet, deep blue, and yellow green, but heat treatment removes or reduces the yellow green or brownish colour, maximising the blue and violet.
    Gazing into the blue stone flashes of red can be seen like corona discharges or the interior of a well lit fire. I've never seen it before and would have bought it on the spot - except that I did not have half a million USD in my pocket and the nice lady would not take my IOU.
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  • Day444

    Buried treasure

    January 14 in Tanzania ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    The street outside the compound turns into a storm drain after rain.

    I could never understand why people gave me a funny look as I emptyed laundry and washing up water into this brick bed in the middle of the compound under the laundry line. Finally somebody told me. It costs money to bury people in municipal plots so householders frequently put their nearest and dearest - such a treasure - to rest in their gardens - or compounds.
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