Sal tells me our last blog post was from Nkata bay in Malawi, which feels like a lifetime ago, in reality it’s only a couple of weeks but anyway, this will take some time…
So from Nkata bay we went to another spot on Lake Malawi just outside Livingstonia called Mushroom Farm. It had been recommended to us by some other travellers as having a great view, and was half way to the border so seemed like a good spot to stop.
The ride there was nothing too special, but the surrounds changed from dry and dusty to subtropical, and we stopped for a nice lunch of fish and rice on the side of the road just 11km from the farm.
At that point the road turned off the tar to a small mountain track. There was a guy in a little wooden shack at the corner, whose sole job it was to find travellers headed there, and sort out a ride up the mountain track in a 4×4.
“It is very rocky, mostly bike people go a little way up and then come back”
Matthias read a review by some guys on F800’s who took 45min to make the 11km track, but they were riding solo…
Well we didn’t come to Africa not expecting some challenges, and it was only 11km of track so we buckled up for the attempt. Most of the credit goes to Sally on this one, it was incredibly bumpy and rocky, but nothing Betsy couldnt handle, and Matthias on the little bike found it comparably easy, but Sal got the hardest workout hanging on for grim death in a series of about 50 steep hairpin rocky bends.
I was pouring with sweat at the top, but the cold beer and the view was pretty amazing. We camped in an overlanders area overlooking the lake, watched a bit of world cup, cooked dinner over the campfire, drank some wine and then headed back down the rocky track the next day to the Tanzanian border.
Border formalities were the usual, except for the insurance which we needed to buy for the next 5 countries called COMESA insurance. As usual it was being sold by some random guy hanging around at the immigration desk, who led us to a tiny office around the corner, overfilled with badly smelling people, three broken computers, two broken chairs, no power, and no signage.
The initial price was quoted as $90 which we knew was too much, I countered with $60, they went to $75 but wouldn’t budge from that.
“Ok no problem, we buy it in the next town”
I conferred with Sal and Matthias, and we agreed that none of us was really sure what to do.
We tried to get to the stinky office without the runner from immigration, figuring he was getting a cut on the sale, and we’d get a better deal without him around, but he saw us coming and headed us off before we got back to the office, not helped by me not being able to find it again…
Instead we ate lunch there at the border to ponder the situation for a bit.
Full stomachs didn’t improve things much, and the consensus was that we should cave into the $75 price and just get it over with.
As we continued to discuss the situation in the street, another runnner came over introducing himself as the person for insurance… I asked him how much it cost, and after a brief discussion, that among other things involved Mathias’ need for sympathy after Argentina losing the football, we settled on $55ea. Too good.
Another half hour in another stinky office without power and more broken computers, and we were the new owners of COMESA insurance, which SHOULD take us all the way to Egypt 🙂
That problem solved we headed to the closest town Myeba, found a hotel to sleep in and went out for more rice, beef and veg, the standard food around here for $1 each.
Next moring we discussed the two options for heading north to Kilimanjaro, the 800km normal way, or the 500km of dirt road way… Of course the dirt road way!!
2 hours into this and we were not so sure we’d made the right decision. The road was rocky, potholed, dusty, sandy and everything else you cant imagine.
Late afternoon we arrived in the only ‘town’ marked along this route, which turned out to be a tiny village that only exists to serve the buses that ply this route. There was however a place to sleep in the back of the village, somewhere that sold cold beer, another few small restaurants for the bus passengers and plenty of interesting things to look at, including Matias having his hair platted by some friendly ladies at the ‘liquor store’
Another 200km of dusty dirt road the next day took us to the tar again, where we had lunch and did some repairs on Matthias bike after all the vibrations shook his pannier rack loose and he lost a bolt and spacer.
That night we were pretty keen for a wash and somewhere nicer to sleep, and for a change made the right decision about where to sleep deciding not to push on into the afternoon, instead opting for a relatuvely nice hotel for $12 a night :))
One of the questions we asked the hotel guy was whether he had the football playing on the tv in the hotel, which of course he said yes to. (he also said that the wifi worked…). On finding this was not true, Sal was not impressed, which seemed to scare the hotel guy into taking us to the nearest ‘hall’ to see the game. The ‘hall’ turned out to be a muslim hall, where beer was not allowed. Turns out Sal is more scary than a room full of muslim men though, so our hotel guy went and fou d some beers nearby, and returned with them hidden in a plastic bag 🙂
This was a great strategy until Matthias burst through the front door, shouting and yelling profanities about loose women and beer (fortunatley) in spanish, and holding three beers in his hands thrust to the air for all to see. The Imam sitting in the front row took great offence at this, and tried to take the beers from Matthias, which he thought was a joke, so a dodged the little man with the strange white hat and sat down next to us still cursing about something…
Much discussion followed between our hotel guy and the Imam who was insistent for us to leave, but again, it seems Sally was the more scary option and we stayed and drank and yelled and shouted profanities in spanish, mostly to smiles and laughter of the guys present (the imam left at half time)…
Stoning averted, the next day we road about 350km to Kilimanjaro, long straight and fairly flat.
We were greeted with a great view of the snow capped mountain, and formed a plan to camp the next night on the slopes. Cue more looking around for a restaurant showing the football, more beers, crazy shouting from Matias and an early night.
Next morning we headed across the road to a local market square to stock up on vegetables and meat for a bbq that night. It took some courage to buy from the open air butchers, but Matias seemed pretty confident that we could keep the meat unrefrigerated for up to ten hours without any problems. We bought a kilogram of beef ribs for $3.50 🙂
The plan was to do the circuit around Kilimanjaro that day, find a place to camp and cook the ribs with a lovely view of the mountain. Of course nature conspired against us and the peak was covered in clouds so we couldnt see a thing.
