Waterfalls, Geologic Wonders, And Adventure Travel

I’m writing this the morning of Sunday, September 21 from a rundown motel room in Bukoba, Tanzania. This is not where I am supposed to be today.

That being said, I am supposed to be on the road.

My time teaching at the Magulilwa village school outside of Iringa, Tanzania has come to its end. So I end my time in Africa the way I ended it in China: with a tour around this part of the world before heading home. I’m nearing the halfway point of a two-week journey around Lake Victoria, taking me to north and northwestern Tanzania (my present location), up to and through Uganda, and then into Kenya, where I fly back home to Minnesota from Nairobi on September 30.

Only six days into journey, and I’ve already been exposed to breathtaking scenery along the bouldered coast of Lake Victoria, views of Africa’s tallest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, rode a camel, saw a bunch of snakes and crocodiles, and even toured a university.

On the other hand, I’ve had my luggage get soaked; suffered through egregiously late, bumpy, cramped bus rides; and now that plans fell through for a boat ride to Uganda (the whole reason I took the terribly uncomfortable bus ride to Bukoba in the first place), I find myself sitting here unsure what my next step will be–probably having to take yet another bus.

I’ve learned a distinction in travel styles from wandering East Africa.

In one mode of travel, you have your itinerary, your reservations, and the comfort, stability, and predictability that comes along with things being planned out and official.

Then you have your anti-planned travel. It’s not as if you leave yourself out to dry; you have an idea of where to stay and your next step when you get off the bus. But while out and about, you maintain only a soft, malleable idea of where you want to go/what you want to do. You stay open to, and even rely upon, the forces at work in the universe creating and presenting opportunities. (This is how I ended up on camel and toured the college.)

I call this adventure tourism. Bump into a guy who knows a guy who captains a cargo ship? Great, let’s hop aboard!

This travel philosophy is what I’ve decided to embody on this trek—for a couple of reasons. It presents random and exciting opportunities, ones that tend  to burrow into the “real” life in these places. Riding on the cramped public transport to ride the camels and interact with the Maasai tribe, I saw a safari Land Rover fly by us with European tourists who may never be so exposed.

Indeed, this part of the world has comfortable travel options. But they floats way above the normal ways of life here. And they’re not cheap. I’d love to go on more safaris and even climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. But such official tourist activities have been secured by the Tanzanian government as cash cows, and the prices are high. The fees for climbing Kilimanjaro, for instance, will run you about $1,500. If you have that ability, then you can entertain the mindset of convenience and comfort and customer service.

For most people, though, this is not the place for such expectations.

When I expect schedules to be maintained or a refund for the bus company’s leaky undercarriage ruining the books in my suitcase, I will get upset. The mindset of this being an adventure rather than a “relaxing getaway” has been a coping mechanism and has allowed me to permit (and even embrace) the challenge.

This is a land of adventure—of randomness, of living for the day, of being okay when things don’t go your way or when things aren’t all nice and comfy. And so I write this blog from rundown motel in Bukoba, Tanzania. I had to switch rooms this morning, because I woke to find ants in my bed.

(If you’d like to keep up with my current journey—and beyond, follow or friend me on Facebook, where I’m posting my latest pictures (and even some video—bandwidth permitting).

This week’s blog takes this adventure theme back back to July when I had a brief adventure in the southwest corner of the country. Last week, I shared my interview with the witch doctor. This time, I’ll offer you the overview of the natural sights seen on this day.


Following the medicine man, my guide, Michael, and I hopped back on our rented motorcyle and set off for the first of three natural wonders, The Bridge of God.

After a short while of lush green hills with warm air rushing by, we slowed as we came to a manmade bridge crossing the river the new-fashioned way. Just down river from it was natures own, old-fashioned, river crossing:

Bridge of God

Approaching, we took this path down:

So we could enjoy this view:

The part about this bridge that really impressed me wasn’t its huge size or rugged texture or even its beauty. It was imagining how the heck it was created.

With a long enough time frame, water will win vs. rock.

Then I looked the other way, back toward the metal bridge.

I decided to climb out on those rocks.

Then I saw a local man. He was barefoot and in the water himself.

He was fishing.

He showed Michael and I his catch of the day. I bought it from him.

He had his boy there with him.

With my dinner in hand and after saying goodbye, Michael and I were off for the next of the day’s three stops.

First enjoy a bit of video from the Bridge of God, including the fisherman:

Michael and I hopped back on the bike for what I thought, by the name of it, would be a gimmicky next stop along the river. Boy was I wrong.

It was called The Cooking Pot and was described to me as a place where the river resembles a pot of water. I imagined the river widening into a bowl shape. In this case, lowered expectations proved beneficial as I ended up being quite surprised.

We stopped at a point on the road where we couldn’t see the river anymore. We had to walk down along a steep, high bank for several steps along a dirt path though tall grass. We came out below onto a rocky edge with the river rushing before us. Well, first it rushed, then it “boiled”, then it spurt out downriver.

The river actually flowed along quite ordinary. But then the waters met this point where a sudden drop-off made for a small falls. Its base, however, didn’t simply meet a lower portion of the river. The water went beneath the surface.

Another natural bridge, though not as big as the Bridge of God so perhaps a “Bridge of Angels” or something, spanned to the other side of the river just beyond this little falls. To the left side of the bridge was pool of water that at first sight had me thinking this was the base pool of the falls. But the amount of water surfacing in this pool was nowhere near the amount rushing below.  It dawned on me that this was simply a surfacing of a portion of the now-underground river.

The surfacing offered this effect of water boiling. This was The Cooking Pot.

Both sides taken together looked like this:

Finally, just a bit further downriver had some more of that underground water spurting to the surface:

The incredible geological phenomena that was this Cooking Pot actually made the upcoming magnificent waterfall, the last stop of the day, seem ho-hum.

We drove on past woods and fields and hills—all green. At the bottom of one woodsy slope, Michael parked the bike and took off his helmet. Again, I looked around to see no river, no rushing water. Again, we had to walk down a steep bank, this time through the trees for a good 100 yards.

At the base was the river, and walking its rocky flat, broad bank to its edge revealed just 100 more yards upriver, the reason for our visit.

Back in Minneapolis, Minnehaha Falls gets its own five-star park treatment as a gem of natural beauty within the city limits. Such a falls here wouldn’t even have made us stop our bike. The world is big, folks. Outside of our “worlds” are those that change our scales. This day, my gauge of natural beauty and wonder was broadened to include the incredible earth along this one measly river in southwest Tanzania.

If I ever have a day with as much variety of natural beauty and wonder, I’ll be pleasantly surprised once again.

And I have an adventurous travel mode to thank for making my way down here to Tukuyu via a rattletrap bus.

Next week we go to the enormous freshwater lake in this region: Lake Nyasa.

What say you?