Sunday, 31 July 2011

Day 271 Tanzania 31/07/2011, Free camp – Midtown Lodge, Makambako. 32.72miles/52.84km, 3hr29minutes, Av 9.4mph.

Well we survived the night, no monkeys or other wildlife invaded the tent and the strong winds that were shaking the trees didn't bring anything down on top of us. After a quick breakfast we were packed up and back on the road bound for Makambako.

Despite being pretty hilly, the road was not as steep as it has been for the last few days. Instead today we were battered by an extremely strong crosswind. That and the fact that Debs has been having some trouble with her right hip made progress more difficult than it should have been. The beautiful scenery and generally friendly locals helped a bit, but it was still a struggle. It probably didn't help Debs that I seemed to be having one of those days when it just felt easy. No-one wants to be struggling in the wind and hills while watching someone disappear into the distance with comparative ease. In my defence I always stopped to wait at the top and eventually sat behind her for the remainder of the journey. It is always a challenge to try and match our speeds, especially when we are climbing. Anyone who has cycled will know that everybody has a natural pace that they are comfortable at. Trying to go faster or slower than that pace is very difficult. Generally on the flat we are fairly evenly matched, so it doesn't cause a major problem.

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An interesting trait of cycling in Tanzania is the locals habit of happily slip streaming us on the hills and in the windy conditions. Obviously our wide loaded bikes make for a good wind buffer. It is not uncommon to be riding hard up a hill, only to look in your mirror and see a happy, smiling local being towed along in our wake. Usually they do utter some kind of thanks when they eventually pass us or turn off.

Although we arrived in Makambako quite early at 12:30pm, it was quite a relief to be getting out of the wind. We quickly found one of two guest-houses we had considered staying at and with a little bit of gesturing managed to procure a room. 'Midtown Lodge' seems alright, we have stayed in better but it was cheap enough and Debs really needs to rest her hip. We still have at least three days of climbs to go before a big descent, so we are hoping she is going to be alright.

After a quick shower, Debs' was cold so we are hoping the water heats up again later so she can have a hot one, we went to the restaurant for some lunch. The food was good and there was plenty of it, which is just as well because the service was terrible. Tanzania is a strange country for us, we realise we don't speak Swahili, but many of the people seem at best indifferent. Interestingly we had read on one of the cycling websites that we may find the people less friendly here than in the rest of Africa, so we are hoping for a return to what we are used to on the rest of our journey.

Lunch was followed by a return to the room, the wind hasn't abated and being quite high up means that it is surprisingly cold. We have only ventured out once this afternoon for a wander round the town. It seems to be mainly agricultural supplies and wholesalers around where we are staying. Picking up some snacks for dinner, we are still full from lunch, we headed back to the hotel. We will probably give the restaurant and its terrific service a miss this evening. If there is any justice and the wind doesn't change from the pattern it has followed throughout our time in the country, we should have a tail wind tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Day 270 Tanzania 30/07/2011, The Old Farm House, Kisolanza – Free camp on the road to Makambako. 36.34miles/58.62km, 4hr09minutes, Av 8.7mph.

I seemed to be dragging my heels this morning, although we did have sausages, fried potatoes and eggs for breakfast, which was a bit more effort than usual. Eventually we got everything packed up and we were on the road by 8:40am.

We had been expecting hills and that is exactly what we got. The road is pretty relentless and not helped by lorries forcing you off the road as they pass. Some gave us plenty of space but others have clearly decided to give way for nobody. It is a shame that one of the lorries ruined a good descent for us. We couldn't believe he was going so slowly down the hill, but overtaking seemed a little risky. Perhaps it was a good thing that he was going so slowly as the totally wrecked truck with a prop shaft embedded in its engine, at the bottom of the hill, gave some clue as to what happens if you drive too fast! Still we are fairly used to it all by now and in general the traffic has been relatively light.

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Being in the Southern highlands has provided us with plenty of beautiful scenery and for the latter part of today a large forested area. Making the long climb up into the town of Mafinga, we stopped for a drink and a chat with the locals before continuing on. At about 12:30pm we found a shady spot in some trees to have lunch and as we were getting ready to set off again we saw a cyclist coming down the road. Shouting hi he came over to say hello and we were shortly joined by his two friends. Jiten, Ria and Imraan are from South Africa and left there about 4 months ago with a plan to get to Cairo by December. Interestingly for us they had taken the route through Mozambique and recommended it. After a chat and some photos we exchanged cards and wished each other well, before heading back on the road. These are the first cycle tourists we have met in Africa; it will be interesting to see if we meet many more.


Having ridden approximately half-way to tomorrow's destination we started to think about somewhere to stop for the night. Our original plan to find a guest-house soon gave way to a free camp in the surrounding forest. We haven't seen too many places along our route through East Africa where we could easily stop, so this opportunity was too good to miss. We have found a nice flat spot, just away from the road where we should be untroubled.

