Moshi to Same 106km
Same to Mombo 120km
Mombo to Tanga 135km
Tanga to campsite near Pangani 35km
15,823km so far
This blog is dedicated to my new niece Lily.
Cycling from Moshi at the base of Kilimanjiro to Pangani on the coast took us four days. The profile looks like it is downhill and fast but Africa has a way of making things difficult and we always find ways to make a day into more of a boys’ adventure. Here’s the whole story…
We had breakfast in Moshi on a tiny bench, swatting flies as we gulped tea spiced with ginger and ate chapatis, next to men fashioning flip-flops from old car tyres. And then we got going on the smooth tarmac road heading East. Moshi to Same was a good road, and it was scenic but this was balanced out with 106km of bad driving and annoying road humps.
But for me it will always be remembered as the Baobob Tree day. I spied a tree with a trunk wider than any I have ever seen and shouted to Alex to stop so we could get a photo in front of it. “It is a Baobob tree. Very common in Africa” he said. “I want a photo in the tree. It’s what I did in Spain for work…climb trees and build things in them for adventure sport”, he said proudly. I was impressed.
He started to climb but after a few seconds he leapt down from the tree screaming “puta, puta, puta” ( a rude Spanish word) and fell to the ground heavily, rolling into thorny bushes. That’s odd, I thought, that’s definitely not the right way to get down from a tree. And then he jumped to his feet, and sprinted back towards the road, removing his shirt and flailing his arms wildly. Ah, bees! He is being stung by bees, I realised, and couldn’t help laughing as I was reminded that pride really does come before a fall.
I trotted back to the road where he was pouring water on his head and using his t-shirt to swat at a bee which was still flying around his head. They were very big bees and very persistent.
“Man, they sting me a lot!” He said, “It f****** hurts! My ear is inflamed… You know, inflamado, and there is one on my back and on my hand and on my bottom. Puta !”
I pulled a piece of bee from inside his ear and gave him some tiger balm to ease the pain.
We walked back to the tree to collect his sunglasses and inspected the tree a little more closely. And there it was , a huge bees nest halfway up, obvious now but we hadn’t seen the big black circle made of thousands of angry bees.
Alex laughed and said “Well now you know. Do not climb trees in Africa because they are full of dangerous insects. It is not like Europe” he said, smiling through the pain. I thought: now here’s a real expert. He could have just told me but I will never forget that demonstration!
That night we stayed in Same, a simple town and a cheap but pleasant guesthouse with very friendly locals who enjoyed talking to two crazy ‘muzungu’ (foreigners).
The next day was even more memorable for me for different reasons. We left Same and cycled South, with Mkomazi National park to our left. With uplifting music playing in my ears, it was was one of those moments when your heart swells in your chest, when you know you are experiencing something wonderful, as I looked upon the vast landscape of Tanzania stretching out before us.
Jagged peaks stood proudly on either side framed in a electric blue sky. The mountains were clothed in emerald green and dark green where the shadow of the clouds fell upon them. The sun was scorching but we were grateful that it was often quelled by the shifting clouds and occasionally we were even refreshed by cooling rain.
The air was full with tiny white butterflies and this virtual paradise was only interrupted by the horns of a few trucks and the sight of the carcass of a dead hyena reminding us again of the brutality behind the beauty of African nature.
I was in a good mood and I greeted each person I passed with a loud shout of “Habari” which was met with an equally loud response of “Nzuri!” and accompanied by a wave, a big smile and sometimes they even excitedly punched the air to encourage us.
It was my kind of cycling, long gradual downhill stretches meant we could fly at 30-40kph and if it wasn’t visible on the outside, I certainly had a wide grin on the inside as I sang along to salsa music.
And then I received a phone call I had been waiting for. It was my younger brother Rob, calling to let me know I was an uncle. His wife, Flora, had given birth to a daughter named Lily, and both were doing ok. I sent a message to my girlfriend and told Alex as soon as I could. He was pleased for me. “Congratulations man!”
We stopped at a hut and ate rice and beans with a strong cup of tea heavily spiced with ginger in the shade of a hut in the company of clucking hens and a rather noisy rooster strutting around as if he owned the place. A tiny boy cried and cowered behind his mother, terrified of the scary white men. I suppose it was like aliens invading.
In the afternoon the cycling changed. A huge foreboding cloud sat above a range of mountains ahead of us and when we reached them the heavens opened. We were completely soaked but the worst thing was the gale-force wind that accompanied the buckets of rain pouring on our heads. The wind was so strong that moving forwards was quite a challenge. And then there were roadworks which meant a diversion onto unpaved road made of sand, rocks, potholes and now also featuring massive puddles. I actually giggled as I pushed through the sheet rain because it was crazy to be cycling in those conditions but also it was too ridiculous not to laugh.
We stopped at a hotel like drowned rats and bought some water, a rather pleasant drink called Malti (non-alcoholic pineapple beer)and tea. A rather beautiful and voluptuous Tanzanian girl served us. When I wanted to pay for the tea she said “no it is a gift”. As I cycled away she waved eagerly with a big smile, and I admit I smiled too. Free tea is free tea!
The rain started again, the road turned into a river. Everything I was wearing was completely sodden. I still can’t believe how heavy that rain was but it could have been worse. Alex had no jacket as he had lost the one I leant him. He was so wet, he took his T-shirt off and shouted ” I am cycling and having a shower at the same time!
The road was full of tiny frogs confused by a road full of water. When there was a pause in the downpour we came across a giant millipede, the size of two fat cigars, making its way slowly across the road. We quit at Mombo which is little more than a junction with a big bus stop. The hotel was more like a prison…very ‘minimalist’.
The next day was long and slow as there were many roadworks on a long hill, but we manage to reach Tanga, a port with little to recommend it but it had banks and our room at the “Ocean Breeze hotel” had its own balcony. A balcony- I haven’t had one of those for a long time!
Tanga to Pangani was not paved and although the bumps and stones were nowhere near as bad as North Kenya, my wheels don’t cope well on rough roads. I heard a big bang as both my tyres popped at the same time. After some time in the baking sun, with Alex’s help, we repaired both tyres and carried on. Fortunately at just 35km, there was a campsite by the sea and it was a welcome rest. The Peponi campsite was right on the beach and has stunning views especially at sunrise and sunset. It even has a swimming pool. Pure luxury! It was so hot at night that I couldn’t sleep in my tent but instead just slept under a mosquito net under the stars.
After resting today, a trip to Zanzibar would be nice but I think that will have to wait for another day. We are going to head back inland and continue in the direction of Malawi. It’s ok… I will put Zanzibar on the bucket list for the future. This journey is as much about chasing a dream as collecting new ones.
I hope you enjoyed reading and please remember to go to the ‘donate’ tab on this website to give to my charities. I still need more to reach my target of 10K for each charity.
My love goes to my brother Rob and his beautiful wife Flora as they start their new journey as a family with Lily.
Ed, The Thirsty Cyclist