Driving out of the big city of Mbeya took about an hour and a half, all the while avoiding tuc-tucs and motorbikes that insisted upon passing on the left. Trucks blocked up the roads and these little pests would just weave their way through any gap they deemed large enough to fit through. But after an hour and a half we finally left the last of the city behind and could begin to look for a suitable spot to pull over on the side of the road in order to offload the bikes and start cycling again.
In Tanzania the folks on the side of the road simply ignore you. In Malawi we were a constant fascination for the locals, especially the children, who’d run down to the road and stand and stare at us. The Tanzanians however, didn’t seem that interested in our doings though. It was strange not to have an audience when we stopped though.
Anyway, bike off, helmet on, I saddled up for my first ride in Tanzania. But it would not be a very long ride, since about 3km in I called it … The wind was blowing a gale, and the worst kind of wind it was too. The air came in gusts, trying to blow me off the bicycle. Now it came from the left, then from the right, then straight from the front. Every time I tried to correct for the push of the wind it would turn and come at me from another direction. I wobbled and wonked and tried my level best to keep pedalling over the bumpy road. The road may be pretty passable with a vehicle but with a bike it’s a whole other story. Here it seemed as though the tar had melted and the wheels of the masses of big trucks that drive the road daily had squashed the tar out on the sides creating a type of jeep track ‘twee-spoor’ on the tar road. The vehicle could hardly drive without being thrown around as if we were driving in sand. The bicycle was left with the ridge of squished up tar to ride on and over and up and down as it snaked its way into the distance. That coupled with the wind, the massive trucks and ‘death’ busses would be my undoing.
We loaded up and drove some few kilometres further, hoping the wind would let up. Just when things began to look better outside we stopped to try again. But I had hardly gone 200m when I realized that it was just an illusion, the wind was as strong as ever. Suzann then jumped on the bike to try to give it a go but even she had to call it quits after just about 3km.
The thing is, we could’ve tried to struggle on against the wind at a snail’s pace, especially when the road turned to a brand new highway with wide shoulders and smooth tar of low rolling resistance. Yet if we’d soldiered on time would’ve caught us and plunged us into darkness before we even reached the next place to stay. You see, here in Tanzania the maximum speed limit is 80km/h and when you enter a town, which is every few kilometres, the speed limit is reduced to 50km/h. Now going through the towns doesn’t just drop your speed to 50, it drops your speed to about 20km/h due to a series of speed bumps. This, coupled with the fact that the other road users are primarily massive eighteen-wheelers loaded to the gunwales with all sorts of goods heading to and from the harbour at Dar, makes it very difficult to progress quickly in this country. The trucks are so heavily laden that they positively creep along in front of you and they don’t give way! There’s no such thing as yellow line driving in Tanzania. Here the trucks hug the white line so much so that you have to chance it every time by coming out almost full into the oncoming lane just to see if its safe to pass or not. Pretty precarious driving. If we had to struggle on at about 10km/h on the bikes for another 60 or so kilometres, we’d still have over 200km to do in the car that can’t go much faster. This would make certain of the fact that we’d arrive at Kisolanza Farm well after dark, and in Africa you don’t want to drive in the dark. So we had to make the hard decision again to load up the bikes and head for Kisolanza. Its just so far from one place to stay to the next … so far for a bike, even for a car actually. There are ‘local’ places to stay, so-called resthouses in all the little towns but here local is definitely not lekker, not for three lone ladies. If we were more vehicles we could’ve wild camped or braved the resthouses if we had more people in our party. I believe women stand equal to men but here in Africa the culture is such that men are given higher status and more respect than women, so having a man with you makes you safer as its far less likely that anyone will try anything with you if there is a man around. This pains me but I have to deal with the way of this part of Africa, even though I don’t like it one little bit. This is preventing us from cycling … the distance, the speed, the trucks, the cops that constantly stop you (they even stopped Suzann … on the bike!), the dodgy accommodation, the lack of numbers on our part, the lack of a male member on our team, etc. etc. etc. Need I go on?
And now, after my little rant … Kisolanza turned out to be a really nice place, even though mom was initially put off by the long-drop toilets. I must admit, it is rather scary perching on a big black hole and not knowing what is down there. Well, I guess you don’t want to know what’s down there, not really. At least they had a donkey boiler that provided us with boiling hot water. Kisolanza was so good in fact, that we decided to stay another day to try and backtrack a way towards Mbeya, going with the wind, just to get some riding done in Tanzania. The following day we would do in the 80km before the wind knackered us again.
