Saturday, May 1, 2010
The Landmark Hotel has been the perfect bolt hole. I buy some new shoes to replace my dead Adidas Sambas, find a very honest fundi (only wants to charge me ten pence for his work) to repair my bike (again) and manage to get Internet for an hour to post some blogs and let my family know I am OK.
The road from Tukuyu to the Malawi border is down hill for the first 20 kilometres. It should be a perfect day of cycling once we are out of the rain clouds.
Thirty minutes by the roadside.
Beautiful mountain scenery and well-kempt tea plantations.
Glass in tyre. Puncture. Brow of a hill with lorries and minibuses zooming by.
Puncture 3, puncture 4. I am ready to throw my bike in Lake Malawi. I feel ridiculous to be slowing down Bjorn so much.
By puncture six it is clear the problem isn’t just the rotting tyre and buggered inner. The badly/cheaply designed Chinese wheel is also creating its own punctures.
This is the most beautiful scenery we have seen so far in Africa. We are cycling a ridge with dramatic valleys either side. Tea plantations are once again replaced by bananas; thousands upon thousands of banana trees as we travel south. Green, lush vegetation covers the peaks that surround us. There are waterfalls, smiling kids by the roadside, strangely shaped mountains covered in rain clouds soaring out of the landscape. This is an incredibly beautiful part of Planet Earth, and we have it practically to ourselves. I will call this place ‘Paradise Ridge’.
But as the hours roll by we realise we may struggle to find a ‘safe place’ to spend the night. I must cycle on a flat tyre, and I must cycle very quickly if we are to make it to the border before dark.
Knowing we are in a tight spot is enough motivation.
The sweat pours off me like the rain did previously. Even my trousers are soaked from sweating.
We do of course make it to the Kasumulu and the border before darkness, I having felt every bump and vibration in the road from my flat back tyre.
It has been another amazing day of highs and lows. I am sorry for slowing Bjorn’s journey down so much, but the reward has been to spend many hours in one of the most beautiful and serene places I have ever seen.
Lubele Village Motel, Tel 0754 391650, Box 35, Kasumulu, Tanzanian side of border. Ask for Clement.
Friday, April 30
Running repairs to bike now 10,000 Schilling. A couple of local ‘fundi’ fix my latest bike problems and we are on our way to Tukuyu. We are blessed with quality asphalt and a road almost bereft of traffic. We pass huge banana plantations at lower altitude and tea plantations as the road again climbs.
Puncture. Glad Bjorn has got the necessary repair kit because I, of course, have not.
It is now fairly apparent why they call this the ‘wet season’. We both get another complete soaking while the bike is repaired by the edge of the road. The water pours through my rucksack, tied precariously to the rear of my bike. I feel uneasy repairing the bike by the edge of the road in the middle of nowhere. Feel like a sitting duck, so as to speak. The odd local stops and offers his help; always requesting a bit of cash in return (whether they succeed in helping us or not). The inebriated coconut wine cycle repair man is one good example. He is so drunk and useless that he attempts to repair a puncture by banging Bjorn’s outstretched knee. He gets 20 pence for his efforts.
With the puncture fixed we battle on up some steep hills. This feels like torture. I am not fit enough. My bike is not good enough. There is a gaping hole in the front right toe of my Adidas Sambas, and my shoe is full of water. But I have to battle against the aching legs and the lungs that struggle to find enough air. Truthfully, the physical extremes are more easily endured with each passing day but the mental torture never stops. Why am I doing this? I want to go home now. What will I do for work when I get back to Europe? Will my girlfriend leave me for somebody else because I am away from her for three months? Will the next truck that passes suddenly stop and its passengers rob us?
Then the pedal falls off my bike. Pushing a crap bike with a full, wet rucksack up steep hills is more physically and mentally exerting than cycling. Near Tukuyu, with Bjorn well ahead of me, a gangly local bloke strides along next to me offering his help. But he has his eye on my wallet. I can see he is calculating whether he can pull off a crime and get away with it. At the crest of the hill, I climb back on my bike and cycle off once more - this time with just one pedal.
We reach Tukuyu, up at 5,000 feet, soaked. Completely soaked.
I don’t care how expensive ‘The Landmark Hotel’ is - it is the best hotel in the town and there I will take sanctuary.
Our room is huge, with two freshly made double beds. There is a good restaurant downstairs; gardens surround the hotel; tea plantations and Mount Ringwe occasionally appear out of the rain, clouds and fog.
Here I will hide. By tomorrow I will have my head back together and be ready to move on towards Malawi.
