Tanzania– Part 2
The trip is one of ups and downs and unexpected surprises and disappointments. One thing that is constant is bumping into interesting and generous people. We were overheard at Lake Chala by a Dutch couple who lived in Moshi (on the slopes of Kilimanjaro) discussing our next route and they invited us to stay with them and break up our journey to the Serengeti. This we kindly accepted, although we were not sure we would be able to find them again as we did not carry any SIM cards other than an emergency Chinese one in a cheap phone.
People always ask us of all the places we have been which is one of our favourites, well Lake Chala is definitely one of them. Super hosts, great campsite, not particularly commercial, very reasonable prices, a bar with one of the best views in the world and smack bang in the middle of unspoilt African bush. We had a very happy and relaxing time there. Website: http://www.lakechalasafaricamp.com/
As we rode away along an obstacle course of elephant poo and other debris that the big animals leave in their wake I looked over my shoulder and made a mental note to return one day. It was a Sunday and as we made our way along dirt roads through little villages we rode past hundreds of Tanzanian’s in their beautiful clothes walking to and from church. It’s quite strange and almost surreal seeing people wandering through the African bush in their Sunday best. Everyone waved and greeted us with Jambo or Karibu.
Moshi was only 54 kilometers away and we got there fairly quickly, but all the time I was craning my neck looking up towards where I knew the tallest mountain on the African continent should be. It is usually covered in cloud and for just a few minutes we caught a glimpse of the snowy summit of Kilimanjaro, and then it was gone again and we never saw it again. It is quite a sight being one of the tallest free standing mountains in the world and the seemingly perfectly formed conical snow cap really stands out from the surrounding African bush plains.
We were keen to go into the Serengeti national park and also down into the Ngorongoro Crater, both of which are said to be teeming with wildlife, but the tour operators in Moshi and Arusha, the so called gateways to the parks, were asking for US$150-200 a day “each”” to join their tour groups. A fee way beyond our budget. However, Tanzania is very strict about not letting motorcycles into game parks and so if we wanted to see the Serengeti we would have to think of a plan and somehow independently get in using someone else’s four wheels. .
In Moshi we found a nice cafe on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and stopped so we could ponder over the options. While we were having our drinks we noticed a sign for a Chinese restaurant called “The Panda” and Fanny decided to go there and ask the owners about the lay of the land, visas, routes and do her usual due diligence inquiries and find out what the foods like. I decided to go shopping and stock up on some food and supplies as we might be bush camping over the next few days.
Fanny came back after a short while with her new friend, Chen Yuan Yuan who invited us for dinner at the restaurant but admitted the cook couldn’t cook and the food was lousy. She was a very friendly girl and both she and Fanny seemed happy to have met each other and chat in their mother tongue. Chen had met the owners of the restaurant while she was cycling in Tibet and they invited her to stay with them at their restaurant, The Panda in Moshi and she decided to stay and now she was in charge of the restaurant while the owners went back to China.
By her own admission she knew nothing about the running of a restaurant, but she seemed a nice person and so we accepted her offer and later went back to the Panda with our hosts, Mathe and Pauline, the couple from Holland we met at Lake Chala and who put us up for the night at their nearby house. The food was indeed bloody awful, but it was free. Even the other diners said the food was shocking and one Chinese couple actually cooked their own food in the restaurant’s kitchen, which they shared with us, so at least we had one decent dish. The Panda Chinese restaurant in Moshi would make a very entertaining challenge for Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. .
We set off towards the Serengeti bright and early the next day after a superb breakfast with Pauline in her garden with views of the mountainside. We had heard stories about bad fuel along the way and were advised to only get petrol from BP or Total garages. Luckily we found a BP garage in Arusha and our KTM LC8 engines were happy again. Our KTMs do not like low octane petrol or fuel mixed with kerosene or water at all, and if we put any in the engines backfire badly like I do after eating onions and I cringe at the thought of the damage being done inside.
Our target location for the day was Mto Wa Mbu, which I never learned how to pronounce properly and so I simply spelled it out whenever it was mentioned. The ride through the north Tanzanian bush was spectacular and we started to see a lot more Masai villages and herdsmen.
