africa – tanzania 2012.
‘We don’t stop for birds’ directing our safari guide and driver after numerous times of being given the rundown of the local birds.
Our fifth country greeted us with open plains, which to me defined the landscape ‘savannah’. Low scattered vegetation that was more brown then green littering the flat topography allowing the occasional glimpse of wildlife. The first day was dictated by skirting the lower plains of Mount Kilimanjaro, which actually turned out to be the much smaller Mount Meru. Looking back on this oversight it probably wasn’t worth stopping so much for photos. Briefly being the afforded the view of the larger of the two peaking through the clouds clearly showed our correction.
One day into the country and we made Arusha a large town dominated by its tourism, offering trips to climb the fore mentioned ‘Kili’ and/or safari trips into the surrounding national parks. Shane and I chose the later whilst Gavan and Justin chilled around town. Shopping around the numerous ‘touts’ we settled on a 3-day private trip into the Serengeti NP and the Ngorongoro Crater and joining us for the holiday on a holiday was a driver/guide (Benji) and cook (Moshi). Once into the Serengeti we quickly became the cliché tourists becoming excited about our first zebra sightings (despite seeing thousands over the coming days) and utilizing the pop-top roof (for site-seeing and beers, despite the unstable conditions resulting in a frothy/beery windscreen) of our troop carrier although we were minus the ‘necessary’ khaki uniforms which most others chose to wear. This must be so the animals don’t see you inside the car.
Over the next few days we ticked off the ‘big 5’ and then some passing through grasslands, open plains and volcano craters. It does interest you that little bit more being able to witness animals going about there daily routine having only previously seeing them behind bars in a zoo. Whether this was the symbiotic relationship between the zebras and wildebeest as they gathered for the annual migration, a fleeting glimpse at a shy rhinoceros, the ambush tactics of a pride of lions stalking prey in the high grass or the family bond shown in a parade of elephants as they meandered along whilst ignoring our presence. Camping on the last night as was accompanied by the growl/trumpets/cries of the nocturnal active wildlife where Shane and I spent a lovely night over a bottle of wine, one of Moshi’s finest dinners with the view of the Ngorongoro Crater in our foreground before retiring to our (separate) tents.
Eventually our little safari jaunt (our holiday on a holiday) had to end and it was back on the bikes. The proceeding few days with the forever changing landscape, people and towns made one reflect on the fortunes of not only seeing but more so experiencing a country at this pace and length. Having the ability to travel through a country at such speed from the north to the south allowed an opinion on all of the changes we witnessed. It offered engagement with the locals along with the ability to stop, the feel of the climatic conditions, the witnessing of the forever changing natural scenery and quiet moments for one to reflect on how fortunate we all were.
Having planned the route over the course of a year we soon came to a fork in the road of which I had studied fairly intensely. Our options was to remain on the sealed roads aiming for the capital or the alternative of dirt roads heading for loosely marked daily destinations named ‘camp 1, camp2…’ for the next 500 kilometers. It went to a vote and was I happy to be heading off-road for a few days. It should be noted that this decision was nearly changed after passing through puddles that resembled more a lake thanks to rain that seemed destined to soon turn them into much larger dams.
For me these few days were one of the many highlights of the trip. It was the chance to get off the main roads and expose the locals to 4 white guys riding their bikes through their tiny villages for no apparent reason. The peaceful dirt tracks closely framed by the dominant green vegetation had no sign of the cars that had worn the flattened surface over time. With the programmed blackening clouds forming in the afternoons we utilized the inevitable tirades of rain to hide in villages. We took up shelter under tin roofs to sip away on chai, taking our time whilst our clothes dried bearing witness to everyday life whether it was a market, forming crowds or the random game of billiards with their own interesting local rules. Whether in the villages or simply riding past the worked pasture fields we heard the constant calls of ‘jambo’ translating to a simple ‘hello’ in Tanzania, showing the hospitable and engaging side of the beautiful locals.
The rain was the first we experienced on the trip with it alternating with sunshine throughout the days. Whilst the sun allowed the drying off of soaked clothes it was soon replaced with sweat from the humid conditions. On the plus side the rain did clean our bikes from the grime although the mud, sand and water did get into some hard to reach parts. One such being the rear jockey wheels (smaller sprockets on the back that control the stretch of the chain between the various gears) and the other our 6000km old dirt collecting chains. Numerous bike stores (huts with bike parts) were rummaged through to try and find replacements with each being found as much cheaper options then home but soon showed to do the job. These changes besides Shane’s spokes and loosening cranks were the main bike dramas that we had to deal with for the entire trip.
Accommodation over these days offered a choice of setting up our tents or sleeping undercover whether in a game rangers station or a ‘guesthouse’, with two single pushed together beds shared with two of your best mates for the equivalent of $1.50 each. For this price and despite the snuggly conditions it wasn’t worth setting up the tent in the pouring rain. We weren’t that hardened. Each guesthouse offered their own charms whether it was the constant bucket of water for the shower, optional doors or a concrete floor for the sleeping mat.
With a rest day looming, we rode through various conditions to reach our destination of Mbeya, our last stop in the country. The ridiculous amounts of rain resulted in the forming of rapid rivers down the roads whilst the cold of the higher elevations made us all shiver as we journeyed up and down the various climbs, which at times were covered in fog. I even had to put gloves on, something I really don’t enjoy whilst cycling so it was acutely evident to me that it was cold. We rode the last 10kms descending into town after the sun had well retreated leaving us finding our way through the chaotic outskirts and then onto the centre of a very populated town, something we weren’t used to after our days experiencing small villages and their associated quiet dirt roads/tracks. We celebrated once in the cozy surrounds of the hotel with a bottle of Konyagi, a plastic sachet of alcohol that is not vodka or gin but described as ‘fire water’. We liked it…
The last day of touring in Tanzania offered mountainous surrounds of green vegetation with the occasional interruption from dense shrubberies of tea or the dominating leaves of banana plantations. A lunch stop in a passing town allowed us to stop and appreciate the country as we enjoyed some local food and cheeky midway beers. As randomly noted in my itinerary the kids continually waved as we cycled up and down hills taking in voyeuristic views of Lake Nyassa which for us marked our sixth country, Malawi.