11-Jun-2004 -- After bagging 9S 33E, we spent the next day – the entire day – working on 9S 34E. This CP to me embodied two key facets of why confluence hunting is so fun: getting out to places that you would have no normal reason to go and to challenge yourself and what you think you know.
We started out from Mbeya with the idea of hitting the CP and then driving on through the Kipengere Range to Njombe. Of course, what you plan and what you do are two very different things when hunting Confluences!
We picked up the main road out of Mbeya towards Iringa and turned off on the road, which goes to Malawi and Lake Nyassa. About 15 km up the mountains we turned off the tarmac and onto a patched dirt road which constitute the majority of roads in Tanzania. I have done a lot of driving in Tanzania but over the course of the previous few days I got complacent since the roads from Arusha to Mbeya are tarmac the entire way and I kind of forgot to factor this in when I was planning our trip!
The road leads up to a ridgeline which heads about due east. We climbed and climbed and then climbed some more. About the time I thought we were done climbing we actually climbed even more and then some to boot. We climbed to about 2,900 meters and suddenly found ourselves in fog so thick we could barely see 3-4 meters in front of us! Imagine driving slowly though the fog on a bumpy mountain road full of blind corners with no 911 helicopter medial rescue a phone call away!
So we drove and drove and then drove some more with the ever increasing feeling of some strange mental oppression until, latterly, we suddenly emerged into beautiful bright sunny day with blue skies and rolling mountain meadows!
We then actually started descending and drove and drove some more. We carried on to a point when we actually came to a road junction where a broken-down truck, doing double duty as a local rural bus, was dead in the middle of the road. We greeted the folks there and asked if this was the right road for our destination and, surprise, surprise, we missed a turning somewhere way back up the hill. So we got what we thought were some clear instructions and headed back up what was a very dusty broken track. We stopped and talked to a few other folks who helped with directions but which did not make much sense with our memory of the road. We ended up driving back and forth the same stretch of road several times until we stopped and talked to a man who was off in the brush cutting up pine trees near an old abandoned farm (yes, pine trees in Tanzania!). From him we got good information and headed back into the fog where we had obliviously missed the turning we were looking for.
Back into the fog and we missed the turn again but talked to a couple of chaps who told us the turn was just behind us a ways and also gave us good info on what to expect down the road. Back again and finally off onto the right track. We emerged from the fog again into an even more stuffing area that I can only imagine is incredible when all the wild flowers are in bloom. We were finally on the right track for Matamba village but it was now about 2:30 p.m. and the day was running. We made our way slowing across the meadows on a poor track and then straight up the final ridgeline separating us and the CP. We crested around the ridgeline and beheld a stunning view overlooking the intermediate-step and the escarpment above the Usangu Flats.
We made our way down to Matamba village and found a very nice road heading in the right direction and were able to park our car within 650 meters of the point. It was late afternoon now, about 5 p.m., so we ran down through the mixed agriculture and rough vegetation to the point. A long walk back up to the car and then to the main road, lucky for us, which would take us back down the escarpment and back to Mbeya as there was no way we could make it Njombe.
The trip down the escarpment was hair-raising to say the least; 40 degree inclines with dusty-rocky switchbacks just long enough for the turning radius of our TLC pick-up. The sunset shooting over from the West along the escarpment was worth it, though. We made it back to Mbeya at about 8 p.m. quite satisfied with a very intense and varied adventure for 9S 34E.
Indeed, Confluence Hunting at its best.