Tanzania – Part 1
Tanzania encapsulates many people’s ideas and impressions about Africa: the snow capped peaks of Kilimanjaro; dhows sailing on the turquoise tropical waters of the Indian Ocean; elephants and rhinos grazing in the Ngorongoro crater; the great wildebeest migration of the Serengeti grasslands; Arabic bazaars and spicy food in Zanzibar; tall Masai tribesmen resplendent in their red tartan shawls; and let’s not forget — the late Freddie Mercury of Queen.
The border crossing into Tanzania was fairly smooth as we had already got our visas in Lilongwe, and our carne de passages for our motorcycles meant we did not have to fill out reams of forms, nor have to pay any hefty customs import taxes.
As usual the border was a magnet for annoying touts and we were pursued by many dodgy looking characters who insisted that we must buy insurance and road tax from them. I was pestered by a particularly irksome character who I couldn’t help but notice was wearing the type of glasses favoured by young Hong Kong accountant types with daft bog brush haircuts and black suits. He had decided that we were going to be his prey and was constantly hovering about in the background, so as soon as I got the carnes and passports stamped we roared away from the border causing any people and animals on the road to scatter, and others elsewhere to stop what they were doing and stare at us. A little joyous wheelie perhaps?
I could see in my mirror as we weaved through various scattering creatures that the dodgy man was in hot pursuit on a Lifang (Chinese brand) 125 motorcycle and so after a couple of kilometers we stopped by some traffic police officers at a road check and I asked them what the law was concerning motorcycle insurance and road tax in Tanzania. Lifang man was suddenly in the middle of theconversation that didn’t concern him and was constantly interrupting and so, rather petulantly, I asked him if he was a police officer and to my surprise he replied, ‘Yes’. Being a little off guard and surprised by this I demanded to see his identification and he said he didn’t have any. Aha!
I asked the uniformed officers if he was indeed an officer and they shuffled around nervously and I don’t believe I ever got a straight answer, so in the end I took a punt and told him to fuck off, adding that he should go and get his warrant card and not to bother us again until he does so. I suspect lost in translation, the warrant card bit not the fuck off which was without doubt universal in understanding. He then sped off in a huff, much to the amusement of the traffic officers who were suddenly very friendly and helpful. All very odd.
It turned out in the end that we would have to buy vehicle tax and insurance for a minimum period of three months for each bike, but I was reluctant to go back to the maddening border post and the police kindly said they would call up a broker who would come out to the police post and sort things out.
Unbelievably, Officer Lifang was not giving up and suddenly returned, but this time with his own tame insurance scammer who looked as untrustworthy as he did. No doubt both of them in the business of relieving tourists of their cash. Fortunately, however, another more respectable and business-like insurance salesman had also arrived in a car and so we set about processing the documents by the side of the road and I handed over 80,000 Tanzanian Shillings (US$50) for two motorcycles in exchange for a wad of certificates and rather impressive official license disks to stick on our windscreens (which we still have as souvenirs).
Officer Lifang was not happy at all and was having a hissy fit, arms waving, shouting, and clearly threatening our preferred insurance salesman, who to his credit remained calm and impassive against an obvious torrent of threats and abuse.
After our license disks were meticulously peeled away from the perforations around the edges they were stuck to the centre of our windscreens. It was handshakes and smiles all round and we blasted off along a winding and good quality tar road up into a beautiful mountain range with tea plantations and lush tropical flora. I could not wait to reach the next police road block so that I could point at my tax disk and shout, ‘LEGAL’.
We had a couple of thousand kilometers to ride through southern Tanzania, often through dusty, polluted and run down towns, but also through lush and colourful countryside, mountains and pretty villages. We had tackled the traffic in an extremely dusty town called Mbeya not far from the border with Malawi where we withdrew some Tanzanian Shillings from an ATM, ate some of the chicken and chips being sold everywhere, refueled our bikes and unsuccessfully managed to explain to a dozen or so hardware stores what gaffer/duct tape was, let alone actually buy any. Fanny’s repairs on her bike would have to wait.
