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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Month: June 2014 (page 2 of 4)

Gears , Metal , Rubber and DUST

Morning breaks , and after breakfast we take the road on , to Kisolanza , body and mind well rested I was looking forward to the day as it would be a fairly short ride and I felt ready for the traffic , or so I thought.

 

Morning in Mbeya

Morning in Mbeya

It was a slow crawl out of town but after about thirty or so kilometres the road opened up a little and I was able to get Vic up to cruising speed of around  70 km per hour , turned up the volume on the I pod and unbeknown to me I would be in a war zone for the next  150 km. It was  pod racing star wars style all the way to my destination , the day before had nothing on these drivers , I was now on the main corridor of death too and from Dar .

 

Picture taken after I was pushed off the road by an 18 wheeler for the first time that day.

Picture taken after I was pushed off the road by an 18 wheeler for the first time that day.

The best way that I can describe the main roads of Tanzania , is to say you enter a war zone of metal , gears and rubber .The trucks , busses , mini busses and cars only operate at full throttle , with no regard at all for the law , for these drivers there are no rules of engagement . The roads are littered with destruction , like soldiers lying on a battlefield , some never to fight again , some surrounded by people trying to resuscitate them  , some fatally wounded just left to rust . Metal and debris litter the roads , towns and bush. Dead and dying hulks , once the proud couriers across this continent , now just destruction all around.

 

Something went horribly wrong here , would you say.

Something went horribly wrong here , would you say.

And so they struggle , some at a standstill , some just abandoned at the road side the hill just the last straw

And so they struggle , some at a standstill , some just abandoned at the road side the hill just the last straw

 

 

Some company for Victoria , she has tired of Toyota.

Some company for Victoria , she has tired of Toyota.

What was so difficult initially , was to read the signs and anticipate what the drivers would do next , and I suppose like anything with a bit of real life experience , you find your rhythm , so after being pushed off the road 4 times , I had developed a skill set to get through the day. I would slow down and get off the road when the fast busses came up from behind , I would keep as far left as possible on blind rises and reduce my speed to around 20 km per hour so if my loaned lane was full with a vehicle passing another it was very easy for me to get out of the way.

I vowed to  find back roads through this mayhem to get to Arusha  alive . The sad thing about the driving here is that the beautiful scenery , open spaces , the sights and sounds are lost as you develop tunnel vision , focusing all your survival instinct on the tar strip you ride , nothing else enters your field of vision .  So for a time on that ever changing road baby Jake took on Tyson and lived to tell the tale.

 

This mode of transport can do anything you can imagine.

This mode of transport can do anything you can imagine.

So after seeing more of the busses and trucks headlights in my lane than their tail lights , I arrived tried and tested at the old farm house , set up camp , had a shower and sat in the quiet surroundings to gather my thoughts , as to how I get through this country in the safest way.

 

Home for the night

Home for the night

I had opted for the camping , dinner and breakfast option , and was I in for a treat , the food was outstanding with a delicious leek soup as a starter , followed by a T rex T bone with crisp and fresh organic vegetables ,  finishing off with a slice of moist chocolate cake , just so scrumptious . What made this whole experience unforgettable was the attention to detail and how in a very basic place with only one plug in the kitchen and the entire camp operating on solar , fire and flame  one could produce such a trio of delight

 

The entire structure made from mud and thatch , bathed in candle light.

The entire structure made from mud and thatch , bathed in candle light.

The next morning up early , broke camp and spoke to Nicky the owner who was very helpful in assisting me with some route planning to get me up to Arusha in one piece.

 

Dinning hall and bar

Dinning hall and bar

So our day started with our destination to be Dodoma . I was assured the road was superb new and tarred with very few driving opponents .  High spirited we set our sights on Iringa our first stop for pounds and petrol , it was also to be our first difficulty finding unleaded and a cash machine with cash to dispense . The town was extremely busy , the road appalling so it took us over an hour and a half to get through, eventually finding both to do’s on the list. The road works continued out of town and it was a good time before we found tar again.