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Tomorrow we head for the town of Makambako.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Day 269 Tanzania 29/07/2011, The Old Farm House, Kisolanza. Resting up.

This morning we said goodbye to George and Alice; they are continuing their journey northwards. We have their details and there is every chance that we will meet them again on the road as they head south again.


The rest of the day we seemed to pretty much have the site to ourselves. There were no overland trucks and only a couple more people came in during the afternoon. It made for a very quiet and relaxing day.


Having bought some steak from the farm, we had a nice meal of steak and chips for dinner, washed down with probably more beers than we should have had before a cycling day. Our excuse was that the bar was the only warm place to sit!

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Back on the road tomorrow and we will see how far we get, we can pretty much guarantee hills though.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Day 268 Tanzania 28/07/2011, Central Lodge, Iringa – The Old farm house, Kisolanza. 36.02miles/57.78km, 4hr10minutes, Av 8.6mph.

Unfortunately Debs woke up not feeling very well this morning, but insisted that we should move on. Heading to 'Hasty Tasty Too' we had a nice breakfast that was once again marred by the surly nature of the owner. His attitude must be catching because the other staff were just as bad!

On the way back to the guest-house we bought some bread and then quickly loaded our bikes ready for the off. A quick 3km stretch brought us down to the main road via a steep-ish descent, which would have been more fun if they hadn't built speed bumps all the way along it. Still without them there would probably just be a huge pile of wrecked Tanzanian vehicles at the bottom. Tanzanian driver's speed far outweighs their skill behind the wheel! As we joined the main road, what a joy it is to be on tarmac, we were greeted with a wide, smooth, hard shoulder to ride in. Which sadly disappeared after about 10km; still it was nice while it lasted.

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Aside from an occasional lorry, bus or car driver, who either couldn't see us or just didn't want to, forcing us off the road, the traffic was fairly light. Being in the mountains meant that it was also slightly cooler than it had been, which was a blessing as the road was quite hilly and poor Debs was suffering a little. Stopping to take a photo of the beautiful scenery, we had a comedic diversion in the shape of a man wheeling his bicycle up the hill with a large live, grunting and squealing pig strapped to the back! The pig was making such a noise that even the guy who's bike it was had a grin on his face. The sight cheered up a poorly Debs no end.

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The rest of the journey was a succession of climbs and short descents until we reached the turn off for the Old farm house. We could have done without the stretch of dirt road to the site, but we arrived in good time and found a nice pitching spot. Shortly after getting set up we were approached by a South African named George, who told us that we had just missed two Dutch girls who are cycling south. It is a shame that we missed them but there is a very real possibility that we may catch them in Malawi. George and his wife Alice have been on the road for about six months and are doing a slow tour of southern and eastern Africa in a rather smart off-road caravan. They proved to be good company and George provided us with a lot of great information regarding camp-sites along the road. He also gave us some food for thought regarding our chosen route south. Our plan to travel through Malawi to Zambia and then on to Botswana, Namibia and finally South Africa may well change. It looks like Namibia will be unbearably hot when we arrive and Zambia and Botswana are going to involve long stretches of nothing. The main reason to go to Botswana would be to see the wildlife, but the road we would be likely to travel doesn't go through the parks and the safety of travelling through the unfenced reserves has to be considered. He has suggested that instead we head to Mozambique from Malawi and then follow the coast all the way to Cape Town. A big advantage would be that supplies and camping areas would be easier to come by, plus we would then see nearly all of South Africa's coast. The route change is by no means set in stone, but it does look like a better option.

Forgoing the bar this evening we sat chatting to George and Alice and swapping a few movies from our respective computers. It is considerably colder here than we have been used to at night, so the sleeping bags will be fully zipped up. Tomorrow is a rest day and then back on the road.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Day 267 Tanzania 27/07/2011, Central Lodge guest-house, Iringa. A great market, some bike maintenance and getting ready to rejoin the road.

Had a great nights sleep last night, so that's one good thing to come out of the bus journey. This morning we headed back to 'Hasty Tasty Too' for breakfast, it may be quite expensive but we didn't fancy our chances in the guest-house restaurant. After eggs on toast and a large coffee each, we were ready to face the day.

The 'Lonely Planet' guide said that Iringa has a colourful market and we would have to agree. This was the most fruit and veg we have seen for quite some time. We are now fully stocked up for our onward journey. Mangoes, papaya and avocados at stupidly cheap prices were all too good to miss.

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From the market we walked down to see the town mosque, which has a strangely alpine looking clock tower. Not overly surprising as the Germans built it, but we can't think that we have seen another mosque like it.


