Crossing the border from Rwanda into Tanzania
Crossing the border at Rusumo, we were treated to a beautiful view of the mighty Rusumo Waterfall after an intense morning’s cycling on our way to the Tanzanian border. When we arrived at the border, we had high hopes that we would find a flatter landscape after the many hills we had crossed through Rwanda on our way to the border. This was somewhat true, but it was not until we had crossed the border for another 50 km that the hills seemed to flatten out. Arriving in Rusumo we applied for our visas, which we got relatively quickly. We had to show our passports and our yellow vaccination booklet and applied for the visa on arrival. As soon as we arrived in Tanzania we heard the phrase ‘Karibu Tanzania’ (welcome to Tanzania) everywhere we went. We felt especially welcome because of all the friendly people we met as soon as we crossed the border. We were looking forward to exploring Tanzania a bit more and practising our Swahili, which we had not been able to use so much since Kenya. Whilst in Rwanda some Swahili was spoken, the official language there is KinyaRwanda and in Uganda most people spoke Luganda and we met many people who spoke perfect English. In Tanzania, however, it was clear that people preferred to speak Swahili over English. But as the sun was setting, we quickly looked for a hostel to stay in for the night. This seemed to be quite a challenge as we had already left the border town of Rusumo and were heading towards the next town which was about 20 km away. We were tired and in need of a shower but there was only an hour left before dusk. We decided to ask the locals and managed to find another place to stay for the night not too far away.
The Tanzanian landscape: large open plains, rocks and great biodiversity
Whilst we have seen many changes in the East African countries we have visited, we were looking forward to the landscape of Tanzania. Although Aisha had been to Tanzania for 6 months on a work placement about 5 years ago, she was looking forward to exploring the western part of Tanzania together as she had never been to this part of the country before. Tanzania was one of the largest countries we travelled through on this trip. This was particularly noticeable in the rural areas due to the fast moving plains, where there was nothing but bush, bush, bush and flat fields as far as the eye could see. While this was very relaxing, we also had long stretches of cycling next to large trucks and very busy roads where the vehicles did not give you much room to manoeuvre. At these moments our hearts were in our throats, hoping that we would not make a mistake and be crushed by one of the big trucks that were only centimetres away from us. We definitely did not miss this part of cycling. Our thoughts of having gravel bikes and being less loaded and able to ride on dirt roads with no traffic and horrible black clouds of emissions was always apparent and was often the topic of conversation.
We were however lucky with the weather as we started our trip in Tanzania in July the start of the Tanzanian winter/dry season which means the evenings and mornings are cool and during the day the temperature was around 27-30 degrees Celsius a very pleasant temperature to cycle especially as we would start early in the morning the temperature is around 17 degrees Celsius. However, we did encounter some strong winds at times and as we would be cycling next to busy roads most of the time this would be nerve wracking.
What really caught our eye was the variety of wildlife we saw on our journey through Tanzania. All kinds of lizards such as the super colourful ‘Super-Man Agama’ lizard, Monitor lizard and a wide variety of birds, which motivated us to use our bird sound identification app that we installed a while ago, but which we never used.
Visiting Mwanza the city of Rocks
After a few days of cycling, we finally managed to reach Mwanza, crossing part of Lake Victoria by boat. As we approached the town, we found large rocks by the side of the road. These were very special rocks, anyone who has seen ‘The Flintstones’ would think we had landed in one of the scenes. It gave a magical view of the town of Mwanza, also known as the rock city. The big rocks surround the town and a beautiful formation of these rocks can be found on the shores of Mwanza called the Bismarck Rocks, named after the late German counsellor Otto von Bismarck whose statue was erected on the same site.
During our stay in Mwanza we looked for an affordable but comfortable guesthouse and ended up in a hostel a little further away from the hustle and bustle of the city in a quiet neighbourhood. We enjoyed our time on the rooftop of the hostel with a beautiful view of the area and the various hills formed by the massive rocks.