 

The road out of town

The road out of town

The slow going was rewarding in that  I was able to enjoy my surroundings  unlike the previous two days . I figured that this was probably the only bad section and soon enough we would return to the smooth and new asphalt.

 

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So we persevered and then out of the dust popped the tar and off we sped to Dodoma , the road was so empty all we came across were a few villages , bicycles and motorbikes , the odd car and mini bus , I was nice and relaxed and so very grateful to be out of the mayhem taking in the Tanzanian beauty , vastness and sights.

 

Just goes on forever

Just goes on forever

Where did the road go ?  Tar gone back on very bad gravel and so Victoria and I settled down to a very slow , bumpy and shaky  ride dropping our speed to around 20 km per hour and slower in places , I started to understand the reason for the road being so empty. Then the  tar returned and we took our speed back to around 70 km ,  by now the wind was vicious as we had come out of the sheltered mountain pass on to the open plains , no complaining I will take the wind over corrugations any day . We crossed over a very beautiful hydro electric dam with spectacular views all around , but I was warned not to stop and take photographs , as a consequence of my actions I would be arrested if seen .

 

I could not figure out why my GPS gave me an arrival time at the destination of 17h00 and when I calculated the speed and the amount of kilometres left I should be in Dodoma by 14h30 , I put it down to a error with the GPS and rode on.

 

Baobab's all about

Baobab’s all about

A few kilometres on I figured out why the GPS was estimating my arrival time to be after 5 , the road was gone and we entered a section of road and road works to top them all , 5 km per hour , thick sand , sharp gravel , on occasion mud , so we settled in to our new environment , slow but sure.

 

Very harsh environment to live in , I was glad to be passing through.

Very harsh environment to live in , I was glad to be passing through.

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So we rested and rode

So we rested and rode

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Water , so precious out here , this was the first time I saw people digging in dry river beds to get to the water.

So we rode hour after hour ,  in the never ending dust and wind , and finally we found a reprieve from the road , another scooter ,  we found a common language  not a word understood between us , but a kindred scooter spirit , a time to stop and share the moment.

 

kindred scooter spirits

kindred scooter spirits

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I was totally in awe at how strong and proud the people stood in a place not very welcoming .

I was totally in awe at how strong and proud the people stood in a place not very welcoming .

And so as with so many  situations in life , the difficulties and challenges do come to an end and so Victoria and I found the smooth again , and in our hearts hopped this would be it for the day , and so we rested for a bit , before the last leg to Dodoma.

 

I know , I felt it to.

I know , I felt it to.

 

Just  a fraction past 17h30 we rode into the parking lot at the new Dodoma hotel for a shower , espresso and some fiery hot stir fry  . As I was unpacking my gear for the night , I looked at my dear scooter , thinking to myself what have I put you through ? and yet again you got me home safe . Laden with such  weight , conditions so severe on occasion, such  a vast continent , such small wheels. Thank you Vic.

 

The Dodoma hotel our place of rest.

The Dodoma hotel our place of rest.

The dining hall

The dining hall

 

A welcome sight after a long day out.

A welcome sight after a long day out.

The lesson learnt is that if a road starts with tar and ends with tar  what happens in between is the lesson .  So we ride for Singida next .

Until we meet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Roadside service

Dodoma stirs as the day  of rest arrives , I dance around the lady mopping around the breakfast buffet , comprising of many new , unseen or experienced dishes. Coffee , eggs and a West African sampler and I was on the road to Singida , my final stop before meeting up with my good friend Tim in Arusha for some social , safari and a service for Victoria .

The road takes you through a boulder filled landscape that surprises , as initially these random rocks look so out of place scattered all about  and then after a while you start enjoying  the different  shapes , colours and formations . The  natural beauty of  Tanzania is really  the stuff that brochures are made from . All was going well , the drivers much the same as the day before but I only had a 250 km day ahead so would be in town by lunch time  and I was thinking to myself , yes I will find a barber for a trim and a hair cut  , then find a nice spot to enjoy the town  and have  a good cup of coffee .