The roads were really good, but spoiled a bit by hundreds, if not thousands of speed bumps and traffic calming systems throughout the whole country– on both tar roads and strangely on gravel tracks as well. Before and after you enter any village or town you have to ride over several sets of bumps, humps and ridges that are actually good opportunities for motorcycles and donkey drawn carts to overtake the heavy traffic, albeit bone jarring and suspension juddering in the process. The traffic is very bad in Tanzania and the drivers are a bit reckless, especially in heavy commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses.
We had been head to head with many overtaking buses and trucks hurtling towards us, some forcing us to swerve or even drive off the road into what ever we could. We had seen many road accidents, some of them quite serious and I dare say a couple of them fatal. Many of the lorries were seriously over laden and in poor condition, belching black smoke as they laboured at 3 kph up Tanzanian mountain slopes whilst being overtaken by another overloaded truck at 4 kph!. Often, it seemed, many of them crashed or broke down as their brakes failed coming down the other side.
For our first night we stayed at an organic farm called “The Old Farmhouse”, recommended by our friends, George and Alice from Malawi who said it was only 300-400 kilometers way. After nearly 900 kilometers of riding that day we had still not reached it, but in the dimming light as we were racing through magnificent coniferous forests on good surfaced roads I caught a glimpse of a small sign post just outside the town of Iringa and went back to check it out. It was indeed the entrance to the farmhouse.
As we rode down the windy stone surfaced track in quite bad light Fanny had a small fall on a sharp left hand turn literally 300 meters away from the campsite gates and I am quite sure everyone in the camp heard what I had to say about throttle control when turning on loose road surfaces. In retrospect I feel very sorry for giving Fanny a hard time on such occasions and in fact I am immensely proud of what she had achieved. But when I’m tired and stressed these minor disasters seem blown out of all proportion and I could really do with a zip on my mouth. Fanny usually doesn’t take any notice anyway.. water off a mandarin ducks back.
The Old Farmhouse was a really good campsite, well looked after and clearly managed by people who know what they are doing and care. After we had set up the tent on a nice grassy spot, set up our bikes and kit for the night in the usual configuration, showered and attempted to wash away layers of grime and dust we were greeted by one of the camp workers who said that they had prepared dinner for us and that it was ready in the dining room.
It was quite surreal, but very comforting to find such luxury after such a hard day’s riding. Often in Africa I had nagging doubts towards the end of the day as to whether we would actually find a decent and safe place to sleep. Now, we were in a charming dining room that was decorated in a style I can only describe as African bush chic. We had huge steaks and a selection of locally grown organic vegetables, which the camp was famous for. Delicious. Our bikes were safe and the tent was ready for us to climb into and have a good night’s sleep. What joy.
Website at : http://www.kisolanza.com/
The next morning we had an excellent breakfast and on the table next to us met a German guy who was cycling across Africa. The strange thing was he was rather large, in fact it would be accurate to describe him as obese. This was strange because many of the cross continent cyclists we had bumped into or were to encounter later on had pretty much reduced their body weight by half due the the physical demands of peddling themselves and their kit across Africa every day for months on end. This guy had apparently done the opposite. Some how calories in had exceeded calories out. How is that done?
After thanking our kind hosts and bidding our fellow travelers farewell we set off towards Mikumi National Park through which the main road to Dar Es Salem passes. On the way we rode along stunning mountain roads and though a town called Mbuyuni which is surrounded by a huge baobab forest. This is quite unusual as the baobabs we had seen thus far were scattered sporadically and majestically here and there. Mbuyuni, however, was in a huge forest of baobabs of various sizes and age and nothing else. I was very impressed, but Fanny later told me she found it rather creepy and unearthly. I suppose it was. We had never seen anything like it.
The other noticeable thing along this section was the huge numbers of lorries on the road, lorries broken down, lorries on their side and lorries upside down. The reason for this is obvious to anyone except, clearly, lorry drivers. Many of the trucks were seriously overloaded and so they crawled up the hills laboriously and very slowly and then charged down the other side at breakneck speed. Of course, many crash as their brakes fail under the overloaded stress, or the drivers just lose control. These trucks cannot drive over speed bumps very quickly, which is of course why the Tanzanian government has put them there in the first place. However, this does not stop lorry drivers from trying and sometimes the impact of hitting the bumps at speed can turn the trucks over on their side, break the axles or jack knife them off the road.