From there it was a wander through the streets to the bus station. I had forgotten to take a picture of our bus from yesterday and hoped to see a similar one. We didn't see the bus we had travelled on, that was heading back to Dodoma, but we did see its sister.


Back at the hotel we sorted our bags and I made some small repairs to our bikes. The scratches still make me wince, but I am sure I will get over them in time. A respray may be in order when we get them home, but what colour?

Lunch was had at 'Lulu's' restaurant, which was pretty good and much cheaper than 'Hasty Tasty Too'; we can't say much for the atmosphere though, except that there wasn't one! Then it was back to the hotel for some blogging and more sorting. Until beer o'clock arrived of course and then it was off to the bar, where I caught the attentions of a small child.

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It was all fun and games until he started throwing rocks, which by the look on one woman's face, I had put him up to. Things calmed down and we had a good game chasing round the car park. He seemed a little disappointed when we left to go and have dinner.

Returning to 'Hasty Tasty Too' we had a good meal, which was offset by the owner being the rudest most miserable individual alive. It's a shame that it is the most convenient place to have breakfast, because otherwise we wouldn't go back.

There will be no more beers tonight, because it is a cycling day tomorrow. It will be good to get back in the saddle, especially as we have a sealed road to look forward to. Iringa has been a good place to have a short stopover, it has an excellent market and the town is really relaxed. Tomorrow we head off to 'The Old Farm House' at Kisolanza where we will spend a couple of nights. We should bump into some of the overland crowd again, as it is back on their route. Plus being a working farm we can stock up on fresh eggs and meat.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Day 266 Tanzania 26/07/2011, Cana Lodge hotel, Dodoma – Central lodge guest-house, Iringa. 9 hours of bone jarring, organ rearranging travel.

It would have had to be this morning that the hotel staff managed to arrive late for preparing breakfast. We stood outside the restaurant at 7am having loaded the bikes, so we could quickly eat and then head down to the bus station. Instead we left with no breakfast having run out of time.

Arriving at the bus station the first thing that we noticed was that there was no bus. The guy from the booking office reiterated the reporting time of 7:30am and departing time of 8am to us, by way of explanation. All the same it seemed a little strange bearing in mind our assumption that the bus started from Dodoma main station. While we were waiting, we got chatting to a friendly guy, Louis, who told us where to wait and talked about how he had helped with 'Tour d'Afrique' when they came through. 7:30am came and went as did 8am, by now we beginning to wonder what had happened to the bus. Having experienced Africa time before though, we knew it was too early to start getting concerned!

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Eventually at 8:15am the bus arrived already half full of passengers. Where they had all come from we will never know. Thankfully Louis was on hand to help us get the bikes loaded; he at least understood that we didn't really want our wheels crushed underneath all the luggage! When we started to load the bikes on, we were told that it was going to cost 15,000TZS (£6) each to carry them. This was a little on the steep side bearing in mind it was more than our tickets. I tried offering 10,000TZS each thinking that we had paid 5,000TZS last time and it was twice as far. Somewhat annoyed about the situation we eventually settled on 12,000TZS; apparently the bikes were 10,000TZS and the luggage an extra 2,000TZS. What makes it a little galling is that not once did we see any other passengers charged for their luggage, no matter how many sacks of rice, flour, grain or chickens and ducks they loaded on. In the end, the most important thing was that the bikes were stowed and we were on the bus. Seeing a mechanic covered in oil and laying under the front axle, didn't fill us with a great deal of confidence that we would have a trouble free journey though!

8:30am and we were on the road, certainly not at walking pace but not a great deal faster. About five minutes later and we were stopped to pick up more passengers and five minutes after that and so on and so on. The bus could seat 62 people with probably 10 children sitting on laps, plus at least 20 standing in the aisle. Add the driver and two ticket collectors/helpers and you have nearly 100 people on board at any one time. To say it was a little crowded was an understatement! Crowded and not particularly fresh smelling; especially later when everyone seemed to be eating dried fish and there were three joints of meat hanging from the sun roof!

The journey was 9 hours of bone jarring, sweat inducing, organ-rearranging pain. The constant vibration meant that we were too concerned about ourselves to worry about the bikes in the hold. Thank goodness for Ipods as they helped to block out some of the noise from the rattling windows and creaking, banging suspension. On a brighter note it was certainly an experience, one we will happily never repeat, and at times the scenery was very attractive. Fortunately the bus diver stopped for a break after about 4 hours, so we could get some food and stretch our legs. Prior to this there had been no toilet stops at all. Sipping our water had been the order of the day, although with the heat on the bus we had been sweating most of it out. Lunch was a tasty chip omelette each and I mistakenly had a cold Pepsi. What hadn't occurred to me was that a cold fizzy drink on top of a greasy chip omelette added to a heavily vibrating bus may cause a certain amount of nausea. For a short while I felt like I would have to get the bus to stop, so I could run off into the bush! Gradually though the feeling passed and I was able to, if not enjoy, at least put up with the rest of the journey. By the time we arrived in Iringa at just after 5:30pm, we would happily say that we never wanted to get on a bus again.