Landmark Hotel, Tukuyu 025 255 2254
Thursday, April 29
After cycling into Mbeya shortly before sundown yesterday, we are determined to get away early and hit the road.
Lorries and minibuses clog the hills out of Mbeya, drivers sounding their horns like ocean liners so that we swerve out of the way as they are about to overtake us. Fifteen kilometres out of town and we are able to leave the Tanzan Highway and turn right (due south) towards Malawi. The road points upwards in the general direction of the heavens.
After the heat and humidity of Dar es Salaam and the East Africa coast the big drop in temperature comes as a relief. Heavy rain is also initially welcome. Welcome until you are completely soaked, your clothes clinging to your skin like an unwitting contestant in a wet T-shirt competition, and it begins to feel like you are cycling up the side of a huge Welsh mountain in November.
By lunchtime we have climbed to around 2,000 metres above sea level and rest for a while at Isongole, a small town where most of the local men sit around hoping a job will pop up that will earn them enough for a meal.
Then the rain turns into a torrent. We take shelter in a wooden hut that doubles up as the village bar. Bjorn does the sensible thing by changing out of his wet clothes and getting forty winks. I think it is cool to keep my wet clothes on, sit and watch the town turn into a river.
After 90 minutes of torrential rain we have no option but to set off again. I am wet, cold and shivering. Little did we know but the town marks the highest part of the mountain road. It is all downhill from here. We cycle through cloud, fog, near horizontal rain as my brake pads show serious signs of fatigue. I am slowing Bjorn down but it is too risky to take the hill at full speed.
We had hoped to reach Tukuyu but after hours of awful weather it is clear we need to find a bed for the night before it gets dark. One rule we have kept to in Kenya and Tanzania is to never cycle after sunset - the roads are unlit and it just isn’t safe to venture out alone in the darkness.
There cannot be many roads in the world that descend so steeply and for so many kilometres as this one. With it already gone 5pm we cycle at double speed to ensure we get a hotel in the fading light. As if by magic there is a hotel compound on the edge of the last sizeable town we reckon we will see before Tukuyu.
I cycle ahead to see if they have rooms.
Having received positive news I turn to see Bjorn being chased down the middle of the town by the local witch doctor. He is shouting out all kinds of mumbo jumbo and is hitting the back of Bjorn’s cycle trailer with a red mallet.
After the epic day we have had we are not about to get intimidated by an African witch doctor, however mad he might be:
He has eyes wilder than Liam Gallagher on a night out, no front teeth and a voice so deep and scary that it appears there is indeed an evil spirit dwelling deep inside his voice box. But, like I said, after the day we have had we are not about to get intimidated by his demands for money in return for his blessing. In fact, his mumbo jumbo routine has Bjorn and I bursting into a fit of giggles. What does the good doctor do? He starts laughing as well…and then he is gone.
Over our usual customary post-cycle evening beer it does appear however that the witch doctor has had some kind of effect on Bjorn. Two ‘ladies of the night’ sat nearby suddenly swipe at a swarm of insects-cum-moths attracted to the electric bulb above the food and drinks. Placing their catch on the table they begin to eat the insects. Bjorn puts down his bottle of Kilimanjaro, picks up an insect and puts it in his mouth. It has been a very long day.
Tuesday, April 27
Before leaving Dar es Salaam, we manage to meet representatives of Simba Football Club (champions of Tanzania) and the Tanzanian Football Federation. We have now been promised shirts from Africa Lyon, Simba FC and the Tanzanian National Team. The TFF Information Officer, Florian Kaijage, is also going to try and get us shirts from many more Tanzanian Premier League teams in time for the 2010 World Cup.
A lovely lady and excellent journalist from the Citizen Newspaper interviews us for thirty minutes just before we get on the road again but there was still time for Africa Time (hence known as AT) to claim 2 more victims with both the Guardian Newspaper and the ITV television people failing to show up at all.
Battling flash floods, Mr Oswald Kasaizi and his brilliant team at REDESO help us to get on our way. REDESO are doing some excellent work in Tanzania and Mr Kasaizi will undoubtedly remain one of the real ‘stars’ of our African adventure. I would like to personally thank Oswald for his great hospitality and help.
Saturday, April 24
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
As I was reliably informed, it takes 24 hours to recover from a scorpion bite. Sure enough, the pain has all but gone as I take breakfast 24 hours later.
We take advantage of REDESO's kind offer to use their office for what we call a 'communication day'. It is vital that we keep up to date with all our blogs, emails and media contacts, but when you are on the road it is sometimes days until you can find decent internet and a place to work.
