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The Solo Scooterist

Documenting my travels on a Vespa

Category: Tanzania (page 1 of 3)

Farewell to a trusted companion

My day started early  leaving  Nkata Bay at first light so I could cross the border into Tanzania by midday  and then get to Mbeya for my over night stop .  The ride out of the  bay was a little sad , I really had enjoyed my time on the lake , but felt the need to experience something new.

The countryside as you go north is really beautiful and becomes less populated as you ride towards the border , the mountain passes dramatic in beauty , exciting riding , with the lake  my  trusted companion on my right . Sometimes at my side , other times in the distance just flirting with her deep blue waters.

 

Mountains of the moon

Mountains of the moon

The countryside got greener , the lake a deeper blue as I rode up to Mzuzu to re fuel and have some breakfast , winding roads up and up we went , stopping now and again to admire the beauty.

 

Mzuzu , coffee house , a must if you are in the area.

Mzuzu , coffee house , a must if you are in the area.

The Mzuzu coffee  is local to the area , rich and smooth it delights your palate , I wish we had it back home . Mzuzu is uniquely Malawi both in flavour and the décor. The service is slick , the samosas light , crispy and dense with filling . Made my day this stop did.

 

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Back on the road heading for Tanzania the mountains and the lake continue , children wave and the people of Malawi look up from their labour stained shirts to smile and champion me on , with me forever looking right to catch a glimpse of the lake . We have ridden hundreds of kilometres together enjoying each others company , her reassurance I was on the right path , her refreshing waters cleansing my weary body at every stop ,  she would wash the days sweat , tension and challenges  away with her fresh  deep waters leaving me feeling new . I knew it would be hard to say our farewells , she seems to hold the spirit of Malawi in her waters and leaving her was leaving the wonderful people of Malawi behind ,  but with each passing hour our end was getting closer.

In the mountains looking over the lake.

In the mountains looking over the lake.

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Down out of the mountains we rode back to lake shore and so then she started her graceful departure , as I looked right she ebbed and flowed from sight and by the time I got to my last fuel stop , she had gone , left me with the beauty of her and her people in my minds eye and my heart.

Thank you Malawi for welcoming this stranger , for asking his name , for being so warm and kind ,  for letting your waters  renew me , showing me all your world  , life and labour , your beauty and hardship from behind my visor and while I walked your streets , Until we meet again .

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Farewell my trusted companion.

Farewell my trusted companion.

 

 

 

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Meek and mild to Mbeya mayhem

The landscape started changing again as the crossing neared ,  roadside activity increased and I could feel  change in the air .

 

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On the way to the border farming communities line the road.

On the way to the border farming communities line the road.

Just before the border Victoria and I came across our first water obstacle , to be navigated with the help of the local cyclists who in very few words and much gesturing got us to the other side.

 

How deep , what lies beneath?

How deep , what lies beneath?

The border crossing took around 15 minutes for both sides , very easy , but the purchasing of the insurance for Vic took a little longer with the cover starting at 100 USD and finally settling on 60 USD , back on the bike comesa in hand we made our way to Mbeya .

 

Just over the border the ranges come to meet you.

Just over the border the ranges come to meet you.

Within a few kilometres you feel the difference , see the difference ,  you are transported to a very lush place full of green with deep rich red earth , you have to remind yourself you are in Africa not the Alps in summer . The roads are full of life , very busy , full of trade , commerce and colour . Like the rich red earth Tanzania feels richer , the houses change from thatch and mud to brick and sheets of shiny tin , the transport up grades from bicycles to motorbikes , the people clothed in bright colours parade along the roadside in full splendour , fashion takes the place of function , just  more of everything .

The road was smooth , the scenery like nothing to date , Victoria and I felt alive again , with a fresh new country to explore , so I settled back to enjoy both. This was very short lived and both became very irrelevant and staying alive took pole position . We had our first contact with the drivers of Tanzania . Your lane is not yours , you share it with who ever comes your way , initially it feels like you are going  up a one way , when a bus or truck decides to commandeer your piece of asphalt to pass.

By the time I reached peak hour in Mbeya my hands were fused to the grips from fear , my jaw clenched so tight , I considered a life  on liquids and I had only travelled a 100 odd kilometres .  The best way to describe the difference in environment’s ,  is arriving in Mbeya in peak hour traffic is like getting that big needle from pulp fiction thrust  into your heart , the adrenaline takes you to fight mode and so Victoria and I started our transformation from scooterist and scooter to fighter pilot and spitfire , more on this later.

All that been said the energy , the pulse and the place was electrifying and I rode the next 20 kilometres wide eyed and inspired , I was loving it .  Victoria and I made our way to Utengule lodge on a coffee plantation for the night , I had a hot shower to try and loosen the tension in my body and then enjoyed a well deserved glass of red and a sunset to match.

 

The pool at sunset

The pool at sunset

So the end of a day brings a brand new country , never touched by my eyes or Victoria’s tyres , I think we are going to love it here.

 

Victoria , the sunset from her parking place .

Victoria , the sunset from her parking place .

A good nights rest and we will be ready for anything come sunrise , tomorrow will take us to Kisolansa , to the old farmhouse  for the next leg of our journey as we make our way to Arusha .

What a day so exhilarating , now in this peaceful place Mbeya seems a world away , sleep takes me to my room and tomorrow we suit up again.

Good night , to dream in Tanzania

Good night , to dream in Tanzania

Until we meet again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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