Unloading the bikes and luggage brought great plumes of dust from the cargo hold and sadly two quite badly scratched bikes. It looks like they had rubbed against the metal floor in a sawing action, going straight through the paint to the bare metal. Fortunately they were not dented, so it looks like we will be on the lookout for some more stickers to cover the damage. For now they have been patched up with duct tape! It is very difficult to get too precious over the bikes, considering the type of journey we are on, but it is still quite sad. Once again though we are glad that we have bought bikes with heavy duty steel frames, the damage could potentially have been much worse instead of just cosmetic.


Watched on by seemingly the whole bus station, we reassembled the bikes and laughed at taxi drivers who kept approaching us to see if we wanted to go on a trip today/tomorrow etc. Obviously they were the only ones who hadn't noticed that we had our own transport with us! With the bikes back together and loaded we headed up the road to the 'Central Lodge' guest-house. The room seemed alright, so we will be here for a couple of nights. We have to get some supplies before we move on and apparently Iringa has a good market.

The room may be alright but the restaurant was a bit of a let down. Having rejected 'Hasty Tasty too' across the road for being too expensive we returned to the guest-house, only to find that they had run out of just about everything. We had hoped for rather more than rice and beans, especially as they had such a large menu on display. To make up for the lack of food the bar does sell the cheapest beer we have had in Tanzania though, 1600TZS (70p) is a bargain. One beer was enough tonight and we were glad to head back to the room. The journey had taken its toll, so it is a good job we are not moving on tomorrow.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day 265 Tanzania 25/07/2011, Cana Lodge Hotel, Dodoma. Bus tickets, some shopping and plenty of food.

Not only is the 'Cana Lodge' hotel the best place we have stayed in Africa, it also does the best breakfast. Although heaven knows what the green fruit juice we had was, guava? Having eaten, we headed back to the bus station to get our tickets for our onward journey to Iringa. This time the ticket man was there and we managed to get ourselves booked on for tomorrow. There was some confusion however when we enquired about the bikes. As he didn't seem to understand, I showed him our bicycle ticket we had been given from the last bus company. Seeing a different price on the ticket, he took it to mean that I was questioning the price of the tickets for the bus. Shouting for a translator, another guy arrived and started telling me that the price was the price and they weren't overcharging us. All the time I was trying to explain that we knew they weren't overcharging us, I just wanted to know how much taking the bikes was going to cost. Eventually we got it sorted and I think they accepted that I wasn't accusing them of anything. Unable to issue a ticket for the bikes, we were told we would have to sort it out tomorrow morning. It shouldn't be a problem, but it would have been nice to be all paid up before tomorrow.

For anyone wondering why we are taking the bus once again, perhaps we should have read and listened to this excerpt from

'If the line that stretches across the map from Arusha to Dodoma and Iringa intrigues you; you'll want to think about it at least twice. The northern quarter is paved. Also recommended is the northern section between Babati, Bereko and Kolo. It is beautiful. But between Kondoa, Irangi and Iringa it is mostly flat, bone jarring and has little of interest'.

By luck it seems we rode the beautiful part, but that was bone jarring enough!

Leaving the bus station we walked back into the town and had a stroll round the shops/stalls buying some supplies along the way. Finding shower gel, in Dodoma at least, is a tricky and quite expensive affair. It seems that the locals just use ordinary soap and western brands are fairly dear. From now on I will be smelling 'sweet as the cotton candy, sunny and Mediterranean as the mandarin' or at least so the bottle says! Stopping at a chemists we also purchased some water purification tablets; we probably should have had some from the start, but better late than never. Our shopping trip was rounded off with a cup of coffee and milk tea at 'Rose's' café.

Back at the hotel we grabbed the netbook, maps and guide book for Malawi and Zambia and went to do some forward planning. From what we can see it looks like we are really going to like Malawi. Having planned our route for a while, we returned to Rose's café and had a nice lunch of beef curry and rice for 3000TZS each (£1:20). Getting a decent meal has seldom been a problem in Tanzania.

Not much to report for the rest of the afternoon. We made a few phone calls to our nearest and dearest and enjoyed a few beers in the restaurant. We have another long bus ride ahead of ourselves tomorrow, which will hopefully go without a hitch. The road ahead looks great and we are eager to get back on the bikes. We should have the luxury of a sealed if not smooth road all the way to the Malawi border.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 264 Tanzania 24/07/2011, New Planet guest-house, Kondoa – Cana Lodge, Dodoma. A very bumpy, but not as long as expected, bus journey.

