African Borders/ Valley of Death/ Mayhem in Dar/ Challenges to Arusha/ An Interrupted Journey/ Kenya Corruption
We arrived at the Tunduma border with Tanzania extremely exhausted, dusty and with hearts pounding out of our chests. It was a stressful start to our journey and I couldn’t help thinking that the chances were great we might not reach as far as we wished in the beginning.
The Tunduma border is something I am familiar with in Africa. Border crossings in Central and East Africa are shocking, to say the least, for new travelers to this continent. There seems to be no order, yet, somehow, everything is done properly, even though it does not look like that when you arrive there.
Thousands of people, not just crossing the border, but also selling everything you can imagine, from fruit to couches, SIM cards to sneakers. There are “agents” harassing you to employ them to do all the paperwork (which you don’t really need to, it is quite easy to do it yourself), money changers, soldiers with guns, police, etc. The mayhem is very familiar to me, as I did this for many years in Africa from Congo to Malawi. For some reason, people at this border sensed that I know my way around so we had no major troubles. Instead they were just chatting and interested in our bike.
We cleared the border procedures in about two hours in 104-degree heat. When we jumped back on our bike, we were sweating profusely and I needed some fresh Tanzanian countryside air to cool off.
The road to Mbeya is beautiful. Roads wind through gentle hills, lined with mud hut villages and bountiful gardens and orchards. Carmen enjoyed this part as Tanzania is mountainous and has immense horizons. For her, it was a new and exciting experience. But I knew what was coming, and I knew she would be frightened again.
As you approach the coast of Tanzania, things change: High mountain ranges, large baobab and eucalyptus forests, and, the Valley of Death, a sharp canyon before Mikumi village and National Park that is responsible for many road deaths every year. The road is narrow and it drops sharply to the valley below, making it a very slow and treacherous climb for large trucks uphill and a game of luck for those that go downhill.
There is no rule here, just try and stay alive. Turned-over trucks line the banks, making the road even narrower. Buses, rightly called the Buses of Death, pass everything and everywhere, curves and all, without much care who’s coming the other way. We were pushed out of the tarmac several times onto the very broken path right on the edge of the cliff. Carmen was squeezing my shoulders hard to hang on while I maneuvered out of the crazy driver’s way. They smile at you while they push you to your death…
We drove from Mbeya to Morogoro in one shot, 11 hours and we breathed easy for a while. Another close one…
From the Morogoro mountains, you start smelling the humid air of the Indian Ocean, rolling over the large coconut plantations and sugar cane fields. Villages here seem different than other parts of Tanzania. The houses are built differently, with larger roofs and square walls. The land is flat, but beautiful, with impeccable fields cultivated with just about everything you can imagine. Villages are large, with lots of bikers. Chinese bikes have flooded the market here and it became the main transportation for the locals. They carry everything you can imagine: Beds, pigs, five people, chickens and goats – all on 125cc bikes. And I thought we were overloaded…
Two hours before Dar es Salaam, we hit major mayhem on the road. They were building a new, double lane highway into Dar and everything was at a standstill. Last time I was here, riding my 1100 V Star Yamaha, was in 2010, and it was still a crazy thing to attempt Dar. Now, it was worse as trucks entered from everywhere to the construction sites. There were no signs to detours, just dusty paths, where a mixture of pedestrians, trucks, buses, cars, and street vendors with their large carts of merchandise, were going all directions. At one point I did not know if we are still heading towards Dar.
I tried to squeeze, like the other bikers, between the trucks and the buses. But the heavy-laden Tenere was very wide and heavy, so I couldn’t do that all the time. To make matters worse, it was a muggy, 107 degrees with 100% humidity. I pulled off to the side, took my jacket off and rode in my T-shirt all the way to Bagamoyo, which took us four hours to accomplish at 25 mph.
Bagamoyo is now a resort town on the Indian Ocean. It is also a major landmark in African history, as from here the slave markets sent Africans all over the world and it was here that David Livingstone started his famous expeditions inland. We camped at the Travelers Lodge, a German-owned resort with camping facilities. It was pleasant, even though the toilets and showers are the shittiest I have ever seen. We couldn’t really enjoy the sea because it was too hot (if you can believe it), the water felt like it was boiling and full of seaweed. We couldn’t stay long on the beach either, because the local Tanzanian boys felt compelled to expose their nether regions to unsuspecting visitors (I never understood why they do that in Tanzania, from Zanzibar to Tanga) and Carmen had to move away. It was hard to sleep at night too, as we were sweating profusely even while lying there under our net looking at the stars, which were very beautiful. As I write this, however, I am now 1000 km (620 miles) from Nordkapp, Norway, riding my bike in 1 degree temperature; I dream of the Tanzanian heat now…
(Above) From Bagomoyo we headed north towards Tanga and then Moshi and Arusha, by Kilimanjaro. (Below) Getting the “thumbs up” from some locals.