As we rode my mind wondered to warm water and soap in my hair , to a slightly elevated veranda naturally shaded by  green vines with a superb view of life in the streets of Singida , a French press , warm milk , the aroma of Tanzanian beans  and that first sip of delicious coffee after a day on the road . Ah the power of the mind . Then it happened that heart stopping , daydream destroyer , the mechanical scream of metal grinding metal , of the undisputed sound of mechanical failure. Please I heard myself say , not here , not now , not  today , what is happening Vic ?

I was on a blind rise no space to pull over , traffic flying by , I turned the volume down , jumped off Vic pulled her up onto her stand , had a quick look around , tyres fine , no oil , no flames , all looked fine , had I Imagined that horrific scream ? The road was too narrow to have a proper look so Victoria and I limped up the hill with this terrible sound our partner and collaborator confirming  engine trouble .

We screamed and grinded into a petrol station , to find that the workshop was closed , as it was Sunday , but I was told that in town about a kilometre away was a mechanic that might be around to help , so we pushed forward , stopping and asking for  directions to the mechanic , my Swahili extremely limited , my potential answers lost in the  language barrier . I found a small shop selling motorcycle accessories , tried to explain my situation , all I got was a smile as he passed me a can of oil . So the game of charades started , sounds like , turn wheel grinding , mechanic  to fix , can you help ? By this time I was swamped with eager spectators ,  as this strange man in reflective gear , with an equally strange ride at his side  , using sign language , gestures and strange words carried on trying to communicate  . Finally a young guy pushed his way through the ever growing crowd ,  English on his lips we started the process to find a mechanic .

First mechanic arrives , inspects , touches , turns his head to Godfrey my interpreter , big problems Diski I am told , I must follow to his workshop , which I do . As I follow the expression on his face tells of a more serious problem. The workshop  comprised of a wooden bench and a small tin structure the size of a cupboard on a square of hardened earth demarcated by some neatly placed stones .

So the crowed got bigger as did the problems with Victoria , once again through Godfrey I learned it was not Diski , but the main bearing was gone and he could not do the job alone , additional recruits with more mechanical know how had to be sourced. So my band of merry men grew. 5 in total , me being the fifth the work started  , shaking of heads , finding of tools , phoning Louw in SA , my tool bag spread over the entire workshop , so the three hour repair kicked off to a very jovial , high spirited crowd chatting , laughing , cheering and growing .

 

Gina one of the faithful four who got Victoria back on the road.

Gina one of the faithful four who got Victoria back on the road.

Progress

Progress

 

More progress

More progress

And so time marched on , old bearing out , casing in hand  and off two of the team went to find a new bearing , suddenly back , old casing hammered out , new bearing in and then the  reassembly . Out of the conversational crowds murmurings I heard it , I heard that sweet , sweet sound of Victoria been fired  up , her motor alive , the scream of horror gone , the crowd erupt with jubilation , my heart soars , my face beams , my smile wide and grateful .

 

All done

All done

All I heard from my non English speaking mechanic , was test ride and he was off , the next thing I saw Victoria flying down the main road and she was gone . I started packing up to get back on the road , expecting the scooter back in a few minutes , I saw her flash by again in the opposite direction , and all packed waited . 5 minutes , then 10 , then 20 now the crowd started to chat a little nervously , cell phones started calling and other bikes where stopped and questions asked  , by 30 minutes bikes where now been sent out to find Victoria , my jubilation had now turned to fear and trepidation , had the scooter been crashed or written off ? what was going on ?  Godfrey’s English had got a little worse since the disappearance  . The crowd uneasy , me pacing like a caged tiger , relief flashes across my face as she appears around the corner unscathed  the mechanic beaming , passenger hanging on for dear life and Victoria was back to a very relieved owner and seemingly the crowd as well. Where he went what happened I will never know , but half an hour later , after shaking of hands , exchanging money , smiles and gratitude we left for Singida.

A few hours later we arrived at the Stanley motel for the night , before my usual routine of shower , change and relax , I got the tool box out just to confirm to my mind that all was back , safe and tight . And so it was .

