From leaving Malawi, through to Dar Es Salaam
13.04.2015 - 20.04.2015 35 °C
The Kiwis had made good friends with twins, Mark and Gregory, from Tanzania, thanks to their generosity with their bountiful supply of biltong, at the Hong Kong sevens earlier in the year. Little did they know what an amazing return on investment this chance meeting would result in, and by some luck I was in the right place at the right time to benefit from it also. The twin's family owned a guest lodge on Kisolanza Farm, a few hours into Tanzania, and the Kiwis had kindly suggested that I come with them, and perhaps I might benefit from a free night's accommodation. So it was I left Malawi a few hours after the Kiwis (slipping and sliding down the muddy, rain-drenched, steep and winding cliff-side descent from the Mushroom Farm) and entered Tanzania - as border crossings in Africa go, a relatively painless experience. I also finally managed to organise my Comisa yellow card insurance. This is a smart bit of organising by the African Community, and I thought was precluded for non-African citizens, but will give you the most basic third party insurance cover for just about all the African countries that you might plan to pass through. It's well worth getting this for the time-saving it affords you at each border crossing alone, if not for a cost saving. And you might imagine it would be a set-price, but with a bit of haggling I did manage to get it down from around $100 to $70. Considering you'll be paying $20-30 per country you enter for insurance (although a few don’t even raise the topic of insurance), you don't need to go too far before it pays for itself. Just a little bit frustrating that it took until country number six on this trip before I was able to find someone willing to provide it to me.
It was a very pleasant countryside-cruising ride up to Mbeya in southern Tanzania, but from here you hit the main transit road between Dar es Salaam and the Atlantic Ocean, and the interior of Tanzania and access to Zambia and eastern DRC. As such, this single carriageway road (i.e. one lane in each direction) is heavily laden with heavily laden double-bed trucks, generally moving at a snail’s pace, and buses bursting at the seams, moving at ludicrous speeds, well above their safety rating. Speed bumps at the entrance, throughout the middle and at the exit of every town, has been embraced throughout Tanzania, and with few exceptions, throughout Africa, as the cure-all solution to any speeding problems. And to be fair, the majority of drivers are so protective of their vehicle’s shocks that they drive frustratingly slowly over every speed bump. Particularly for an adventure motorcyclist who can bounce over any of these as fast as he pleases, if he has the right technique. Nevertheless, the carnage of mangled rusting steel chassis’ litter the road sides of Africa and show that these speed bumps are having a limited amount success. So far on this trip the roads and traffic that I had encountered had been testing and a little dangerous, to be sure, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Tanzania that I truly felt like people were actively trying to kill me. The clash of high numbers of slow moving trucks and fast moving buses meant the buses would take horrendous risks to get past any trucks that might impede their progress. This is when I discovered that motorcycles are clearly seen as nothing more than a small annoyance that better clear well out of the way or you’ll end up much like the colourful bugs smeared across the windscreen. The on-coming buses will quite literally look you dead in the eyes as they pull out into your lane and charge at high speed straight towards you as they try to get past a truck. The only option is to move rapidly left onto either a gravel siding, or if you’re very lucky a small strip of hard shoulder; however, this being Africa, there’s a perfectly good chance of there being humans and or livestock blocking your only escape path. This now started happening with such frequency that you realise you’re just going to have to suck it up and play these cards you’ve been dealt, otherwise things really will end badly. I have since heard from a few Tanzanians that the local motorcyclists give as good as they get, particularly in the cities, weaving around and cutting everybody up, and in general are fairly disliked, which goes a very long way to explain the treatment I was receiving from my fellow road users. Nevertheless, I felt that I was conspicuously different from other motorcycles on the road. For one thing I was wearing a bright white full-face helmet, which isn’t enforced anywhere in Africa, from what I could tell. A large motorcycle, with working headlights and additional auxiliary lights, with enormous bags on the sides and rear-rack and a rider in a riding suit and high-viz jacket, is the polar opposite of the local motorcyclist, but still did nothing to improve my situation on the roads. I get very upset when I feel that other people are putting my life in danger and the sort of language that you might have heard on the inside of my helmet each time I have to take emergency evasive action in lieu of a bus ten metres away from me would make Gordon Ramsey blush. It wasn’t much, but flicking the bird for as long as I could hold it, as I steered the bike one-handed, helped make me feel a little better.