When vehicles have crashed or broken down the local custom is to spread broken branches on the road before and after to warn other road users that there is an obstruction ahead, but as far as we could work out every kilometer of road was covered in broken bits of forest and so this was not quite as effective as it should be and we were never really sure if a broken down truck was just around the corner or over the crest of a hill. It seemed all other drivers just ignored them as well.
After a very enjoyable stretch of riding on decent roads and through beautiful mountains we descended down through a valley into a very ugly town at the entrance of Mikumi National Game Park. It’s difficult to describe it other to liken it to a dusty 3rd tier Chinese town in Shanxi Province, but without the charm or good food. The only place to stay without risk to life and soul was the Swiss Tan or was it Tan Swiss Lodge. A rather odd place that had murals of Swiss scenes on all the walls, such as the Matterhorn, but with giraffes, zebras and other Africa animals roaming around in the meadows instead of Julie Andrews. The European staff were friendly and the site was clean enough, but a bit basic, dull and expensive for what it was, a bit like Switzerland really.
I think I saw the Swiss owner wandering around and then he disappeared. Unfortunately, he had an uncanny resemblance to Fritzl, the Austrian guy who kept a secret family in a bunker under his house and fathered children from his daughter. I know its not his fault, and I found no evidence of any bunkers, nor any children with big foreheads, but the thought, now firmly in my mind, was unsettling me, perhaps magnified by the anti malaria medication and so I was quite pleased to get the ‘frig’ out of there the next day and get back on the road with the mad lorry and bus drivers.
Fanny and I went for a walk through the town which was very run down and dusty and saw a European guy emerge from one of the rather tatty local shops. He turned out to be another German cyclist and unlike the one we saw earlier looked very lean and fit. He told us he needed a shower and just rocked up to a local shop and they let him use their water and a jug. He was also cycling through Africa, but on the super cheap, roughing it along the way and eating whatever he could find. He had one set of clothes, the ones he was wearing, virtually no luggage and according to him no money either. Borders it seemed were obstacles to find a way around and he would rely on the generosity of Africans he met for water, food and clearly getting cleaned up every now and again. I was curious about how he got through the Mikumi game reserve and he simply said, ‘I just cycled through it’.
‘Well what about the animals?’, I enquired.
‘They were great’, he replied matter of factly, ‘saw lots of them, even lions’.
As we walked away, Fanny started a barrage of questions. Whats does he eat? Isn’t it dangerous? What if he gets caught sneaking across borders? What if he hasn’t got a stamp in his passport? Did I think he was mad? Would I do it? If a stranger knocked on our door and asked for a shower would I let him in? Clearly this had made an impression on Fanny.
Early the next morning we packed up and drove through in Mikumi. I expected it to be like any national park you are allowed to drive through for free– i.e. rather devoid of game and interesting things to look at. However, it was anything but and was positively teeming with giraffe, zebras, monkeys, buffalo, various antelope, elephants, lions and leopard. Not bad at all. Something for nothing… we had joined Africa’s favourite pastime.
We sauntered along the 55 kilometers of road that passed through park at a very steady pace of less than 20 kph so that we could game view whilst riding without our helmets on. On exiting the gates of the park we put our helmets back on and moved into more open bush where we saw our first Masai cow herder, resplendent in traditional tartan like garb and carrying a spear with a blade at one end and a sharp point at the other. Very impressive and rather elegant I thought. Soon after that the villages became more frequent and we started riding through urban sprawl and into the worst traffic jam so far, a smoggy and maddening 35 kilometers of mostly stationary vehicles all the way into the centre of Dar Es Salaam on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Even with panniers on our heavily laden bikes we were able to weave our way through the cars, lorries and buses, although we did still managed to inhale Chinese levels of diesel fumes and various other pollutants. Fanny was in her element though, and had no problem keeping up as we overtook long queues of traffic and narrowly avoided pedestrians, goats and dogs leaping out into the traffic. The GPS is a godsend in such cities and gave us a track towards the estuary ferry and to our destination at Kipepeo Beach Camp
Website : (www.kipepeocamp.com/campsite.html).