Although Mwanza is one of the larger cities in Tanzania with a population of around 1.3 million, the city seemed very quiet and peaceful and overlooking the beautiful Lake Victoria it would attract a number of tourists.
Attending our first Permaculture Design Course at Mainsprings
After spending a few days in Mwanza, we were well-rested and ready to continue our journey to Mainsprings, a permaculture center located approximately 50 km away from Mwanza, in a quaint village named Kitongo.
Upon our arrival, we found ourselves in an oasis of peace. The staff warmly welcomed us and gave us a tour of the surroundings. Their genuine care and kindness filled every corner of the organization, making our experience at Mainsprings truly remarkable. During our stay, we had the opportunity to participate in a Permaculture Design Course organized by Mainsprings in collaboration with the Valley Foundation.
The course brought together participants from diverse backgrounds, including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, DRC, and the USA. Our primary objective was to delve into the story of Mainsprings’ founder, Chris Gate, and understand the driving force behind his dedicated work. We learned that Chris embarked on this journey 17 years ago, inspired by his travels in Tanzania with his grandmother. He made the bold decision to live in Tanzania and contribute to the community by providing refuge for girls in need, improving healthcare, education, and promoting permaculture practices.
Chris shared the challenges of promoting regenerative practices in the community, but the success of their model farm stood as a motivating example. We also discovered Mainsprings’ collaboration with the Valley Foundation through the Earth Alliance Restoration Network (EARN), underscoring the power of teamwork and mutual support in regenerative efforts. Their initiative was grounded in the Swahili proverb ‘kidole kimoja hakiui chawa,’ which translates to ‘One finger alone does not kill a louse.’ This proverb emphasized the importance of collaboration, mutual support, connection, and teamwork in the context of restoration endeavors.
During the course, we learned about the fundamental principles of Permaculture: people care, earth care, and future care, all essential aspects of creating a sustainable and permanent agriculture. The course comprised seven days of theoretical learning, followed by hands-on practical exercises. We learned to create an A-frame to measure field contours, enabling us to manage water flow effectively. The latter part of the course was dedicated to designing our own permaculture plans on paper and presenting them to others. Since we did not have a specific project at that point, we chose to assist other groups with their designs, fostering knowledge exchange and mutual learning.
Every day, our culinary experiences were a highlight, as we enjoyed meals at the Mainsprings’ Papa’s restaurant. The food, sourced from the kitchen garden, was not only delicious but also a testament to the impact of regenerative farming practices on taste. Whenever we ventured outside the farm, the difference in vegetable flavours, especially tomatoes, was immediately noticeable, reinforcing our belief in the profound effect of how food is grown on its taste and quality.
Note: the drone photo is from Mainsprings second campus in Kahunda.
Visiting the Serengeti
Our experience at Mainsprings was already incredibly delightful, but it became even more memorable when we seized the opportunity to embark on another safari with some newfound friends from Mainsprings. Rising early at 5:30 am, we aimed to make the most of our time in the renowned Serengeti National Park, one of the world’s oldest ecosystems. This park is famous for the spectacular sight of the great migration, where animals like wildebeest, zebras, and antelopes journey from the southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the northern Masai Mara in Kenya.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the vast, uninterrupted plains that made us feel insignificant in a place where time seemed to stand still. In the distance, we noticed ominous dark clouds and the scent of burning grass. Curious, we inquired about the phenomenon from our driver. He explained that these were ‘management fires’ set by rangers to control bush growth. Initially alarmed by the CO2 emissions, our driver reassured us that this method was a traditional way of managing the savannah. The burnt grasses would pave the way for nutrient-rich new growth, absorbing the CO2 produced and preventing the overgrowth of thorny bush. This sparked a fascinating discussion about the necessity and naturalness of such human interventions in ancient ecosystems. It was a reminder that human interaction with landscapes is inherently natural, evolving over millennia.
