20 December, 2006

Tanzanian Tangle

After a quiet run to the border we began the process of crossing into Tanzania. We were doing well but then a 'chicken coop' turned up with lots of tourists on board. This held things up for us a little. I had heard those in Nairobi describe people travelling in these trucks converted into buses as 'chickens'. They do look a bit like battery hens in their wee boxes peering out at the world. It was difficult to suppress a feeling of smug superiority over these people with their matching trip-of-a-lifetime tour T-shirts detailing each stop along the way, like some ageing rock band on tour. This group was moving from 'Cape Town to Nairobi Nov/Dec 2006'! I quite properly felt bad later because they are doing something, after all. And then I realized that they’ll be taken to all the interesting things that I’ll miss entirely, either because I won’t know they are there, the bike won’t like the dirt roads, or I simply won’t have time. Still, cooped up in a bus with lots of strangers (who may very quickly become friends) being told when, where and how often to do things, is a bit too controlling for me. Most other overlanders seem to agree that trucking is pretty much the "easy" way to do it. Still difficult, and I couldn’t, so definately not easy for me!

We crossed into Tanzania eventually, and arrived at Arusha where all the hotels seemed to be full. At the City Link Hotel the receptionist Castro eventually agreed to let us camp in the grounds for $10US. This only after I’d told him my friend was pregnant and we were expecting a big bright star and some visitors later. To my disappointment, nobody claimed that this was impossible since he was male. I was poised ready to emphasise the fantastic miracle of this.

There are two routes around Tanzania. One via Dodoma, the capital, which is a dirt road for 250miles to the City and then more dirt for another 200miles afterwards. The other, much longer but on excellent asphalt the whole way. If it didn’t rain, I was keen to have a go at the dirt road. This would be a challenge for me, while Ian’s KTM would lap it up.

We set off early in the morning and after 50 quick miles, came to the dirt. It wasn’t much of a road, worse in parts than the Marsabit road. There were also muddy signs of there having recently been rain. But we had already ridden the 50miles of asphalt just to get to this part. A return now would mean a lot of wasted time. So we went for it. I was doing quite well since it was dry, although the bikes were soon filthy with dust and splashing through muddy puddles. My bike seems to always need momentum and so while Ian was able to more carefully pick his way through parts, I had to keep going and ended up overtaking him. It couldn’t last, of course, and soon I saw that my headlamp bracket was flapping around, having lost one of its four bolts. I stopped to investigate and decided it would be better to do this outside of a village, away from the prospect of an ‘audience’. I began checking over all other nuts and bolts and found a few worryingly loose. Of course we weren’t in any shade and it was very hot. I suggested that Ian might like to go on ahead, and so off he went.

Having checked and tightened each fastening, I set off again. Ian wasn’t in the next village, neither was he in the one after that. Then just before the next village the rain started, the road turned quickly from dirt to mud and I fell off, bending one of the pot-racks and pulling muscles as I hopelessly fought the squirming and inevitable low-side. This was a low point. It hadn’t been such a heavy flop, but now the left hand-pannier was leaking its water. Not very strong these things, Messrs Hepco and Becker!

I’d done about 30 miles since I'd last seen Ian and concluded that he must have decided to go on ahead by himself. My bike’s pretty good on dirt, for a road bike, but doesn’t have the tyres to cope with mud. Reluctantly, I turned back towards the asphalt. There were still 60 or so miles of dirt to cover but I took it very easy on the way back.

On the slopes to the south of Mt Kilimanjaro lies the town of Moshi. I found a hotel here with a surly manager, not up for my brand of cheeky banter trying to blag a discount. Ah well, he had secure parking so I could manage a night.

Each time I stopped in both Tanzania and Kenya, whenever I asked for anything, food, room, camping, petrol the following sort of conversation was to be had. At the petrol station –
Me - Hello, how are you?
He – Fine, how are you? (blank expression)
Me – Great thanks, can you fill it up please?
He – (questioning expression)
Me – Petrol . . ? Please . . ? Full?
He – Ah! (surprised) You want petrol?
Me – (Smiling widely) Yes, please. (But what did he think I wanted? A loofer? Some coloured chalks? A plaster for my finger?)

Every single time – 1. Ask for obvious thing; 2, get blank expression; 3, repeat question; 4, have my question repeated back to me; 5, get obvious thing. Then start all over again with ‘Where are you from?’ But always the vendors of the obvious things seem surprised that I should request such a thing. I am speaking English – and as clearly as I can. The Kenyans and Tanzanians also speak English but it is of a different type to mine. They don’t use it too much among themselves. They have Swahili for everyday conversation. But it is interesting, and a bit frustrating, when they look at me as if it’s me that’s daft! But it’s all about perception, and in their eyes, as in the eyes of many I am daft! Anyway, I’m getting much better at Swahili and now, whenever I hear ‘mzungu’, I shout (smiling) ‘no mzungu – wigeni!’ and that’s guaranteed to get a laugh.

The ride was swift and blissfully smooth all the way to Tukuyu, just north of the Malawian border. My big excitement was to see some zebra and then scare giraffe away from the side of the road. They went running off, lolloping and swaying, rocking into the bush. A fair speed though. When I got to the village and booked into the guest house I was almost immediately surrounded by the Police corporal, Alex. He insisted I keep the bike in the Police compound for safety before evicting me from the hotel and then installing me in another with en suite facilities. Then he took me to the restaurant where I could buy some food for me and some beer for him. Good man!

Much later I learned that Ian had come off going pretty fast through a village. A lad had emerged from somewhere on a pushbike and there had been a collision, Ian's bike trashed and both taken to some hospital. (?) The younster had a broken leg. Ian had been sprung from this hospital by his parents - bruised and battered but walking - and the young push-cyclist was well on his way to mending. At least Ian had managed to get home for Christmas, but I guess it wasn't quite the surprise he'd hoped to spring on his mum and dad! The police had luckily decided that nobody was to blame.


At 03/10/2012, 23:28, Blogger Clarissa Vincent said...

I ride a BMW R65 too, I bought it after selling a 27' sailing yacht, which I cruised to west Africa. 200 miles up the River Gambia, anchored and ashore enjoying the shade of some cafe, there was an English guy who had ventured that far up river with an expensive local 'safari' boat and he sat in the same cafe, but there was a peculiar stand off between us. It was as if he saw my little sailing boat as an impossible aspect of his safari excursion, that I'd sailed there from Britain made his audacious safari trip look irellavent. I would have liked to chat about where we were, but I found him unaproachable, almost as though I was some odd local character who was to be avoided. Anyway I wrote a couple of books about the voyage and think back to west Africa (Senegal and Gambia) with nothing but love and warm regards to the people there.
I am so pleased to come across your R65 travels. I've only had mine since this year and your adventures are exactly what I need to read right now.

At 14/05/2013, 20:45, Blogger Mick said...

Hey Clarissa - whatever happened to your R65? I only just found your comment on my ancient blog and published it! Sounds like you've had fun - you, like me, probably intimidated that yachtsman with your simplicity and ability to have a greater than him by virtue of your lacking unnecessary extras. Where can I get your book? Mick

At 14/05/2013, 20:47, Blogger Mick said...

Meant to leave that comment on YOUR blog - I need to study better how this works!


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