We chose this site based on a recommendation from the young manageress at Tan Swiss campsite. We did not want to park the bikes in the middle of the city where we had been told security was not that great, but far more importantly the idea of camping on the beach next to the warm Indian Ocean was very appealing.
I like Dar Es Salaam very much. It’s got a nice mix of Arab and African cultures, a climate not unlike Hong Kong in autumn and better food than the rest of Africa we had been to so far. It also has a great vibe and I thought even the touts, of which there were many, had a particular charm about them and seemed not too upset when we declined their offers for whatever they were trying to sell. It was also in Dar where I developed a particular like for fresh coconut.
This might sound odd since I have lived and holidayed in South East Asia for decades, but I think I tried it once in Thailand and did not think much of it. However, after seeing one prepared for another passenger on the short ferry ride to Kipepeo I thought I would try one and it was delicious. The vendor had about fifty green coconuts on his bicycle and a big machete knife. He would chop off the end of the coconut very skillfully with this large weapon, careful not to remove any of his digits and the opened cup of fresh coconut milk would be handed over to the customer who would drink the very refreshing, cool and transparent liquid. Once the milk was finished the customer would then hand it back to the vendor who would then loosen the soft white coconut flesh and fashion a spoon out of the coconut body with which the customer would then eat the remainder of the contents. A very cheap and refreshing drink and snack all in one for about 200 Tanzanian Shillings which is just a few pence in UK money.
I would spend quite a bit of time whilst on the coast of Tanzania scanning for such coconut vendors at the side of the road and performing emergency stops as soon as I saw one. This was good for Fanny because she was still struggling to perfect her u-turns and emergency maneuvers and so I gave her lots of practice.
We found the camp site at Kipepeo which was extremely nice and set up our tent and parked our bikes on the beach. It was a fairly popular site and again a destination for the overland trucks and their chubby contents. It also had free Wifi internet and fairly decent food and so we stayed there for a few days before we set off to Zanzibar.
It is here at Kipepeo that we encountered our first fake Masai warriors. These guys lurked around on the beach and lured lonely western women tourists for a close encounter of the ethic kind, and of course to squeeze a bit of cash out of them. A reversal, I suppose, of what goes on with western men and Asian girls in Thailand and the Philippines. These “ducks”, as they are called in China, would abandon their red tartan “Shukas” at the end of a tiring day of fake Masai “pogo”ing and spear fighting on the beach and put their shorts and Man United and Arsenal T-shirts back on and go home to their mothers homes in Dar rather than to a lonely cow herd in the middle of the Serengeti.
We also met Eugene at Kipepeo, a fellow motorcycle adventurer whose mid life crisis made mine look rather dull and insignificant. He was riding a rather old, but characteristic BMW R80 Dakar edition and was having a journey of misadventure and bad luck. He told me after a few rum and cokes how he left his home in Pretoria to go biking because his wife ran off with another man, had lost all his money and was too old to run back to mummy for a hug, so he had ‘fooked oooof’ on his bike and wasn’t sure what he was going to do other than spend a few months idling about in Zanzibar.
Like many bikers we met, he was quite taken with Fanny and would say things in his strong Transvaal accent like, ‘Who would believe that a woman could ride a motorcycle’, ‘MY GOD, respect woman’. Later, on receiving news that his wife had just been diagnosed with cancer he remarked, ‘ I don’t wish that on anyone, but I hope with the hormone treatment she grows a mustache’. His one liners were classic and he kept us amused for many hours in the bar.
Our efforts to get our bikes to Zanzibar and perhaps even to Pemba Island and back across to mainland Africa at Tanga proved doable, but far too expensive and so Fanny and I decided to leave our bikes at Kipepeo in Dar Es Salaam and pack very lightly and take a fast ferry over to the island and perhaps hire a scooter to look around. And this we did. The fast catamaran ferry from Dar port to Stone Town in Zanzibar took only two hours, but Fanny was severely sea sick throughout.