Although the Kiwis had left the Mushroom Farm a few hours ahead of me, the speed bumps in every town, and their blown Defender turbo meant that I was able to catch them just before dark and went on ahead for the last hour to try and find Kisolanza Farm, approximately 50 km before Iringa. With a bit of luck I managed to find the right turn off and not long after I heard the diesel grunt of the Defender catching up with me at the Twin’s guest farm. We were well spoilt by Nicki Ghaui, the twin’s aunt, shown to our delightful converted stable rooms, and straight on to the restaurant for a three course meal. We spent two well-earned rest nights at Kisolanza Farm, which gave us all the chance to roll up our sleeves and get oily fixing up any bugbears with our respective vehicles. Compared to the old Defender, I felt I had a very easy time of it with my small and simple, and pretty reliable Kawasaki!
The Kiwis had been hooked up with a local touch rugby game in Iringa by the Twins and it was an enormous sense of normality to have a run around with a group of expats and Docs and NGO workers, and the occasional local. A few Frothies ensued after darkness fell, and after our three course meal back at the Farm, a few more with an overlanding truckload of Aussie tourists. Foolishly, this was poorly thought out, since I had a very long days ride along one of the most dangerous roads in Africa, all the way to Dar es Salaam, the following morning. Rather worryingly Nicki had emphatically warned us about the dangerous buses and trucks that I’d already experienced on my first day in Tanzania, explaining how she was often called out to clean up the pieces every time a foreign motorcyclist fell-foul of the psychopathic drivers, sadly often resulting in fatalities. As it turned out, the day was, for the most part, without much incident. I did skip a petrol station in the morning, in favour of utilising my entire tank, but regretted this when no petrol station appeared for the next hour, and I was forced to crawl along at 60kph, and literally sputtered into Morogoro, where I rendezvoused with the Kiwis for lunch, and to compare hangovers. Earlier in the morning I had also been pulled over by a large and jolly police woman for speeding through the town of Mikumi. Again, she probably had me banged to rights, but I went on a charm offensive, which led to an hilarious conversation, that went along the lines of:
Me: I definitely wasn’t going faster than the speed limit.
Large Jolly Police Woman (LJPW): How fast do you think you were going?
Me: I was only doing 45kph.
LJPW: Ah, then you were breaking the speed limit.
Me: Actually, I was doing less than that speed.
LJPW: So, how fast were you going?
Me: What is the speed limit here?
LJPW: (Laughing)…. It’s 40kph.
Me: Ah, then I was doing 39kph.
LJPW: (Laughing and shaking) I will have to give you a fine.
Me: Can’t you just let me off with a warning?
LJPW: Mmmmm……Oh, OK then. But please drive carefully through towns.
When I caught the Kiwis for lunch and we compared notes on the morning it turned out that they too had run into LJPW, and after some bartering had gotten away with a bar-of-chocolate fine, which I suspect might have led to her jolly disposition when I saw her a short while later. I say the day was without much incident, but the night most certainly was not. We had over 600 km to cover that day to Dar es Salaam, and twilight fell at around 6pm, and I was still 40 km outside of the capital. The next two hours were spent negotiating a way through the absolute mayhem of traffic coming from all sides and at all angles along narrow, very dusty and litter strewn, pothole covered streets. The traffic was largely at a standstill, spewing out billowing clouds of poorly combusted fossil fuels, and myself and fellow two-wheelers attempted to weave our way through, wary of trucks and buses rolling backwards as we squeezed through narrow gaps, like a climber fearful of the glacier rock ice sliding down as they make their way through the Khumbu ice fall. It’s very difficult to describe exactly how bad this was, made worse by poorly executed road works along much of its length. I feel that only someone who has been there and tried to make their way through during night time rush hour could ever hope to really appreciate how awful it was. It was almost a miracle that I made it through to the centre of Dar es Salaam, and made my way to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel, where the Kiwis were rendezvousing with the Twins.
I suspected that the Defender of the Kiwis would take a lot longer getting through the gridlock and so I made myself comfortable in the Hotel lounge bar, and began working through some restitutional draft beers. In the process of attempting to find out if anyone, perhaps two identical looking people, had been enquiring about the arrival of three white foreigners that evening, I had become quite chatty with the female concierge at reception. It was then to my great amusement when I went to the bathroom after an hour of to-ing and fro-ing around the hotel lobby, to discover in the mirror that my face, in an almost perfect outline of the full-face helmet opening, was jet black with soot, oil and a plethora of other pollutants. It took a good ten minutes to scrub most of this off, and when I returned to the reception I couldn’t help asking the girl there, with a grin on my face, why she hadn’t mentioned that my face was jet black. Her reply, through a restrained smile, was that she really wanted to mention it, but didn’t want to be rude or upset me, which I thought was very cute. A couple of hours later an exhausted and bedraggled looking trio of antipodeans fell out of their Defender, into the hotel bar, and within an hour, we’d met the Twins, found a cheaper place to stay, showered, changed and headed off to a popular rugby supporter’s bar in town. It’s difficult to describe effectively, but the relief felt after a long and highly stressful journey like the one into Dar es Salaam that evening, brings on a strong thirst.
