I wobble out of the Nairobi YMCA, with many old anxieties returned, where will I sleep, where will I find water, food, petrol and how is the bike after stripping the top end? Leaving behind the comforts of a roof, a place of my own and the company of people, like Keith who helped me with the bike and provided endless movies and episodes of House, and Mieke a Dutch girl working voluntarily – whom I planned to join as a volunteer until it was too late and she returned to the YMCA where I spent a happy couple of days, trying to find things to do together.
My first thoughts as I leave are how uncomfortable the bike feels how do I put up with this?! I ride past the slums, everything looks so much dirtier on the way out than it did one month ago and I wonder how I missed the slums on the way in?
I spend a week in Kenya, returning north, to get back in the swing of things. Up to the Kerio valley, seeing the Pokhot tribe and breathtaking scenery, the roads terrible, but fun for it.
Turning south again, following Lake Victoria, from here deep in to Tanzania it is very highly populated, farms, villages and people, millions of people, all walking or riding bikes loaded to the maximum carrying milk churns, chairs (I counted six), fire wood, other bikes, people (as cycle taxis; a small seat fixed on the rack), sacks of coals and water (in one case I count 5x20litres!- maybe they weren’t 20l I wonder?). There are villages every five or ten miles, with cafes to replenish the hungry cyclists and repair shops to fix the huge number of – unsurprisingly – broken bikes. It’s all quite interesting for a while, but after five days of this repeating every ten miles, and unable to find a camp spot each night, I was, not bored, but happy to see it change!
They may be many people, but luckily they are the nicest I’ve met yet, offering me tea, friendly conversation and a in one case when I was desperate for camp spot in the rain, a roof over my head; on my birthday no less! The room, was not superb, sharing it with a cockroach, some mice and quite a few spiders, but the human company was terrific and I was most happy! In the morning I am invited to wash from a basin, and then to church which I decline as politely as possible.
I stop regularly for chai (tea), my swahili improving a little, I find these times the best in the flat, busy farm lands of Tanzania. You soon ignore the dirty cups and pots piled by the door, swarming with flies, and I decide to eat a meal, 15p buys me beans, potatoes and – bizzarely – banana, in palm oil I think, delicious I must say and a nice change from jam and bread!
I head west, where I read it is quieter, enquire if I can ride through Serengeti, as expected; not possible and ridiculously expensive anyway.
As the population density decreases so the road worsens, it’s great fun, and I find myself gobbling down my lunch eager to ride more, I get even more punctures, and rained on daily, it now being the rainy season, though it is soon to finish.
During camps I am constantly plagued by bugs! Mosquitoes one night, flying ants, bees, flies and one night I am attacked by ants!! Millions of them, fighting to squeeze through a hole they have made in the tent inner, covering (and I mean covering, the tent door it’s surreal and a bit like attack of the zombies or something! I have a funny video, but it doesn’t seem to want to upload, so watch this space, it still make me chuckle!
I see people who live in complete solitude, deep in extremely quiet and dense forest, living under a lean-to style roof of grass, open at both ends, with a cow….just weird. I contemplate how it would be more acceptable if they were tribes people, but they are just people standing aroundi nthe forest in hand-me-down clothes from the west.
I fall off in deeper sand, nearly breaking my leg for the umpteenth time on the trip, I wonder when my luck may run out. Soon though I relearn how to ride the sand – after Atbara – and remember how to power through – scary as hell, but satisfying when you get it right, bad when you get it wrong though and I save a few bad crashes, just.
I reach Katavi National park, I’ve long been looking forward to this, a road straight through the middle of the park, a chance t osee big game for free! I’m so excited, but soon riding for my life. Millions and millions of tseste flies that usually survive on the animals blood, but, in this case; mine! They swarm my view and bite every square inch of bare skin if I travel any slower than third gear. I don my gloves and scarft to cover up as best as possible, I hit potholes, deep mud and deep puddles at speed whilst waving my hands in defence and avoiding two deer, the only animals I see – other than the flippin’ flies. The bike is punished, but keeps going despite another puncture which I will not repair until the flies subside some miles outside the park, the rear shocks though are truly finished off.
I reach the area near Zambia, and feel I’ve been quite quick, and unsure whether or not to proceed, perhaps I’ve missed some important aspects of Tanzania? I decide over another cup of tea, with a crazy lady showing me the way to the tea shop. Then I change my mind a hundred times turning around and around, onlookers wondering what the heck the dumb mzungu (white man) is playing at?! Finally I decide to go to Zambia after updating the website and fitting a new chain and sprockets!
The people have been absolutely brilliant, in Kenya and Tanzania, making me feel the most content on the trip yet I think, (though there are still plenty of drunken, lazy, abusive men) and at times the landscapes spectacular, but I’m already thinking of Cape Town!!