From Bagomoyo we headed north towards Tanga and then Moshi and Arusha, by the Kilimanjaro. The humidity disappeared, the mountain air was fresh and crisp again and we loved the large horizons, the Maasai plains and the sight of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. Kili was covered in clouds, of course, as it is most of the year, but Mt. Meru was clear and majestic.
The riding was tough, they were building new roads in the whole country, it seems, and there were a lot of detours, through very muddy and sandy tracks. It was here that we fell twice. The first fall came in the mud in the middle of the bush, when our bike virtually sunk in a mud hole. A local shepherd saw us and came to help me push the bike out. The second fall occurred after 12 hours of riding to Arusha. I was so tired of handling the heavy bike across the challenging roads behind us, that I couldn’t hold it anymore and I fell hard on the cement in front of the hotel in Arusha. The bike made a loud noise as it hit the ground and everyone in the hotel came out to help us. We were dusty, covered with mud, and must have looked like aliens to these people. They were taking pictures, and some even shook my hand in respect, even though I fell in front of them.
We rested in Arusha and headed to Nairobi the next day, crossing the border into Kenya. It was an easy ride, as the cool air from Mt. Meru was pushing us from behind. The Maasai people on our way waved every time they saw us, especially the excited children, who ran after us, some even wanting to touch us.
Arriving in Nairobi at our campground, we discovered some disturbing news: The road north was washed away by rains and the Road to Hell – Marsabit, Kenya to Moyale, Ethiopia – was in terrible shape. A couple bikers had rode through a few days ago and one of them fell four times, breaking his hand four times in four different places. We were two-up, on a very heavy bike so we had to make a decision. Our daughter was ready to fly into Europe to spend Christmas with us, and should something happen on the road to Ethiopia, from where we wanted to fly to Turkey, we would never meet. So we decided to fly from Nairobi to Istanbul. Easier said than done. When I took my bike to Turkish Airlines cargo in Nairobi, I immediately discovered how an easy job of exiting a country can turn into a hell that would almost give me a heart attack.
We found ourselves disturbed once again by the African corruption and how much it destroys the beauty of that land. The Nairobi airport was in shambles, as it was being rebuilt after a huge fire few weeks before our arrival there. No one knew who burned it down, but there were rumors that the President took the contract away from one of the big shots in Nairobi that was running the show there and, suddenly, it burned down few days later.
The corruption in Kenya is well known, but experiencing it firsthand is something else. I had all the paperwork in place for my bike. The agent I found was a young lady of great potential and energy, and she had everything ready for customs. When we got to the airport to load the bike, however, the custom officers decided that I needed an export permit (for a foreign registered bike, with a transit permit, valid and legal). I asked them, why export? I didn’t import it in the first place.
“It is the law”, he haughtily replied. “But for a small fee, I will arrange that you have no problems.”
So much for the law, I thought. I got very upset and I went above his head to his superiors. Discussions went back and forth for six hours, almost missing the Turkish flight that night. I fought with the loading guys as well, who were fishing for a bribe to pack my bike. I had arranged with Turkish Airlines to have my bike strapped on a platform, without a crate. Their loaders were saying that I needed to pay $600 US to build a crate and ship it. I started to shout in the airport and everyone was looking at me. I got so peeved, the GM of Turkish Airlines came personally and after a sharp discussion, he said: “I will allow this to pass, but you will have to strap your bike yourself to the platform, as these guys will not do it.”
They gave me a Turkish Airline vest and I went inside the Cargo terminal, strapped down my bike and saw it off on the plane in the next 10 minutes. We flew out of Nairobi that night…
Stay tuned for our Moroccan Sahara adventures
John Nomad writes from his RTW expedition by motorbike to raise awareness and funding for Nomad Sports Academy for Orphans, Zambia
Nomad’s World Ride: Zambia
Nomad’s World Ride: Zambia
Nomad’s World Ride: Tanzania & Kenya
Nomad’s World Ride: Morocco
Nomad’s World Ride: Norway
Nomad’s World Ride: Baltics & Russia
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow
Nomad’s World Ride: Moscow to Ufa
Nomad’s World Ride: Ufa to Krasnoyarsk
Nomad’s World Ride: Morocco