Tag Archive for ‘Dar Es Salaam’

Chapter 6 – Tanzania Part 2

Tanzania– Part 2

One of the highlights of our 53,800 kilometer ride

One of the highlights of our 53,800 kilometer ride

Lake Chala

Lake Chala

Elephants at a watering hole near our camp at Lake Chala

Elephants at a watering hole near our camp at Lake Chala

Ministry of Home Affairs … Tanzania

Kilimanjaro... on a good day

Kilimanjaro… on a good day

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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?

Tanzania

Tanzania… the dark round shape near the border with Kenya is Kilimanjaro… highest mountain in Africa and highest free standing mountain in the world at nearly 6000 meters.

Not Kilimanjaro, but Mount Meru …

Typical scenery in Tanzania

Masaai herdsman

Masaai herdsman

And lots and lots of elephants

Fanny on slopes of Ngorogoro Crater with Lake Manyara in distance

Fanny on slopes of Ngorogoro Crater with Lake Manyara in distance.

Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara

Going for a walking safari in the valley and seeing not only animals, but also Masaai people living right amongst them

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Stopping off for a break somewhere

Stopping off for a break somewhere

Our hosts house in Moshi

Our hosts house in Moshi on slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro

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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,

The jewelry and especially ear rings of the local people were amazing

We came across these guys on the way to the Serengeti. They were dressed in black and had their faces painted like skulls. A rather eerie sight when you don’t expect it. We were told they were teenage boys who were undergoing an initiation ritual by having to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere.

Shopping in the local market for provisions for our drive to the Serengeti

The fabrics that the Masaai herdsmen wear look like Scottish tartan.. very beautiful patterns and vivid colours

Ngorogoro Crater .. full of wildlife

Fanny’s bike … minus a wheel that I am working on

Many types of banana .. even red ones.

Fanny riding up the outer crater road at Ngorogoro

Fanny riding up the outer crater road at Ngorogoro. You can see some of the dust devils in the valley to the right of picture.

Fanny looking down on the salt pan lakes

Fanny looking down on the salt pan lakes

Masaai herdsmen walking by the side of the road... a very common sight in north west Tanzania

Masaai herdsmen walking by the side of the road… a very common sight in north west Tanzania. Again more dust devils in the background.

Stalls by the side of the road

Stalls by the side of the road

Masaai Cattle crossing the road..

Masaai Cattle crossing the road..

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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.

‘Eight dollars’

‘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.

A buffalo carcass … there is only one animal that brings down buffalo and I wondered where they were NOW

A Masaai enclosed village

Manyara lake … with a log canoe a long way from where the water was now

Serengeti

Serengeti

Big country

Big country

Masaai

Masaai

Wandering around the market

Wandering around the market

Shopping

Shopping

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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.

Wandering around the market getting provisions for trip in Serengeti

Wandering around the market getting provisions for trip in Serengeti

The locals going shopping

Shopping with the locals

Black Russel's car.... don't think it would have passed an MOT

Don’t think it would have passed an MOT or driven far out of the village

Fanny on the leaking Landrover

Local people wandering right through where all the animals roam

ban ma … stripey horse

Cooking up Nshima

We are on the safe (r) side of these hippos… one of the most dangerous animals in the world

AND importantly we are down wind of this buffalo otherwisewe would be in big trouble… relying on the expertise and experience of our Masaai guide

Hiking through the bush

Hiking through the bush… we are not alone

Fanny ...

Fanny … and wildebeest in distance

Me

And me

Something else's lunch

Something else’s lunch

Boxing training

Boxing training

Local villagers in Mto Wa Mbu

Local villagers in Mto Wa Mbu

Village houses

Village houses

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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

Wildebeest skull …. with bite marks on the bone

Salt lake

Big Mama’s big spread … and it was absolutely delicious and very welcome after a days hiking in the bush.

Fanny at the local market

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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.

Look at Fanny's happy face. Food. That's all it takes.

Look at Fanny’s happy face. Food. That’s all it takes.

Delicious Chinese dinner... I must say better than the prospect of blood and milk in the Masaai village.

Delicious Chinese dinner… I must say better than the prospect of blood and milk in the Masaai village.

Inside a Chinese road engineering camp near border with Kenya

Good food… and BEER at the Chinese engineers camp

Thanks guys

Onwards to Kenya

Onwards to Kenya

Chapter 5 – Tanzania part 1

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.

tanzania-political-map

Fanny goes for a local look in Tanzania.

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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?

Unlike neighbouring Malawi, the school children in Tanzania were very smartly turned out in their uniforms

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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.

Immigration at border between Malawi and Tanzania… actually I am just messing about for Fanny. This official was very courteous and professional.

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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.

People picking tea in the plantations by the side of the road.

Tanzanian tea plantations

More  tea plantations

Beautiful Tanzanian Countryside

Typical Tanzanian roads and countryside

Up, down, left and right through the forested mountains

Up, down, left and right through the forested hills and valleys.

Stopping for a rest at side of the road and drawing a crowd

Stopping for a rest at the side of the road and drawing a crowd

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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.

Old Farmhouse and the family Maui, Iringa

Old Farmhouse,  Iringa

Campsite at Old farmhouse

Arriving at our campsite for the night at the Old Farmhouse just outside Iringa

Stopping for the night after nearly 900 kilometers of riding.

Stopping at a clearing that will be our campsite for the night after nearly 900 kilometers of riding.

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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.

Swiss Family Tan

Tan Swiss Lodge… or is it Swiss Tan Lodge … anyway a nice but ever so slightly odd campsite. It reminded me of the occasions when I would go to someone else’s home and wonder why anyone with their five senses intact would choose the gopping wallpaper they put on their walls. Still it takes all sorts and we are all richer for the experience variety brings to our lives.. I think!