Having not had the best nights sleep, we woke at 4:30am to get the bikes loaded and ready to head to the bus station. By 5:15am we were on our way, in the dark, through the unlit Kondoa streets. The journey only took a few minutes and we soon arrived at the equally unlit bus terminal. The first two things that we encountered were a closed ticket office and a bus with no roof rack. Assuming that we were looking at the right bus where were we supposed to put our bikes?!

Showing our tickets to the man at the front of the bus he gestured for us to get on, I obviously gestured towards our bicycles and luggage. Some shouting later and it became clear that the bikes were to go in the lockers underneath. We can't say we were particularly pleased about that as we had visions of them being thrown around the hold on the bumpy road. To make matters worse they wouldn't fit where they wanted to put them. Eventually I started to remove the wheels, nearly loosing one of the wheel skewer nuts in the process. By the light of a feeble torch we got the bikes small enough to fit and had to step back and hope that they put them in with some degree of care. Unfortunately both bikes wouldn't fit in the back locker, so Debs' bike was placed in the front lockers on its own. I was even more concerned about this, as at least mine was surrounded by our bags. Debs meanwhile was just placed in the middle of a large empty cargo hold. The small tarpaulin they placed underneath may help a little, but we had to hope it didn't move around too much!

6am arrived and remarkably the bus left on time. We had visions of still being sat on it in the bus station at 7am. I guess we will never know how bad the road would have been to ride on, but judging by the violent lurching and banging of the bus as we sped along, we would say not great. As the sun started to rise we were treated to a beautiful red sky, which momentarily took our minds off the buses attempts to rearrange our internal organs! With every bang and bump I tried to put my mind off thinking of our bikes bouncing up and down in the hold.

Sitting relatively comfortably in our seats we began to wonder when a bus was deemed full in Africa. At every small village, sometimes just the side of the road, we stopped to pick up more people. One lady even boarded with a live rooster under her arm and then proceeded to squeeze her way past everyone, while the rooster struggled in her grip.

We wondered whether there would be a so called 'comfort break' on the bus and can safely report that the answer is no. What seems to happen is that as soon as the bus stops to pick up passengers anyone desperate for the toilet leaps off and heads into the bush. Assuming that enough people take their chance and join the first, the bus driver doesn't drive off leaving the passenger trying to rearrange his or her clothing as they chase after the departing bus. We quite wisely decided to hold it, I suspect the chance to watch a 'mzungu' (white person) chasing after the bus would be too good for the driver to miss!

After only 4 hours, we had been told 6 hours, the bus pulled into the Dodoma bus station. With fingers crossed and a certain amount of trepidation we set about unloading the bikes. Somewhat miraculously the bikes and luggage, aside from being filthy, appear to have escaped unscathed. With a small crowd watching we reassembled the bikes got loaded and headed off in search of a guest-house. Dodoma may be the nation's capitol, but today at least it seemed like a quiet, sleepy town. The streets are wide and well sign-posted and there was little traffic. If the 'Lonely Planet' hadn't marked the hotel that we intended to stay in on the wrong place on the map we would have ridden straight there. With a little help we doubled back on ourselves and arrived outside the 'Cana Lodge Hotel'. The hotel is by far the nicest place we have stayed in Tanzania, except our tent of course! We have a large room, with a comfortable bed, plus hot water from the taps! No more cold showers for a couple of days at least. What has made us laugh however, is the fact that the hotel security man made us fill in the vehicle log book and we have been given a pass that we have to show to take our bikes off the site. Good for security, but it made filling in the vehicle registration section a little tricky.

Having got settled in we had a good lunch in the hotel restaurant and then wandered back to the bus station to enquire about taking another bus to Iringa. We have decided that it is just going to be too difficult to get supplies and water along the road. With an average speed of just 7km/h it is going to take an awfully long time to cover the 260km to Iringa! Unfortunately the ticket man wasn't in his office, but that didn't stop us having a laugh with some of his helpers/passengers. After finding out we were from England, Queen Elizabeth and David Beckham were mentioned and we were then introduced to the black David Beckham. Your guess is as good as ours as to who he was, but it caused much hilarity. Eventually we were told to come back this evening or tomorrow morning and there would be no problem getting tickets. Waving goodbye we headed back to the hotel, so far it looks like we are going to like our short break in Dodoma.

