There was a point in time that I didn’t think I was going to make it to Arusha on the last 300km leaving from Dodoma – Even with good rest, a moderate amount of food in the panniers and good weather still proved to be a challenge as I travelled on what I can now say is the worst road conditions I’ve ever come across. The thoughts were confirmed by a group of 4 motorcyclists who had been riding around the world for the past few years who voiced the same thought – all breathing easier when we finally met tar roads and the grades of the roads levelled themselves out.
Knowing that the road North and South of Dodoma is listed to be paved in the next 2 years I had hoped for similar conditions where I’d be able to hop on graded surfaces on the road running parallel to the dirt road. It was only for 20 km that this existed however and then I was faced with areas that had been washed out by the previous seasons rains leaving huge rocks in the road, massive corrugations and holes that if you weren’t careful would cause some damage to the bicycle itself. Now, as careful as I was I still managed to do a number on my front wheel – managing to bend the lip of the rim inwards, thankfully not piercing the tube (I had no patches left), and still allowing for the tire bead to stay on the rim.
The climbs became unbearable as it seemed like never ending ups and downs in the hot sun, metering my water intake unsure where a new source was going to appear, and struggling from internal issues that I’ve been battling for a few weeks now. Energy just wasn’t there, and no matter how often I’d stop for a rest to try to recharge, I’d lose my steam and momentum a short 5 minutes later. I found it easier to push the bicycle up the long 3km winding hills, a rarity seeing that I could only count pushing my bicycle on two fingers in the past 3 years.
Speaking of 3 years – it’s been 3 years since I started bicycle touring now, and I’ve put an awful lot of distance in between Vancouver, BC and where I’m at – with many things learned, friendly faces met, and many positive memories. Honestly back then I had no idea of what I would be getting myself into, thinking that a trip down to San Francisco was going to be what it was, which soon morphed into a ‘Well, why not go a bit more south’ to a ‘Why not ride the world’? For the most part it’s been a blast, and the down points have been minimal. It seems in the past month or so that they’ve increased in frequency changing my views and attitudes over the whole thing. I always said I’d never force it through to get around the world, or reach a destination – that’s not what it is about for me – as proven by my ability to follow pre-set plans and destination goals. It’s gotten more open over the past year seeing as there is no longer a deadline looming (where in 2009 I had to deal with the closing up of business affairs), 2010 (where I just had to make it to where I was getting to before the cold, biting winter and its gift of snow), and 2011 (where I committed to being a part of a friends wedding). Now in 2012 with no end point defined I seem to be going through a small curve where I’m not enjoying it as much as I used to, only instead stopping in places to be able to find some solace from the elements, get access to services like food and water, and retract from public situations – not good. I’m not going to stop doing what I’m doing – i can’t think of anything better to be doing with my life – but for now I’m going to press pause on the touring to reset a few things in my body both physically and mentally. I noticed when I was leaving Zambia on Easter Weekend that I’d be passed by friends in their cars loaded up with their family members, off to spend time with ones they know, which brought to light that this is one of the things that while I’m good at keeping to myself, doing things on my own, is what I am starting to miss. Going back to Canada is out of the question right now – its awfully far and to be honest I don’t think its the right place to be right now either. The daily scramble of trying to find food and water followed with a late afternoon search for where I am going to sleep safely has its lure, but also starts to become repetitive where I miss some of the comforts of being able to have a private room of my own, or access to a kitchen without having to unpack parts of the bicycle, sit in the dirt and try to come up with something remotely appetizing with one pot and the limited amount of supplies/spices I carry along in my kit. Finally, I’m not doing myself any good with my health condition right now. I’ve lost 12kg in the past 3 months, my left testicle has been aching on a daily basis for nearly 2 months, some days more than others and I’ve picked up a couple water-borne illnesses along the way likely accounting for the sapping of energy. I can’t keep pushing myself and trying small ‘band aid’ fixes every couple days and hope they stick – I need to spend some effort while not riding to get everything back to 100% before starting the process all over again. Make sense? Besides, one of the things I’ve found with travel is that it’s not a race – I’m not out to beat my chest and say “I Did it!” going from one end of one end in as fast as possible, only capturing small glimpses of the communities, cities and people along the way – I’m a firm believer that one needs a few days to get their bearings of an area, 2 weeks to get an small understanding of the people and their ways, and much more time (months, even years) to be able to fall into the groove of life. A place stood out in the past year (Austin, Texas) but that’s a bit too far to travel, so the next in line (Lusaka, Zambia) seems more than reasonable of a place to go back to, continue to foster friendships, partake in the communities way of life, and continue to explore the area. I’d have to say that this wasn’t a rash decision just due to the events of the past month but has been in the works since I left before – I wasn’t ready to go then, and due to visa restrictions had to leave in a short amount of time. I need to leave the city on my own terms – When I’ve had enough it’ll be me that will leave rather than being forced out after exhausting my visa. Luckily – there is a considerable number of people eager to have me back – and I have the ability to go back to where i was staying at before, and getting there/into the country’s issues have been resolved by some really fantastic people.