We also caught our first glimpse of Lake Manyara with its white soda pans and huge plains. Also, across the huge valley floor were dozens of fairly large red dust devils swirling hundreds of meters upwards into the sky. It was as if we were in an unearthly land and the surface was boiling. This was exciting stuff. I saw the entrance to Twinga campsite as we rode by and remembered its name from one of the tour companies I inquired about in Moshi. It is one of the first camps that people stay at just outside the parks before they continue on their safari packages into the Serengeti.
Our plan remained to try and find other people to share the cost of a vehicle and fuel, but the mathematics would just not work out as the entry fees to each of the parks was US$50 a day and to descend into the Ngorongoro Crater was another US$200. Again, we were on a sort of thousand holidays in one go experience and so our budget could just not extend to going into all the tourist attractions we came across. But its the Serengeti … we can’t ride all the way and not see it. Can we?
We did not like the village beginning with M very much, we did not like Twinga camp and we definitely did not like the prices and all the pushy touts. “WE ARE NOT TOURISTS – WE ARE ROUND THE WORLD MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURERS”.
There is a difference you know, but apparently not to the touts or anyone in Mmmm Toe Waaah Mmmm booo .. to them we are just another bunch of mzungos who need to be relieved of our cash.
We were torn between continuing to Kenya and perhaps going into the Masai Mara where the great migration had actually moved onto by mid August, or continuing to find a solution to get into the Tanzanian parks. Fanny and I rode with all our equipment to the very last village, Karatu which is just outside the Ngorongoro Crater entrance. Our friends from Tanga, Eric and Pam Allard, had suggested that we should try and stay at Gibb’s Farm, (www.gibbsfarm.net ).
I can categorically state that this was one of our biggest mistakes. Not only was the search for Gibbs Farm a difficult one, extremely difficult to get to due to thick sand and road building material piled up every five meters for five kilometers, but when I eventually got there sweating, dusty and exhausted the lodge staff told me that rooms started at US$350 a night. What the…..?
Agitated and annoyed I turned my bike around just as Fanny pulled up to Gibb’s Farm and then I noticed that her back tyre was completely flat. Not only was it flat but she had ridden it flat for at least a kilometer. The clouds turned black, lightening struck the ground and Captain Grumpy Bastard had been released from his cave.
I am not proud of my tantrums and I vaguely remember on this occasion various people running for cover, especially when I took a wheel wretch out of the toolbox. Fanny has witnessed a few, she does not particularly like them, but she is the best person in the world at handling me when the red mist comes down. Luckily, if there was any luck to be squeezed out of the situation, the lodge had a garage and I was offered the facilities which I was told were only a few meters away. I should have known better. An African’s ‘its only 50 meters away’ is almost identical to an African’s ‘it’ll only take five minutes’.
After a counter terrorist unit selection like yomp up a steep hill (i.e. the outer rim of the crater) for half an hour with a KTM back wheel, tyre and toolkit on my shoulders the anger had been sapped from me and any audible expletives had been reduced to animal grunts and undignified squeaks. At the garage I was met by the head shed who rattled on in Swahili and said the word Piki Piki a few times which I had learnt means motorcycle. He also kept saying that annoying phrase Hakuma Matata from the movie, The Lion King.. No problem be happy!!!. Do people really say that? Apparently yes and I wish they wouldn’t. Its too bloody happy and cheerful by half.
Well I did have a problem and I wasn’t happy in the slightest, ‘The effing piki piki tyre is flat’…. I squeaked, ‘please can I use your garage?’
The tyres had been fitted with heavy duty inner tubes and I guessed correctly that when the tyre came off that the one and a half inch tack that was firmly embedded in the worn tread had not only pierced the inner tube once but repeatedly as the tyre crept round the rim whilst being driven flat. Luckily, we had brought the spare, which was the standard normal gauge inner tube, but it would have to do. I kept the damage tube that was quite a mess and planned repair it at a later stage when I had time and more patience, but for now we were to begin battle with the tyre and remove it from its wheel.
I am not going to dwell on the details, those who have changed a bicycle tyre know what’s involved, albeit with a motorcycle on a bigger scale. Suffice to say it’s a bugger. The more times you do it the better you become, but it is awkward, especially in the middle of nowhere. The holy than thou adventure motorcycling gurus say its all part of the fun. It is not. It always happens when you least want it to and the tools you carry with you are never quite adequate for levering off/on the beading without damaging the rims.
