An unexpected change of course

Sept. 15, 2012 (day 486) Tanzania

Big African cities are rarely friendly but I must say that Dar es-Salaam had some kind of appeal. Arriving there early in the morning saved me from meeting the awful daytime traffic. I cycled slowly on the coastal road to the house of my hosts.

Although Dar is one of the cities where one may find people from all around the world, a Polish–Pakistani couple living in the middle of Africa it still sounds quite exotic. Hania and Saqib hosted me in their flat, which reminded me again how many things we take for granted in the West, while average African can only dream about them. Fast internet, fridge, air conditioning... I relaxed there, while my hosts were at work, but in the evenings we spent time together. It also included having a pizza at Hilton, which for some reason was much cheaper than anyone would expect.

It was also the time to go to a dentist and do something about the sore tooth. A friendly Indian doctor stated frankly: “Either we pull it out or you will suffer again”. I was quite scared as never before had anyone done anything serious to my teeth, but it was quick and almost painless. I still carry it within my baggage, considering a good trade for mzungu tooth with some African shaman. Hope it would not backfire with some voodoo tricks being played on me.

Leaving the hospital, with my mouth still numb, I rode straight into a heavily laden bicycle bearing Polish flag. I had been in contact with the rider and I knew he would come to the city on that day, but meeting accidentally on the street proved again that the world was smaller than we used to think.

Rafał, the Polish cyclist, is a person with unique story. One year earlier he had reached Kenya on a bicycle, before a truck crashed into him on the slopes of Mount Kenya. With his head shattered into pieces and broken spine very few people believed he would live a normal life again. Indeed, it is hard to call it normal. A year later, perfectly healthy, he came back to Africa with a new bike and guitar, to continue the interrupted journey.

One of the first places we visited together was the embassy of Malawi. Everything seemed fine and everybody was friendly until we heard the price of the visa being “a hundred dollars only”. Answering a joke with a joke, we compared the size of the fee with the size of the country. The man on the other side of the desk did not appreciate it and we were almost thrown out. “Well, more time in Mozambique”, we thought and Rafał left to Zanzibar for a few days.

Meanwhile I moved to another house. Chenda was a Tanzanian and lived with her family in a modest house in a western district of the city. They all spoke English and were extremely friendly and hospitable. Although there already had been guests at home, I was offered a couch to sleep on. At least the name of CouchSurfing was finally appropriate.

The house was full of brothers, sisters and a five months old boy, whom everybody was taking care of in turns. Including me, of course. With that lovely family I spent two nights, trying to sort out another problem during the daytime.

Sitting over a map I counted how long would it take to go to Zimbabwe through Mozambique without visiting Malawi. Over 2000km in 30 days of the visa validity, it seemed as a difficult task. Then I checked the visa information again and realized that it would not be possible to get it at the border. Why had I been so sure it would, I did not know. Nevermind... I called Rafał, who was about to come back to the main land, and we agreed to visit the embassy in the morning.

It had to be a piece of cake, as many cyclists had gone the same way before. No way. At the embassy I learned that the requirements had changed a few months before. To get the visa we would have to prove possession of 5000 USD each and include a... hotel booking.

We spent two days trying to convince the staff that getting a statement from a bank in Poland would be impossible, as well as that we were not interested in hotels which offered online booking. I am sorry to say that, but I had an impression I talked to some imbeciles. Nobody understood that someone could travel independently on a bicycle without any organization behind. The idea of using a piece of plastic to withdraw cash from an account overseas was also far beyond their comprehension. Another country did not want us. It was time to change the plans drastically. Instead of going along the coast, we had to turn back inland and use the last option available: Zambia.

The Zambian visa we got within one day and without any stupid questions. Meanwhile I moved again, to the place where Rafał stayed. On the first night back in Dar he had camped at a gas station, where some woman invited him to move to her garden. Daisy and Ismail, a couple with roots in India, Italy, Oman and Tanzania, was happy to host the two strange guys and feed them with their home made delicacies. In exchange Rafał took out his guitar and entertained them with his songs and I asked our hosts for a metal pipe and old trousers. Having assembled a spinning stick, I made a show of fire juggling, which also the neighbours enjoyed.

Trucking to the beach

Trucking to the beach

When Ismail managed to repair his truck, we climbed onto it and rode to the beach. Swimming in the high tide, then relaxing in the shade of the vehicle, we had our farewells to the Indian Ocean. Soon we also hugged our hosts and rode away.

With our hosts in Dar

With our hosts in Dar

During the dry season Tanzanian interior has not much appeal. Especially when cycling along a road connecting the main port with the rest of the country. The traffic was huge but after the intersection in Chalinze it halved. In two days we reached Morogoro.

We had heard that there were Polish priests living in the town. Before we found them, very friendly priests and nuns from India fed us with a supper and offered a room in their guest house. Our countrymen we met them the next morning, together with a group of Polish volunteers. Among them there was a couple that Rafał had met two years before in Jordan. Did I mention that the world is very small?

Within next two days we arrived to the border of Mikumi National Park – one of the biggest attractions the new route through Tanzania promised. Not to repeat a stupid mistake from Uganda, we camped before the unoccupied gate and spent the night peacefully.

The road is a corridor and unless one leaves it, takes photos or even watches the game(!) there is no fee to be paid. We did not leave the asphalt but obviously did not close our eyes when animals appeared. There was a plenty of it, including buffaloes far away and surprisingly small elephants nearby. Entering the park we would have seen a lot more, but at the entrance we just stopped over for a lunch and short mid-day sleep.

