Tanzania

I gave up after only two days in Tanzania. Just about all of the countries I am visiting on this trip has an iconic image in my mind for the blog story. I have never been to Tanzania, so only knew of a few iconic locations like Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, and the like, but had no idea of the spectacular vistas that were waiting for me in the Southern Highlands area. I knew I would have to get other opinions on which photo to use, so gave up thinking about it. For now, given the bad weather and change to the planned route, we think the clock tower that marks the half-way point on the Cape to Cairo east route is probably the best. But that could change : ).

Entering from Malawi, I headed straight to Mbeya and had my first dose of the disorganised chaos of the Tanzanian traffic! Vehicles disregard any rules of the road, and kinda work on the principle that if you are going slowly through an intersection and are the biggest vehicle, then you have right of way. I quickly had to adapt. It’s not much use protesting how much you were in the right from the confinement of your hospital bed.

While in Mbeya I met Eric, a French guy working from the hotel who has been working in Tanzania for a few years now. We got chatting and he pointed me in the direction of a few places to stay en-route to Zanzibar. The first, Tan Swiss, was nice and I stayed there for a few days, but the second, The Old Farmhouse at Kisolanza wasn’t specifically bad, but turned out to be an overpriced novelty in my opinion. Even so, it was great that I stayed there as who should come rolling in later that evening, but Clever and Dave from Nomads who I’d met in Malawi!

My plan was to go to the spice island of Zanzibar, but I had seen on MeteoEarth the past weeks that it was covered in relentless rain. Eric from the hotel in Mbeya was also saying that at this time of the year with the rains, and battling through the traffic in Dar Es Salam was probably the wrong time to go there. As I got closer and closer, the more I was rethinking those plans. It had also been a few days since I was seriously considering what to do after Nairobi. The fact I had decided not to go to Egypt after considering cost vs experience (given I have been SCUBA diving in Egypt for many years) meant I had three options – fly the bike to UK from Nairobi (expensive), ride to Sudan and fly the bike from there (apparently cheaper but unpredictable), or ride back to South Africa from Nairobi and consider this trip a “Ride around Lake Victoria”. I happen to have a bike I keep in storage in UK and have ridden almost every country in Europe, so don’t have the same need as most overlanders through Africa who need to get to Europe from north east Africa. Visiting Ethiopia is the only undecided factor in that equation, but even if I do go to Ethiopia, I might still ride back to SA. No matter what I decide, I have an annual trip with the usual suspects in South Africa after the Horizons Unlimited meeting in November so I’ll need my bike back there by then. Extending my route to Europe would make that trip in November more complicated and expensive. With that in mind, and the fact it was showing no signs of the rain stopping in Zanzibar or Kilimanjaro for that matter, the option of taking that route on my (probable) way back to South Africa seemed more appealing.

From the Tan Swiss hotel just before Mikumi National Park, I decided to ride through the park, but turn off at Morogoro and head to Dodoma and on to Arusha that way. I’m glad I did that extra loop, doing so took me through the Valley of the Baobas, and the road through the National Park. I didn’t see and predators, but there were enough other things to see; buffalo, giraffe, buck, elephant, warthog, and baboons. Weather wasn’t great so I didn’t stop for any photos. There is a gap on the maps on the road from Dodoma to Arusha which makes lots of routing options take you on jolly rides around other routes, but that road has been paved for a couple of years now, and after the disorganised chaos of the roads up to Dodoma, was an absolute dream to ride.

During the couple of days heading to Arusha, I had been contacted by a chap on Facebook called Max who said he is the owner of Trek Killi and could organise accommodation and a trip to Serengeti for me. He suggested the Lodge at Tellemande which, though small and set back on a side road in a residential area, was nice enough. I got there on Saturday afternoon and wanted to go see the cultural museum on the Sunday but we were due to meet to discuss Serengeti options, so I asked what time to expect him. He said to not get a taxi, he would pick me up and take me there, which I did. He picked me up, but I never got to the museum. Instead we landed up at his house deep in the rural area where he wanted to show me his plans for a future overlanders camp site. There we discussed options for Serengati and decided on a trip for $1,600 over 3 days. Park fees in Tanzania, especially Serengeti and Ngorogoro are eye wateringly expensive, making up at least 1/3 of a multi day safari package. Payment had to be in cash, but he said I could get the full amount over the counter at the bank the next day, Monday. I’m still not sure why he didn’t just put a card payment through his company – Trek Killi. I asked, and he said no. Curious. Long story short, he came to the Lodge the next morning to say there was an 18% tax that had to be paid, which I rejected and said I would cancel in that case. He then agreed the original price was OK. I tried to get the USD out the bank, but the first two refused saying it was not possible, the second sending me to Barclays. Barclays said I could withdraw cash in USD, but had to fill in forms and the daily limit meant I would have to come back over a number of days to build up enough to pay for the trip. Max and I both learned something that morning, so I had to cancel and move on to my next hotel booking at Lake Manyara, which was made the day before in light of these arrangements. I sent him a message to say I’d leave $50 for his time and help at the hotel reception, to which he immediately said I must leave $100! I left $50, and he still hasn’t said thanks or if he even got it.

