Mountain pass from Mbalizi to Tuhuru

15 Jan

Todays ride from Mbalizi to Tuhuru went, in a word, swimmingly. Pulsating sunburn on the old forearms aside, todays ride was a highlight of my visit to Tanzania.

Partly because the drunken priest warned me not to take on the mountain pass, and the German volunteers got lost for 4 hours during their attempt to cycle it, I was apprehensive. The thought, though, of not trying it out and riding a much longer route on the highway around the mountains gave me all the resolve I needed to head for the hills.

And I’m glad I did. No idea what all the fuss was about. It was tough, and rough, and tricky enough to navigate, but there were just enough locals to direct me and bananas (free, or 4p) and sweet tea (4p) to make the journey stress free.

The road was empty, bar the occasional slow, tentative cattle cart packed with people travelling between villages, happily elbowing each other to raise their arms and wave, shout and give me the thumbs up as we cross paths.

I used the ‘granny gear’* for miles uphill as I bounced and clattered against the worn rocks in the ground, and was greeted very respectfully by the youngsters (‘shikamoo’ – to which the elder replies ‘marahaba’). During the day 2 toddlers burst into screams and terrified tantrums on seeing me, bringing my total tally in Africa to 3. I hope to at least reach double figures by the time I get to S.A..

The views were jolly decent too. At the top, you can see the jungle tipped scarps of the Rift Valley rising above thick and scattered farming and foliage, turning from green to blue as they form the horizon. On the way up, banana tree leaves as big as hammocks and thick heavy grass and leafy bush blockade the roadsides until rivers rush by and sweep a line of sight down into the dense green. I stopped at all of the precipices and tried not to wish that I had brought my DSLR.

While my legs were aching on the way up, my hands were the only part of me aching on the way down. I pulled tight on both brakes for almost 2 hours and skidded down and over the rocks, zigzagged around the deep erosion channels, and tried to spot the least rocky decent.

The closest I had been to having lunch today was drinking sweet tea with 3 sweet bread rolls at noon, so after a hilariously hilly (you have to laugh) 20km on the highway I arrived in Tuhuru by 4.30 one very hungry and dusty mzungu. Luckily, the food at DM Motel is delicious. At 5 I had the best chicken curry and at 8 the tastiest beef and chips in Tanzania. Washed down with 3 pints of my new favourite beer of the continent – Safari. Tomorrow I hope to ride approx. 100km to reach Karonga, in Malawi.

*Granny gear – the easiest gear, unless you’re climbing up a cliff face, your legs spin faster than a washing machine riding on the teacups.

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