I should have known that mechanics who regularly change tyres on Land Rovers and Land Cruisers that go off road on safaris are not going to be sympathetic to the lovely black powder coated rims on a KTM motorcycle, nor have any realization as to how “precious and delicate” the bearings in the centre of the wheel are, especially when thrown 20 meters across the length of the garage into a bucket–which is what they did.
I had recovered sufficiently from my exertions to plead to the nice men to stop eefing up my wheel and allow me to take the tyre off myself…. Ansanti sana. I was appreciative of the kind help, but please let me do it myself. I was OK getting the tyre off and replacing the inner tube, but I was struggling getting the beading back onto the rim as there was no soapy water to prize the tyre back on and the high pressure pump in the workshop was not helping.
I then decided to go and look for some soapy water and started off in the direction of where I thought I could find some, but as soon as I was outside I was distressed to hear some unsympathetic and heavy handed hammering coming from the workshop and was immediately called back by one of the mechanics who said the tyre was now on. When I got back I could clearly see shiny new scorch marks on the rim, but there was no point crying over spilt milk and so I thanked them, rather sullenly.
I am blessed, or maybe doomed with a perfectionist streak and was brought up with the mantra, if a jobs worth doing its worth doing well, but in my later life where I have spent most of my time in China, Hong Kong and Africa, the mantra is quite clearly, fuck it….that’ll do. Deep breaths and think of happy thoughts….
This time instead of hauling the wheel and tyre back down the hill on my back I ran down the hill, got my bike, rode up the hill and then hauled the wheel back down again on the back of my bike to fit back onto Fanny’s bike.
After I had re-fitted the wheel, adjusted the chain tension, re-oiled, greased bearings and generally cleaned up both bikes I realized I was completely filthy from sweat and grime and I took a good half hour pretty much naked at one of the posh lodge’s hand basin trying to get clean. I realized afterwards that the guests, some of whom had paid upwards of US$2000 a day for the “Deluxe Ngorongoro Crater Safari Experience”, had had the rare privilege of watching homo erectus washing his nuts in their sink.
As is her way, Fanny had done some research about where to stay while I was tyre wrestling, made lots of friends and I understand the staff were quite nice to her and gave her some refreshments while she was waiting.
‘Did they give you any juice?’ Fanny inquired of me.
‘No’ , I replied.
Fanny realized I had had a wretched time and that my spirits were pretty low and so she gave me a hug and we put the matter behind us. A lot can go wrong on an expedition and the best made plans can fall apart. It’s best to just regroup and soldier on. In retrospect, these dramas were not as bad as they seemed at the time. No doubt tiredness, stress and the irritation of not making the progress you thought you should compound things. Later when you reflect back and write about it you feel pretty stupid for over reacting and making a mountain out of a mole hill. I do think though that experiencing these hassles and working your way through the solution to a problem makes you a better and stronger person.
With the tyre repaired and back on the bike, albeit with some irritating new scratches I did feel a mild sense of accomplishment, but only very mildly. We then turned on our tracks and set off back down a five kilometer sand pit and obstacle course. I rode behind Fanny’s bike carefully checking my handiwork and making sure the wheel didn’t come off as I had not torque wrenched the nut that secures the back wheel. Later on in the trip I will be able to repair a puncture in a fraction of the time … and as for torquing the nuts … when you’ve taken the wheel on and off enough times you can gauge it pretty accurately without a torque wretch. But at the beginning when you first do these things you always worry more than you should,
We had no choice but to return to Twiga Camp in Mto Wa Mbu and after we set up camp we went out as the light was failing to look for some food. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and all to eat were various types of banana being sold at the road side stalls. The touts descended on me and I foolishly told them I wanted to buy some bananas. ‘Red bananas’, they shouted, ‘very special’.
‘No, all I want is regular yellow bananas, about four’. I had had a tiring and frustrating day and I really wasn’t in the mood for banter. I selected four Tesco looking bananas and said ‘these’.
‘Ten dollars’, he said.