I realized on this trip that Fanny suffers badly from motion sickness. She did not enjoy going paragliding with me on my tandem at Hermanus in South Africa several months before and she definitely hated the ferry ride to Zanzibar, turning a pale shade of greeny grey and looking very poorly indeed. She also hated the flight over the Okavango Delta in a light aircraft and felt dizzy and disorientated as the plane took off and landed or when in mild turbulence. Oh dear. She’ll have to stick with her feet firmly on the ground from now on and hopefully manage the twists and turns of rubber on the ground with her huge adventure bike.
Stone Town is very charming with little alleyways and a mixture of British colonial and Arabic architecture. It is very strictly Islamic and we arrived just at the start of Ramadan and so day time fasting was in progress by most people. Food looked at lot better and a lot more Middle Eastern influenced and so we ate well and could find all sorts of fruits and vegetables, including delicious figs and pomelos in the markets which were teeming with activity and very colourful. There are some very nice hotels, but our meager budget meant we stayed at a rather modest place along with several million bed bugs and a substantial number of mosquitoes that managed to squeeze through the tiny cracks and holes in the net above our bed.
We intended to hire a scooter to explore more of the island but got messed around by touts who made us wait for hours and then appeared with some very dodgy Vespa at a ridiculous price and so we decided, since we spent most of our time riding, that we would just walk about and take a Dhow trip to one of the islands to see the huge tortoises that roam about freely. These huge reptiles originally came from the Seychelles as a present to the British occupiers of Zanzibar some hundred or so years ago. Quite probably some of the tortoises were about that old, they were certainly very big.
Fanny was reluctant to take a small boat on choppy waters to the island and so I made a plan with an American we met to share the cost and go together. At the last minute Fanny changed her mind and decided to join us and we had a very pleasant ride out to the small island, once intended a hundred or so years ago to be a prison, hence its name Prison Island, but now a smart resort with hundreds of giant tortoises wandering about and with a very nice reef to snorkel around.
As the sun was setting the wind picked up and the water became very choppy and I was trying to hurry up the chubby American with his huge camera from taking his thousandth picture of the tortoises and get back to Zanzibar. By the time he waddled back the sea was rough and getting on the small Dhow was tricky, but we set off and not long after the small Yamaha outbound engine stopped and refused to start.
Without power the small Dhow, minus a sail which would have been useful now, was lurching about and starting to fill with water. The American thought this was all good fun, but Fanny was now serious sick and so I placed her in a life vest and lay her down. Another Dhow was summoned after about 20-30 minutes and to our alarm our driver just leaped over board and swam away without warning to the other boat. I was wondering whether we should start paddling when the other Dhow’s driver did the same and swam back to us and climbed aboard and started working on the engine. Clearly he was the more experienced Dhow driver and soon after he managed to drain water from the engine and get it started and we chugged back to Zanzibar. Another drama to add to our adventure.
We tried to get a ferry ticket to get back to Dar Es Salaam but they were all sold so we bought one for the next morning and spent the rest of the day just mooching about the back streets of Stone Town, drinking Arabic coffee and tea, eating local food and relaxing.
We decided not to explore the rest of the island as we were already camped on a lovely beach and did not really want to waste money seeing more of the same, albeit on Zanzibar. That said Zanzibar would be a great place for an annual vacation and it seems that it is a very popular destination, for reasons I never fathomed, for Italians who were there in their droves. There are spice forest tours, swimming safaris with dolphins at the south of the island, very plush and “larnie” resorts to relax at, very charming hotels in Stone Town, the Capital, amazing coral reefs to snorkel or dive through and many activities such as historical tours that take you back to Zanzibar’s more unsavory past when it was the epicenter for slave trading for many centuries. We decided to let Fanny recover from her near death experience on the Dhow by having “a” cocktail in the Mercury Bar so called after Zanzibar’s most famous son, Freddie Mercury of Queen.