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We didn't feel like exploring too much last night, so we returned to the hotel restaurant. Aside from a lengthy wait, the food was once again very good and above all really cheap. A few beers rounded off what has been a tiring but good day.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Day 263 Tanzania 23/07/2011, Rubbish guest-house, Kolo – New Planet guest-house, Kondoa. 17.2miles/27.74km, 2hr21minutes, Av 7.3mph

Our stay didn't get any better last night. At about 8:30pm there was banging on our door from the guest-house owner shouting that he wanted to talk about our trip to the rock paintings. When we didn't immediately open it, he started trying the handle. We told him that we weren't going and eventually he took the hint and went away. People seemed to be constantly in and out of the building, with men shouting to each other and doors being banged. This was on top of the badly tuned radio, being played at its loudest setting. At 6:30am there was more banging on our door, this time by a woman, telling us to get up now because it is a long walk to the rock paintings. Having never agreed to go in the first place, let alone walk, this was all very strange. Eventually our shouts of go away were heeded.

When we eventually left we were pretty much ignored, It seems that when the owner realised we weren't going to spend any more money with him, he lost all interest in us. As had the guy from the paintings office, who also ignored us as we cycled away. Unless proven wrong, I would suggest that there is an arrangement between the paintings office guy, the guest-house owner and the guides, to pocket all the money that comes through visiting the site. With no competition, you have no choice but to book through them. The stay would rank as one of the most unpleasant I have had. I am sure the paintings are very interesting, but while this is the sort of treatment that you receive, I would suggest that people give it a miss. World Heritage have a lot of work to do, although having visited many of their named sites it is hard to see that they have done much other than increased the entrance prices for westerners dramatically. Rant over!

Back on the road it was much the same as the day before except not as steep. Good surfaces gave way to sandy rocky sections and buses and lorries continued to race past showering us in dust. Once again though the people, especially the children, were all really friendly. It is just a shame that the kids all run away when you get a camera out. What wasn't so welcome was keeping running into our previous nights host, on the road. Hearing him shout 'hello my friend' every time we rode past wasn't helping my mood at all. Debs had managed to put it all behind her and was just enjoying the scenery, if not the road surface. I meanwhile was still angry about our stay. Riding down rough, stony descents at 40km/h and not reaching for the brakes was probably foolish, but it certainly got some of the annoyance out of my system.

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Before too long we were turning off towards Kondoa in search of a guest-house. The 'New Planet' was listed in the 'Lonely Planet' East Africa guide and seems very nice. After getting settled and having a shower to wash the dust off, the owner accompanied us to the bus station. We have decide to skip the next 180km and go straight to Dodoma. The 100km of unsealed road that we have ridden on has been challenging to say the least. If we could guarantee that we would encounter fewer sections of sand then it would be definitely ride-able. Tour d'Afrique came through here earlier in the year, but they were riding unladen bikes and were fully supported. Aside from the countryside itself there is little of any interest along the route and we still face 200km or more of unsealed road when we leave Dodoma. If we decide to ride that section.

Booking a bus to take us proved to be more difficult than planned. It seems that the timetable that was printed in the guidebook has changed and all of the sensible timed buses were full. The fact that Swahili time is different to GMT didn't help matters either. Eventually we have settled for a 6am bus, which mean we have to be there to load the bikes and gear at 5:30am. Fortunately the man in the ticket office was helpful and spoke some English. At least going early we will arrive in Dodoma in good time, which will make finding accommodation easier.

Having arranged a bus we planned to have a meal at the guest-house restaurant, only to find out that it had no food! The guest-house owner helpfully took us to another guest-house where we had a nice buffet style meal and sodas for 9200TZS (just under £4). We will be having an early night tonight and will unfortunately have to leave in the dark tomorrow. The next blog will be from the nations capitol.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Day 262 Tanzania 22/07/2011, Bebeku – Kolo. 25.08miles/40.73km, 4hr11minutes, Av 6mph.

After breakfast we were met by Fasih and he accompanied us down to the main road, where we said goodbye. It seems that goodness has prevailed and he was just being nice!

Leaving the village we were treated to a short descent, before the road stated climbing again. Which is pretty much what it felt like all day. Unlike yesterday where the road had been surprisingly good, the road surface today was awful. Most of the climbs were on very rocky tracks with loose sand and gravel. Without the poor surface the hills would have been steep, but with it, just getting to the top was a struggle. Making any progress if the road continues like this all the way to Dodoma is going to be very difficult. We can cope with most things, but heavy bikes and sand just don't mix no matter how wide the tyres are. Fortunately the scenery was nice and the people were once again friendly. Although perhaps not as exuberant as they had been yesterday.

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As the day progressed the road surface never improved and the temperature continued to climb. We started to think that getting to Kondoa may be a bit of a struggle, fortunately we always had the possibility of a stop in Kolo.

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Reaching the top of another hill we were greeted by a long descent on a well maintained but unsurfaced piece of road. Suddenly our speeds were up to double figures, for what felt like the first time since this morning.