Light the blue touch paper……and stand back…‘What?’ I yelled, ‘how the hell can four goddam bananas be ten fucking dollars’. ‘This isn’t fucking Monty Python, just tell me the proper price for four fucking bananas’.
There is completely no point in such an exchange nor losing one’s temper, it just fans the flames and the locals love seeing an Mzungo lose his temper and make a scene. And I was providing the street side entertainment.
‘Right, that’s it, I don’t want your fucking bananas’, and with that I stomped off down the street.
‘OK a dollar’ I heard in the distance, but by then I had already walked into the camp and had already earned my new name, “Mr. Banana” with which I was greeted every single time I went in or out of the camp gates, for four days solid. It was entirely my own fault. Tact, diplomacy and good humour is the name of the game…. ALWAYS.
Attempts to find a car to hire or a bus to share were not going well. People came in and out of the camp to and from seemingly interesting and fun Serengeti safaris and we were not going anywhere, until now (said in a Top Gear fashion).
On the second day we met Jorge and Daniella from Chile at the camp whose intention was exactly the same as ours and together we hatched a cunning plan to find a car. Jorge and Daniella were traveling across Africa by any means. They had just spent US$1000 each to climb Kilimanjaro and had budgeted another US$1000 to see gorillas in Rwanda and were trying their best to keep further costs down.
We also wanted to see the gorillas and I remember fondly “Guy the Gorilla” from London zoo when I was a kid who also used to appear regularly on Animal Magic, the 1970s children’s TV programme with the late Johnny Morris. The Long Way Down guys had seen the gorillas on their trip, but a thousand bucks each? I asked Fanny how much she wanted to the gorillas and she replied, “Äbout US$100 much”.
So that was that … The gorillas would have to be seen on the BBC’s “Life on Earth” DVD from my home in Arniston with a bottle of wine. We did, however, want to ride our bikes on the grass plains with hundreds of thousands of charging wildebeest, and the great migration had now moved north to the Masai Mara over the border in Kenya and so we would need to put aside some funds. That was now the revised plan .
Early in the morning Jorge and I set off into the heart of the village and he was positive we were not going to come back empty handed. I was not so sure that empty handed might not have been better. We sent the word around the touts that we were looking for a car and that we were ready to go into serious negotiations.
The first car we saw was a Toyota Land Cruiser with bald tyres and no documentation and we were told the owner wanted US$75 a day. We asked to see the owner to try and negotiate a cheaper deal and he turned up in a denim jean ensemble with three quarter length very baggy trousers and a very odd haircut and daft expression. He also looked the spitting image, apart from being black obviously, to a lad called Russel who lived in Abbots Bromley where I grew up as a kid. In fact Russel still does, and still wears the same Status Quo 70/80s denim jacket and jeans that he did 35 years ago with a do it yourself bog brush haircut. He is the same guy who used to stalk our lovely website manager, Andrea when we were all much younger and went to school together. They often say we all have a double somewhere, but I bet Russel doesn’t know his is in the Serengeti in the middle of Africa.
Anyway, Tanzanian Russell said he would accept US$50 a day and that appealed to Jorge. I was not so sure, but it might have been the Man United sun strip that put me off, or the out of date licence and tax disc (that had expired sometime in the early 90s) that might cause problems. Either way, I persuaded Jorge to keep looking.
We then found a very good looking and appropriate Land Cruiser game viewer, much like the ones taking the safari guests into the parks. This was being asked for at US$150 a day and we negotiated down to no less than US$130. A good car, but still too dear.
We then met Isaac, a Masaai walking safari guide who then found us a Land Rover that looked the part and was only a staggering US$100 a day, but we had run out of choices and decided to take it and head off in the morning.
It was clear when we set off that the landie had some issues, brakes were one of them in the sense that it didn’t have any. I enquired whether descending into the Ngorongoro Crater might require them. Apparently not in the hands of Jorge who said in Chile they had big mountains and he could handle anything. That was that settled. Jorge was driving and I was keeping my hand on the door handle and the other on Fanny. We also noticed that there were some wheel studs missing and the owner gave us the ‘In Africa this is normal’ speech.
We had bought food from the market, Ben Shou Ben Jiao Fanny had carried a whole tray of eggs back from the market without breaking any, we had paid the deposit, and days were passing by and we either got on with it or headed to Kenya.