 

Vic at the Stanley

Vic at the Stanley

Thank you Manyoni a small , small town with a big , big heart for getting us back on the road , I loved my time with all of you , even though our verbal communication was limited your body language made me feel welcome , your smiles and laughter gave me joy , your enthusiasm was infectious , your kindness overwhelming and of course your mechanical and technical expertise helped . I was touched that all in the crowd came to shake my hand , that as I rode off I was followed with smiles and laughter .

 

The Stanley

The Stanley

 

Singida cinema

Singida cinema

I ride to rest , friends and the town of Arusha.

Until we meet again.

 

 

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Radio silence in the Serengeti

Hello Folks.

I just had a satellite phone conversation with Mike.  He was bubbling with excitement.  Stories of the great “Serengeti Migration” and an out of this world wildlife experience have got him all thrilled with life.  I personally can’t wait to see the photos when he finds his way back onto the internet grid.  This will only be in a few days time.

For now, Mike has asked me to just let you all know that all is well in the Central Serengeti and that he will be back online and blogging when he can.

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The Stanley of Singida offers organic

Enjoying Singida as the sunsets , sitting across from the local bar I perused the very extensive menu which also sported local Tanzanian wine from Dodoma . In consultation with my very attentive waiter who every time I had a question about the menu would pull up a chair almost on top of me ,  explain in great detail what the dish was by running his finger under the name of the dish and reading it allowed to me , we made a great team huddled together over that menu in the soft light making choices with the intensity of a world summit.

The goat and salad was ordered the local wine passed  on by recommendation from Henry and I pointed to the starter that sounded fantastic . I settled in to enjoy the twilight . My starter arrived which only had the word chicken in common with what I thought I had ordered and to my delight was exquisite what ever it was , I wolfed it down hardly lifting my head from the trough so to speak . The last bit of  light fell as I caught a glimpse of a man crossing the restaurant  cleaver and meat in hand , all would be revealed in a few minutes . A fire was built the grid placed above the dancing flames , the sound of cleaver on meat and bone eminated from the barbeque room , was this dinner I wondered? An hour later this perfectly prepared crispy salad arrived and Henry gestured to the man in the room who in a flash produced my freshly prepared organically reared local goat , finger licking good goat mind you. While eating I spent time meeting and greeting the locals  who were staying in the motel , who took great interest in primarily Victoria and then my story as the solo scooterist .  I look forward to staying at the Stanley on my return as I make my way to the Tanzanian border with  Rwanda. I met such fascinating people doing so much for their country and with such pride in their nation that seems to reward in other ways other than those of a monetary nature . So off to bed , early to rise to make the final ride to Arusha.

Rider on the storm

Rider on the storm

Finding unleaded proved difficult , once done  I was off to Babati and then Arusha  on a wintery day that made me miss my heated grips and left me huddled behind my little screen . A ride I look forward to doing again with the road taking you along the rift valley past mount Hanang , just the most intoxicating scenery with great tar and turns , Victoria and I had a ball . We arrived in Babati  the first town thus far that offered no unleaded , so off came one of the petrol bags to start the top up , with in no time  I was once again the topic of discussion , surrounded  by the friendly , enquiring and intrigued towns folk , so we chatted and discussed fuel consumption as well as the 160 km per hour top speed , once again this was put under the spotlight ,  spedo’s don’t lie , that been true in every sense of the word. Top up done , questions dwindled and stopped to be replaced by the sound of Victoria starting her motor and so we waved Babati goodbye.

 

Mount Hanang

Mount Hanang

Coming off the escarpment

Coming off the escarpment

The ride to Arusha just got greener and the mountains started flattening out and the plains opened up as Victoria’s wheels rolled towards our next destination.

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Masai Village adopting the old and the new.

Just outside  Arusha about an hour from safety I came across the demons of death , I had to stop to take a picture as I had never seen them stationary before . Still they stood those menacing eyes glaring , that I forever see in my lane. Halted briefly ,  pulled over by the weigh bridge they idle , motors rumbling waiting for the flag to drop so they could once again enter the race of speed and destruction.