Back to Tanzania however, I made the trip to Arusha in time for the day as hoped in order to run into my friends, although due to some changes in their plans I found out they had altered their own plans to head west into Rwanda due to their own time restrictions. This made the riding a bit easier as I camped out in abandoned houses that were due to be torn down from the impending road construction, and in the bush next to a national park where the lions roared throughout the night and I was warned repeatedly by the Maasaai people, a tribe with long reaching history spread out among many countries in Eastern Africa. They can be easily spotted as they walk in their patterned blankets, with stretched earlobes often donned with many types of jewellery and in some cases carrying spears, or what seemed to be a staff of some sort. Younger boys at some points in time could be found at the side of the road dressed in all black, painted with white lines and dots on their face, from a far looking like what I could imagine to be the grim reaper. I later found out that this the year that youths and young adults undergo a long standing ceremony to be circumcised, happening every 7 years. It’s not an elastic band that gets used, but a slicing of the skin with the knife – sounds awfully painful.
On the day of the incident with the wheel I stopped in a small village searching for a place to stay where I was taken to a safe area behind a building where throughout the night the locals of the area came by to visit offering conversation, and one woman even offering a meal of chicken, rice and vegetables, with desert a piece of honeycomb which I gobbled up whole happy to have some natural sugars in my body after days of packaged biscuits and crackers which have now officially reached the status of ‘cannot have anymore’ along with sardines, peanut butter, and canned mixed vegetables. I was quite worried about the tire wheel holding up for the remaining leg to Arusha, and in the morning over coffee I found myself meeting the local villages Witch Doctor, who gave me two sticks – One to put on my bicycle, and one to brush my teeth with, along with a very large round seed of a tree that looked like a ball of chocolate that I was to plant in an area when I was to stop. It obviously worked as I was able to make it slowly (Pole, Pole in Kiswahili) the remaining 240km.
The Tanzanian people that I met in the villages have a heart of gold, all eager to speak and meet the traveller who passes through. The kids, while they still yell ‘Mzungu!” are quick to smile and offer waves squealing with excitement when I respond back as opposed to the Malawi response of yelling back to “Give me Money!”. With these people being more rooted in traditions on the surface than anywhere else I’ve experienced in Africa it fosters warm feelings with their desire to help and be apart of what I am doing. Always with a confirmation during the conversation of “We are together” expresses their views on a foreigner entering into the small villages which has been home for thousands of years. In the northern part of the country it seems every 2nd vehicle is a vehicle set up for tourism – be it an off-road land cruiser, or a huge bus carrying people from area to area – the busses often traveling at wild speeds, looking quite menacing from the distance with their colourfully painted sides, and unique moulded fibreglass front ends – looking semi futuristic for that matter. There are numerous national parks in the area with an abundance of wildlife, not to mention some very large mountains that are popular for climbing, Mt. Meru being one of them, and of course Mt. Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain. Climbing that one is out of the question, the minimum $1000 USD it costs to spend 5 days scaling and descending can be spent on months of travel in my world, and again only serves a purpose of saying “I did it” in my mind.
I had been in contact with a reader of this site and its parent site ‘Bicycle Touring Hub‘ for about 5 weeks when I started planning out my return to Zambia, looking for someone I could trust to leave my bicycle and the majority of my gear in a safe location while I rested. Thankfully, he accepted at that time which prompted the trek northwards in Tanzania as opposed to the commonly travelled route of heading east to the coastal city of Dar Es’ Salaam first. Looking back now I think it was the best decision I could have ever made – with the extra 7-10 days it would have taken likely would done me in for sure with the nagging health problems.. I met the reader in person and was taken back to his place where I was surprised to learn of how he had come to Tanzania in the first place, and how he had been spending his time over the past 30+ years. With an impressive parcel of land where some farming had been done in the past, he’s put some of his ideas into reality by building his own house, and now moved into operating a small factory to make bricks to be sold, and for his other endeavour – building an entire home out of bricks including the roof using architectural designs that rely heavily on mathematical equations and minimal amount of support beams. This type of architecture is a lost art, and when getting the tour of the mostly completed structure I found myself in awe likely catching a few flies with an open mouth. As well, it turns out he has quite the healthy technical background – having a part in making internet more common place in the area with a background in software development as well. Pretty cool to run into someone who wears many hats and does well at having them fit on nicely.