We filled up with diesel at one of the few filling stations that had any, but did not have any spare jerry cans and were not entirely sure whether we would find any more fuel in the Serengeti.
I was told there was none and so we had to be careful en route and be careful about fuel consumption. As we entered the Ngorongoro Crater park entrance, a place we had got no further on our motorcycles, we had to part with US$50 each for the entrance fee. A bit steep, but no choice. The road was really bad and took us around the rim of the crater in mountain mist and then we descended down towards the plains of the Serengeti.
The wide expanses of the Serengeti are breath taking and we saw many animals, both domestic Masaai goat and cow herds and African wild animals. We also saw the young Masaai teenage boys in their black shawls and faces painted white with white soda from Lake Natron. These young boys wear this scary skull like face paint before they are circumcised and initiated into manhood and after that they wear the traditional Masaai red tartan.
We also passed a few high fenced Masaai villages in the plains, quite spectacular, but it was apparent that the heavy “safari’ commercialism of this area had impacted upon them greatly and I was a little saddened to see them performing like seals at an Oceanarium, jumping up and down and singing with tourists. I suppose we all have to prostitute our values to earn a crust, certainly the case in the legal and accounting professions I work in and so perhaps I should not be so judgmental Still, jumping up and down with fat white chicks, reminds me of school in the Midlands..
As we were nearing the gates of the park the back door of the landie flew open and so I got out to secure it and noticed, with a fair degree of alarm, that diesel was leaking from the fuel tank. We tried to see if it was repairable, but not with what we were carrying. I checked the fuel gauge and it was about three quarters full. Jorge and Daniella were keen to press on but without fuel or a repair it will drain away within 12-24 hours and we had a few hours before we have to be into the park and make camp, after which we can’t get out of the park until the morning, and so it would be unlikely we would make it back, making a bigger problem for us.
We discussed the options and decided to head back. We had had a pretty interesting day in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater area and secretly I would rather be riding a motorcycle than bumping about in a tatty 4×4. I think Fanny was also pleased we were heading back and that we would save some money. The great migration had moved north to the Masai Mara over the border in Kenya after all and as it turned out we would later have an awesome time over the border and see some amazing sights.
We got back to our starting camp as the sun was going down and also as the needle on the fuel tank registered one eighth. We had made the right decision, there was no fuel in the national park and we turned around at the optimal time. I called our Masaai friend, Isaac and he arranged for the owner to return the deposit in full. A result I would say. Although the owner came back drunk in the evening and asked if he could have US$50. I sneaked off and left Jorge to use his Chilean negotiating skills. The next day I asked Jorge how things went.
“Bastardo” , he replied.
I negotiated with Isaac to go on a walking safari for the four of us the next day in Lake Manyara Park and afterwards have a traditional lunch. The whole cost for everyone including food was less than the park entry for a single car using the official gate. The reason for this is the Masaai people get dispensation to cross park lands, graze their cattle and run heritage walking safaris.
I have to admit I was quite excited about the walk. I guessed correctly that we would avoid expensive park fees, spend a day getting good exercise and I had already reconnoitered the lay of the park from the high viewing point on my motorbike and wanted to see the large number of flamingos that feed in the lake. We also wanted to see all the wildebeest and zebra. Little did I know that the safari would allow us to get up close and personal with buffalo and hippopotamus, arguably Africa’s most dangerous mammals.
Our guide, Isaac, is a very experienced guide. He took us all morning on the walking safari which was in total about 20 kilometers through Masaai villages, across extensive grass plains, to the edge of the lake and salt pan and back to a local village. Isaac was very proud of his Masaai Heritage guide uniform and only wore his tradition red Shaku clothes when he was off duty. He had the Masaai ringed ears and facial tatoos, but one of his ears had been torn by a cow horn he told me.
In the afternoon he had another walk arranged for another group and the next day a hike up the Masaai paths to the rim of the crater, about a 40 kilometer in total. These guys can walk.
We set off across very exposed grasslands and I spotted the buffalo well before the others, but not before Isaac. I had heard from South African and Zambian friends and relatives that buffalo are extremely dangerous beasties and now there was nothing between us and a large solitary male. He was about 100 meters away and we were at least 2 kilometers into the middle of the plain.