This is no holiday. Bjorn has been to some amazing places but not done any of the tourist sites. A good example was Cairo - minus the pyramids.
And since I joined him there were no game reserves; no lions and elephants in Kenya. Sadly (for me) there will be no trip to the magical island of Zanzibar from Dar es salaam.
After several hours of blogging two ladies turn up at the office to interview us for one of southern Africa's leading sports channels - Star Sports. I am not entirely sure that they are overly impressed with Bjorn's tales of his trip so far because mid-interview the two ladies start reading a newspaper between themselves. I get the feeling it's a wind up, but it's not :)
Cue film of the two crazy mzungus cycling around outside in the township and our African TV careers advance yet further.
REDESO director Mr Kasaizi kindly takes us to the Tanzanian Football Federation and organises tickets for Sunday's African Confederations Cup match, then we spend the evening in the company of Tanzania's top FIFA-approved Football agent (and owner of Africa Lyon FC), Mehdi.
The man is a top host and treats us to dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant and a couple of beers at one of his favourite clubs before driving us home to the door of our hotel.
Loads more news and photos here:
More info about Africa Lyon Football Club:
Friday, April 23
Chogo Refugee Resettlement Camp, Tanzania
When we think of venturing abroad to exotic lands we often spend too much time worrying about the possible perils that might await us there: spiders, snakes, disease, war etc.
It is sensible to be cautious but sometimes we forget the very real threats in our every day lives such as driving to work in the morning or sending ourselves to an early grave by smoking too many cigarettes.
I was stood in the toilet at 7am on friday morning admiring the wonderful sunrise over the Chogo Resettlement Camp when suddenly I felt an acute pain in my inside leg. I would liken it to being given an injection by a nervous nurse. There quickly followed a second surge of pain and I knew something was amiss.
Out in the courtyard I quickly pulled off my trousers and asked Bjorn if he could see anything that might have caused my pain.
I watched Bjorn step back and his face screw up, "It's a scorpion mate"
"You're joking aren't you?"
"No, it really is. I am sorry. You've been bitten by a scorpion."
A million thoughts race around my head ranging from 'am I dreaming this?' to 'Is the scorpion of the deadly variety and might I die from this wound?'
I lie on the bed in a vertical position and a T-shirt is tied around my leg above my knee to limit the spread of the scorpion's venom.
Bjorn goes off in search of the local doctor but tells me there are 'no deadly scorpions in Tanzania'. His words settle me. Slightly. But as I lie there alone in the room I conclude that Bjorn probably doesn't know anything about scorpions and maybe, just maybe, I might die from this.
It is an absurd idea that this might be the cause of my demise but as I feel the venom spread across my leg I realise that it really might be a possibility.
Bjorn phones his Norwegian Army friend, Ingar, who starts searching his resources for the deadly-or-not status of the scorpion. He reckons I am safe. Jimmy, our guide in Chogo, arrives with pain killers and anti-allergy medicine. The scorpions in Chogo are not deadly, he assures me.
He's just told me I have won the lottery. I don't need to explain the relief.
The UNHCR and REDESO agree to provide us with a vehicle for the day to transport us to Dar es Salaam as clearly cycling is something I won't be doing for a couple of days.
The venom spreads until I can hardly feel a thing in most of my right leg. We drive to Dar es Salaam, I guess 300-400 kilometres away. Scorpion poison makes you feel very tired. I am in and out of sleep for most of the journey south-east.
In Dar es Salaam the people at REDESO can't do enough to help us. They help us find a place to sleep, start contacting the local press and football clubs and say some very kind words about what Bjorn and I are trying to achieve.
You shouldn't mix alcohol with medicine, but one cold beer by the roadside watching the citizens of Dar es Salaam go about their business is a perfect way to finish the day and to reflect upon how happy I feel to be alive.
Thursday, April 22
Chogo Refugee resettlement Camp, Tanzania
Due to a little bit too much beer (at least I hope that is his excuse) Bjorn was cuddling up closer to me in bed than I would have liked and clearly was thinking I might be his Marianne :) Consequently, I elected to spend the rest of the night trying to sleep on the floor.
We travel up to the Chogo Refugee Settlement, less than 100 kilometres from Tanga. The camp is run by REDESO (The Relief to Development Society).
The vision of REDESO is as follows:
"A community where vulnerable people have access to equal opportunities and empowerment".
There are around 2,800 resettled Somalis living at the Chogo Camp. The idea is that they become self sufficient and naturalized as Tanzanian citizens.
Both these ideas seem appropriate to me. Chogo is a beautiful place. It is hilly, full of lush vegitation and enjoys the occasional cooling breeze.