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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.

Valley of Baobab trees

Valley of Baobab trees

Lots of speed bumps on the roads in Tanzania

Mikumi National Park ... free and we can ride through it too.

Riding through Mikumi National Park which was free and actually full of wildlife.

Camping at Kipepeo  Beach near Dar Es Salam

Fanny on the ferry boat to Kipepeo

Fanny on the ferry boat to Kipepeo

Dar Es Salaam from the ferry boat... one of my favourite African cities

Dar Es Salaam from the ferry boat… one of my favourite African cities

Kipepeo Beach,

Kipepeo Beach,

Writing this diary at Kipepeo Beach Lodge

Fanny, being from Shanghai, had no problem navigating through the heavy traffic of Dar Es Salaam

Fanny with the lady who did the African braids in her hair.

Fresh coconut was a favourite with Fanny and I. There were lots of street vendors in Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar and they skillfully prepared the coconuts with large machetes.

Fanny looking a bit seasick on ferry to Zanzibar

Fanny feeling a bit better.

Fanny feeling a bit better.

Its almost like being on holiday

Its almost like being on holiday

Zanzibar

Zanzibar

Sailing towards Zanzibar

Sailing towards the harbour in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

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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.

A fellow bikers bike

A fellow biker’s Africa Twin

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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.

As its says… Welcome to Zanzibar

Fanny walking about in the narrow streets of Stone Town, Zanzibar.

A Dhow seen from our hotel

Zanzibar

Wandering about in Stone Town

Exploring the backstreets of Stone Town.

Colourful markets.

Colourful markets.

Skate boarding in Zanzibar.

Skate boarding in Zanzibar.

Leaning around

Leaning around.

"And then FTI tried to discredit me, refused to pay me what they owe me, and when I was on the other side of the world blamed me for their own incompetence... I ask you".

“And then FTI tried to discredit me, refused to pay me what they owed me for the projects I won, and when I was on the other side of the world blamed me for their own incompetence and mistakes… So I ask you… what have the Australians ever done for us?”  And another thing… blah blah!

A lot of history

A lot of history

Lots of market stalls

Lots of market stalls

Local children in their classroom

Local children in their classroom

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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.

Taking a Dhow to beautiful ”Prison Island” that was full of huge tortoises

Giant tortoises on Prison Island

An old wrinkly thing and a tortoise.

An old wrinkly thing and a tortoise.

The engine had broken down and the the dhow was lurching about in very choppy waters as the wind picked up. Fanny was not feeling well so I put a life jacket on her and lay her down.

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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.

Zanzibar market place and food stalls… a bit expensive for us.

Fanny happy to be on dry land

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Having a drink at a Zanzibar version of Starbucks… much better coffee though

Fanny at one of the colonial style hotels

Fanny at one of the colonial style hotels

Different styles

Different styles

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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 will we will rock you… Freddie from Zanzibar

Back on the car ferry

Dhow on Indian Ocean

Boys doing gymnastics on the beach

Fanny’s panniers.. taken a bit of knocking but still going strong

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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.

Eric’s BMW 1200 GS outside his home in Tanga

Going for a marine safari in Tanga

Hot dog

Hot dog

Harvesting seaweed

Harvesting seaweed

Fanny wading about with the local wildlife in Tanga

Fanny at our cottage at the Allards in Pemba

Fanny at our cottage at the Allards in Pemba

Fanny exploring the mangrove swamps

Fanny exploring the mangrove swamps

Tanga

Tanga

Relaxing with the dogs on the cliff edge at the Allard’s home

Tanga daze

Tanga daze

The Allards house in Tanga

The Allards house in Tanga

Local dugouts on the beach in Tanga

Local dugouts on the beach in Tanga

The rising sun over the Indian Ocean

The rising sun over the Indian Ocean

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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.

Not a bad view to have from your living room

Not a bad view to have from your living room

Fanny and Erics bikes .. going to get the panniers fixed

Fanny and Erics bikes .. going to get the panniers fixed

Fanny with the mechanic who repaired her aluminium panniers

Babu … our African Grey Parrot friend. A very funny creature.

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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.

Babu scratching his neck with a pencil.

The mangrove trees on the coast of Tanga

Saying goodbye to our kind host, Eric as he sets off on a spear fishing expedition off the coast of Zanzibar

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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.

Fanny

Fanny

Me

Stopping of on the route to Lake Charla for a break

Our camping spot at Lake Charla with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background

Our camping spot at Lake Charla with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background

Lake Charla

Lake Charla

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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.

Lots of hiking around Lake Charla

Lots of hiking around Lake Charla… a herd of 80-100 elephants in the distance

Elephants at the local watering hole.

Elephants at the local watering hole.

The lake itself... quite possibly one of most beautiful lakes I have ever seen

The lake itself… quite possibly one of most beautiful lakes I have ever seen.

Mount Meru with Kilimanjaro behind

Mawenzi Peak of  Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro .. the highest mountain in Africa

Stunning views from the campsite

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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.

Little friend

Little friend

Let’s just call him “dinner” just to save time.

Watching the elephants at the watering hole.

Watching the elephants at the watering hole.

Still watching the elephants at the water hole

We went on lots of long walks ... and I did some running in the baboon and leopard hills

We went on lots of long walks … and I did some running in the baboon and leopard hills

Herd of elephants... of course we have.

Herd of elephants… of course we have.

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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.

Exploring

Exploring

Taking a snooze

Taking a snooze

Mount Kilimanjaro ever present where ever you went

Mount Kilimanjaro ever present where ever you went

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