Leaving Kisolanza early (to avoid the wind that comes up by 9) we headed out towards Iringa. The going was good at first but after a bit the wind came up again and we were both dog tired after straight going for 6 days without true rest. We may not have been cycling every day but even driving here makes you desperately tired, and we had to change the bakkie’s wheel when we returned from our 80km ride the previous day. Pulling into our campsite, Suzann heard a suspicious ‘sshhh’ noise coming from the left rear tyre. Low and behold, there was a huge piece of metal that had pierced the tyre and now the air was steadily escaping. Thank goodness we’d made it back to camp before the tyre was totally flat. Now we could take our time in changing the wheel. Now getting the spare out under the bakkie was one thing but loosening the wheel nuts, an entirely different story. Eventually Suzann and I took a turn to stand to the wheel spanner and literally bounce up and down while hanging onto the roofrack above, but the nuts wouldn’t budge. Exasperated, Suzann went in search of a pair of strong male arms, but the local guy there was only coming on duty later and the ladies in the kitchen would send him over then. Thank goodness that Suzann got impatient and put on her boots, grabbed the other wheel spanner (the one that comes with the vehicle) and kicked the nuts loose, since the man never did rock up. Now she just had to crawl in under the vehicle to place the bottle jack correctly before we could start jacking the thing up. But all went well and the wheel came off and we got the spare on after yanking it out under the vehicle with a piece of rope. Now it was just to extract the metal from the tyre with a pair of pliers and plug the hole with our tyre repair kit. I got the job of hanging onto the tyre by pinching it between my legs while Suzann with her pincer hands fought with the reaming tool to clear the hole before inserting the sticky plug. Huffing and puffing and nearly blowing me over, Suzann struggled with the plug, finally forcing the gooey thing into the hole stopping the ‘sshhh’ in its tracks. Now it was just for her to cut the edges of the plug flush with the tyre and for me to try and wipe off the tyre marks on my legs. It looked as if the bakkie had driven over my legs leaving two clear tyre tracks on my inner thighs. But we plugged the hole, reinflated the tyre and Suzann, flat on her backside, frog kicked the thing in under the vehicle, following it head first to attached the chain by which we’d haul it up into place again.
After all this the previous day, it was no wonder that about a kilometre from our destination Suzann stopped short. She was beginning to feel faint and nearly came off the bicycle. Quickly we had to doctor her back with a coke and energy chews. She felt better, but our destination didn’t make one of us feel good. It was hidden away in a valley and it made us feel rather isolated and alone. There was no-one else about, so we decided for safety sake to move on to the next spot.
Driving on we realized that it was all for the best since we wouldn’t been able to cycle much further anyway. A steep mountain pass awaited us and even though it was downhill, it was a dangerous switchback cement road with potholes and no shoulders snaking down the mountain. The big trucks were crawling down the tight turns at all of 3, and we quickly realized that this was no place for a bicycle. The car wouldn’t be able to keep behind the bike for all the slow-moving trucks that would cut it off. And of course, the ‘death’ busses that would simply pass on blind rises, in tight corners, etc. with no regard for what could be coming from the front. These hideous monstrosities just careen past at break-neck speed regardless, hooting and flashing lights while belching clouds of black diesel smoke.
In the valley below would be Crocodile Camp where God planted a few thorn trees and campers can now shack up in the clearings around them on the river bank. There is a semblance of a bar and lounge area and they do have Western toilets and showers, but alas, they’re solar powered so the water was cold. Mom and mine stomach’s were a bit upset and Suzann was just handing out Bevispas, Immodium and Marie biscuits. Suffice it to say, we went to bed on a packet of chips with the bottle of Doom as make-shift Mace.
Feeling rather fragile in the morning we packed and left for Tan Swiss lodge a mere 50 or so k’s away. Miscalculating we thought we had over 100km to go but we arrived just after 9 in the morning. The friendly staff checked us in right then and there. We decided to stop over for two nights just to gather our thoughts, clean our bodies, fill our stomachs, rest our weary bones, and try to reconcile the fact that we haven’t cycled half as far as we’d originally planned to. We’re feeling a bit like frauds right now. We never guessed what would lie ahead for us. It’s one thing planning the trip from home but another thing entirely actually doing it. The circumstances we’ve had to face were beyond our control and we’ve just had to roll with the punches, make changes on the fly, leave out vast stretches of unsafe road, get disappointed, get over it, get going again … We’re sorry we couldn’t cycle the whole way. Maybe we’re just not meant to. But it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Yet, we move on, ever north, heading Kili … May God in His infinite wisdom use us, use this, whatever its turned out to be, for His purpose. I may not understand, but then again, I may not be supposed to understand. So I just say, “Amen, let it be” ….