Is This the Way to Tanzania

15 Dec

I’m concerned about today (Saturday – the border crossing to Tanzania). My first real test. I’m looking at riding 100km with a border crossing to get to the next town – Tanga.

This will involve riding through the heat of the day and will rely on the roads being made of tarmac. Also, the gears are slipping more and more. I have 4 to choose from now that hold. The highest, the mid-high, the mid-low and ‘Old Spinny B*****ks’. So, I plan on taking a matatu up the 15km dusty mud path I had cycled in on and then burning it from there. Hopefully I’ll get the gears looked at soon.

Up at 5:45 to pack up for my 6:20 boat across to Shimoni. Sweet bread, sweet tea, water and ginger beer (Stoney) while I wait for the matatu to the main road junction. On the matatu a woman with a 4 month-old boy (wrapped up in a woolly hat and jumper!) offers to buy it from me for 2,000,000bob ($2000). As a marker, Shem from Nairobi bought land in Amboseli, Kenya, and built and opened a nightclub (called Pesha) with underground bar/dancefloor for 14,000,000bob.

Anyway, we shake on it but she backs out of the deal in the end.

The ride to the border is mapped out as 20km. My chafing arse is it 20km. Generations of map makers and billions of years of geology seemed out to get me personally today. Growing continuously hilly, it took 4 hours to get to the border. The theme tune to my final confounding 2 hours in Kenya was to  ‘Is This the Way to Amarillo’.

Is this the way to Tanzania / Don’t just guess if you don’t know where to go / Is this the way to Tanzania / Jambo mango jambo mambo

Eating bananas, making baboons jump and watching low flying eagles and lilac breasted rollers as I ride, I finally hit the border at 11:30. The Kenyan official waves me through, informing me that there’s 6km to go before the Tanzanian border. This is a beautiful stretch of land and, like many colonialists before me, I wonder if anyone has claimed it yet.

Once over the border ($50 – 3 month visa) I come across the language barrier. I order some lunch and a soda. Sit impatiently for 30 minutes. Go to the chef and pat my belly. Nothing. I havn’t got time for this. I push around the border town and get chicken and chips takeaway (binbag) and get my arse on the road.

12:30 p.m.: According to the border official, I’ve got 65km to go, another 4 hours riding if the roads are good.

As it turns out, the roads will soon be excellent, they’re just building them at the moment. I go full pelt past many cool, plod-along local cyclists over erosion gullies and corrugated mud. With its shock absorbent frame, thick tyres and sharp brakes, my bike can handle a lot better at speed than the various heavyweight battered city bikes. The clip-on shoes are also becoming invaluable. The Tanzanians brake on the downhills and get off and push on the uphills, never breaking a sweat. Apart from this guy, who kept up with me for half an hour or so:

Stopping at 2:30, I eat my chicken n’ chips and buy some water. An army general type informs me it’s 65km to Tanga. Cursing lazy cartographers everywhere, I suncream up (hilarious to the kids) and slip away as a big matatu based fight kicks off.

Even moreso than in Kenya, nearly everyone wants to greet the mzungu! Thumbs-ups from the young men. ‘How are you’s and ‘welcome’s from the adults. ‘Jambo’s, ‘Good morning’s and jumping up and down excitement from the children. Villagers shout to their friends to come out and check out the spectacle. Shouting back and waving to all of them is a lot of fun, in an ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here‘ kind of way.

The route is hilly. Every couple of miles at the lowest point between hills Chinese civil engineers sit under sunhats and oversee Africans building the road. I stop in Doda for a soda. While sitting and gesticulating with the guys in Doda, hundreds of little biting bugs find their way under my t-shirt. Accutely aware of this, I move on (the next day I realise it’s actually heat rash).

By the time I’ve parked my bike at the Ocean Breeze guesthouse in Tanga, it’s 6:30 p.m.. I wash my orange dust-covered bike before locking it up inside. Shower, eat, fall asleep at 8 p.m. and wake up 12 hours later for breakfast in Tanga.

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