The camp's residents, young and old, are very friendly. We meet the camp's Elders. They want to be totally self-sufficient, but first they need a little more help from people like you and me. They need school books for the kids; they need electricity and running water.
Much has already been achieved at Chogo from when it was originally nothing more than one huge UNHCR tent. Now thousands live happily in their own houses, go to their mosque, cook on coal-heated stoves and, of course, play football.
But these people have shown that if they are given the tools to become self-sufficient, they can do just that.
It would be nice to think that somebody who reads this might help to put those books into the Chogo classrooms and the waterpumps into the orange Chogo soil.
For more details:
Wednesday, April 21
After the previous day's trials and tribulations, a relaxing evening consisting of several Safari beers, a tasty Indian curry, Champions League football, clean white sheets and an air-conditioned room meant that I slept like a baby and woke up feeling as fit and sprightly as a teenage lad.
The two hitchbikers sat out on the breakfast veranda with its fine views of the Indian Ocean, and the dhows that ply the waterways in the distance. It might only be just after 7am but the Tanga Immigration boys are out and about early doors looking for foreigners who might not be who they say they are. So breakfast is spent with Tanga Immigration who, perhaps not surprisingly, are a little taken a back to hear Bjorn's well-told tale of cycling from Norway to South Africa for the refugees. Our Indian-Tanzanian hosts look a little tense. I guess we look more like drug smugglers than cyclists. Well, Bjorn certainly looks dodgy :)
A photo of Bjorn with Sepp Blatter and a letter from the Tanzanian Ministry of Home Affairs soon clear things up.
Wednesday is supposed to be what we call 'a communication day'. This, as the name suggests, is a day when we set aside 5 or 6 hours to blog, email and edit stories. It is also the first time I have had proper access to my emails in around a week and the first thing I discover is that my father has had what he calls 'a mild heart attack'.
It goes without saying that this news worries and stresses me greatly. My dad is in China and must have a serious operation the following day. I know there is nothing I can do to help and that only adds to the tension.
In the evening I am hoping for a quiet beer alone but as I enter the hotel bar I get introduced to two South Korean lads wearing German football tops who want to talk about football. There is a 1997 calendar on the wall, two toy white Persian cats plonked near our beers and a white man with a German accent who speaks fluent Swahili stocking up the beers. I am worried about my father but I guess surreal distractions are a good thing.
Tuesday, April 20
We leave Lunga Lunga at first light and cycle to the border. Officials on both sides are friendly and like our project. The Kenyan customs lady sheds tears of laughter when she hears Bjorn has been cycling all the way to here from Norway :)
It is 50 dollars to enter Tanzania but the immigration officer gives us both a free bottle of ice cold Miranda each.
Asphalt road instantly becomes dirt track. After maybe a dozen kilometres, dirt track becomes a continuous pot-holed, dried-up quagmire of a road. Suddenly, cycling has become off-road BMXing.
This really is rural Africa. We pass a village where Masai tribesmen are stood chatting. A dung beetle pushes a cow poo across the road; we pass rivers full of crocodiles.
The heat and humidity are awful. The orange pot holed track stretches forever. Bjorn tells me this is the worst stretch of road on the whole trip and the harshest weather conditions. I mildly throw up twice and take more breaks with every hour that passes.
Truthfully, I have never felt so exhausted in my life - physically and mentally. I was hoping we would call it a day by noon but Bjorn is determined to make it to Tanga by the end of the day. There aren't really other places we can stay.
When we do finally make it to Tanga after 80 kilometres I am close to collapsing. We agree to find a 'good hotel'. We find one with air-con, good food and clean rooms. It feels like the most luxurious place on earth.
Sunday, April 18
We are up early as it is time to hit the road and for me to do my first long-distance cycling.
We take the Mombasa Ferry to the south shore and begin the journey towards Tanzania. I feel stressed but relieved to finally get going. I don't know how far I am capable of cycling.
To be honest, I did not train for this before I came to Africa. I like cycling around Riga in the summer but a cycling holiday would be my idea of hell.
After a kilometre or two it starts raining. It rains hard like it usually rains near the Equator this time of year. The cycling is tough but I surprise myself with my initial staying power. That said, the road is generally good. Having set off around 7.30am we call it a day 5 hours later with about 60kms on the clock.
Home for the night is a Muslim family's house in a village named "mangrove" in Swahili. Rafiki Kenia (a Dutch Foundation) have put money into the village providing an excellent medical centre, electricity and clean water.
We walk to the local mangrove and afterwards enjoy dinner with some family members of the Dingo Tribe.