In every adventure worthy of this name there must be at least one major challenge – ours came in the shape of a complete battery meltdown. Our motorbike Noonoo’s electricals had been giving us problems for a few days – struggling to start up, coughing then cutting off when put into gear – and it eventually abandoned us just as we were meant to set off for the longest drive of our trip. Classic.
We were ready to leave Utengule Coffee Lodge when NooNoo couldn’t start, even when jumped started. By a lucky coincidence, Gabriel Shawa one of Utengule’s guides offered to give us a lift into Mbeya town to look for a replacement. Thus started a long and fruitless search, which brought us after many hours to a small workshop, where they filled the battery with acid and charged it for a while. Gabriel absolutely refused any money for the fuel and his time driving us around – if you’re ever in the area, do consider him as a guide!
Anyway, the acid trick seemed to work, and we set off from Utengule at half one, thinking we’d never make it to our next destination before nightfall. The traffic getting through Mbeya was horrific, but we somehow arrived at Kisolanza Farm ten minutes before dinner was served!
Kisolanza is ideally located on the road between Mbeya and Iringa, about 50km before the latter, and, though a bit difficult to find especially if it’s dark and you’ve never been there before, the effort will definitely be paid off. The family-owned business started off as a farm with only a few rooms open to guests in the old farmhouse when Nicola Ghaui took it over twenty years ago. Since then, Kisolanza has gone from strength to strength and caters to anyone from the budget backpacker to the luxury traveller: with prices starting at $9 per person for camping, there is something to please everyone.
Whether you are a seasoned wanderer on the Cape to Cairo route or a resident of nearby Iringa, Kisolanza will provide a safe haven for individuals, overlanders and families alike. The campsite and chalets are scattered around a large shaded area, crisscrossed all the way through by meandering but well-marked paths – as a result, even if fully booked, the place hardly feels cramped, and with little reception and no WiFi, you can definitely come here to disconnect from the rest of the world.
However, the farm’s crown jewel is its stunning Mud Ruins restaurant, built within a traditional mud hut, which has been left almost entirely to its original state, bar the addition of a beautiful thatched roof and flooring. Entirely lit by candles and lanterns, and draped all over with traditional fabrics and bamboo mats, it provides a glamorised glimpse into Tanzania’s traditional rural living, making dinner a rustic yet intimate experience.
The dinner is a set three-course menu at $18, while hot or cold lunch can be provided upon request ($10 and $5 respectively). A light English breakfast ($12) awaits you in the morning accompanied by fruit, bread, butter and jam, with most ingredients coming from the farm’s own garden or from Iringa.
While at the farm, you can enjoy long walks on their grounds, take a stroll to the nearby dam, or even head into Iringa either by bus (about two hours and THS2,000) or by car (about an hour) to visit Neema Crafts and stock up on original handcrafted gifts.