We stayed at another hotel that night as we could not face the nocturnal battle with millions of bugs and other creatures and the next day took the early ferry back to Dar Es Salaam, getting onto the ferry first using Chinese pushing and shoving techniques well practiced in Hong Kong. Being the first to board we were then able to relax in huge bean bags on the open deck. Fanny slept the whole way which was probably best as she was dreading the journey and some local guys, doing their Ramadan good turn of the day, gave us a ride back to Kipepeo Beach where we were pleased to find our KTMs in the same state we left them.
We had met some other KTM riders while exploring Dar and they recommended we stayed at a small village just south of Tanga, about 300 kilometers north of Dar. To get there we could backtrack the way we came and take the tar road all the way there or explore the coastal villages on more off road tracks. We decided on the latter and escaped Dar with relative ease and drove along some gravelly roads to some villages. Soon enough the coastal tracks stopped because of large estuaries and so we followed a track for 80 kilometers to the Tanga main road. I was really impressed with Fanny, but on a particularly rutted and inclined bit of road with lots of sand Fanny came off and bounced to a stop, but her bike pirouetted on one pannier and then bounced over onto the other. Fanny seemed OK, although was annoyed with herself for coming off again after making so much progress, the panniers were however quite badly damaged with a huge graze through the aluminium that would require more than panel beating to fix.
When we got to Tanga first impressions were not what I expected at all. Tanga is a small working town and very much off the tourist route. It is situated on the east coast just south of the border with Kenya, the next big coastal city being Mombasa further to the north. As we arrived in the town and jumped over the many speed bumps and over several roundabouts, over being the safest route as traffic passed both sides, we continued on our GPS heading towards the only campsite shown in the Garmin database and this took us to a very rocky and broken up road that was routing us back south. This was annoying.
I decided to stop in the road and consult Fanny and ask whether we should carry on going south for 20-30 kilometers on tyre chewing roads or head back to Tanga and look for a place to stay. Why I decided to stop at that point and at that exact location I will never know, but it turned out to be very fortuitous as a European looking chap turned up on a BMW GS1200 and asked after us. I explained our predicament and he said he had a house nearby with some garden cottages and as luck would have it one was empty and we could stay. I explained, as was the truth, that we couldn’t really afford anything other than camping, but he was very generous in offering it to us for as long as we liked for free. This was one of many generous and spirit lifting gestures we would encounter from entire strangers along our big bike trip.
So began a very pleasant and enjoyable chapter in our adventure with Eric and Pam Allard at their beautiful house on the cliffs above the mangrove swamps and Indian Ocean in Tanga. Eric was born in Kenya of Italian and French parents, spoke fluent Swahili, English, Italian and ran a local fish export company and also an extreme spear fishing business. Pam was born in the USA and came to Africa with the Peace Corp and stayed and was now involved in alternative medicine and voluntary work in Tanzania.
Fanny and I spent our few days with the Allards, wandering about basically, exploring the coastline, going on what we called “beach safaris”, which to my mind were as equally interesting as sitting in a game viewer in an African national park ticking off which animals one could spot and getting extra points if they were actually killing each other.
Fanny, being Chinese of course, would categorize each animal as to whether they were edible or not. The edible category was clearly very large, at least as far as northern Asians are concerned.
When we arrived the sea was lapping right up to the vertical cliff walls that separated the houses’ large gardens from the ocean, and the daily high tides were clearly eroding into the Allard’s and their neighbours’ beautifully manicured lawns. In the morning when we woke up the tide had gone out about a kilometer or so, exposing rock pools and mangrove channels full of an assortment of starfish of all shapes and sizes, urchins, crabs and fish and fields of equally well manicured seaweed beds. Seabirds were hunting among the pools and the local ladies were harvesting the seaweed which is used, apparently, as an ingredient for cosmetics in the west. As is the case in Africa, we mzungos (foreigners) are viewed upon by the locals as oddities.
Only mzungos wander about in the bush, swamps, beaches and mountains without apparent purpose. The local Africans seem to exert energy and burn off useful calories only in the pursuit of finding more calories. Running, which I try to do everyday, is viewed as an extremely strange activity, except by children who would often run alongside me smiling widely and shouting ‘MZUNGO’.