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Before too long we were rolling into the village of Kolo. The main reason to come to Kolo is to see the many rock painting sites that can be found in the area. The paintings have been recently turned into a 'World Heritage' site, but there is little evidence that people are flocking to the area. In all honesty neither of us are that bothered about whether we visit them or not. The site just happens to be on the road we are travelling.

Stopping at the rock paintings office, we enquired about a nearby camp-site, only to be told that it wouldn't be safe for us. Instead he told us that there was a guest-house nearby, which he took us to look at. At least he would have if we could have found the owner. Saying we could wait outside, he set about trying to contact the owner and eventually left us, saying he would be along shortly.


After quite a while the owner turned up and made a big show of getting everything ready before we had heard the price. By now it was getting a bit late to move on, so we didn't have much choice, fortunately he didn't know that though. Eventually he asked for 20,000TZS which is laughable after paying 6000TZS for a better room last night. We eventually agreed on 10,000TZS after we had threatened to leave. Sometimes a bed is just that, but in all honesty if we weren't so tired we would have moved on. I can think of very little to recommend the place other than it is closer to the rock painting sites than Kondoa. I would love to put the name of the guest-house in but it doesn't have one. The camp-site is probably fine, cynical me wonders if there is a deal between the site office and the guest-house owner! Having a wander around the village hasn't improved matters, when we found a shop that actually had soft drinks for sale it was at an over-inflated price. Our guest-house owner offered to pay the difference, which was kind of missing the point. We aren't poor, we just have no intention of paying more for an item that is the same price everywhere else in Tanzania.

Returning to the rock painting site office to enquire about a visit to a few of the sites we found it to be closed. It looks like it will be an early night and then an early morning setting off to reach Kondoa. Unless things change dramatically, the chance of us spending any more time in Kolo is unlikely. The rock paintings will have to remain unseen by us at least.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 261 Tanzania 21/07/2011, Babati – Bereku. 25.09miles/40.62km, 3hr31minutes, Av 7.1mph.

Perhaps we have just got used to sleeping in a tent, but neither of us have had the best night since we have been in a guest-house. Nevertheless we were up and getting packed early this morning ready for the off. Watched on by two other westerners and the hotel owner, we headed out into a grey and drizzly morning. For a kilometre at least we were on a sealed road, but that swiftly turned to hard packed sand and gravel. It is farewell to tarmac for at least the next 250km until we get to Dodoma. Even then our time on surfaced roads will be brief.

We have often found that outside the towns and cities people are friendlier; along the road today the greetings, especially from the children, have been overwhelming. Seeing small children running from their houses and yards shouting 'Mzungu' (white person) at the top of their voices, often while jumping up and down was hilarious. The adults have often been nearly as enthusiastic!

For the first 20km the road was fairly flat, with the road surface changing from smooth to heavily corrugated and rocky and then back to smooth. The light rain was cooling and had the added benefit of keeping the dust down. There wasn't a great deal of traffic, but when the buses come past at breakneck speeds, your vision is obscured by great clouds of dust.


It was shortly after 20km that the road started to climb quite dramatically. On a sealed road it would have been fairly steep, but on a damp stony surface it was quite a struggle to get up the hills. It has been a while since we were in the mountains, so we have probably lost some of our hill climbing ability as well. It looks like we will have well and truly got it back by the time we leave Tanzania! Despite the toughness of the climbs, we were rewarded by truly beautiful scenery. The open savannah has given way to much more lush, jungle like vegetation.

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Our first stopping point along the road to Kolo, was to be at the village of Bereku. According to the map we should have arrived there after 35km, but that came and went and there was still no sign. I began to wonder if the small village that we had passed earlier was Bereku and we had missed our chance to stop for lunch. Pressing on, we decided to ride until we got to the 40km mark and then stop for lunch regardless. As we reached the top of yet another hill, we saw loads of school children in the road and realised we had found the village. The children rushed round us, all wanting to shake our hands and once again we were accompanied down the road by them. At the village centre we stopped and started to look for somewhere to eat. A young guy approached us and helped us find some food, wali nyama (rice and meat) is becoming a firm favourite. While sitting having lunch we spotted a sign for a guest-house and started to contemplate staying here for the night.


That way we would make it to the town of Kondoa tomorrow instead of the small village of Kolo. Our new found guide MC Fasih (apparently he is a budding rap artist/painter/writer) took us to the guest-house and after a quick look round we decided to stay. It is a very basic room, but for 6000TZS (£2.40) it is a bit of a bargain. Being the only white people in town obviously caused some curiosity with two young boys. Having spotted us through our room window, they then moved round to the other one that had been left open and started asking for money and pointing at anything they could see, in the hope that we would give it to them. The windows were barred as well, so there was no chance of them grabbing anything, but the game quickly wore thin and I had to close the window and draw the curtain. It does make us think that should we free camp anywhere and be spotted, there will be every chance that something would be missing by morning.