With a half dozen bicycles hanging from the roof of a workshop it was apparent that there was a love for two wheels as well, and I found myself in a position where I could properly work on my bicycle with any sort of tool possible – allowing the ability to perform a full tune up of the bike. As I mentioned in weeks past – the bicycle is holding up well, but a thorough cleaning of the drivetrain, tightening of the chain ring, relubrication of all moving parts including the eccentric bottom bracket, realignment of brakes, replacement of the bearings in the pedals, and a half assed attempt at repairing the mangled wheel. There really isn’t a defined tool to solve what had happened so I armed myself with a pair of Vice Grips, some rubber from an old tube, a hammer and a few pieces of wood and spent an hour doing my best to straighten the wheel out. With the problem being that if not perfectly flat, an outward bump can cause significant wear on the brakes, and a dip can cause lack of braking power I don’t hold too much hope into it lasting for too long – and have gone ahead and ordered a replacement rim with spokes and nipples for my return to be rebuilt. I was shocked and humbled the night I posted a micro-update Facebook and Twitter to be woken up 1:30am with a donation from a friend for its entire cost- along with a healthy dose of words of encouragement. There have been some other significant emails and words sent privately from readers over the past few weeks since I started to unravel – so with that I say thank you – it’s helped immensely. Some of the comments that were made by those living in the world I once lived – in front of a desk banging away at a computer, and some from long term travellers who have gone through some of the same hardships – most all offering the same advice – ‘Take a Rest’.
I’d been pushing myself over the past few weeks that I knew that I was in for some tough times even while off the bicycle – After the third day of rest my body started to act strangely again losing all energy, losing all appetite, unable to hold in food or even water from both directions and what felt like a brick sitting in my stomach the entire time paired with a splitting headache that felt like nails were being driven into the back of my skull. When I did go for small trips around the city vision became cloudy moving into the point of seeing stars while riding – It was time to start the medication I’d been planning on taking. Dosing myself with another batch of antibiotics, deworming solution and clutching onto a box of tablets to cure malaria, an unstable 4 days followed where I was finally going to throw in the towel and go to the hospital at the urging of my host where everything started to clear up. An extreme amount of discomfort occurred physically and mentally as they worked through my body along with the various side effects – but everything became right one morning after a deep sleep waking in peace with a clear head, proper bladder control, and a voracious appetite and renewed energy. Knowing I was becoming (sick) furniture at my hosts place it was then time to move onwards the day after for a bit of exploring.
Leaving my bicycle behind in Arusha, grateful that I could have it stored in a safe place and it will actually be there when I return – carrying only one bag with a few changes of clothes, my coffee cup and a laptop I made my way to the bus station deflecting the throngs of people trying to sell me souveneirs, safari trips, and attempting to ‘hold onto by bag’, I managed to make my way to the “other” station where I hopped on what’s known as a luxury bus (meaning 4 seats to the row, and a TV perhaps?) to make my way over to Dar ‘Es’ Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city and the financial and political capital of the country. What was to take 8 hours actually took 12 hours, as I learned the hard way that this type of bus does not start moving until the bus is actually full. Apparently the other bus station I was to head to had more “express” busses, which I’ll have to find on the way back. Armed with a music player I stared out the window and did my best to not watch the 12 hour Bruce Willis movie marathon that was playing on the front mounted TV screen I saw things at a different pace than what I am used to. Whizzing past small villages you could hardly get a glimpse at what the locals were up to, and landmarks were there one second and gone the other. Being crammed in a fully loaded bus for 12 hours and travelling 700km is a rapid shift to travelling 10 hours and and rolling only 100km bi bicycle where one has the flexibility of stopping for a rest to eat some food when you need to, chat with locals along the way, explore an area out of curiosity, and most importantly – being able to pull it out and pee on the side of the road when you need to – I nearly burst at the seams multiple times throughout the trip having to wait until we stopped at one of the many police roadblocks, or when we had to refuel. To top it off, since it was a 12 hour bud ride, the difference between being able to pitch a tent wherever you want to as opposed to the pitch blank search for a place to stay for the night reinforced the idea that bicycle travel is the way to go where one doesn’t have to follow set boundaries and restrictions. Leaving the Dar as Salaam bus station at 8:30pm proved to be difficult as I attempted to find someone I could trust to point me in the area where a guest house/hotel would be situated as my searches of the immediate vicinity were unfruitful. I met two men dressed in robes walking who instead of showing me the direction came walking with me for the next hour as we went to guest house after guest house only to find them fully booked. We eventually took a taxi to another area where they were able to talk a hotel owner into giving me 2 nights stay at the local Tanzanian rate as opposed to the foreigner rate which was double. It’s a bit of a splurge where I’m at right now, but certainly a step above of what I’m used to staying in, still not breaking the bank entirely at $15 a night inclusive of breakfast. Still however, Tanzania has now taken the lead over South Africa in being the priciest country to travel through in Africa, however I suppose there are other factors at play here as the general cost of living here is much cheaper.
After a restful sleep and some exploring a small section of this huge and chaotic city I’m spending the final hour of daylight (being so close to the equator we are nearly having an equal 12 hours of daylight vs. night) enjoying some creature comforts of TV, a few beers, and a meal while enjoying my first day as a 34 year old. It’s unlikely that the activities are going to progress much further as I don’t feel the need to head out and celebrate, but more so reflect on the past year of life, where I’ve been, where I’m headed, and start the dreams of what’s to come down the road. Catching a flight early in the morning back to Zambia will commence the official rest I’ve been looking for – and while it’ll be different this time heading back into an area I’ve been (nothing stays the same!) I’m really eager to see some of the friends I’ve made in the past and get myself back on track for further bike rides.