Adults on the other hand would look up, and either look aghast or smile embarrassingly at each other. Of course, I look like any other regular mzungo, pasty white, occasionally red and clearly European. Fanny on the other hand would often create an open debate as to what she is. She doesn’t look very Chinese, even to other Chinese. At this particular time in Tanga she was very tanned, rather muscular and had her hair braided with African beads. She is also quite tall and most of the time very loud and boisterous. She was also now wearing her new MC hammer trousers with the crotch by her ankles. These were given to her by Pam who suggested that Fanny’s de rigeur mini skirt was inappropriate for the local scene, especially now it was Ramadan and so she had made her some Trousers in KTM orange fashioned out of a sarong wrap. Fanny actually really wanted a local sarong fastened the traditional way, however with the motorcycle riding and Fanny’s usual hooligan behaviour it would not remain modestly fastened around her “not to be seens” for very long and so the MC hammers became a staple item in her limited wardrobe.
Along with some unwelcome mosquitoes, amusing wall tigers (geckos), strange lizards and exotic birds, we shared our cottage with “Babu”, an Africa Grey Parrot.
I had not encountered many parrots before, but I now want one. It is said that this particular type of parrot is the best imitator in the animal kingdom and Babu had a repertoire of human languages, animal sounds and odd noises that was second to none. Not only could he imitate the dogs, the gate guards and whistle various tunes, he could also imitate the sounds associated with computers and mobile phones. This would always create a bit of confusion and we were never sure if a sound was coming from Babu or from one of our phones.
Babu could not fly because he had his wing clipped to prevent him flying away too far and getting caught by people who might harm him. However, this did not handicap his ability to get about and he could climb and walk long distances and had the entire house and huge gardens to wander about in. He would bark at the dogs if they got too near or annoyed him and he could also answer if anyone came calling at the gate causing a fair degree of confusion and hesitation. He could also dance, sing and whistle, but clearly only when he felt like it and never on demand.
I spent more time than a normal functioning human should trying to teach him to sing the Chinese National Anthem and only as we were leaving did I hear a rendition being whistled by an unknown talent. Perhaps it was Babu, perhaps by the gardener. Babu’s Pièce de résistance was his ability to scratch the unreachable itchy back of his neck by using a pencil. This was so comforting to Babu that he would close his eyes in ecstasy and wobble off his perch. If that is not intelligent use of a tool by an animal I don’t know what is. Chimpanzees using sticks to eat terminates? Tom Bloor using rocks to break open nuts? No comparison.
While we were in Tanga I had to do some bike maintenance, not least fix the holes in Fanny’s panniers. Again Eric came to our rescue and we took the panniers to his workshop at his fish packaging and export factory where his talented workers did a brilliant job patching up the holes with aluminium sheeting and strong rivets. I wondered if they could make some stabilizers that came down each time she did a u-turn? I shared this thought with Fanny who then taught me a new Chinese word I could not find in the dictionary.
We really enjoyed ourselves with the Allards and sincerely hope they will enjoy staying at our home, the Weaver in Arniston during their upcoming Mozambique and South Africa touring holiday. We had a great “final” evening at the local swimming and boat club in Tanga where we had Indian curry, Kilimanjaro beers and laughs with new friends. The next day Eric got up early as the sun was rising and he set off on his diving boat to Zanzibar to pick up clients and take them extreme spear fishing and diving. What a job.
We then said goodbye to Pam who rode on her BMW Dakar to the local petrol station with us (video’d) and headed off, as per their recommendation, to Lake Chala in the foothills of Kilimanjaro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Chala)
The route to Lake Chala was awesome. Great roads, superb scenery, and perfect weather. The bikes were handling beautifully and although the Pirelli Scorpions were beginning to look a bit worn, they had done 10,000 kilometers and could probably do another 2-3,000 kilometers on the back and another 10,000 kilometers or so on the front. Not sure if it is testament to our riding style or the nitrogen that we filled them with in Cape Town. Either way they were doing well.
I tested out Fanny’s bike and it was fine, although the front brake could perhaps have done with bleeding, but nothing was urgent. The panniers were fixed and both of us were enjoying what the trip was all about, riding superb motorcycles in new and exciting surroundings.