Then the road up turned into a construction site, very bumpy gravel for about 100km, followed by a small winding mountain road for another 50ish km. We stopped at the top for some lunch of beans, rice and tomato in a little village where children pumped water to carry to mud huts kilometers away.
While waiting for lunch the local (staggering drunk) policeman came by to introduce himself, and try to seem important by asking us for permit papers and other rubbish. It took a few sentences to realise he was drunk, a few more to get Sally to calm down, and a final few to tell him to go away.
It was mid afternoon by that stage but at 2200m altitude it was obviously going to be too high (cold) to camp and get any sleep, so we decided to head back down the mountain and look for somewhere at lower altitude. We had a campsite in mind, which was along the shores of a lake, about 20km down another crappy African dirt track. Arriving there, we were greeted by the park rangers who asked us for US$90 to spend the night in our own tents… wtf.
Back up the crappy dirt track and after an hour of looking for somewhere to wild camp, we gave in and camped in an overlanders stop for $30. Pretty crazy that it cost us less for a nice hotel two nights previous than to sleep in our own tents there.
We were greeted with the sentence: “We like you rich white people because we like your money, rich people only camp because they get tired of staying in nice hotels”
Not particularly enamoured with the manager, we turned down the offer of firewood for $10 and waited till dark and stole it from behind reception instead. We lit our fire, and Matias cooked the parrilla while we drank wine and raided the wood pile for more timber as needed. The $3.50 beef turned out to be almost inedible, but on the up side the shower was hot, and we slept through the rainy night without getting too wet.
The plan from there was to go to a “cool, chilled out beach place” to hang out in the sun and work out our trip to Zanzibar. Matias gps said it was a 470km day to get there, but mine foound a route at 300km, the last 50km offroad.
“Matias, it’s only 50km of dirt, how bad could it be?”
We stopped for lunch with the last 50km to go, and it started to bucket with rain. Cue wet weather gear, a delay at the bus stop to let some of it pass, and we headed into the last bit of the day hoping for an easy path to the beach.
To be fair it didn’t start out so badly, the gravel road was in pretty good condition for Tanzania and we were making good time, I started to relax a little…
The the ‘roadwork’ started… kilometers of rubble piled onto the middle of the track, truck load after truck load, creating a roller coaster ride on what was now mostly clay. Wet Clay. Sally volunteered to get off the bike so many times;
“Let me off, let me off now, I’ll walk this bit!!”
“Babe, it’s really long, you can’t walk all of it… we’ll be here forever”
But it was so slippery that Sal almost fell over just walking through the rubble a few times. It just got worse and worse, with water pooling in between the truckloads of rubble, and the surface so slippery that it was all i could do to stay on 2 wheels.
The last part of my ‘shortcut’ was a long descent down a washed out river of mud, where we followed a local bike transport guy carrying a load of coal to the village nearby.
“But Dino, is this road really necessary, do we really need to do this road?” shouted Matias followed by a series of profanities referencing the “Puto Australiani di mierda”
There was a ferry crossing the river at the village (phew!), and I could already taste the cold beer at the beach place 30km away… but the dirt track continued… and when we saw the sign for “Beach Crab resort” pointing towards a waterlogged road alarm bells started ringing.
The last 20km to the “resort” were pretty tough. A lot of the road was underwater, and it was deep watercrossings followed by even deeper watercrossings, it just didn’t end. Situations like that demand confident riding, but after breaking my leg in water a few years ago, I must admit it was a shaky ride.
Sally walked a few bits of it, but in the worse parts she was almost going to need to swim, so we stuck together and tried to push through it. It was lucky we had Matias with us, because it gave me a little more confidence to know someone would be there to help if we drowned the bike, or worse, hurt ourselves.
In the last deep crossing I watched in horror as half of Matias’ bike disappeared underwater, and somehow came out the other side of a crossing about 50m long. The madman waved at me to come through, and figuring the other wheel track couldn’t be any worse I went to the left where he’d gone right…
Halfway across, the bike slid into an even deeper rut, water now at the headlight… I wanted to close the throttle, scared that we might go under completely, but some circuit in my brain took over and instead turned it the other way and we accelerated forwards, water spraying in all directions, with Sally screaming into the intercom we pushed forward now totally soaked, the bike going left and right as it started climbed out of the water, I smelled success and cheered Betsy along, “Come on!! Come on!!!” steam hissing from the hot exhaust and water running off our faces.
“Fucking hell! … Well done babe”
“It was mostly Betsy”
“I think other bikers do not do this road” said the crazy Argentinian…
“I cant believe we need to do all that again tomorrow”
Arriving at the “resort” I took off my gloves, hugged Sal and high fived Matias.
“Puta madre Australiani di merda!!”
The “resort” turned out to be a bit shit, no water or power, but we lit a fire on the beach, cooked some food, watched the stars and talked about our day, putting thoughts of redoing the water crossings out of our minds for the time being.
At one point in the evening 3 german guys arrived on the back of local motorbike taxis…
“Those guys aren’t even wet”
“how did they get here?”
As is always the case in Africa, once a road becomes impassable, they either take or create an alternative, and the next morning we did too. Only one vaguely deep crossing and we were back onto the ‘normal shit road’.
We rode express to Dar Es Sallam the next day, where Matias trailing water and mud from the road, immediately jumped into the pool at the hostel shouting more happy profanities mostly centered around “puta madre” 🙂
Which finally brings me to Zanzibar, where we’re sitting in a local bar filled with people watching Brazil play Mexico.
Hi to all back home, it’s pouring with rain here every day, which sucks but I guess better here than when we’re riding!