Reading this week:

  • Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

This weekend I took a trip to Mpulungu. Mostly I just wanted to see it, because it is relatively near me, and also I was looking for the SS Good News. I decided to bike to Mpulungu and that wasn’t too bad. From Mbala it is downhill and I managed to get to Mpulungu in a little over two hours.

Upon arriving the first thing I did was bike around to get the lay of the land. I very quickly ran into Niamkolo Church. I guess it is pretty obvious what it is, being the only real tourist attraction of Mpulungu and looking pretty church-like, but there wasn’t even a sign. A small, nearby pillar has a plaque describing it, and that’s it. Niamkolo Church, by the way, was built by the London Missionary Society in 1895-6, and it was used until 1908 when the amount of sleeping sickness in the area prompted the society to move further inland. The church’s current claim to fame is that it is the oldest still standing stone structure in Zambia. It is cool to see and it doesn’t really take long to take it all in; there are some walls and a belltower but no roof. Some thorny branches in the doorways made it clear people would rather you didn’t go in there.

After checking the church out I went to take a look at the harbor. Mostly, I like looking at harbors, but also my dream here was to find a sailboat and then I would make friends with the owners. Alas, no sailboat, which wasn’t really a surprise. I was kinda surprised by the overall dearth of boats, but maybe the fishing fleet was out on the lake. The lake is pretty beautiful. It quickly disappears over the horizon, which isn’t surprising, because it is the longest lake in the world. Second oldest and second deepest, too. In the evening, I did eventually stumble across two small fishing boats that had a mast and sails made of mealie meal sacks. I’m not sure what kind of performance they get out of those sails.

After getting some nshima for lunch, I head out for the real object of my quest: to find the SS Good News. This boat was the first steamship launched on Lake Tanganyika and was built by the London Missionary Society, of Niamkolo Church fame like I just mentioned. This boat is apparently up on blocks now as a monument, but the location is hard to pin down for lack of good information. A few different websites said it was at a particular GPS coordinate in the vicinity of Mpulugu, so I spent some time trying to get to the spot and find it. I was very nearly overcome with heat exhaustion and dehydration getting there and back, but I got to the spot. There was no boat. Wherever the SS Good News is, it is not at 8°46’0.01″S 31°7’59.98E. I did see some pretty views though.

After the SS Good News adventure, I found a lodge and settled in for the night. Having been here, I have to agree with what most of the tourist books say, that Mpulungu is only really worth visiting if you’re passing through. It’s nice, but unless you really want to see Niamkolo Church, there’s not much else to do.