Those eyes will haunt forever .

Those eyes will haunt forever .

Relief when the back is visible , you just say , I survived another.

Relief when the back is visible , you just say , I survived another.

The road was almost done when I came across this Masai market day , what a sight to behold , the bold of blood-red awash across the market . As blood brings and carries life so this red set the market alight . Beautiful , strong , old and bold filled my eyes , yes Africa rich in so much.

Masai market

Masai market

I stopped , tried not to be invasive , asked if it would be alright for me to take a few pictures , a young guy said it would be fine , but I must not focus on one person alone unless I asked them personally , so just a few general shots and then I put the camera away , sat on the scooter and watched an ancient tradition bring the modern to life.

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An hour later I was waiting in a school parking lot for my friend Tim to arrive and show me the way home . He arrived riding and revving an old school Honda scrambler as he slid sideways over the loose gravel and luckily to a halt just a few meters from Vic and I . Hugs and hello’s and we left for Tim’s place . Wow what a road , poor Victoria bouncing , scraping and clutch smoking as she finally summited , the stench of the clutch instilled fear of hurt as I parked her high up on the hill to catch her breath. I unpacked , pitched the tent , showered and walked up the hill to enjoy my first home cooked meal since leaving South Africa , finer than fine it was , enjoying Silvia’s delicious pasta , wishing her a long life on the day of her birth , just to end it all with scrumptious home made cake , dressed with only a few candles celebrating her youth . So nice to be with Tim and those close to him , we sat back , I felt warm , safe and secure in the fact I was amongst friends. Welcome to Arusha Solo and the scooter.

Until we meet again.

 

 

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Lazy Days in Arusha

The days are taken up doing chores , planning for time in the bush , tracking down a place to do a full service on Victoria and the nights are full of home cooking , conversation and live music courtesy of Janelle on guitar and Gabby on vocals, just fantastic to be in the heart of a home . One thing that I think is true for all travellers , is that when you come across a washing machine it is like finding the pot at the end of the rainbow. Before you have even put the washing in you start fantasising  about that clean fresh smell as you pull the shirt over your head , the smell of softener and soap fills your senses , so thank you Janelle , staff and machine for being so kind and helping remove the road scent from my clothing.

Tim and Craig sorted out the safari for me and Tim found a motorcycle expert to help with Victoria. Dates booked all sorted out in two days , I felt much better for getting the admin stuff out of the way. The next day Victoria and I following Tim in a taxi finally  arrived at Per’s place who owns the service centre were I was welcomed with spice cake , cookies and tea and met Gifty who was going to service Victoria. ( Vespa Wynberg please take note )

We started just after 10h00 and finished just after 15h00 having done a major service and health check. We put the spare on the rear , changed belt and rollers , checked the brake pads , changed oil and all the filters , checked the clutch , the shocks , changed the spark plug and so the list goes on and on . Gifty was incredible and if ever anybody has bike issues in and around Arusha or anywhere in this great country this is the only place to take your loved ones.

www.tecnixbike.wordpress.com .

 

Gifty and the art of scooter maintenance

Gifty and the art of scooter maintenance

The major service

The major service

I was hoping to do the service at 10 000 but I felt that when you find a great facility and very capable workmanship grab it with both hands . We have travelled just over 8500 km to get here , If I had travelled the most direct route to Arusha from Johannesburg it would have been a smidgen over 3600km , the beauty of been lost in Africa. Thank you Gifty we both appreciate your meticulous and thorough work , I really enjoyed our hours together with chats and tunes playing over the speakers , while we tinkered and torqued the time away

All done and all that was left was to get ready for my safari. What is really cool about Tanzanians is that anything that involves a getaway or a weekend break , not necessarily to the bush is referred to as a safari. When people ask about our journey , the comment is wow that is a long safari you are doing or what a great safari . I love being on safari. The other very  cool thing about being in Arusha are the people that I have had the pleasure of meeting and being welcomed with open arms into their homes. Thank you Arushans see after safari.

Until we meet again.

 

 

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