Tanzania Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Thats how they say hello in Tanzania, and most replies are 'poa' which means 'cool'. Tanzania is a very cool country.

After completing my Kenyan border formalities I moved over to the Tanzanian counterparts at this very remote border post. The sole immigration official undertook a comprehensive perusal of my passport, after which he put it in his top pocket, tore off a piece of the newspaper he was reading and then excused himself for a few minutes. I was intrigued but had faint idea where he was headed. He returned several minutes later, washed his hands with his bottle of water and then started the usual bribe request spiel. Thankfully the scrap of newspaper was missing and all of the pages in my passport were present. As I walked out of the door I gingerly inspected it for a brown stamp.

The only report I had on the road leading from this border was a few years old and described by an accomplished dirt-rider as being 'fun'. Fun it was. The road (pictured to left) was a slippery track that skirted the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, twisting & turning around little ravines and through the odd low-level water crossing. Despite the muddy surface it was particularly fun riding as the report suggested. The photo isn't a good reflection of the vegetation as most of it was thick, jungle-like bush covered in a blanket of misty precipitation. It really was like the equatorial jungles of Central & Western Africa, so a pleasant surprise to be able to encounter these conditions even if briefly in Eastern Africa.

The road eventually led to tarmac and then to the base-camp town of Mt. Kili where I camped for the night. Unfortunately all of the mountain was covered in cloud and the locals said one could wait days or even weeks for a good view to emerge, so I didn't stick around. The next day I took a directly Eastward course along the very impressive Usambara mountain range (to right). Although I was tempted to ride the rocky tracks that lead into the mountains I saved that for the special-stage later in the day.

After briefly posing with a tame baboon (to left) I made my way to that special stage which was a dirt track to a relatively remote town called Pangani on the North coast of Tanzania. In the village the only flea-pit was full of locals waiting while a broken ferry was being mended and there was nowhere to camp so I treated myself to a very secluded but up-market tented lodge called Mkoma Bay. That evening I had a first class meal with the couple who own the lodge and the local Chief, and the next morning a long kayak ride on the flat sea at sunrise in a light drizzle. After the drizzle a remarkably clear rainbow appeared on the sea (below). The other photo's show the road to this village the day before and then the day after (after an evening of rain).

The following day was a slow & dangerous ride back along the said muddy track and then a boring tarmac run Southwards to the capital, Dar Es Salaam. The highlight was seeing numerous overloaded cyclists, the clear winner being a guy with some livestock graze pictured to left. In Dar I was looking forward to the conveniences of supermarkets & to searching for decent internet access, being desperately behind on my blog posts at this point.

In Dar I stayed at a great tented beach camp which was staggering distance from the turquoise water but spent each day I was there at a hotel in town using their good internet facilities. My bike seemed in good health and didn't need any work so just enjoyed a rest on the beach. The camp had a steady flow of other bike & 4x4 travellers which provided good company swapping stories & tips. After four days there I was blogged-out and ready for the assault on Southern Tanzania.

My route South from Dar to the Mozambiquan border was the very first time on my trip that I had not heard of, or met anyone having taking a particular stretch of road and thus had no idea what the conditions would be like. I enjoyed the ignorant state of mind and after a while the tarmac suddenly disappeared and the most appalling soft yet bumpy 1st gear track held my full attention. After 70 slow kms I was beginning to worry that this would be the norm for the remaining 700kms to Mozambique when suddenly the sand turned into smooth, new tarmac and I rode down to my stopover at a camp on the coast. The camp (to left) was empty except for a cook and Askari-warrior security guard (all I required really). I unloaded my luggage and went for a long and enjoyable ride along the beach and through the breaking surf, which was bloody good fun.

The next day was an eventful one towards the mostly Southerly part of Tanzania. The road was good tar but fuel was still not to be found since Dar. My tank ran dry and I refuelled with the 5litre can I was carrying. That took me further but not quite enough, and I emptied the 700ml of petrol in my camping cooker into the tank. This gave me 15kms more and after free-wheeling the downhills I coasted in the last town and came to a halt just a few paces from the petrol pump, phew. Below is my distance from the pumps.

In this final town before the border I also changed my rear tyre to the very offroad biased one that would be required in Mozambique and I enjoyed seeing the local tyre changer struggle as much as I do with this task. The other picture is of a particularly large baobab I saw along the road. This day was a Saturday and along the way I was looking out for any establishment or house with a satellite dish so that I could try & catch some motoGP action. The 3rd photo shows the only dish I saw, but sadly not a very functional one which was fabricated out of a loop of wire and some white plastic. Classic Africa, and not Pariis as the signpost suggests....

That evening I had yet another not too unpleasing beach-side camp. Thus far Tanzania was by far my favourite country. Its attractions are incredibly diverse; from the beautiful beaches along the entire coastline to the dramatic mountains in the North and ofcourse Kilimanjaro to the best game viewing in Africa at the ngorongoro crater, not to mention the spice island Zanzibar. I had missed most of these features but without any regret as I plan to take a holiday in Tanzania some time and explore them all with some company and a four-wheeled vehicle.

The next morning was an early start in search of a top-up of fuel before Mozambique, which was to be found from a dirty bucket & rusty can (to left). The challenge that lay ahead was undoubtably one that I was looking forward to most out of my entire trip through the continent; the crossing of the Rovuma river into Northern Mozambique. The river is very wide but its level varies considerably with the coastal tide, making the crossing on a small ferry very erratic. This gamble of a river crossing is what puts this route Southwards very much off the beaten track and thus a big adventure.

After completing my exit formalities from Tanzania and complying with a quick bribe request that would have slowed me down, I rode on to the abrupt end of the track to the steep & sandy banks of the river, which featured no ferry but a collection of small boats. Each of these vessels sported a healthy amount of water in them and by the look of the bailing apparatus I had a sinking suspicion it wasn't rain water. I decided to chance the largest looking one of them for my crossing rather than wait maybe days for the ferry to appear. The hustle of locals jostling for employment to load the bike was very aggressive and I had to get physical with some of the citizens in order to select a crew of six to lift the bike onto the boat and accompany the captain (me ofcourse) on his voyage. With much exertion we loaded the bike onto the boat and I was very curious as to what its clearance from the water level would be once we pushed away from the side.

Stay tuned for the Mozambique posting, to find out how this precarious crossing unfolded.

The parting shot is of Mr.Tanzania, on a proper ferry, that crosses the port of Dar Es Salaam, not much fun at all really...

# posted by Mark @ 05:13