The Twins had arranged for the Kiwis to join them for the weekend as they ventured all the way north into Kenya to play a league match (rugby union) against one of their arch rivals, Mombasa. The invitation had graciously been extended to me too, but I had a growing race against time of my own, if I was to see and do all I wanted to in Tanzania, and still get to Rwanda and see my brother Ewan and his wife Jayshree, before their contract ended and they departed. I should explain here a little bit more about my luggage, how much I took and in what form, as it’s often a query I’m asked about; I appreciate how tedious this could be for some readers, so by all means skip to the next paragraph. From the largest to the smallest, I shall begin with the 100 litre waterproof-canvas zipped duffel bag (Mountain Equipment), which sits perpendicular on the back of the bike, secured by two diagonal Rok-Straps (invaluable on any trip like this, amazing for securing things down) and one lengthwise over the bag from one side of the bike to the other. This bag is so large that it not only covers the spacious luggage rack on the back of the bike (10kg limit), but also half of the pillion area behind where I sit, and hangs out on either side of the bike just above the rear indicators, contained only by the tension of the three Rokstraps. Beneath the duffel is a pair of Givi soft-fabric panniers, which hang on either side from three adjoining Velcro straps, two that go above the seat and one that sits beneath it. These have a combined capacity of 70 litres, with the expansion zips opened up, and I keep them secured with four bungee cords to the pair of steel rear luggage racks, which have the bonus of acting as an additional pair of crash bars for the rear end of the bike. There are waterproof, drawstring covers that fit over each of the panniers. For security I have a pair of good quality padlocks (using the same key, of which I have five) which keep the large zip opening of each pannier securely locked for whenever my back is turned. The 100L duffel is also contained within a Pacsafe wire-mesh, locked at the drawstring (wire) top with a combination padlock, which acts to prevent a knife slitting open the soft rubberised canvas and removing the contents. There was nothing really to prevent the same happening to the fabric panniers, but the fabric is reasonably tough and I imagine wouldn’t open too easily.
Next in size is a cheap but thick 30 litre waterproof rubberised canvas stuff bag, canary yellow and storing all of my camping gear together in one place. This includes my 5 man tent, three season sleeping bag, pillow (inflatable), silk sleeping bag liner, Thermarest Neo inflatable mattress and a camping chair (of the variety that the Thermarest folds into). This stuff bag sits on top of the 100 litre duffel and is held in place with two good bungees, doubled over to provide four straps. Next is my 4 litre tank bag, made by Oxford, which is just big enough to hold all the readily-accessible essentials (sun-cream, sunglasses, Leatherman, pepper-spray, hand-sanitiser, lip-balm, Sat-Nav, charging cables, iPod, penknife, condoms, um, I mean, candy, water-purifier, torches, plasters, sterile latex gloves, camera and spare batteries) and a clear waterproof screen atop in which to place maps/GPS/phone. This is held in place by four strong magnets within its base, holding it securely to the steel petrol tank, and a security strap around the steering column gives me peace of mind. Much larger than 4 litres and you risk it getting in your way when you stand and lean forward on a steep off road climb. A few extra storage options I integrated onto the bike, namely two canvas pockets sitting within the frame of the crash bars on either side of the engine, near my knees, that contain my waterproofs, top one side and bottoms the other; two plastic tubes are secured to the bottom of the rear pannier racks. These have screw on lids and are large enough to accommodate a 1 litre water bottle, and although in a previous life they were made to hold tractor manuals in the cabs of John Deere’s, motorcycle forum enthusiasts the web-wide have endorsed their use today on overland-motorcycles. Lastly, I have a small canvas bag secured to the top of my front mudguard, just in front of my headlights, that contain spare tubes for the front and rear wheel. In summary, I have been riding with the potential to use over 204 litres of luggage space. That sounds like a huge amount, and the longer I ride the more I agree that I should have travelled with less rather than more, but when I compare myself to the photos I see online of other overlander’s loaded bikes, mine often doesn’t look so enormous any more.