When I got to the Serena hotel at Lake Manyara I spoke to the reception there, and one of the guys, Zegge, instantly went out of his way phoning around and doing all the negotiation and got me 3 days and 2 nights in Serengeti for $1,500 which I could pay by card. Result! I took the offer and headed in to the park for a few days. I’ll be writing another blog post which will be dedicated to the visit to Serengeti, which should hopefully be up in a day or two.

Lake Manyara from Serena Hotel

After the few days in the park it was time to head west and up to Rwanda. It didn’t look like much infrastructure up in the north west of Tanzania, so I decided to have a short first day travelling to Singida, then an early start the next day to do the 615km to the Rwanda border. If I found somewhere nice along the way I was planning to stop and make it over three days, but as expected nothing striking appeared along the way. That night in the hotel in Singida turned out to be a night spent with an open-air night club banging away right outside the bedroom window! Requests to turn the music down were ignored, so not much rest until they eventually stopped at 3:16AM. Breakfast must have been arranged by the drunk party goers of the previous night as it consisted of left-overs from yesterday’s dinner, and no milk for coffee. I had black coffee and a slice of dry bread for breakfast. It was a big disappointment, the hotel building and location give it the potential for a much better experience.

The roads heading out of Nzega up to Jomu and across to Kahama easily had the highest density of idiotic drivers with zero regard for oncoming traffic. On three occasions I was forced off the main road in to the stepped-down pedestrian and cyclist edge of the road by oncoming traffic. They got a bit of a shock when the Denali SoundBomb went off and the 40w, very powerful, D4 lights went in to strobe mode! Sometimes I could catch a vehicle starting an overtake in to my oncoming lane and hit the strobes early enough for them to change their mind. These Denali lights and horn are proving to be very useful in Africa indeed!

The last 100km of the road to the Rwanda border is currently under construction, repairing some sections of bad tarmac, and tarring other sections that are currently dirt road. I have honestly not seen or ridden a main road in such a bad condition in all my time travelling. I had slowed right down to weave between the potholes, but at the change in surface from tar to dirt there was a huge pothole. It was much bigger than other potholes so far, and the ground colour and sun angle meant I didn’t see it in time. It was about 2m wide so I couldn’t ride around it, about 1m across and half a meter deep. At the last second I opened up the throttle to make the front wheel light and ‘skip’ over it, but that was not to be. The front wheel dropped a bit in to the hole and hit the opposite side hard, knocking the handle bars back up at me. The back wheel, now with the suspension under compression, dropped in to the hole and when it hit the opposite side, bounced the bike up violently, which folded me double, knocked all my wind out and pulled my back muscles. I don’t know how I stayed on the bike to stop it and put the side stand down 50m down the road. If the opposite edge of the pothole was a sharp lip typical on tar road potholes, the rim would no doubt have collapsed with a 90deg bend in it, which would certainly have spat me off the bike. It was painful to get off the bike, but I managed and waited a few minutes to catch my breath and drink a bottle of water. Some locals came over to see what was up, but couldn’t speak English so I motioned to them what had happened. They just made the usual aah sounds and stood around watching this mad mzungu. I wanted to go back and take a photo of the pothole, but I didn’t think I would make walking the 50m back there, and I thought better to stay with the bike. I knew I had just injured myself so needed to think carefully about what to do next. Pause, drink some water, and think before acting. There had been very little infrastructure for the 525km I had already ridden that day, and the border post was 90km ahead. I reckoned that there would be more options at the border than trying to deal with language barriers and apparent lack of infrastructure heading back the way I came, so after getting my breath back, I got on the bike slowly trying to avoid any muscle pain, and rode on to the border. Sitting straight in one position and pulling myself up on the handlebars to stand for the slow sections where I needed to see over the screen, was painful but tolerable. 

When I got to the border I couldn’t get off the bike. I tried and struggled for 10 minutes, but any twisting movement of my torso resulted in pain. Eventually I just bit my teeth and dealt with the pain to get off. I could hardly speak. The pain in the diaphragm when speaking meant I could only utter short, almost hoarse phrases, not even sentences. I could hardly walk, only managing to shuffle while holding my shoulders back and bent forward slightly.

The security guard outside the border building just kinda looked at me, not knowing what to do. I asked if there was a doctor at the border post, but I’m sure he didn’t speak English. When I got in to the buildings, which are a combined one-stop border where both exit and entry are done at adjacent windows, the Tanzanian representative just said sorry about my pain, stamped my passport and said I could go. 

The guy at the Rwanda window saw my distress and asked what the problem was, which I briefly told him in a few words. He called over the guy in charge of the border post, who saw what was going on and instantly kicked in to action. He took my passport and $30 visa fee and walked the paperwork for both me and my bike through the process while I just stood with my back against the wall trying to manage the pain. He also called over the Chief Inspector of Police who happened to be there in civilian clothes and got him involved.

The rest of the story is one you must read, but you will have to wait for the Rwanda blog post for that ; )

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