After a quick wash and a bit of a rest we wandered into the village and met Fasih. He took us on a quick tour and we then stopped for coffee before heading back to the guest-house. Fasih has been great, he took us back down to the village for dinner and then walked us back in the dark to make sure we got back ok. He has said that he will come in the morning to say goodbye. We just hope that this isn't going to end up in a plea for cash and he is just being genuinely friendly. It sounds awfully cynical, but we are struggling to work Tanzanians out at the moment.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Day 260 Tanzania 20/07/2011, Kahembe's Guest-house, Babati. Shopping, resting and eating.

As I have mentioned in other posts a free breakfast can be a bit hit and miss. Thankfully though I can say that the one we had this morning was really good. It set us up nicely for a day of doing very little!

During the day we have a heard a little more about the road conditions that we face for the next few days and it looks like we will be in for a fairly tough time. Which is part of the reason we have decided to take a day off. A good thing is that everyone seems to agree that the scenery is beautiful. Rather than worry ourselves too much about it, we will just have to see for ourselves.

For some reason during the night Debs rear tyre went flat. On investigation it seems that the inner tube has split over one of the spoke holes in the rim. The spokes aren't loose or broken and the rim tape is in one piece, so its a bit of a mystery. Sadly it is also goodbye to one of our self-sealing inner tubes. The hole is such that I really can't chance patching it.

Heading out at lunchtime we had another belly buster meal for almost no money and then bought some supplies. Debs is in food heaven, because large tasty avocados are only 20p each!

The rest of the day has been spent blogging, emailing, resting and getting ready to leave tomorrow. We will be leaving Babati with plenty of food, full water sacks and well-filled stomachs. Hills and unsealed roads, bring it on!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Day 259 Tanzania 19/07/2011, Zion camp-site Tarangire NP – Kahembe's guest-house, Babati. 40.51miles/65.32km, 4hr23minutes, Av 9.2mph headwind & hills

Debs was asleep by 8pm while I found out that the bar in fact did sell beers! I only had one though and soon joined Debs in the tent. The other groups of people on Safari had taken up all the tables and chairs and none of them seemed that chatty. Thankfully Debs felt much better this morning, so hopefully the worst is behind her.

Leaving the camp-site behind we made a brief stop to buy some onions and bananas and then rejoined the main road. Having been in the hills for most of our time in East Africa, today's road was surprisingly flat, plus the road having been recently laid was smooth tarmac.

Riding along the boundaries of two national parks meant that there was always the possibility of spotting wildlife and today we encountered a troop of baboons. We watched from a safe distance of course, we had no wish of riding up the road with irate primates hanging from our bikes, they are heavy enough already! Eventually they all crossed the road and we continued on our way.

The greetings we have received along the road have been a bit of mixed bag. Today however most of the villages we passed through seemed to be really friendly. An elderly Masai man was especially funny when he realised he was about to wave his machete at us and had to hastily move it to his other hand before returning our waves and greetings! Everyone in the Tanzanian villages seems to ride a bicycle and we received many rings of bells and thumbs up as we rode along. Fortunately we didn't have a repeat of yesterday's stone throwing incident.


All of the waves and greetings were very welcome when the wind got up and we had to fight our way along the road into a strong headwind. The headwind never abated and to make the ride more difficult, when we were only 10km from Babati some fool went and put a mountain in the way; bloody plate tectonics! Despite our aching leg muscles we made it up the hills buoyed on by lots of school children who ran or, when it got really steep, walked along beside us.

Unlike the rest of our journey, where people have been generally happy to have their photo taken, East Africa seems to be very different. When I got my camera out and asked the kids if I could take a photo, they all ran off until I put the camera away.


Later on I encountered some teenagers who all thought that I should give them money for taking photos. Even when it was of Debs coming up the road or of the surrounding scenery.

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It is making documenting our travels a bit more difficult than we have previously encountered. It certainly doesn't seem to be a cultural thing, just another way of begging. Most of the people who approach you after watching you take a photo of something quite innocuous to demand money are clearly just idiots.

Eventually with tired limbs we arrived in Babati and after a bit of help we found Kahembe's guest-house. We have our first room of part two on the road and it seems pretty good and the staff are certainly friendly enough. Having got unpacked, we went for a late lunch and had an enormous plate full of chicken and chips each. Around the bus station the town is pretty bustling, so we should be able to pick up the supplies we need for the road ahead.

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It looks like for the next 250km we say goodbye to tarmac roads. Carrying food and water is going to be more important than before, especially as we are back in the mountains for a while.

Depending on how we feel in the morning we may have a day off. It is going to be several days before we reach the next city of Dodoma.