I shared my concerns with Isaac and he said that the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. ‘What if the wind is blowing in the right direction’, I enquired?
Well the buffalo would certainly have us… there would be no escape. He can suddenly move very very fast, is very very powerful and extremely grumpy and will not be content until he has gorged all of us.
Great! So, our survival was based upon the direction of the wind….. a bit like paragliding then.
We then came across the carcass of a buffalo and not long afterwards the remains of a wildebeest. I am no expert, but you did not need to perform a CSI post-mortem to realize that the bones had been chewed by a large carnivore. A hyena perhaps, maybe a lion, and so I asked Isaac. He gave a rather illogical and certainly unconvincing answer that the lions only stay in the forest. Can that possibly be true I asked myself? I think both Isaac and I knew that it was not. The warning to stick together so we appear bigger was the clue. So there are lions, let’s hope they prefer Spanish Omelette to Chicken Chow Mein or Shepherd’s pie!
To add to the excitement we walked up to about 30 hippopotami and Fanny gave out extremely loud and characteristically Chinese “WAAAAH” which prompted them all to look up and towards us standing in the middle of the open plain. It also caused Isaac to politely and firmly tell her not to go “waaah” any more.
Jorge wanted to go nearer to take more photographs and was immediately reprimanded by the usually calm and placid Isaac who was visibly more cautious now and reinforced his point with some fatality statistics. I ever so slightly quickened my pace and then realized that on the other side of the river, not 300 meters away, were several game viewers with tourists safely aboard peering at us through binoculars. I suddenly felt like the goat on a leash in Jurassic Park that doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.
I was very relieved as we neared the trees and the Masaai paths back to the village and this was noticed by Fanny who called me a “woose”. True perhaps, but an alive woose none the less. I have to say it was exciting and I understand you can do the same route on a mountain bike if you wanted to.
We walked a long way back through banana plantations and back into the village where a feast of note was prepared for us by “Mama”. It was really good food. Our Chilean friends complained about the hotness of some of the chilies, which can’t be right as they come from Chile, surely, but Fanny and I were in our element and I believe Fanny ate three full plates before declaring defeat with a satisfying sounding announcement of ‘bao si le‘ (full to death).
After the meal we settled our bill with Isaac at the Masaai Heritage offices and parted with less than US10 each.
After this trip Fanny and I will compile a Big Bike Trip Top list of things to do and this walking safari will definitely be one of them, including:
– Skeleton Coast in Namibia
– Lake Chala in Tanzania;
– Makuzi Lodge in Malawi;
– Masai Mara in Kenya;
– South Luangwa in Zambia;
– Meroe Pyramids in Sudan;
– Ethiopian Highlands;
– Tibet/Qinghai Plateau;
– St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai;
– Blue Mosque in Istanbul; and
– Egyptian museum in Cairo
The next day I was really pleased to pack the motorcycles and be back in the saddle. I think we squeezed the maximum out of Serengeti for the minimum expenditure, but I was keen to get going and head north to Kenya, get the rest of visas sorted out and get the bikes serviced and re-shod with new tyres.
The road was awesome and got even better after we passed through Arusha and headed north towards the border. We had filled the tanks with seemingly clean BP fuel and were now on the smoothest road of the whole trip, stretching across the Masaai plains and bush lands and straight to Kenya. Mount Meruwas majestic in the evening sun, but being on the west side of Kilimanjaro was obscuring any last view we might have of the snow capped peaks. We rode for about 400 kilometers, the KTMs were handling brilliantly and we were just short of the border when we thought we should look for a place to camp and postpone the joys of immigration and customs until the next morning.
I was thinking of camping in a Masaai village or even in the bush, but in the foothills of the volcano above Longido I spotted Chinese writing on the gates to a road construction camp and stopped and asked Fanny if we should enquire as to whether we can camp in their grounds. She was very keen and so we rode up into the camp, introduced ourselves to the Chinese engineers and were very warmly welcomed.
We were given a room for the night and joined them for a very re nau dinner. I practiced my Chinese, ate very good food, rehearsed and fine tuned my bai jiu drinking skills and toasts, and made some more good friends. It was a great party and a great send off from Tanzania.