The law has been broken again

The law has been broken again

Hitchhiker?

Hitchhiker?

Family picnic

Family picnic

Looking from behind a bush

Looking from behind a bush

That is why I prefer bike

That is why I prefer bike

The next days were marked by mountains. It began with hills, which grew quickly. Very soon we found ourselves cycling along a clean river. Missing such a rare opportunity would be stupid. We did it the African way, using fresh cool water to wash ourselves and our clothes.

Sunrises are as beautiful as sunsets

Sunrises are as beautiful as sunsets

It was just a tributary of Great Ruaha, which we met soon. The landscape scaled up. A huge river was cutting through big mountains, covered by a forest of huge baobab trees. Once again I regretted visiting this country during the dry season. The scenery would be stunning when green. Without water everything beside the close vicinity of the river was just in grays and browns, the two colors which dominated most of the surroundings during my long rides through Tanzanian interior.

A clean river!

A clean river!

Ruaha is Great indeed

Ruaha is Great indeed

Finally a bigger uphill appeared. Together with numerous trucks we slowly gained meter after meter, coming to about 1600m. The weather got much cooler there and with strong south-eastern wind the evenings became quite cold. For the first time since long I had to dress up for supper. Still, the low number of people made camping easy and pleasant.

One of the most remarkable towns on the way was Iringa. Quite sleepy and pleasant to hang around, it occupied the top of a hill. As Rafał is another cycling buddy of mine, who is in good relations with catholic church, we found a nice place at a mission. The fathers offered us a comfortable room and food, not expecting any payment (but we made a donation anyway). Resupplied at the local market, the next day we pushed forward.

In Tanzania they drive too fast

In Tanzania they drive too fast

After next two days of cycling south-west, we finally arrived to a point where the road turned westwards. That matched the direction of the strong wind which made our bikes nimble. Slamming 115km in a very hilly terrain is quite unusual. The next day, however, we had to climb some few hundred meters up. At first we planned to camp on the pass, where a forest invited under the shade of its' branches. We were about to turn off the road, when a motorbike stopped nearby. A local teacher warned us no to stay there until the dark, as bandits had robbed some trucks recently. So, we pushed to the city of Mbeya.

Downhill for goodnight

Downhill for goodnight

Although we had arrived in the dark, finding a church was easy and soon we were sitting by a delicious supper with the priests. Thanks to the wind we had arrived one day earlier than expected and the mission seemed to be a perfect place for a day of rest. We paid a short visit to the school run by the parish, where young people learned useful skills of carpentry, metal works, electrical engineering and sewing. That, of course, appealed to me much more than the religious aspects of all the missions in Africa. In well equipped workshops the students were already making some income, however the offered services seemed to be a grim joke. One group was repairing cars after accidents while the other produced coffins.

The descent from Mbeya was pleasant, as opposed to the climb which followed immediately. The hot weather did not fill us with energy. Day by day, while we were going further from the coast, the air was losing moisture and becoming dry. Shadeless bush dominated the landscape and once again the scarce mango trees became the sole providers of relaxing space. As always, they grew within or very close to villages. A lunch in the shade drew attention of children, who behaved quite tactfully, just looking without begging or asking questions. I will remember Tanzania very positively in that regard. People there had behaved peacefully.

We had another sample of the good manners in the evening. Failing to find a desolate camping space, we asked for permission to put tents by someone's house. Our request was accepted and the hosts also took care to explain to curious neighbors that they should stop watching us and turn back home. That was our last night in the country where I had spent two months.

Comments:

yves
yves
6 years, 3 months ago
thanks Michal for yours stories. happy to see that you are still on the road.
It's funny, cause i also had some administrative difficulties not so long time ago. i was in India and wanted to cross Birman (Myanmar) to join Thaïlande. But it seemed to be impossible (to leave the country in another place than where you entered, with the most of borders which are closed, with the most of regions which are forbiden ou restricted, and to finish with obligation to have a airplane ticket go and return in order to have the visa !!!! ((( ; you never had so shitty situation as this isn't it ?? (( ; )
so i decided to go the road, passing in Nepal, Tibet China then Laos and Thailand. why not. it could be possible. but after fex day of research i learn that 'tibetan autorities' don't deliver anymore some permit for Tibet during a period of 2 months...
i abondonned and finaly took an airplane ticket to can pass throw the unbelieveble barrier which is Birman and Tibet.

so you see that finaly, you can still be happy to succedd to realize your dream to ride the roads until the south, without to be obliged to go in another way.
all my best wishes and my congratulation for this titanic mission

ciao
have some good wheels
migot
migot
6 years, 3 months ago
Pozdrowienia od Magdy i Michała (z Dar, od Hanii i Saqiba)! fajnie wiedzieć, że całkiem nie źle toczy się dalej Twoja podróż, choć nie bez niespodzianek, jak to w Afryce:)
Vito
Vito
6 years, 2 months ago
Jak miło ujrzeć nowy wpis!:) Ta dętka imponuje co najmniej tak jak Twój paszport;) Zazdroszczę Ci i kibicuję; no i nie mogę się doczekać, jak sam się wyzwolę z różnych spraw i też popedałuję w Świat:) MIŁEJ DROGI!!!
siostra
siostra
6 years, 2 months ago
no pięknie! Ty masz słonie, a my tu w Świnoujściu szyjemy żagle... trzymaj się dzielnie, brat! :)