The scene resulted in astonishing, almost apocalyptic-looking pictures. Emerging from the haze of burning grasslands, our driver presented us with a choice: explore the park’s center or remain on the Western side. Opting for the center, he warned us that it would require significant driving and haste on our part. Concerns arose – a hurried safari might mean missing out on the animals we longed to see. Nevertheless, we managed to spot an array of wildlife, even though our driver emphasized the vastness of the park, suggesting a multi-day safari would be necessary to encounter all its wonders. Remarkably, we managed to spot – lions, elephants, buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles, leopards – during the first half of our safari, starting from the Western gate toward the center of the Serengeti.
This extraordinary experience convinced us of the need to invest in a high-quality camera lens with excellent zoom capabilities. We had the chance to experiment with a friend’s camera, generously lent to us during the Permaculture Design Course. This encounter not only enhanced our wildlife photography skills but also deepened our appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of nature captured through a lens. Thanks Rachael Cummings for sharing the camera lens and photos of wildlife, that enrich our blog post.
And just like that, we extended our stay at Mainsprings, lingering for a little over two weeks. During this time, we immersed ourselves not only in the art of designing a permaculture farm but also in understanding the pivotal role of community involvement and education in regeneration efforts. As our time at the farm drew to a close, it was time to bid farewell and make our way to Arusha, marking the end of our Cycling journey.
Opting for a bus journey to Arusha due to our prolonged stay at the farm, we were mindful of the ticking clock, knowing we needed to catch our flight back to Europe. Our route back was a winding one, taking us through detours that included stops in Dubai and Istanbul before reaching our destination. Upon our arrival in Arusha, we reached out to a friend we had met during the visit at Mainsprings. Thomas, our newfound friend, whom welcomed us into his home, we shared a passion for cycling, regenerative agriculture, and permaculture. It was truly remarkable to connect with like-minded individuals such as Thomas during our journey, engaged in the work that fueled our excitement.
After our brief stay in Arusha, it was time to say farewell once again. We journeyed back to Nairobi, where we planned to take our flight back to Europe. We stayed with our dear friend Nikolas whom also studied at Wageningen and was now doing an internship in Nairobi. During our stay in Nairobi, we spent a few days preparing for our journey back home. This involved the practical task of finding suitable bike boxes and meticulously packing our bikes for the long trip ahead, a process that marked the end of our enriching adventures in East Africa.
The End: So What’s Next?
Even though this blog post signifies the conclusion of our recent adventures, our journey is far from over. As you read these words, we find ourselves in Lithuania, fully immersed in the next phase of our expedition. Our focus has shifted towards the creation of our book and documentary, a project that has been consuming our days. We are actively engaged in the process, diligently applying for grants that could provide the crucial support needed to bring our documentary to life.
If you, dear reader, happen to be acquainted with grants or funding opportunities specifically tailored for book or documentary projects, we would greatly appreciate any information or leads you can provide. Your assistance could significantly contribute to the realisation of our creative endeavour. Thank you for your support and stay tuned for more updates on our ongoing journey.
- Listen to our podcast conversation at “Roots to Renewal”. “They found that it went beyond practices and embraced community, culture, and social well-being.”;
- WUR will officially be launching the Lighthouse Farm Academy, the programme for professional education on redesigning the future of farming and food, in collaboration with Wageningen Academy and Deloitte. We contributed with a few cases from Africa, therefore we encourage you to have a look at the introductory video and sign-up for this immersive programme!
We had the honor of presenting our findings on how (African) farmers finance their transition towards organic agriculture at the Farming Systems Ecology Group of Wageningen University & Research. We were accompanied by Alfred Grand, who represented the Austrian context and discussed why organic farming has been a feasible option for many farmers in Austria. Additionally, Đura Karagić shared valuable insights on the challenges and opportunities of converting to organic farming in Serbia. The lecture was highly interactive, with 130 motivated students challenging us with excellent questions.
We hope you enjoyed reading it! Help us to keep on going by pressing the donation button below. Thank you!
Aisha & Lukas