Lake Chala was not on our Michelin map, nor marked on our GPS, strangely, but I knew it was just to the east of Mount Kilimanjaro and that we should turn away from Moshi and towards the Kenyan border, across which the crater lake caldera spans.
As we got nearer I knew that Mount Kilimanjaro was right in front of us, but it was obscured by cloud. I could see Mount Meru in the far distance beyond the huge Masai plains and it was magnificent, but “Kili” as its known remained shrouded in mist. I could tell from the GPS we were ascending in altitude and it got noticeably cooler as we rode into the foothills. As I had no idea where Lake Chala actually was we stopped for directions and were pointed in the direction of a mud road which after 15 kilometers eventually led us to Lake Chala camp. Along the road I could see a lot of elephant poo and evidence of elephant tree damage. Clearly, as we were told, there are hundreds of elephants, even if we could not see any yet.
We were welcomed by the owners of the camp and set up our tent, prepared our bikes and after a welcome beer at a bar that had brilliant views of the crater and lake we went for an evening walk to the water hole to see if there were any elephants. There were none, but the other tourists, mainly volunteer workers from Arusha having a weekend break told us that there were dozens the day before. Typical. It is just like when you go paragliding to a new site and when you arrive it’s blown out and the locals tell you, ‘It was perfect yesterday, I flew for hours’.
The Lake Chala area is not yet designated a national park and so no park fees are required, we just paid the US$5 a night camping fee and could freely explore the stunningly beautiful area, with Kilimanjaro to the west, Lake Chala to the east and everywhere else surrounded by unspoiled African bush.
The elephant drought did not last long and on a walk around the rim of the crater we saw a herd of about 80-100 elephants, and also the rather strange looking black and white Colobus monkey. I never managed to get a picture before they disappeared but …http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colobus_monkey.
We signed up with some others for the barbeque goat which was being offered at the camp and not long after ran into our dinner tied up behind the kitchen looking understandably nervous. I am a meat eater and so is Fanny and so as unnerving eyeing your prey in the eyes actually is, it is clearly hypocritical to be squeamish when your meat is presented to you with a pulse, rather than in cellophane wrapping at Tescos. Our resolve and nerve was further tested when we ran into, well let’s call him, “Dinner” having his throat cut, blood drained and innards removed.
I remember ordering gong bao ji ding in a rather remote restaurant on the Sichuan and Yunnan border in China some years back when I was studying chinese and the fuwuyuan brought me my chicken to stare at in the eyes and asked me if it met my approval. I replied in the affirmative and instead of taking “chukkie” back to the kitchen he was dispatched by a long and rotating twist to the neck at my table while the waiter asked me if I was enjoying my stay. When chukkie came back with chili and peanuts I was quickly reminded of what he had looked like pre-wok because more than a few feathers were still sticking out the meat. Here at Lake Chala I was hoping that “Dinner” would not have any white and brown fur still attached.
I can report that “dinner” was absolutely delicious and that when humans are hungry they will eat anything, even deep fat fried pizzas, allegedly. Also, nothing went to waste. Mzungo guests ate barbequed meaty bits and the locals kept everything else– Jack Sprat style.
Fanny and I did a lot of exploring and climbed down the crater to the lake which no longer has the rare dwarf crocodiles. They chanced their luck by eating a tourist a few years back and the locals decided this was bad for business so they are no longer, allegedly. We hiked around the crater rim and I did quite a bit of running. We did eventually see a lot of elephants, hundreds of them in fact and it was quite amazing to be so close to them.
On one run I decided to run through the elephant bushes, around the back of the tallest rim of the crater, over the top of it and back to camp. An 8 kilometer run and an unexpected game view all in one. I narrowly missed stepping on a rather beautiful, but deadly puff adder; ran into a troop of baboons that were being guarded by a very large alpha male that barked at me, and had some more close encounters with colobus and vervet monkeys. Did I see any leopards I was asked when I staggered back.
‘Leopards?’ I replied, with a bit of a squeaky voice.